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Shelved Prototype and TVKit Rumors

More Apple TV rumors popped up yesterday. One rumor was about a shelved TV panel that’s locked away in some lab. I have no interest in what they are rumored to not-release.

There’s still some simmering excitement over “4K” with some news outlets saying it’s possible, and some saying it’s not on the table at all. I’m very inclined to believe it’s not on the table. “4K” is really UHD, which is a way to sell panels, not content. Even with the Blu Ray Association revising the disc standard to allow for UHD content, there will still be a paucity of people excited about rebuying a library of discs for UHD. Particularly when most TV and film is not output for the format.

Since the rumors around Apple’s OTT service center on American broadcast stations, and a select number of cable networks — none of which show UHD content — I don’t think it’s a remote possibility. Particularly when Apple is competing against cable networks on that OTT service and those networks aren’t rolling out UHD channels either.

That’s not to say that they will never, ever do it, but there’s no reason to expect it in the fall, or even next year. Not until things you can watch in UHD show up. Crazy, I know, but most people don’t want to sit at home and watch a handful of Netflix episodes and some demo footage of a scenic waterfall, or canyon vista.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Apple is in talks with programmers to create a bundle of TV channels delivered over the Internet to its devices, according to people familiar with the matter. It has told media companies that it hopes to unveil the service in June, and begin programming in the fall, they said. Whether Apple makes that announcement may depend on the progress of those talks.

There are also rumors about “TVKit” which will allow third party developers to create their own apps for the Apple TV.

Our sources add that a new version of Xcode, known as “MuirTrail” internally, includes a new feature called “TVKit” for developers to build third-party Apple TV apps.

Many people, including MacStories’ Federico Vittici are interpreting that as gaming on the box:

TVKit rumor: http://9to5mac.com/2015/05/18/app…

Thinking about the possibilities of Metal and haptic feedback powering future Apple TV games…

While that is possible, I would like to point out that it’s just as likely that this won’t have anything to do with gaming. It’ll allow for richer brand-engagement with custom menus and interfaces for apps that serve streaming content. Think about the networks that have apps on your phone. Now imagine those apps on your TV. Imagine someone on stage at WWDC talking about how easy it will be to develop apps for both devices with “TVKit”. Also imagine that it’ll focus on analytics, possibly through iAd, because I still see analytics driving advertising as the primary motivation for these networks to take OTT services seriously. Like Roku’s deal with Nielsen.

I mean, yes, I’m sure “TVKit” is for super-fun games. Sure.

2015-05-19 08:45:00

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Wow Factor Cheatsheet

A few things I want to reiterate about 4K, UHD, Dolby Vision, HFR, and HDR:

  • “4K” is not actually a standard, UHD is. It’s still used by many to refer to the resolution.
  • UHD is about frame rate, color, compression, and different resolutions, including 4K. Officially, the whole thing is Rec. 2020, or BT 2020.
  • Blu-Ray doesn’t play back UHD content, but it will.
  • HDR is also not a standard. It means “high dynamic range”. In terms of TVs, it’s usually used to refer to Dolby Vision.
  • Dolby Vision is a proprietary standard of (suspense accent) Dolby. They’re very eager to license it to people.
  • Dolby Vision has the same Rec. 2020 color gamut as UHD, but it has a greater range of luminance. Whites are whiter, darks are darker. I recommend reading the very short PDF on it.
  • Dolby Vision can be any resolution. When it initially premiered, it was pitched as a competing technology to UHD. However, there are “4K” Dolby Vision displays.
  • Dolby Vision is even supported for laser projectors in theaters. It’s not the same as a Dolby Vision TV in a home. The specification allows for this variation (mostly because they can market it all as Dolby Vision).
  • HFR means “high frame rate” and it’s not a standard. It basically just means anything higher than 24 FPS, the standard frame rate for film. 30 FPS was common as part of the NTSC standard, but it doesn’t really count. People are usually referring to 48+ FPS when talking about HFR. It hasn’t been very popular with critics, or audiences.

It’s about more than just the TV, it’s the pipeline of how stuff got to your TV. Whatever a person watches on their TV is only ever going to be as good as the worst part of that pipeline. If you’re watching satellite broadcasts, they’re compressed. If you’re watching a movie that was transferred to UHD, but your display is Dolby Vision, you’re not getting that amazing color and contrast. If your source material was an episode of Doctor Who shot in 1976 then no fancy TV is going to help very much.

A major limitation is getting the content into homes, with the Blu-Ray Association announcing another revision to their disc format to accommodate UHD (but not Dolby Vision), and only a handful of streaming services. Even Apple’s magical, unicorn TV coming this fall is rumored not to have 4K support.

In terms of color, and brightness, there’s a ton that’s available in older material that’s not been represented to people in their homes. Some recent productions are using an ACES pipeline to try and keep color, and brightness, as lossless as possible through the whole mastering process.

Movies from the last 20-ish years had their effects mastered in about 2K-ish resolutions. Even modern film and television shows are not mastered to take advantage of the new technologies appearing on the market. Some do, like House of Cards which had its’ third season mastered in 6K (6 times HD). Even Disney’s Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron had the intricate effects for The Vision’s face delivered at a final resolution lower than UHD.

Will the person sitting at home perceive variations in quality? Probably not. I’ll know they’re there, damn it. I’ll know they’re there, and I’ll judge you all.

2015-05-18 09:00:00

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Critical MAS

Oh noes! The Mac App Store is in the news again, and it’s for the same thing that it’s always in the news for — being really, really lame. Some developers make a living off of apps that they distribute through it, and others — notably ones that had apps that predate the store — left. No big third parties ever joined the store, except to offer camera apps or tiny utilities.

349 days ago, I wrote this:

The Mac App Store offers very little promise to developers, which in turn, offers very little promise to me. I’m still using web downloads, serial numbers, and — for fuck’s sake — Creative Cloud. I hate that. Words could not possibly do justice to the caustic bile that wells up from within my blackened soul when I think of Adobe’s Creative Cloud and it’s update for it’s update process. It spews forth excrement in to the world, and I gladly sup it, because I need it.

I hope that after Apple’s WWDC event next week they release an “App Store”.

LOL, they totes didn’t release any update to the store, it’s exactly the same, and we’re having exactly the same conversations. Yaaaay!

This specific iteration of “MAS sucks” started with Sam Soffes’ blog post on Redacted’s launch. What’s important about his experience is how ranking in the store translates to real-world value. Even though he was ranked very highly, it’s ultimately not that important because not a lot of people are buying things in the store. Contrast that with the iOS app store, and it’s rankings.

Stephen Hackett, of 512pixels, chimed in with, “I think it may be time for Apple to take a long, hard look at the Mac App Store and either invest in it and woo back developers (and customers) or just shutter the thing.” He wasn’t really serious about shuttering it, as he went on to reiterate in an episode of the Connected podcast.

After the initial brouhaha, Sam’s story turned in to press for the app, and drove his sales up. However, that doesn’t resolve the issue with how it originally ranked, and how little people are using the store. A public outcry to shop at a store is not a sign of a healthy store.

Todd Ditchendorf, developer of many fine apps at Celestial Teapot, jotted off a few comments defending the MAS on Twitter.

Some of us are making a nice living as Mac devs, & MAS is an important part of that. Do us a solid & don’t tell  to shut it down /cc @512px — @iTod May 7, 2015

The Mac App Store has problems, but as a marketing vehicle, it’s well worth the 30% revenue share. Indie devs would be worse off without it — @iTod May 7, 2015

So there’s a divide here where there are indie devs that are making a living off of what they earn from the MAS. Perhaps that has to do with releasing a variety of apps, like Todd, rather than living off the release of a single app, like Sam’s post initially lamented. That’s why I choose to look past the specific value, since “a living” varies for everyone, and concentrate on those ranks.

What About the Big Fish?

Why would an app that focuses on obscuring part of an image reach the very heights of the MAS — in the graphics category, and overall — and be a featured app? Where are the usual, profitable software companies that are prolific in the graphics field, or in any field?

Currently sitting at number five in the “Top Grossing” list is “Adobe Photoshop Elements 13 & Adobe Premiere Elements 13”, a bundled app at $149.99. There are no customer reviews, but this is a $149.99 app so it’s not like it takes a lot of people buying it to show up on a top grossing chart.

Adobe doesn’t offer any of it’s high-end software for the MAS, you have to use their site, and store, and CreativeCloud subscription model. They have no incentive to put apps people need for work in the store, because those people will do whatever they tell them to[^1]. Dance for Adobe, monkey! Dance!

Microsoft Office isn’t in the store, even though MS and Apple have made a big deal about how closely they want to work together. You can, however, get Microsoft Remote Desktop. That’s exciting.

Autodesk isn’t absent from the store either, they just have total garbage in the store. Their high end software, like Adobe and Microsoft, lives elsewhere.

A big part of that is upgrade pricing, and pricing in general. Since subscription models are all the rage these days, even at Apple, perhaps Apple should offer subs as a way to entice big third parties to put their big apps in the store?

Perhaps, maybe, they could do… anything at all, really, to make it slightly more appealing to big, third parties?

This is why an app that redacts regions of an image hit the top of the charts.

Ain’t No Party Like a First Party

I will continue to argue, like I do every year, that Apple should put forth effort for best-in-class software. For a while, Apple, and Adobe, were direct competitors with many of their products, but that competition has dropped away. Final Cut and Logic still compete with Adobe products, but Shake is long gone, and the plug was officially pulled on Aperture last year.

Even now, the applications you’ll see topping the charts are Apple’s own, but in many ways, they win by default in the store.

Marco Arment, expressing his discontent with Apple (totes shocked, bro) rattled off a few tweets last night:

Photos is a great app in many ways, but it definitely doesn’t replace Aperture.

Reality: This is iPhoto X, and Aperture was discontinued. — @marcoarment

I really miss Adobe adjustment tools when using Photos.app on RAWs.

I might add a Bridge process-to-JPEG step before importing to Photos. — @marcoarment

Just another happy customer that loves Apple’s first-in-class software!

A small store, filled with indie developers in various states of happiness, no big third party software, and a mixed bag of first party software that neglects the high end. Apple can, and should do better than that.

[^1]: Before anyone else points out perennial store, and fan favorite, Pixelmator does what Photoshop, or Photoshop Elements does, I will reiterate that it does not. It’s absolutely fantastic, and fills most customer needs (I’d certainly recommend it over Elements!) but it is not a feature-for-feature replacement for Photoshop and if you argue that it is then I know that you don’t use Photoshop in a professional capacity.

2015-05-13 09:00:00

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Vanity Publishing System

The whole reason I wrote this blogging “engine” is because I was inspired by Casey Liss writing his own. A major decision was where to put the blog, but instead of picking Heroku, I elected to go the VPS route. Even though I was intimidated at the time, I’ve never looked back on that choice with regret. Heroku has many nice things, but it lacked the flexibility I wanted. I found out through Casey’s blog that Heroku is limiting the operational time of apps on the free tier, but they are offering a hobby tier, with restrictions, at $7 a month. That’s baffling to me when almost every company offering a VPS offers far less restrictive plans for $5 a month.

Now, I might just be a simple, country lawyer (I’m not) but that seems like it is not a very good deal. It is not a significant amount of money, but it’s enough that I wouldn’t recommend anyone with a pet project go play with it on Heroku instead of setting up a VPS. At least Casey has momentum, and he’ll save time by not having to adapt or change, his setup.

Of course, Constantin Jacob wrote a wiki to install and run Camel on a VPS from scratch… Erm, so…

For anyone that is considering moving over to a VPS, I do encourage you to do so. It is very easy to get up and running. The fine-tuning can be a breeze, or a real slog, depending on the specific needs of the task you want to do. With something like Heroku, the boundaries are defined, but there’s so much freedom in running a server that the lack of restriction can be daunting. It’s a bit like looking at a blank page, so give yourself a little “writing exercise” of serving some static files.

My setup? An Ubuntu droplet (out of the box) that serves static files with Twisted (not out of the box). It’s even easy to manage things on the go with tools like Panic’s Prompt and Transmit.

Problems I’ve faced:

That’s really not that bad, right? There’s nothing really messy, even less so if you’re better equipped than I am. After all, I am a simple, country lawyer (still not true).

If you want to try out DigitalOcean, feel free to use my referral link for a $10 credit, which is 2 free months to give it a shot. Or try Linode, or whatever else. It’s better than paying Heroku $7 a month to host a blog.

2015-05-12 08:23:00

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FXGuide on the Avengers: Age of Ultron

I watched Avengers: Age of Ultron yesterday, and I wondered how the work was divided between various VFX houses. I knew multiple places worked on it beforehand, but I didn’t know the specifics. Everything felt pretty cohesive, there were a few things that seemed inconsistent with the other work, but it is mostly cohesive.

FXGuide has a breakdown of all the vendor work. Who did what, what assets were shared, and how things were handed off. The shared assets are always fascinating to me because that requires a level of effort that can’t be appreciated by the audience.

In this article, fxguide finds out from Townsend and many of the VFX vendors on the show - including ILM, Trixter, Double Negative, Animal Logic, Framestore, Lola VFX, Territory, Perception NYC, Method Studios, Luma Pictures and The Third Floor - how the studios were cast and how the biggest characters and biggest scenes were carried out.

Mike Seymour talks to Lola visual effects supervisor Trent Claus about the work that Lola did for The Vision’s face in fxpodcast #267. Lola usually does beauty work on films that you don’t usually perceive. Like “airbrushing” in magazine photos, but for film. They specifically focus on the subtlety of the eye work.

And the question on everyone’s mind

Mike Seymour: “What resolution were you working in?”

Trent Claus: “It’s basically 3K, It was, I believe, 3414x2196, it was shot on Alexa.”

2015-05-04 08:22:00

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Nielsen to Measure Roku Connected-TV Video Ads ►

Todd Spangler, writing for Variety, discusses a new arrangement between Roku and Nielsen. For those unfamiliar, Roku makes streaming-media devices, and software to stream content, and Nielsen is a firm that specializes in tracking what people are watching.

About half of the 250 most-watched Roku channels, including CBS All Access, already deliver ads, but in selling that inventory publishers have had to extrapolate audience demographics for ad impressions.

Now, Roku channel partners will be able to measure audience according to Nielsen’s standard demo breakdowns. Nielsen will collect usage data from Roku devices (stripped of personally identifying info) and then will use its National People Meter television panel to assign audiences.

TV advertising is faltering largely because agencies and clients expect the kinds of measurements that they can get through online advertising. Providing this data through Nielsen is going to be very attractive to television networks looking to satisfy their demanding advertisers.

Roku is often overlooked by tech press that covers Apple, but the devices are quite popular.

In 2014, Roku users streamed more than 3 billion hours of video. (For the sake of comparison, Netflix said subscribers worldwide consumed 10 billion hours in the first quarter of 2015 alone.)

Apple TV does have some ad tracking through Apple’s iAd platform, but how that’s working, and what their plans are for it in the future, are kind of a mystery. I’ve speculated that if Apple is getting the old-guard, American TV broadcasters to offer streaming on Apple TV and other iOS devices, then it’s a forgone conclusion that they’re going to provide advertising, and advertising tracking, because that’s the carrot that’s going to move this along. They don’t really have a stick (literally, heh).

2015-04-30 08:50:00

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Analog(ue) #37: The Times are Changing ►

It’s no secret that I like to listen to Analog(ue) on Relay FM and hear Myke and Casey struggle with how they integrate technology with their lives. This past week was about how Myke met his girlfriend online. Why he approached it, how he went about it, and the stigma of sharing how they met.

First off, the stigma is very real, but mostly generational. People around my age, like Casey, might not have gone on any dating sites, but might be accepting of it because they know people that have. People old enough to be the parents of grown-up adults tend to have mostly negative views. Even younger people are seemingly the most accepting. It is the kind of pattern you see with all internet services. It doesn’t help that most people think finding someone to date online means instantly hooking up with randos for flings.

I don’t generally share the story of how I met my boyfriend, but it was almost six years ago. We met on Match (not an endorsement) and I said we should get coffee. July 2nd, we met for the first time at Intelligentsia Coffee in Venice. We met and talked and decided to go on more dates. There is nothing weird, or creepy, about it.

Online dating is crucial for many people that don’t have much social interaction in their busy lives. It can also be essential if you are a guy that is not looking for a girlfriend. Online profiles tend to clear up a lot of ambiguity.

I encourage people to give that Analog(ue) episode a listen to hear Myke’s experience.

2015-04-27 08:00:00

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Batman and Superman v. Fans

Graeme McMillan wrote an opinion piece for The Hollywood Reporter about the online reaction to trailer for Warner Bros. next superhero movie. Unfortunately, Graeme misplaces the blame for the reaction to the trailer at the feet of the fans. It’s not Warner Bros. that has a problem, it’s the people that love Superman and Batman, or films, that have a problem. We’re all such jerks.

Think of it as “A Tale of Two Trailers.” Thursday saw the release of teasers for both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and, thanks to what appears to be a camera phone-aided leak, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Both are among the most eagerly-anticipated movies of the next twelve months, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ended. While The Force Awakens was met with a huge embrace, the response to Batman v Superman was a whole lot cooler — and crankier.

This is an apt comparison to make. I also made that same comparison.

Graeme feels like The Force Awakens’ marketing task was a small hurdle:

By contrast, Star Wars: The Force Awakens had a far easier job: all it had to do was convince the audience that it was the Star Wars that they grew up with.

Oh. That’s all! Easy-peasy.

Ultimately, audiences know as much (or, really, as little) about The Force Awakens as they do BVS, but because the latter is building off of a base of goodwill as opposed to apathy or outright suspicion, the Force trailer was successful in a way that the BVS trailer can only dream of being.

Who’s fault is that, Graeme? It’s not the fault of the fans. It’s not the fault of people that saw Man of Steel. It’s not like they’ve been unfairly maligned by a smear campaign from someone else making a terrible Superman movie.

Graeme even compares the plight of Batman v. Superman to Terminator Genisys [sic]. He says that fans reject the premise so strongly, so Fox couldn’t help but release a trailer that shows the twist of the movie three months before the film hits theaters. Fans are such jerks for making them ruin their movie!

What?!

Trailers are marketing tools, and they exist to get people into theaters, but don’t “ruin” your movie to try and get people in to theaters. Fretting that BvS is equally ridiculous.

Trailers, ultimately, are tricks; they’re something that exists to convince the audience that, hey, this movie is exactly what you want to see! Unfortunately, such tricks only work on audiences that are willing to be convinced, or at least open to persuasion.

Yes, trailers are tricks. They are marketing instruments that often have little to do with the final film. They are laboriously constructed to get people to go to theaters opening weekend. With franchise films, they are specifically about building off good feelings that already exist toward a piece of intellectual property — like a novel, comic book, film, or TV show.

This piece of marketing does not appeal to me, or seemingly, almost anyone. That is a failure of marketing. The trailer might be accurate to what the film winds up being, but then it’s a failure of marketing, and a failure of filmmaking.

JJ Abrams, and Disney, had an uphill battle with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. They created an appealing piece of marketing. What the final film ends up being — well, we’ll see. That is a heroic feet.

2015-04-19 08:03:10

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Star Teaser Two: The Feels Awaken

By now, everyone and their grandmother has seen the new teaser trailer for the next Star Wars movie at least five times. I’ll keep what I have to say about it short.

I like the teaser. I feel something when I watch the teaser. Even someone as jaded, and cynical, as myself can be tricked into being excited about a film these days. This is what JJ is good at — He knows how to work the feels. You can pick apart many shows and movies JJ has done, but he always jams his work full of things that immediately resonate, emotionally, with the audience.

The first teaser was full of stuff that resembled things from the original Star Wars movie. Visual analogs were offered that called back to something we had good feelings about. Many of these costumes, and objects, are tweaked, instead of being the same as they once were. The first teaser was met with positive comments (mostly.) It didn’t have any of the actors from the original film series. Fans already know that those people are involved.

When the first teaser came out, Dan and I put out a whole trailer-centric episode — Defocused 25: ‘A Controlled Leak’. We also discussed Star Wars: The Phantom Menace‘s trailers, as well as Cloverfield and Star Trek.

The new teaser has gone further with calling back to the original series of films. Again, many things are altered to be slightly different, and yet the same. The teaser winks and nods at the audience. “Hey, buddy, remember those good times we had? Remember this guy?” Every frame of it seems composed to expressly tie elements with the previous stories, including the voiceover from Luke Skywalker, and appearance of Han and Chewie.

I am charmed by it, in the truest sense. There are many things a teaser trailer like this can do to mitigate the “bad PR” of the prequels. We all know a giant, corporate entity runs it as a film franchise. We cheer, and tear up, over seeing familiar things that trigger our memories. It’s pavlovian.

I hope that the film can deliver, and that I’m not distracted by all the winking and nodding that comes through in the teasers. I want to be in the moment of the movie, and I don’t want to be knocked out by remembering the other films. I’m very optimistic about it. That’s really my only concern — my optimism.

JJ seems far better suited to Star Wars, than Star Trek, and I can only assume that means the film will be as good as 2009’s Star Trek was at playing with feelings (if not the plot).

2015-04-16 23:45:00

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We Can Reboot It for You Wholesale

I suggested to Dan that we watch Total Recall for our podcast, Defocused. Of course I was referring to the 1990 hit, by Paul Verhoeven. Before we recorded our podcast, I did decide to go ahead and watch the 2012 reboot by Len Wiseman did for Columbia Pictures.

That remake infuriated me — and not because it was a remake. It was just a shitty remake. Much like Columbia Pictures’ remake of RoboCop — another Paul Verhoeven film. All the quirky comedy was extracted, the goofball, over-the-top violence was gone. Influences of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek flares and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (a different Philip K. Dick story) are pasted on.

It’s not like the 1990 film has much in common with the short story, but 2012 film didn’t do itself any favors by trying to go a third way with the story.

Reboots and remakes can work, but they do often miss the mark. I’ll pitch you on an example idea.

Joe’s Total Recall

Let’s go back to what works, the 1990 movie. Same story, no need for a new plot twist. Instead it’s about a casting twist. Gender swap the whole main cast.

  • Lori Quaid - The Protagonist
  • Douglas Quaid - The husband/agent
  • Mel - The boyfriend/freedom fighter
  • Vina Cohaagen - The corrupt, ruthless governor

The only element of the 2012 movie I would retain is keeping agent (Lori, in this case Douglas) through the whole film and removing the character of Richter.

We still open on the dream, and waking up. We have the breakfast scene where the husband tells the wife that her dreams are nothing. The wife thinks about Mars, and the husband talks down to her about it. She goes to work in an office job (no rock quarry) and does the same thing as everyone else around her. Everything in her life is bland and boring. A coworker warns her not to go to Recall. She goes.

How much more interesting is this story about male fantasy when it’s reframed from a whole new perspective? Hell, I’d even pitch having Sharon Stone as Vina Cohaagen. Arnold’s head would malfunction and repeat “Two Weeks” — it would be fantastic.

2015-04-13 08:15:00

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