Google 411

Let me preface this post with the fact the Google’s SMS text feature has long been a favorite of mine. Let’s say you need to visit a restaurant in another city, but you don’t know the phone or address. Well, just send a text message to googl (no “e”) with the business name, city, and state and you’ll get a message back within 10 seconds telling you the wherabouts of the location. You can even highlight the phone number(s) (in most phones) and dial right to it. If you have a text plan, it’s great. Otherwise, it’s the normal fee (10 cents per text?).

Well, I was in love with that . . . until the newest thing from Google. Just call 1-800-GOOG-411 and you’ll be prompted by a voice asking the business, city, and state . . . it’s worked flawless for me every time.

Oh, and it will connect you for free . . . talk about sealing the deal.

iTunes to offer DRM Free Music from EMI

OK, let’s look at the title of this post. You probably know iTunes . . . . that leaves DRM, and EMI. Here’s a quick overview: DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It’s the stuff that keeps you from copying a music track you buy online from, say, iTunes for Rhapsody or the like. You can only use the track on your computer or a player that supports that format. This is why I don’t buy music from iTunes as a rule . . . if I do, I am limited to playing it from my computer or my iPod. That’s fine in most cases, but sometimes I want to play stuff through the Tivo or another player or computer that doesn’t have my main iTunes library – that gets frustrating.

Now, EMI, is a major music provider (label if you will). Think Rolling Stones, Beatles, etc. Pretty mainstream music.

Well, what EMI is going to do is allow iTunes to sell their music DRM free . . . you’ll be able to move it to any player you have. Now, it will be in ACC format (Apple’s proprietary format), but many players support that format. I’m in the MP3 camp (more universal), but it’s a start.

Hopefully this will set a precedent for more labels to offer tracks that aren’t restricted to certain players. One difficult pill to swallow at this point – the tracks are set at $1.29 (not .99). They are twice the quality level, but we’ll see how that price point pans out.

Unbox Unleashed

Good Good Friday, everyone! I wanted to throw up a quick post about a pretty cool new feature (that I wrote about earlier) from TiVo and Amazon. It’s called Unbox and it allows you to download movies (rentals or purchases) to your TiVo. Sound pretty cool . . . it is – and somewhat isn’t. More on that below.

I think the best part about Unbox/Tivo is the fact that they give you $15 worth of downloads just to try it out (if you sign up by the end of April). I gave it a whirl and it’s amazingly simple. The only way it could be easier for me is if I could select movies from my TiVo screen. To get started, you simply login to your Amazon account, link up your TiVo (which needs to be connected via a broadband connection like cable or DSL), then you select the movie and send it to your tivo.

Download Time
The download starts almost instantly (for me at least) and generally takes half the time of the movie to download (i.e. a 2 hour movie takes around 1 hour to download).

Video Quality
I’ve had mixed issues with video. The first movie I downloaded was for Maggie (5 years). It was one of the Barbie Computer animated movies. I thought, “this should be a good quality since it’s digitally animated”. Well, it looked far worse than a similar movie on DVD. I then rented “Barnyard” for the kids (more computer animation). Again, it was less than stellar. We bought the DVD later and it looked MUCH better. However, we’re watching “A Good Year” with Russell Crowe now and it looks super (same or better than DVD). I think it all comes down to the quality the producers of the movie use. For example, Barnyard was 1.5 GBytes in size compared to Good Year’s 2.5 GB.

Playback Ease of Use
If you own a TiVo, you know how easy this is. Once the movie has downloaded, you select play and your rolling. One downside is the fact that you can’t start watching before the entire movie downloads (not yet anyway).

The potential here is great. Now, I’m at the point in life where TV Movie viewing (much less theater viewing!) is at a minimal. However, the fact that they are offering TV rentals (and more every day) is a big plus for me. I don’t like the fact that the TV rentals are $1.99, but if you can buy a season for $20-$25, I might be hooked.

Disk Space (Non) Issues
When I first read about movie/tv purchases for TiVo, I immediately thought about the fact that my hard drive will fill up quick (even at 80GB). Fortunately, they thought ahead with this and allow you to re-download any previous movie or TV show you own. So, if you need to delete a movie to save disk space, you can always go back later and download again at no charge.

In Conclusion
I’ve been waiting for this feature on TiVo for several years now. I wasn’t expecting it to come from Amazon, but they seem to have done a good job. The selection isn’t stellar, but they are adding more shows and movies all the time. With the Apple TV coming along strong (more on that later!), I’m glad to see I have downloadable options with my good ol’ TiVo (sadly not in Hi-Definition). The fact that the pricing is a la Carte is nice too – that way I can grab a video when I want to . . . almost instantly.