The UpStream

Google Queues Up Another Product for Sale, the Nexus Player

posted Sunday Oct 19, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Google Queues Up Another Product for Sale, the Nexus Player

Lately we're seeing this strange influx of inexpensive gaming set-top boxes that can also stream media. Additionally, we're seeing them all run Android for whatever reason, and each of them just feel cheap. Not even counting the OUYA, there have been a dozen or so other boxes that have been announced in the past eighteen months that all feel the same way. Now, Google is looking to get into that game and prays that you forget all about the Nexus Q.

In a world where we'll probably never see an actual cost-effective Steam Machine, NVIDIA launching some type of graphics-card powered device and the Fire TV, Google has come out with the Nexus Player, not to be confused with that weird-looking Nexus. Google's vision is to harness the success and popularity of the Chromecast and come up with a device that doesn't need a computer counter-part at all. Instead, the Nexus Player is sort of what you'd expect from every other set-top media device we've seen. Play games, stream content and use apps on a clunky, Android-based interface.

You get a remote, just like the others, to navigate through the menus, and if you want to actually game, you can pick up a controller for $39 to compliment the box, both made by ASUS. The slight difference here is that it will be the first-ever gadget to run Android TV, which was announced at Google I/O. A 1.8GHz four-core Atom processor runs alongside 1GB of RAM and 8GB of data space to power the Nexus Player, and it will double as a Chromecast, offering the same experience you've come to know through the $35 HDMI plug-in. Intel says the chipset is capable of pushing 1080p streaming with "console-like" graphics, but I'd be curious to see how accurate those statements will be in the real world.

For $99, the Nexus Player can be purchased on November 3rd when it launches, but you can already pre-order the thing should you want to. Adversely, you can spend the same amount for an Amazon Fire TV if you want, and you'll get pretty much the same features and experience, plus Prime Instant Video. Are any of these interesting to you? Do you have a smart TV instead? Or are you just using an Xbox 360 like the rest of us? Let us know in the comments below and click on the break to see the Nexus Player teaser video.

Comcast Not Welcome in City, Called 'A Terrible Company'

posted Saturday Oct 18, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Comcast Not Welcome in City, Called 'A Terrible Company'

The Time Warner-Comcast merger has been a point of contention for many. Until now, the most vocal of which has been Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who has said that the merger will lead to higher prices for everyone.

Hastings has a new ally this week, the city council of Worcester, Massachusetts. City Councilor Gary Rosen said,

It's a terrible company. In my opinion, they should not be welcome in this city. Comcast is a wolf in wolf's clothing; it's that bad. They are awful, no doubt about it. Maybe we can't stop it, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't speak out.

This comes about as Comcast and Charter are making a few customer trades across the country in preparation for the merger. Like with wireless carriers, spectrum and customers sometimes have to be traded with competitors to avoid regulatory hurdles. Worcester is one of the markets that is being transitioned from Charter to Comcast, but clearly they are not happy about it.

This comment comes in preparation for a vote on whether to allow Comcast into their city. The Telegram & Gazette said,

The City Council is urging City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. not to sign off on the transfer of the city's cable television license from Charter Communications Inc. to Comcast Corp.

By an 8-3 vote, the council Tuesday night asked Mr. Augustus to reject Comcast's request for the license transfer because it feels the cable company lacks the necessary managerial experience, based on the number of public complaints there have been about its "substandard customer service practices."

If the city manager doesn't do anything, the transfer will be approved automatically. If he does reject it, Comcast will, obviously, appeal the decision. Unfortunately for the council, their reasoning is not sound. Deputy City Solicitor Michael E. Traynor said,

The cable license transfer can only be based on four criteria: the company's management, technical and legal experience, as well as its financial capabilities. If Comcast can meet that criteria, the transfer cannot be denied.

He believes that customer satisfaction does not indicate enough managerial experience issues. The council hopes that the vote will send a message, though. City Councilor Konstantina Lukes said,

This is not a paper vote; this is not an empty vote. This is a very clear vote that we are not going to tolerate the kind of responses we got from Charter and Comcast.

While it may not make a direct impact on the city, they do hope the FCC will take notice that there are some who are unhappy with the idea of a merger. Will it affect their decision regarding the merger? Only time can tell.

PlayStation Outsells Xbox in September, Helps Sony's Bottom Line

posted Saturday Oct 18, 2014 by Scott Ertz

PlayStation Outsells Xbox in September, Helps Sony's Bottom Line

Congratulations are in order for Sony's seemingly only profitable division: PlayStation. September was another successful month for them, outselling Microsoft's new console for the ninth straight month. This is a big win for Sony, who has been having nothing but trouble internally. Between billion dollar losses and major layoffs, Sony needs the win here.

With a 136% increase in hardware sales over last year and a large increase over August of this year, this was a great month for hardware. A lot of this can be attributed to the overall success of Destiny. Unfortunately for Microsoft, higher than Sony software sales of the game did not translate into higher hardware sales. Neither did offering a free game with console sales.

However, Sony shouldn't put all of their eggs in their PlayStation basket. In the last generation of consoles, at the end of September, the winning console was the Wii. Nintendo focused so hard on the Wii that they lost sight of the ball. Shortly after, the Wii was no longer the top console, being unseated by the Xbox 360, which stayed there almost unchanged until the end of the generation.

Obviously, initial sales successes do not indicate product successes. Allowing the PlayStation's initial success to rule the company could ultimately prove fatal. Hopefully they can continue to expand their Xperia line and get the media division back into profitability before the possibility of a leader change catches up to them. It wouldn't be the first time it happened.

HBO Announces Stand-Alone Streaming Service, Gives No Details

posted Wednesday Oct 15, 2014 by Scott Ertz

HBO Announces Stand-Alone Streaming Service, Gives No Details

HBO's business model has been fairly consistent for its entire existence: if you have cable, you can add HBO to your subscription for a monthly fee. In the last few decades of cable-based appointment television, this model has been incredibly successful. The two major changes to their business have been original programming, such as The Newsroom and Game of Thrones, and HBO GO.

HBO GO allows existing HBO subscribers to stream content on a variety of devices. The biggest issue with the service is the existing subscription requirement. Many young people are cutting their cable subscriptions entirely, meaning the target audience for HBO GO is completely ineligible to use it. That makes it difficult to justify the cost of the service, which can't be inexpensive.

Earlier this year, HBO Chief Executive Richard Plepler said,

Right now we have the right model. Maybe HBO GO, with our broadband partners, could evolve.

Analysts predicted that the evolution would come sooner than later, which makes sense in a time when the face of television is changing. Appointment television is coming to a swift end; I am watching old episodes of a television show as I write this. But can HBO compete in an arena that RedBox is vacating?

They are certainly going to give it a go. Plepler announced that, launching some time in 2015, HBO plans on offering content to non-cable subscribers. What they did not say was what content would be available on this unnamed platform. He said they would work with "current partners," which indicates that, currently, none of their contracts allow for off-network availability. This could prevent current programming from being available, as indicated previously.

What price would you be willing to pay to get HBO content without a cable subscription? Sound off in the comments.

Uber Driver Accused of Kidnapping, Company Disagrees

posted Wednesday Oct 15, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Uber Driver Accused of Kidnapping, Company Disagrees

Ride sharing apps, like Uber and Lyft, have been in the news a lot lately. A lot of the talk has surrounded the precarious legal position these types of apps have in various regions around the world. Cities, states and countries the world over have banned the app citing safety concerns and regulations skirting.

Unfortunately for these companies, the fears have been realized a few times over. Earlier this summer, a Washington DC ride became part of a "high speed chase" with a DC taxi inspector that ended up crossing state lines. Another rider, drunk and bar hopping in LA, was allegedly kidnapped, taken to a motel and asked to stay with the driver.

This week, another unfortunate incident has brought the topic of rider safety to the forefront, this time also in Los Angeles, and also with a drunk rider. The story, as reported, goes like this: female rider uses UberX to schedule a "taxi" ride to her home; a 20 minute trip. The driver then takes her 2 hours out of her way and into an empty parking lot, where he locked her in the car when she tried to get out. He then only took her to her destination after she began to scream in the locked car.

The driver, however, tells a different story of the event. According to the driver: drunk rider gets into car and requests an extended route home. At some point, the driver got concerned and called 911. Eva Behrend, from Uber, says,

Early reports on this ride are inaccurate. Based on the information we have at this time, this driver called 911 to ask for assistance with an intoxicated rider who requested an extended trip. However, we have refunded the rider's trip and reached out to the rider for additional information.

The most interesting thing about the refund was the comment attached to transaction: "inefficient route."

Obviously this all highlights the issues with an army of almost entirely unvetted drivers, the biggest of which being safety of the passengers. Taxi companies are responsible for the behavior of their drivers, but Uber and Lyft are completely unregulated, meaning they are not necessarily responsible for their drivers. The unregulated aspect seems to be part of the allure for some, though, so it is an interesting issue to solve.

Do you think more areas should focus on safety concerns or should Lyft and Uber be left alone? Let us know in the comments section.

Ballmer Forcing His Own Clippers to Get Rid of Apple Products

posted Sunday Sep 28, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Ballmer Forcing His Own Clippers to Get Rid of Apple Products

For those of you who might not have known by now, Steve Ballmer has stepped down as an executive board member for Microsoft after relinquishing the title of CEO to Satya Nadella earlier this year. One of the reasons he publicly mentioned for his stepping down as a board member was to devote more time to his other endeavors like teaching and his humanitarian efforts. Another one of those projects is his ownership of the NBA team, the LA Clippers. Now, he's setting aside a lot of time to permanently remove all remnants of Apple products from the team.

One thing Ballmer has promised as new owner is that he is going to ensure that his loyal Clippers fan will have "the best experience and that is not just the best in L.A." If you're on a smartphone or tablet, Ballmer said the fan's stay in the Staples Center will be unlike any other. To that end, he doesn't want an iPad, iPhone or any other iDevice or "Apple Device" in sight.

Most of the Clippers on are Windows, some of the players and coaches are not. And Doc (Rivers, the coach of the team) kind of knows that's a project. It's one of the first things he said to me: 'We are probably going to get rid of these iPads, aren't we?' And I said, 'Yeah, we probably are.' But I promised we would do it during the off season.

Especially after the NFL butchering the $400 million deal with Microsoft only to have the announcers call Surfaces iPads, one could assume that Ballmer doesn't want to repeat that debacle in his own arena and team. How will he ease out the Apple usage? We're not sure yet, but it's rumored it'll be through lots of pressure and yelling something about developers. Who knows, maybe he'll even fine players unwilling to change. It could be a new form of, "if you don't like it, don't play here and leave!" After all, Steve Ballmer is a man of character and is never known to do anything with half-effort. And if he's ever involved in a project, you know he's going to do it big.

In fact, Ballmer set a new record by purchasing the team for four times more than any other team has been sold for - a cool $2 billion. After purchasing the team, he held a pep rally, where I assume nobody on the team knew who he was other than "former Microsoft CEO." This is all due to the video of the pep rally that I watched, where the row of NBA stars were in shock by Ballmer's insanity passion and excitement. Somebody should have passed them a memo on who this guy was; see the reference about developers above for a good idea. Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing how he will transition the team out of Apple products and into his devices he helped create. Additionally, I'd like to see him pry an iPhone out of DeAndre Jordan's hands. The guy is 6'11 and 265 pounds. I'd go to my first ever NBA game to see that in the pre-game events.

Photo courtesy of Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports.

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