Ho Ho Wi-Fi-enabled Protocol-out-of-control Christmas

Christmas is over and all of the new tech is hooked up, and now a blog full of constructive criticisms. We were lucky this year, Santa brought us a Wii and a Roku Soundbridge and, of course, a variety of iPods.

The insane part of all of this, none of it works together. Myself and my friend have spent several hours downloading hacks, configuring, jiggering, connecting, reconnecting, and reconfiguring to get things in the proper state. Now I'm living in an odd house of cards (shareware, open source, beta-level applications that profess to be 1.0, and more).

Let's start with the Roku Soundbridge. Its a wi-fi enabled cylinder about 9 inches long and a 3 inch diameter. It looks for a server on the network, connects and gets playlists from the server. It professes to work with the Apple iTunes server as well as Windows Media Connect. Getting it onto my wi-fi that is password protected was not a problem, I had it there in about 10 minutes. Getting the playlists off of the servers in my house is a completely different odyssey. It doesn't work with shared CIFS drives from my Windows XP box (that's how I have all of my machines hooked up). The instructions are now dated, of course, so you are forced to hunt around. Interestingly, Windows Media Connect only exists bundled with Windows Media Player 11 (an obvious sign of trying to simplify things for xbox users that are sharing between Windows and xbox...something Roku should start to worry about...more on that later). So, I updated to MP11...and it still didn't work. Once you read the forums, you find out it doesn't work for lots of people and they backed off to Windows Media Player 10. Oh and by the way, it doesn't work with Apple iTunes 7 either (which is where I am with all of the iPods lying around). I ended up downloading the third party open source server firely server and, oh, don't forget to download the other thing from Apple or you can't install firefly.

Music is now flowing to the Roku Soundbridge, unfortunately, I have to add an 802.11g network extender to my post-Santa-Christmas-List because it is rebuffering 3 times per song...very annoying when you are rocking out to AC/DC. FOR THOSE ABOUT TO RO.....(rebuffering).......(30%)........(32%)........CK WE SAL...(rebuffering).....(13%)...... (you get the idea).

Lessons for Paul:
- Wi-fi 802.11b/g is ubiquitous, excellent stuff (incidentally, the Wii connected right up to my network as well).
- These third party suppliers of network equipment are completely at the mercy of the music servers...I understand you probably don't have enough memory/OS functions for a CIFS client but you need to work faster to support the latest...and your online help stinks

Onto the Video iPod, very cool. But, of course, I want to move my Tivo recordings to my iPod. I already have the Tivo Desktop on my PCs in my house, I had to purchase some sort of $25 portable device support from Tivo (I would give you the link but I have no clue...my friend took care of this for me and just asked me for my credit card...let's hope she didn't buy that new system she wanted but I didn't buy her for Christmas. She spent about an hour and a half configuring it (Tivo...the concept of the Tivo Desktop is there...but, to be frank, it stinks...it locks up constantly on one of my computers and the usability of it is terrible). We transferred a bunch of shows over to it. These now get converted into MPEG-4 that I can download to the Video iPod. Now, let's get something straight here, it is over 32 hours later and 4 hours of video are ready to download to the iPod. The machine is constantly working and there is a backlog of stuff to convert, but just so you understand, for over 36 hours of waiting and "transferring" and "converting", I have 4 hours of video. You've got to be kidding me. And the kicker, I have NO CLUE what it is doing...I just get a weird % converted if I flyover the Tivo icon in the bottom right corner of my screen. WHAT is 42% converted? How long is left? Why are you trying to convert all of the shows at once (I'm guessing this is what you are doing, I have no clue since there is no apparent log or way to find out what you are doing...let's pray my computer doesn't crash....)

Lessons for Paul
- The functionality is there, perhaps I need to buy time on the Sun Grid Compute Utility to get my Tivo content converted faster?
- The Tivo Desktop continues to be a mystery to me, how can such a wonderful device maker build such a terrible application?
- I don't have much nice to say about iTunes either, hello Apple...Window's Media Player is kicking your butt on the Media Player and Real also beats you

Oh yeah, The Fray CD is EXCELLENT if you haven't heard it.

And, finally, the Wii. A lot has been said about it, but that's by people that haven't spent days on end with it. The magic does start to go away after a few days. Once again, it connected nicely to my wi-fi network, but it takes HOURS to connect to the stores online and one of the channels is still not available after over a month. Just to be sure you realize that I wanted this thing, here is an image of my Toys 'R Us number, I was 21st in line...

I did NOT stay there all morning (or night), I just showed up 2 hours before they opened and made it in line.

I have four controllers for it and 4 people playing tennis gets me VERY VERY nervous...I don't have a mansion and all of those arms swinging around makes me think we are just waiting for a black eye to happen.

But here's what surprised me, the controller is actually FRUSTRATING in several games, especially for my 6 year old. Let me give you an example. In Spongebob Squarepants, you have to rotate the controller vertically in a circle to get the winch (yes, I said winch) to go up.
A) My son can read great, but he doesn't know what vertical is, so I have to be helping him
B) He doesn't really have the dexterity yet to do many of the more complicated controller waves and rotations, especially this often used winch raising move

In another game, Rayman Raving Rabbits, every game has different controller moves, so he has to have the patience to read on the way into every segment. In one mini-game, you have to move the Wiimote and the Nunchuck up and down to run, in another you have to point the Wiimote at the outhouse door and shake the Nunchuck to slam them on the bunnies that are...well...doing their business (this mini-game cracks me up). The two handed moves are often particularly odd, sort of like chewing gum and rubbing your head for him (and me at the start).

There is NO DOUBT that Nintendo has revolutionized game playing. For older folks it is a riot and, over time, your gestures tone down as you adapt to the controller. For my younger son, he loves Wii Sports, especially baseball and boxing me (I let him win of course), but the bigger games are so far frustrating and we limit our time. The one exception so far has been Monkeyball. After a bit of frustration, he has come to be much better at tilting the Wiimote to make the Monkeyball roll through the courses. Many of the mini "Party Games" are frustrating to him, but I am hoping with a few more weeks of effort we can get him happy.

Now, here's a major beef. The photo channel on the Wii is yet another photo repository. Listen, I don't need another photo repository, I have 8 of them already. Work with someone to team up. Oh yeah, and take a cue from Tivo...work with Yahoo on network identity and just suck in the Weather, Road conditions and other things from Yahoo. This is so great on Tivo that I don't have to maintain yet another network identity and personal settings...but last night I found myself configuring what weather I wanted to watch. Very frustrating.

So, on Wii:
- Love the remote, but settle down for the younger kids...technology for technology's sake is one thing, but your target market can't handle some of the moves and are getting frustrated
- The channels expose a growing problem...proliferation of identities and content repositories. Seriously, I have to have several identities just to make my HOUSEHOLD function at this point. Photo upload sites for the PC, photo upload sites for the Nintendo, Tivo (you use Yahoo...thank you), Apple iTunes...aghhh make it stop!

The proliferation of folks wanting to own my living room is getting to the annoying point and if there isn't some consolidation, next Christmas is going to be a bear. I don't know if you recall, but many years ago there was a law over Remote Controls basically forcing them into the same wavelengths and some standards on operation. If these companies don't get it together, there is going to be a living room revolt (if you can get people off their couches with all of the new video game systems). The worst part is that a Monopoly may be able to step in if these smaller companies don't get it together and "simplify" people's lives through homogeneity...of course, the monopoly will be at the expense of true innovation but at least it will all work! Apple, Roku, Nintendo, Tivo, Sony (if you can get off your high-horse and stop thinking the world revolves around your proprietary technologies), get it together or Microsoft is going to have a very merry Christmas either next year or the one after...and you won't be invited...unless you want to pay for a Windows Living Room Network Certified label and testing.

Gotta run!


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