Motion Movie Theater Seats from D-BOX Coming this Summer

Montreal-based D-BOX Technologies — manufacturer of custom-designed seats for film and gaming entertainment — recently announced it will outfit 70 locations (50 in the U.S.) with “MFX” motion-equipped theater seating for screenings this summer. Theater-goers willing to spend an additional $8 can expect an enhanced, immersive experience viewing movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Super 8 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 from motion-equipped seats. D-BOX hopes to expand its seating to 200 locations one year from now and up to five times that within the next four years.

The company introduced its technology in 2009 with a motion-coded version of Universal’s Fast & Furious playing in only two theaters. D-BOX equipped additional theaters the end of April with MFX seating for the latest installment in the same series, Fast Five. According to the Wall Street Journal: “Motions range from being pitched forward, backward and side to side, to experiencing a momentary freefall when a character, say, leaps off a cliff. Seat-side controls let squeamish viewers dial down the intensity level of the experience — which on the highest setting can reach up to two times the acceleration caused by gravity.”

D-BOX Motion Code technology uses motion effects programmed for each film (as well as TV series or video games for home seating) so that the resulting motion is synchronized with the onscreen action and sounds. According to D-BOX, Motion Code is available on more than 900 titles and studios have started embedding it on many Blu-ray and theatrical releases, enabling MFX using three types of intelligent movement (subtle pitch, roll and heave) in addition to vibrations.

Although headquartered in Canada, D-BOX has a research-and-development office in Burbank, California.

Check out the Movie Theatre page of the D-BOX site for a location near you featuring MFX-equipped seating.

Next-Gen Live Interactive Broadcasting with GabCast.TV

Live online video platform GabCast.TV launched its alpha version today and is broadcasting free interactive shows.  The site is similar to other live video streaming services (such as Ustream or Justin.tv), but as Mashable reports, “the focus, design and purpose is unique” in that it enables each user to become “a reality star on the next generation of TV.”

The GabCast.TV team is not short of heavy-hitters. It was co-founded by Emmy-winning producer Paul Wagner and former NBC chairman Fred Silverman (additionally, high-profile advisors include former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and former ABC and Yahoo exec Lloyd Braun). Wagner explains that GabCast goes beyond YouTube, Ustream and Justin.tv by providing streaming video that focuses on greater engagement and stronger interactivity.

At its core, GabCast essentially turns video chats into live programs that are “hosted” by individuals or multiple users with an emphasis on social interaction. It features categories or “channels” for like-minded users (such as Dating Fun, Pets, Sports & Fitness, and College Fun). Pre-alpha users leveraged the streaming platform for a variety of content including live music, dating, and comedy shows.

The service can also be used for conferences and other live events such as weddings, birthdays, and parties. GabCast reports that a live classroom feature and mobile apps are in development. According to the press release, “GabCast.TV promises to hit the sweet spot of engagement by marrying social interaction with unique live content and creating the next generation of reality stars.”

Related GabCast.TV press release (including video): “Hollywood Heavyweights Go Social With GabCast.TV” (5/9/11)

Yahoo Acquires IntoNow Social TV App Three Months after Launch

In February, ETCentric reported on Palo Alto start-up IntoNow, which had developed an iOS app that identifies and tags live TV shows in realtime, creating something similar to Shazam, but for television rather than radio. Just three months after the social TV app’s official launch, Yahoo announced it had purchased IntoNow. Although the exact transaction numbers were not disclosed, most reports place it in the $13-17 million range.

Here’s how it works: Users press a button on the app interface while viewing a television program and, with the aid of a platform called SoundPrint, the app uses the program’s audio for identification (within 4-12 seconds). The results appear on the iPhone or iPad screen and can be shared via social networking entities such as Facebook or Twitter, or can be added to a Netflix queue. (An Android version is reportedly in development.)

Yahoo is expected to integrate IntoNow’s SoundPrint technology with existing services such as its Connected TV platform — and possibly use it for plans regarding audio watermarks for identifying advertisements and displaying additional information.

According to the Yahoo press release: “The addition of IntoNow will enable Yahoo! to provide enhanced media experiences and video programming, bolstering its social engagement across the Yahoo! network and on all screens. IntoNow users are able to easily engage with friends around the shows they enjoy most. IntoNow helps people discover new shows, discuss favorites with friends and learn more about them, and provides recommendations for what is currently airing based on their interests and those they are connected to. The application is also integrated with Facebook, Twitter, iTunes and Netflix to enable more sharing and information gathering.”

Engadget posted a video demo where the user is watching CNN on a laptop (place-shifted via SlingBox), and uses the IntoNow app on an iPad to identify the TV stream.

Related Engadget post (including Yahoo press release): “Yahoo buys TV companion app developer IntoNow and its database of sounds” (4/25/11)

Spotify Launches Music Download Store and iPod Syncing

A new app from Swedish start-up Spotify may attempt to take on Apple’s iTunes. The European online music service recently announced a new MP3 download store in addition to the ability to sync music on iPods and related devices.

According to a report last week on PCMag.com: “Spotify features include the ability to: search, browse, and play millions of tracks; stream over Wi-Fi or 2.5/3G; access offline playlists; on-the-fly sync; a what’s new tab; wireless sync of your local files to your phone; and the ability to tag favorites into a special list. One of the most frequent requests, however, was the abilty to sync that music to Apple’s iPod, something Spotify said is now a reality. Just connect an iPod to your computer via USB and it will appear in the ‘devices’ section of the Spotify sidebar. You can then sync MP3s in your Spotify playlists to the iPod.”

Spotify has 13 million tracks available and more than 1 million subscribers. It features a free, ad-supported option and a premium service for unlimited access. The company says that its iPhone and Android app can now be used by its free service customers.

Spotify is doing well in Europe, but has yet to launch in the U.S. It has inked deals with EMI and Sony for U.S. service and if it can enter into an agreement with Universal Music Group and Warner Music it may become a serious competitor for the likes of Rhapsody and iTunes.

Since Apple has a track record of updating software to prevent third-party iPod syncing, it will be interesting to see how it responds to Spotify’s efforts.

Updated ETCentric post (and Facebook-Spotify news): “Is Facebook Poised to become THE Social Entertainment Operating System?” (5/31/11)

Related Bloomberg Businessweek article: “Here’s Spotify’s Master Plan: Tackle iTunes Head On” (5/5/11)

Related CNET article: “Spotify cozies up to iPod, takes aim at iTunes” (5/4/11)

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: the iPad 2 of Honeycomb Tablets

CNET offers a “first look” video review of the new 32GB Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, a Honeycomb tablet recently demonstrated at the annual Google I/O event (the full production unit will be available June 8). The video notes that the “10.1” in the device’s name refers to the screen size and the UI is the same as that of the Motorola Xoom running Android. However, the review also notes that the Galaxy Tab has more in common with the iPad 2 than the Xoom.

The CNET review describes the new device: “As thin as the iPad 2 and even lighter, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the sexiest Honeycomb tablet we’ve seen. Also, it has an 8-megapixel back camera and a 2-megapixel front camera, and powerful dual speakers.” On the negative side, the review points out that lack of ports may be problematic to some users — and that from a design perspective, the plastic back of the limited edition version feels less solid and looks like “cheap kitchen wallpaper” (the release this summer may not have this problem).

The CNET evaluation goes on to praise the clean design, screen size, 1280×800 resolution and overall performance.

The bottom line: “Apple still has superior support for games, apps, music, and movies. While Honeycomb 3.1 seeks to offer more features, it’s still not here yet. So, if it’s down to these two tablets, we still recommend the iPad 2; however, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 would be the Android tablet of choice.”

Related Xconomy article: “The iPad Finally Has a Worthy Rival: Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1” (5/13/11)

Related Engadget post and video: “Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition (white) hands-on from Google I/O!” (5/10/11)

Related PC Magazine post and slideshow: “Unboxing the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1” (5/10/11)

FlickLaunch.com Distributes Independent Films on Facebook

FlickLaunch.com is a new startup billing itself as the first independent movie distribution platform built on top of Facebook. It was co-founded by Berkley entrepreneurs Craig Tanner and Erik Moore. Currently in beta, the service enables viewers to watch movies on Facebook and share with their friends.

Filmmakers pay a $250 fee to set up a Facebook fan page that makes each film available, either for free to those who click the “Like” button — or for a rental price to generate revenue immediately. For example, a filmmaker can stream the movie to the first 1,000 viewers for free, hoping to generate buzz — and then if the film continues to prove popular via social networking, new viewers will pay a small fee ($1-$5) through PayPal for each 7-day rental.

Films can be viewed on a PC, mobile phone or tablet (the company is also working on Android, iPad and iPhone apps). The filmmakers keep 70 percent of the revenue while FlickLaunch keeps the other 30 percent.

The platform launches with the 720p streaming release of the urban crime thriller “Blues,” written and directed by Brandon Sonnier and distributed by Level 33 Entertainment.

Related Hollywood Reporter article: “Startup FlickLaunch Debuts Movie Distribution Platform” (5/11/11)

Google Unveils Its New Chrome OS Netbooks

Anxious to promote its new Web-based Chrome operating system introduced this week at Google I/O in San Francisco, Google announced its plans to begin selling netbooks based on the Chrome OS starting June 15. The devices, aimed primarily at enterprise customers, will use Web-based applications rather than storing software.

The new Chromebooks will initially take the form of Wi-Fi- and 3G-based laptops from Acer and Samsung that will start at $350 (available from retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy). Verizon will offer 3-year 3G contracts priced at $28/month for up to 100MB of wireless data usage.

Google also announced a new feature to the Chrome Web Store that will enable developers to configure one-touch in-app purchases. Google will reportedly take only 5 percent of the purchase price (comparatively, Apple takes 30 percent).

According to InformationWeek: “The pricing of Google’s subscription plan is modest: For $28 per user per month, businesses will receive Chromebooks, Web-based administration controls, enterprise-level support, a warranty, and hardware replacement upon subscription renewal. Schools and governments have access to the subscription package for $20 per user per month. Access to Google Apps for Business is not included; it will continue to be offered for $50 per user per year.”

Related CNN Money article: “Google makes push for the Enterprise with Chrome” (5/12/11)

Related PC Magazine article: “Hands On: Samsung Series 5 Chromebook” (5/12/11)

YouTube Adds 3,000 Titles to Streaming Movie Rental Service

YouTube is going Hollywood with its new streaming VOD service that may provide some competition to services from the likes of iTunes, Hulu and Netflix. YouTube Movies now offers current mainstream features in addition to trailers, reviews, alternate endings, behind-the-scenes specials, cast interviews, and other extras. (You can browse current titles and check out the interface at the YouTube Movies page.)

This may prove to be a big move for Google (YouTube’s parent company), which no doubt hopes consumers will use Google TV (with updated Android 3.1 this summer) to stream rented movies. YouTube has been renting and offering movies for free with ads for more than a year, but the titles have been less than current.

According to the FAQ section of the company’s press release, YouTube has added approximately 3,000 new titles, “including catalog and new releases from Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, NBC Universal, Lionsgate Films and many great independent studios. This brings the total number of movie titles available to rent on YouTube to over 6,000.”

Viewers will have 30 days to begin watching a rental and, in most cases, will have up to 24 hours to complete viewing.

Engadget reports: “The pricing is $2.99/$3.99 for movies viewable via PC or Google TV (no other device support is mentioned) and the FAQ notes that YouTube supports resolutions up to 4K but ‘most’ of the new additions are sadly in SD, a choice which is apparently up to its partners.”

YouTube is betting that consumers are ready for a change in their viewing habits. Head of YouTube, Salar Kamangar writes on the company’s blog: “You’re finding more and more of the content you love on YouTube, which is now available on 350 million devices. We know this because you’re watching videos to the tune of 2 billion views a day. But you’re spending just 15 minutes a day on YouTube, and spending five hours a day watching TV. As the lines between online and offline continue to blur, we think that’s going to change.”

Related Engadget post (including YouTube press release and FAQ): “YouTube adds 3,000 movies for rental from Universal, Sony, Warner Bros.” (5/9/11)

Related article from TheWrap: “YouTube Finally Goes Hollywood With New Movies on Demand Service” (4/25/11)

Related article from TheWrap: “Mark Cuban: YouTube Can Change the World, But It Can’t Make Money Streaming” (4/14/11)

Microsoft Acquires Skype in Hefty $8.5 Billion Deal

It’s official — Skype will become part of the Microsoft family. The service, that connects millions via Internet-based telephony and video, will provide Microsoft with what the Wall Street Journal describes as “a recognized brand name on the Internet at a time when it is struggling to get more traction in the consumer market.”

The deal — the biggest in Microsoft’s 36-year history — was closed late on Monday, knocking out the prospect of a Skype public offering as well as talks with other interested parties such as Google, Facebook and Cisco.

The $8.5 billion price tag is three times what Skype earned 18 months ago (when eBay sold it to a group of investors), and is clearly a sign of how ambitious Steve Ballmer and Microsoft Corp. are for new growth opportunities in the mobile phone and Internet markets.

Consumers should expect to see Skype integration with products including the Xbox gaming console and Office software suite; however, Ballmer said the service will continue to be available for Apple devices and others running Google software.

Skype was launched in 2003 by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, the two pioneers behind Kazaa file-sharing technology. Today, Skype has more than 170 million active users worldwide.

Google News: Updated OS, New Google TV Partners, Cloud Music Service

Google has been making headlines the last few days as product and service announcements continue to emerge from the Google I/O 2011 conference in San Francisco (live streaming, photos, announcements and a Twitter feed are available on the Google I/O site).

Much of the news is surrounding OS changes, the availability of cloud-based Music Beta, and a potential revitalization of Google TV.

Gizmodo reports that the Android Marketplace may have the greatest impact on Google TV when it launches later this summer: “At first, it’ll just be apps from Google-approved developers to set standards. The most awesome kind of app we’re going to see are multi-screen apps — apps specifically designed to span your Android phone/tablet to the TV. Google’s going to pushing them totally hard as a huge part of what makes Google TV special. Think things like poker games on the big screen, with individual controls on your own phone/tablet. And other crazy ways to control Google TV from your phone from app developers.”

Some of the recent Google announcements include:

  • The anticipated Google TV update to Android 3.1 will be available this summer.
  • There are new hardware partners for Google TV (for example, Samsung and Vizio are joining Logitech and Sony as hardware vendors).
  • Google has added movie rentals to the Android Market, accessible from Android devices and the Internet (similar to YouTube’s new rental service).
  • Android@Home framework for home automation is a future platform that will enable interaction with home media equipment, dishwashers, cars, lights, security systems and more via any connected device.
  • The next version of Google’s Android operating system, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich, will merge the phone and tablet versions of the OS.
  • The beta version of Google’s cloud music service is now available (and like Amazon’s earlier launch of a similar cloud service, Google is forging ahead without approval of the major music labels).

Check out the posts below for more details…

Related Engadget post: “Google announces Android@Home framework for home automation” (5/10/11)

Related Ars Technica post: “Google announces Android Ice Cream Sandwich will merge phone and tablet OSes” (5/10/11)

Related ZDNet post: “Google TV getting update to Android 3.1, access to Android Market this summer. Will it be enough?” (5/11/11)

Related Gizmodo post and video: “Google Music: Upload and Stream All Your Tunes From the Cloud” (5/10/11)

Related All Things Digital article: “Google Launching Its Cloud Service Tomorrow, Without Big Music’s Approval” (5/9/11)

Related GigaOM post and video: “Google Forces Roku to Take Down Its YouTube Channel” (4/21/11)

Related WSJ article about gathering info from mobile phones: “Apple, Google Take Heat” (5/11/11)

Related Engadget post: “Google TV shows off new Honeycomb UI, plans for Market, SDK; opens up remote app source code” (5/11/11)

Related New York Times article: “Google’s Digital Music Service Falls Short of Ambition” (5/10/11)

Warner Bros. Ramps Up Digital Everywhere with Flixster Acquisition

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group announced it has acquired social movie discovery site Flixster, which also includes premium movie reviews and news site Rotten Tomatoes (that Flixster acquired from News Corp. last year). Financial terms were not disclosed, but The Wall Street Journal recently cited Flixster’s value between $60 million and $90 million. The Flixster deal marks the next step in Warner’s “Digital Everywhere” strategy.

As recently reported on ETCentric, Warner Bros. plans to release its Digital Everywhere app by this summer with hopes that the app will serve as the ultimate destination for purchasing all digital movies. The app gathers the ways a consumer can rent or purchase movies and organizes an individual’s library of movie titles and TV programs. It then provides access to this library from any Internet-connected device through the UltraViolet cloud authentication system.

According to TechCrunch: “Flixster’s popular cross-platform movie discovery application on mobile platforms has seen 35 million downloads to date and Rotten Tomatoes is seeing 12 million unique visitors per month. The Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes will remain fully independent, says Warner and the Flixster team will stay in San Francisco and the Rotten Tomatoes team will continue to work autonomously in Los Angeles.”

Related Warner Bros. press release: “Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group to Acquire Flixster” (5/4/11)

Related Wall Street Journal article: “Flixster Update: Warner Bros. Very Interested, as Yahoo Drops Out of Bidding for Social Movie Site” (3/28/11)

Related Wall Street Journal article: “Warner Bros. Expands Test of Movies on Facebook” (3/28/11)

Game Developer Hopes to Reform Computer Education with $25 USB Stick PC

Game Developer David Braben, founder of UK-based Frontier Developments, has been working on a project to facilitate computer programming curriculum in schools. Braben argues that computer education has shifted from programming toward basic computer use skills. Usage training is important, but its prevalence has resulted in a lack of knowledge regarding basic programming skills and an understanding of computer architecture and hardware.

To address this issue, Braben has developed a small $25 USB stick PC with a HDMI port on one end and USB port on the other. By plugging the HDMI socket into a TV or monitor and connecting a keyboard via USB, the stick provides a fully functional machine running Linux. The stick can handle web browsing, run applications, and much more. Braben hopes that such a device can be distributed to students for free so that computer courses can be developed around its use.

According to Geek.com: “The hardware being offered is no slouch either. It uses a 700MHz ARM11 processor coupled with 128MB of RAM and runs OpenGL ES 2.0 allowing for decent graphics performance with 1080p output confirmed. Storage is catered for by an SD card slot.” The photo above shows the Raspberry Pi device with an attached 12 megapixel camera module. (The Geek.com report also includes an interesting video interview with Braben.)

Braben’s USB stick PC plans to be distributed through a charitable foundation called the Raspberry Pi Foundation. He hopes to distribute the device within the next 12 months.

Based on its cost and portability, we could see a range of applications outside the classroom.

New Olympus LS-20M Camcorder Features Dual Mics and 1080p Video

This week, Olympus announced its new LS-20M pocket camcorder that boasts 1080p HD video recording and 24 bit/96 hHz linear PCM audio recording using two condenser mics. Engadget reports that the handheld’s “relatively high-end audio specs should help it go toe-to-toe with Zoom.” (The $300 Zoom Q3HD Handy Video Recorder was introduced late last year.)

According to the Olympus press release: “The HD video compression format makes it easy to upload videos to Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, Vimeo and other web-based content sharing sites, and the resolution offers remarkable detail on modern home theatre systems.” The LS-20M can record audio in stereo as WAV and MP3 formats. It is 5.3 inches in length and weighs 5.4 ounces.

The new camcorder also includes “Magic Movie” special effects settings such as Rock, Sketch, Pinhole and Pop.

In the wake of Cisco’s announcement to discontinue the Flip camera line, the Olympus LS-20M is a potential replacement for consumers and a possible new tool for mobile reporting. The device will be available by June 2011 for MSRP of $300.

Related Olympus press release: “New Olympus LS-20M Unites High-Definition Video and PCM Audio to Capture Sights and Sounds Like Never Before” (5/3/11)

Related Engadget post: “Zoom’s dual mic-equipped Q3HD camcorder now available for $300” (11/2/10)

Interactive Film: Reinventing the Traditional Music Video

The era of digital music distribution and a shift toward reality TV airing on pioneer networks such as MTV has left the traditional model for music videos in limbo. There is no longer a standard approach to production, budgets, distribution or, for that matter, a clearcut means of generating an audience or revenue.

Today’s music videos may need a new name — and perhaps even a new genre to call home. Innovative artists are leveraging a host of Internet-enabled technologies to break barriers regarding what is possible in short-form visual storytelling. One of the more interesting approaches is taking shape in the form of user control with help from interactive technologies sponsored by Google, Intel and others.

In The Wall Street Journal this week, John Jurgensen provides a fascinating snapshot of the last 30 years of music videos and what has led to this change, citing compelling new approaches from directors such as Spike Jonze and Chris Milk. Jurgensen describes several new approaches to what is being called (for the time being, anyway) “interactive films” — including a new Devo video that enables a 360-degree view of various scenes, a director’s chair feature for newcomer Andy Grammer’s video that allows viewers to select scenes, and a video for Swedish pop artist Robyn that copies fans’ tweets and integrates them into a 3D animated collage.

One of the more notable recent examples is The Wilderness Downtown, directed by Chris Milk and set to the Arcade Fire song “We Used to Wait.” Viewers can enter their home addresses, and by using Google’s maps and street visuals, they essentially personalize the experience with “virtual fly-overs” of their childhood homes (for Google, it has become a way of showcasing new functionality of its Chrome browser). Milk has reportedly been working for five months on another secret project funded by Google that puts control of the content in the hands of viewers. It is expected to debut next week.

The article also points out an interesting shift in distribution (and generating ad revenue):

Three out of four major music companies now channel their videos through Vevo, an online video player and distributor launched in late 2009. After years of licensing their videos to sites all over the Web — and seeing measly financial returns — the labels now rely on Vevo to distribute their videos online and sell ads against them. By focusing on slick presentation and sponsored video premieres, the company has pushed ad rates higher. Vevo, whose traffic includes the videos it funnels into sites such as YouTube and Facebook, is the biggest music provider on the Web, attracting 54 million unique viewers last March, up from 37.5 million in the same month last year, according to ComScore Video Metrix.

According to WSJ, the labels are starting to see financial results from the Vevo model, albeit relatively small. For example, a label whose videos accrue 10 million streams via the online player could collect approximately $70,000.

Identifying the next generation of short form video and its audience’s expectations — whether or not in the form of online interactivity — may become vital to new content production and distribution. As consumers continue to adopt tablet PCs and more dynamic media, this may prove to impact more than just music.

Related: Click here to view Chris Milk’s interactive film “The Wilderness Downtown.”

Related: Click here to view another interactive experiment from Milk, “The Johnny Cash Project.”

Reporter Abandons Bulky Production Equipment and Opts for iPhone

Washington DC reporter Neal Augenstein discusses how and why he has abandoned his collection of bulky production equipment to report via his Apple iPhone 4. Augenstein is an award-winning reporter with WTOP-FM and a frequent contributor to CBS News Radio. Thanks to new apps and progress in digital recording tools, he’s been able to ditch much of his older equipment for professional broadcasting via his smartphone. According to Augenstein: “Now, with the Apple iPhone 4 and several apps, I can produce intricate audio and video reports, broadcast live, take and edit photos, write web content and distribute it through social media from a single device.”

For those interested, the write-up provides a simple step-by-step overview of the tools Augenstein is using with his iPhone and iPad for audio capture, video capture, photography, mobile VoIP, and Twitter integration.

Augenstein addresses whether his new approach is working: “A year in, iPhone-only reporting isn’t perfect. While audio editing works great, with the phone’s built-in microphone I’d estimate the sound quality of my field reports is 92 percent as good as when I use bulky broadcast equipment. Getting better audio for my video is a real challenge. And if I ever have to cover a story from a subway tunnel or location where there’s no WiFi or cell coverage, I won’t be able to file until I resurface.”

The PBS MediaShift post features several iPhone-generated audio reports from Augenstein in addition to a very helpful video tutorial regarding how he performs audio editing on his iPhone 4.

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