The death of beta

After writing about my first experience with the new Yahoo GO TV people keep reminding me about the fact that this is beta software. At some point back in time a “beta version” of a software package was a complete version, but with possibilities for bugs and maybe some minor functions missing.

Flickr Beta Gmail Beta

This whole Web 2.0 thing has destroyed the “beta” state completely. “Beta” means nothing as long as the world’s most successful photo sharing site – Flickr is still in “beta” after years of existence and the world’s best web based mail – Gmail is also in “beta”.

So what should the team behind Yahoo Go TV do when they want to show people something before it is completed? Call it “a public preview” or something. If you absolutely want to call it a “beta” because that is so cool and Web 2.0 like then please emphasise what’s the reason for the “beta” state.

For Yahoo Go TV the situation is a bit special since they bought a complete product with a large user base and lots of functions and then release this complete product as a “beta”. This is my suggestion:

1. Analyze what’s the most important functions for the passionate and long time users:
– The configuration tool and flexibility
– The plugins

2. Understand that it is these long time users that will write about your product at once and like it or not, they will compare it with the existing one that they love.

3. Keep those existing functions when releasing the first “beta”

4. If keeping these advanced functions is impossible make it completely clear that they will appear again in a future release. Do that by implementing some extra screens in the installation wizard.

A screen that says “Open the advanced configuration tool” with a greyed out “OK” button and a message that says “This is a preview version, the configuration utility will be back in the next release“. Do the same thing with the plugins and the other functions that you find important. “Add plugins” – Message: we will keep supporting plugins but they are disabled in this preview version. And so on.

Doing so would avoid the negative parts of discussions like this and this. Now, the fact that you follow the forums and the blogs and actually post comments and take part in the discussion is great. Keep up the good work!

Looking forward to the next “beta” or “public preview” or “release candidate” or … of Yahoo Go for TV!


Writely Logo
I forgot to mention another solution. The extremely cool BetaMeter that writely use:
Beta Meter

It’s now on 64%. At least I can see an end to Writely’s beta status.

The death of beta

Yahoo GO TV first take

YahooGO TV main screen
Regarding the fact that this release of Yahoo! Go for TV is beta. Yes, I know. But then someone needs some help regarding communication and control of expectations. I have some ideas for Yahoo here: The death of beta

Then you should note that the good folks over at the existing Meedio forum has done some tweaks and concluded that the beloved configuration tool and most of the plugins actually works with Yahoo! Go for TV. w00t!

And please also note that Patrick Barry from Yahoo! has commented with some very interesting answers at the end of this article. This is very good news. They take the feedback seriously. They listen. They communicate. My hopes for Yahoo! Go for TV just got better!

So as a little preface, here is a quote from Pablo (the brain behind Meedio) over at the Meedio forum:

As some of you know, most of the Meedio Men were doing this work part time. We’ve never had the full team dedicated to this 100%. Now, since we are all Y! employees and this is our only job, we can really put some effort into this…imagine what we can do. Also, now we have top notch graphic artists, user experience designers, product managers, QA folks, technical writers and additional engineers devoted to the cause. A lot of sharp brains are behind this product now.

Original post:
Okay, so Yahoo has started offering their version of Meedio as a free download. For all the features you need to be connected to the internet with an IP from the US. Still I was able to test all the basic functionallity. And I am not impressed.

First, some history:

A long time ago there was a very popular media center software called myHTPC. It offered a nice TV-friendly frontend for your pictures, movies, video files, music and quite a bit of online content through plugins. I used it for a long time together with BeyondTV to give me a computer that offered a complete media archive and a full DVR in my living room.

The advantages of myHTPC:
1. It was free
2. It had a limited but open interface
3. It was stable
4. It was fast
5. It had a large user base that contributed with plugins

So, myHTPC went commercial and became Meedio. A very difficult transition because one of the main advantages of myHTPC was the user community. How do you keep a user community while going from free to commercial? You spend a lot of time caring for the community, you give them a special price on the commercial product and you keep your system open and make an even better framework for plugins and additions to your software. Helped by the fact that the other free competitors was quite immature at the point of the transition they managed to keep the large and active community. Meedio has been one of the strongest and most flexible media center solutions out there for the last couple of years.

They have had some problems with their addition of a DVR solution (Meedio TV) to their core media archive (Meedio Essentials), and a lot of users have kept using Meedio as the media archive and another commercial product, BeyondTV as their DVR.

So what has been the advantages of Meedio:
1. Very flexible, open and configurable
2. A fast database as basis of the media archive
3. A very dedicated user base
4. Huge amounts of plugins to extend it
5. Relatively small footprint and modest system requirements
6. Focus on also supporting countries outside the US

Now Meedio faces another transition. From commercial to free. Should be easier than going from free to commercial, but I am not sure how smooth this transition will be.

What is important when considering a media center?
1. Stability, stability and stability
2. Ease of use, ease of use and ease of use
3. Visual design
4. Functionallity and flexibility
5. User base
6. Price

So, going from commercial to free gives the last point in the list an advantage.

The 60 minute test

Depending on how you click around this page to get to the download you might spot this disclaimer:

Please note:
Yahoo! Go for TV currently is only available inside the U.S, for Windows®-based systems

95% of the visitors will miss it because they’ll go directly to the download. I live in the small and unsignificant country of Norway and already miss point number six from my list of Meedio advantages: “Focus on also supporting countries outside the US”. Okay, I’ll not let the fact that they release for one of the worlds biggest markets in their initial version count as very negative in this little look at Yahoo! Go for TV. As mentioned, you’ll start the download without even knowing about this.

Installation was very fast and easy. It took me exactly 10 minutes to go through the wizard and tune the channels for all the three Hauppauge cards in my computer.

What I miss at this point:
– No questions about my remote
– No possibility to define several locations for music, photos and videos

For the people that has simply clicked the download link and installed the software this message will be a little disappointing when you start the application for the first time:

Error - Not valid US IP

Okay. Disconnect your network or connect through a US proxy. You’ll get a feeling of the basic functionallity.

The well known default Meedio start up sound will chime in and you are presented with the main menu giving you access to Movies, Music, Photos, TV, Video, Settings and a possibility to exit the application.

Compared to a basic setup of Meedio Essentials there is no doubt about the obvious fact that Yahoo wants to focus on online content. Click on the images to get a closer look at what Yahoo defines as the most important features.

Yahoo GO TV Movies Screenshot Yahoo GO TV Music Screenshot
Yahoo GO TV Photos Screenshot Yahoo GO TV Video Screenshot

To put it short: your local content is far down the list in all categories. Your DVD Player is the last choice in the Movies category. LaunchCast and Music Videos are more important than your local music archive. MyYahoo Photos, Shared Yahoo Photos and Flickr are more important than your own local photos. Featured Videos, Top Web Searches and videos from around the world are more important than videos “on my PC”…

I don’t like that kind of prioritizing. Your most important content will always be your own music, pictures and movies. Yes, we want online content in our media centers, but don’t sacrifice ease of use because you want to push your online content.

After a quick tour of the core functionallity I can conclude that the TV module still has stability issues, the music module is very fast compared to Windows Media Center Edition, the photo module is OK, the video module plays what I want nicely.

The music module did not play WMA with DRM and did not attempt to notify me in any way. The tracks was available but did simply not play. No error messages.

The TV module gave a very low quality picture after the default set up through the wizard.

I started looking for the very powerful configuration tool that I am familiar with from Meedio. But it’s not there. The most important configuration options in the application are missing as well. The theme switcher and the plug in installer that we know from Meedio.

Uh-oh. This is crap. It’s at this point I understand that this version of Yahoo! Go for TV does not deserve more of my valuable time. No possibilities for local content from multiple drives. I did not find any way to set up my remote. No flexibility regarding the theme. Actually I didn’t even find a way to change my music directory after finishing the wizard for the first time. Here is the original list of advantages from Meedio tuned to match Yahoo! Go for TV:

1. Very flexible, open and configurable
2. A fast database as basis of the media archive
3. A very dedicated user base
4. Huge amounts of plugins to extend it
5. Relatively small footprint and modest system requirements
6. Focus on supporting countries outside the US

Screenshot - Flickr module
Yes, yes, yes. I know. I did not really test the important part of Yahoo! Go for TV. The online features. I gave the Flickr module a try, but being connected through a proxy usually gives a very poor network performance, so it will not be fair to base any conclusions on my current possibilities regarding the online features of Yahoo! Go for TV.

But I’ll tell you this. As long as the basic functionallity is so limited the online content can not justify this product in any way. Yahoo has to do something serious. Fast.

This is what’s going to happen

The existing Meedio community will flee to MediaPortal. This free and open source solution will outperform Yahoo! Go for TV in all areas for the advanced user. With some plugins, the Democracy player in the background, TVTonic and some simple tweaks you get loads of online content for that solution.

For the regular user Windows Media Center Edition will give you a solid core functionallity and huge amounts of content from the net through Online Spotlight.

The Mac users will keep waiting for the next major upgrade of Front Row and the Linux community will keep having fun with MythTV.

Maybe Yahoo wants to build a walled garden of online services that will only be available on the TV screen through Yahoo! Go for TV. In that case it has to be extremely attractive services to justify the use of such a limited product. If they manage to offer such interesting content I think people will at best use Yahoo! Go for TV as a second application on their media centers that already run MCE or MediaPortal.

Or maybe not. This is what Windows Media Center gave me in the TV module after I had installed Yahoo! Go for TV on my box:

Screenshot - Tuner Not Installed

I have now uninstalled Yahoo! Go for TV and my MCE is back to normal after a reset of the box. Pablo and the people behind Meedio are really excellent guys with a true understanding of how to build a powerful and flexible media center. I still have hopes for this product so I’ll keep following the development. Now I just have to wait for Dave, Thomas, Michael or Om to test the online features…

And by the way. Here is the complete list of Meedio and Yahoo Go for TV alternatives: The media center software list

Digg this story here.

As I said, Pablo and the team are excellent guys. Reading through this thread and this thread at the old Meedio forum gives me hope!

More people with hands on here and here.

Yahoo GO TV first take

Home Theatre PC Links Roundup

TV Error
I have a lot of visitors looking for information about media centers right now. Here is a quick list of links in this blog that is useful if you want to start experimenting.

You find all the articles in the Home Theatre PC (HTPC) category here: – HTPC

And a selection of specially useful articles:
The media center software list
HTPC Frontend roundup
Screen technologies. LCD or Plasma?
Perfect adjustment of your LCD
How to build a cabinet for your HTPC
How to build a completely silent fan for your cabinet
Thumbnails of my old background pictures
How to remote control your music collection from your PDA, laptop, meedio etc…
Silencing an XFX GeForce 6600 GT AGP with a Zalman VF700 Cu
Playing smooth WMV-HD in Windows Media Center Edition
Windows Media Center Edition with 3 tuners
Placeshifting – your media everywhere
HighPad Media Control – PDA Remote for Windows Media Center
Still in list-mode: the Media Center Blogs
Apple Media Center – At last!
Converting DVR-MS files from your media center
How to program the buttons on your MCE Remote
Webcam screensaver for your media center
Recommended HTPC hardware
Some notes on signal quality in a home theatre PC (HTPC)

…or you can take a break and have a look at a lot of other popular articles!

Home Theatre PC Links Roundup

What’s so special today then?

First of all, it’s my birthday. A friend of mine just told me that I had to post that on my blog, because otherwise nobody would know… (hmm, time to get a life?) Well – now you know!

Second, today will pass 400 000 pageloads since I installed Statcounter.

Third, over the past couple of days I have upgraded to WordPress 2.0 and done some small changes to the site:
– added a new “About this site” page with links to all the WordPress plugins I use and a couple of other things
– added a “popular content” page with links to… popular content.
– added an RSS and subscriptions page with all the links you need to subscribe to this blog in any RSS reader or by mail

…and a couple of other small changes.

Have fun and please don’t hesitate to contact me with suggestions for the site, the content, a way to celebrate my birthday or whatever… Comments are open.

What’s so special today then?

A cheap portable DVD and DivX player

Thomson DTH620
Thomson DTH 620
Travelling with kids can be anything from very rewarding and fun to a complete nightmare. Kids are in general very curious and easy to please as things happen around them on the way to a new destination. You always have the traditional games of spotting and counting special objects, following the map, telling stories etc.. If you combine these methods with some new technologies like MP3-players, iPods and portable DVD-Players you could end up managing even quite long trips with no problems.

I have written about the long plane ride and the iPod. In our car we have used a ridiculously cheap little LCD that I bought on eBay connected to my video iPod to show movies. Now the youngest one is old enough to understand what’s going on and we needed a second screen. I don’t want anything very expensive lying around in my car, so I went completely against my own rules of buying quality goods and bought a cheap portable DVD player as the second monitor. I haven’t put it on any hard tests yet, but it seems to fit in perfectly well in our media system in the car.

Thomson DTH 620 connectorsQuick specs:
– 7 inch widescreen
– DVD Player
– Supports DivX, Xvid, MP3, WMA
– Composite video out
– Stereo audio out
– Digital audio out
– Composite video in
– Stereo audio in
– Two headphone connectors
– A three hour battery

It connected to the old Eddie Bauer LCD with no problems. The old screen is NTSC only, but you can choose what signal the DTH620 will transmit on the video output.

So, pop in a DVD in the Thomson player, connect it to another screen as well, and you have the movie on both of them.

LCD screen connected to an iPod VideoConnect it to the video output on your video iPod and you suddenly have a 7 inch portable screen for your iPod. The battery life of the screen is three hours. Probably longer when you use it as a screen only (as long as your iPod provides the video the built in DVD player in the DTH 620 is at rest).

The fact that it plays DivX and Xvid is very nice. I encode my DVDs using AutoGK and end up with between 5 and 10 complete movies on one data DVD (450-700 mb pr. movie is more than enough for this little screen). The DTH620 shows a list of what’s on the DVD and let you choose movie. And I can fit in enough MP3 music and audio books for a veeeery long trip on one DVD as well.

The only problem I have found so far is that I can’t figure out how to get the right aspect on DivX movies that is encoded in true 16/9. It seems like the player only support anamorphic 16/9. Using AutoGK to encode I fix this by hitting Ctrl-F9 to bring up the “hidden options” and check off “.aspect” – Override input AR – Original. Then AutoGK will make a nice anamorphic 16/9-movie that plays fine on the DTH620.

I also miss a loop-through possibility that would let me input video from my iPod and loop it further on to the next screen. To feed both screens with one iPod I need to split the signal (not good) or buy an active video splitter. Anyway, right now the youngest boy wants to look at Teletubbies while the older one watch Nemo or Madagascar. One from a DVD and one from one of our iPods.

It came with a bag and a strap to mount it on the headrest. As well as a charger and connector for the car. I bought mine in Norway at the sometimes horribly expensive and sometimes very cheap Elkjøp for NOK 1295,- (about $200).

Time will show how long this player will last…

A cheap portable DVD and DivX player

Stupid artist families and stupid astronomers

Google Miro Front Page
Thomas Hawk has an excellent comment on the fact that Joan Miro’s family just sued Google because they incorporated parts of his art in their logo on his birthday:

“So let’s get this right. Google chooses to create a special logo to honor the art and memory of Miro and his birth in 1893 and his family wants to get all pissy about it?”

I hope Miro turns in his grave in disgrace of his own family. This is just ridiculous.

It reminds me of the story from 1994 when Apple used the code name Sagan for their new PowerMac under construction. The name was only used internally and was chosen to honour the astronomer Carl Sagan. He did not like the honour and sued Apple for the use of his name. He lost the lawsuit, but the engineers at Apple gave in and changed the code name. They changed it to “Butthead Astronomer“. Sagan actually sued them again. And lost.

Stupid artist families and stupid astronomers