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Gordon Meyer

Gordon Meyer

Thursday, 30 June 2011 18:06

What Were They Thinking – Again!

By Gordon Meyer
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Time for me to get on my soap box again.  As regular readers know, I’m a passionate advocate for 3D technology.  It’s my position that, not only can it be a powerful storytelling tool if effectively used, it’s mass adoption by both consumers and filmmakers is roughly where HD was 15 years ago and where multi-channel sound was 35 years ago.  Translation: We’re building critical mass with content producers and consumers, now it’s about learning how to actually use the technology so we can move from the gimmick/novelty phase to 3D is a normal feature on at least half the releases out there.

In many ways it’s a chicken and egg conundrum.  You have to have enough content to justify theatres installing the equipment and consumers buying 3D capable TVs; but the content producers need to see a big enough potential market in order to justify the added expense and post-time needed to produce quality 3D content.

On the theatrical side, 3D content has definitely been building, though sadly much of it consists of so-so conversions of content originally produced in 2D.  That’s a separate conversation that I plan to return to later this year.

On the home entertainment side, there are only a handful of 3D Blu-ray titles on retail shelves so far. But 3D games are on the rise and you’re seeing more and more 3D content being broadcast on dedicated cable networks from companies like ESPN, DirecTV and Discovery. 

It’s also been my position that 3D in the home will drive 3D in theatres much more so than the other way around.  But one of the stumbling blocks surrounding home 3D has been the dominant use of active shutter technology on most TVs.  For those not familiar with the technology, active shutter glasses have LCD lenses that turn on and off 60 times a second in sync with what’s usually an IR signal emitted by the TV.  This way each eye gets its appropriate image at 60 fps.  The two biggest criticisms of active shutter glasses are how much they darken the image (and the resultant color distortion) and the price, which can run as high as $200 a pair.  Ouch!

Passive glasses use polarized lenses similar to the ubiquitous RealD glasses commonly used in theatres. Their retail cost is a fraction of active glasses and they usually let in a lot more light.  The tradeoff for some brands like Vizio is that using current display technology, there’s a significant drop in resolution from 1080p, though in my experience, if you’re sitting far enough from the screen, most people are unlikely to notice. 

LG was one of a handful of companies showing prototypes of 3D TVs at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show using passive technology.  Now you can actually buy them at your local retailer.  But while they advertise that their glasses are “just like the ones you get at the movies,” the truth is that LG uses a proprietary polarizing technology that’s not compatible with the RealD glasses used in theatres.

While initially, that’s going to give LG some market advantages over its active shutter competitors, it still adds potential confusion to consumers who like the idea of 3D in the home, but want to keep things simple, including the option of using the same glasses they wear in the theatre for their home use.  That’s also important to companies like Polaroid, Oakley and other eyewear makers wanting to tap into that market.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for the first generation of 3D TVs using Samsung and RealD’s jointly developed RDZ technology, which turns the entire flat screen surface into a polarized active shutter display.  This way, consumers get most prominent benefits of passive systems in the form of inexpensive glasses and brighter picture, while maintaining the full 1080p resolution that active shutter systems offer.  While we won’t know for sure until Samsung starts shipping RDZ-equipped sets, I have a feeling you’re going to be paying a hefty premium for the first generations of this technology as it involves covering an entire flat panel with a layer that toggles between two polarity settings 120 times a second. But you will be able to use the exact same RealD glasses from the theatre in your home.

The content and hardware suppliers need to remember that it’s ultimately all about the consumer and their needs.  Make it an easy and attractive proposition with good product, you’ll get their business.  Part of making things easy and attractive for consumers is having uniform standards with interchangeable components.  Can you imagine how badly the computer industry would have been impacted if companies like HP, IBM and Dell all made proprietary graphics boards that would only work with their own monitors?  That’s what’s currently happening with 3D glasses, whether they use passive or active technologies.  And it’s counterproductive boys and girls.

So why am I getting on my soap box to talk about what’s essentially an end-user issue?  Simple. Because the sooner all aspects of 3D become standardized, the more completely the technology will be a standard component of what we do. Just as we saw during the transition from monophonic to 5.1 channel sound, so too will we see 3D become the norm – as long nobody screws it up by making it more trouble (including more expensive) than it’s worth for consumers.  The success of 3D in the market place translates into jobs and necessary job skills because both DPs and everyone involved in post will need to master effective 3D implementation.  And that’s why it’s important.

Thursday, 30 June 2011 00:52

Career Advancement in Hollywood

By Gordon Meyer
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I interviewed producer Suzanne Lyons for my article about how some producers work with guilds and unions that you can read in the current (June, 2011) issue of P3 Update.  Suzanne and I actually go back almost 15 years when I was introduced to a seminar that she and fellow producer Heidi Wall taught called “Flash Forward.”

“Flash Forward” (www.flashforwardhollywood.com) was created to help people in all levels of the entertainment industry advance their careers.  A typical class of 100 or more students would include people working in just about every aspect of the business, both in front of and behind the cameras.  Many were just beginning their careers while others had been working pros for many years. 

As if you couldn’t guess, not only did I take the course myself, I got so much out of it that I was part of the volunteer staff as a coach for several years.  Some of the skills and strategies that I learned from my time there helped me create relationships with prominent producers, directors, writers and studio executives that continue to this day.

The training combines very pragmatic project management skills with career marketing strategies, including how to secure multiple mentors.  Participants set a very specific 30 day goal for themselves – something that they would normally expect to take several months – and with the support of their coaches, fellow participants and often their newly found mentors, they create absolute miracles for themselves. The diverse mix of participants gave everyone a very powerful “cross pollination” benefit as participants supported each other with advice, introductions and other useful resources.  What can I say? The system worked and worked wonderfully well for everyone who diligently worked the program.

As most people reading P3 Update have probably learned a long time ago, to be a successful, regularly working professional in the entertainment industry, being good at your job is often not enough.  Hollywood, at just about every level and job category, is an industry built on relationships.  That’s why programs like Flash Forward can be so valuable.  They teach you skills that will help you create and build long term professional relationships.  And Flash Forward goes a step further by teaching you how to create effective strategies to achieve just about any realistic professional goal, then integrates the relationship and project management skills. It’s a powerful combination.

After a hiatus of many years, Flash Forward is coming back this October.  And yes, it’s already on my calendar.  It will give me a very timely kick in the pants as I refocus my own writing and producing career.  What could be better?

By Gordon Meyer
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One of the purposes of this column is to tell you about resources that I see as valuable to the film and television professionals who comprise P3 Update’s readership, including resources, whether products or services, that may not necessarily be on your radar, but once you learn about it, a light goes on as you begin to see yourself taking advantage of these resources.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the shorts and filmmakers I encountered at the second annual New Media Film Festival in Hollywood.   One of the things I found interesting is that two of the most acclaimed shorts in the 3D category were made with what many would label “consumer” tools.   

According to filmmaker Brian Quandt, his film, “The Music Peace,” was partially funded by Intel on the condition that he make his 3D short, celebrating a painting by artist Miles Regis, using only off the shelf consumer products, which in this case included several modules from the Adobe Creative Suite. Quandt used the Adobe products to both scan Regis’ painting and then animate and render several elements in stereoscopic 3D. 

Director Ned Wiseman’s 3D short, “Staycation USA” was shot using a hand-held HD 3D rig that Wiseman told me cost him less than $700, including the twin HD cameras.  The entire rig was about the size of a 450 page hardcover novel.  At the festival, Wiseman told me that he sees the lines differentiating pro gear, pro-sumer gear and consumer gear as now completely blurred, depending on how the equipment is used.

Ever since I started writing for P3 Update, I’ve regularly spoken with DPs who’ve told me how they regularly use supposedly consumer products like DSLR cameras and the $199 Flip HD on professional projects with often great results.  Now, the palm-sized Flip, which sadly is in the process of being discontinued by its parent company Cisco, was used to shoot a feature film called “A Love Affair of Sorts.”

Director David Guy Levy shot this feature using two of the Flip camcorders and, according to a feature article in the June 23 issue of the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-flip-cam-movie-20110623,0,1379761.story), Levy managed to get a New York/Los Angeles theatrical release for his micro-budget feature.

According to the Times feature, “the motion is shaky (and) the lighting imbalanced.”  Hey, it’s a $200 camera with webcam-sized lens and no way to manually override its automatic exposure and focus features.  No one is claiming that a Flip or similarly priced consumer products will replace a Panaflex or a RED ONE.  But according to Times reporter Sophia Lee, “the fact that a Flip is only a few inches tall helped create an intimacy that bigger, fancier cameras couldn't offer.”

The Flip’s compact size is what has drawn a number of DPs that I’ve interviewed over the past two years to also use either the Flip or similar compact “consumer” products to help them capture otherwise hard to shoot footage, though usually this use has been for B-roll or cut-away footage.  

But the point is that, as Ned Wiseman told me, whether it’s a palm-sized camera that costs under $200, like the Flip HD, a studio-grade camera like the afore mentioned Panaflex, or anything in between, at the end of the day all these cameras are simply storytelling tools for the filmmaker.  If it’s used for a professional project, like a feature, a music video or commercial by someone who knows what they’re doing, it IS a professional tool because it’s a tool used by a professional in a professional environment and context.  Just ask David Guy Levy.

Thursday, 26 May 2011 16:22

What? Yet another film festival?

By Gordon Meyer
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Last weekend, the second annual New Media Film Festival was held at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood.  The festival promotes itself as “honoring stories worth telling.”  Although brief (this year’s fest ran Friday night and all day Saturday), it provided both a showcase for a wide variety of filmmakers plus fascinating panels on the Who, What and Why of New Media, and Distribution and Monetization (VERY important!).

As for the films themselves, festival director Susan Johnston and her team which includes Artistic Director David Kleiler, Director of Programming Noel Lawrence and Content Coordinator Sarah Leners, showcased 3D shorts, Webisodes, Apps, Digital Comics, Animation, Shorts, films made for Mobile, LGBT-themed films, Music Videos, films with Socially Responsible Content and films shot on the RED.  Whew!

For both me and the festival judges, one of the highlights was a 26 minute Fosse-esque musical written and directed by longtime film editor Jay Kamen called “It’s Not Your Time.” Kamen literally mortgaged his house to finance this very funny short starring Jason Alexander and featuring cameos by people like Sally Kirkland, Kathy Najimy, producer Jack Rapke, writer/director Amy Heckerling and studio chief Amy Pascal in his autobiographical story of a staff film editor with aspirations to write and direct and the lengths he’ll go to for his break.   Interestingly enough, because “It’s Not Your Time” was so professionally produced (it has the look and feel of a multi-million dollar production), it was rejected by festivals like Sundance because the judges had a hard time believing it was really an independent production.

As good as the New Media Film Festival is as a showcase, perhaps one of its biggest strengths is the way it provides networking opportunities.  Johnston and her team set up lounges specifically for that purpose, along with opening and closing night receptions that were very conducive to making new contacts.  In addition, festival entries were seen by judges from Pixar, UTA and ILM.  Plus winning entries were offered distribution deals with festival sponsor GoDigital.

Since this is only the festival’s second year, it’s still a relatively modest affair both in duration and attendance.  However interest has been strong enough that Johnston already has a Silicon Valley edition scheduled for this November in San Francisco at the Viz Cinema on Post Street.  Meanwhile, she’s already accepting entries for next year’s festival in 15 categories. Knowing the way Johnston works, don’t be surprised if the New Media Film Festival over the next few years evolves into as much of a “must see” showcase for new talent as festivals like Austin and, dare I say it, Sundance.

Thursday, 26 May 2011 01:11

Are the 3D pundits right?

By Gordon Meyer
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According to a posting on the Deadline.com site the other day, Wall Street analyst Richard Greenfield claims that "U.S. consumers are increasingly rejecting 3D movies" and claims that attendance for the opening weekend of Disney's Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides "would have been higher" if half of its screens showed the movie in conventional 2D instead of just a third. 

Time to jump on my soap box, boys and girls.  Just about every time a new technical innovation happens in this industry, there are self-proclaimed experts who think that it’s the technology that sells tickets. It happened in the late 1920s with the introduction of synchronized sound; a decade later with Technicolor; then Cinerama, CinemaScope, 70mm, Dolby Stereo, whiz bang special effects, CG animation and now 3D (the fifth 3D cycle since the 1920s). 

With the introduction (or in the case of 3D, re-introduction) of each of these technologies, there were people who came to the conclusion that these novelties were the primary factor in driving ticket sales. Horse manure!  

Back in 1977, “Star Wars” broke technological ground in the use of both multi-channel sound and special effects that just blew people away.  But if audiences didn’t care about Luke, Han, Leia, Chewy and the droids, there’s no way that movie would have run for over a solid year at Grauman’s Chinese on Hollywood Blvd. and become a veritable money machine for George Lucas.  Lucas knew that the technology had to be in service of the story and characters.  (We won’t talk about how many fans feel he’s forgotten that lesson.)

“Avatar” became the highest grossing film of all time first and foremost because James Cameron is a hell of a storyteller.  He has often talked about the priority of making sure that, in terms of emotion and drama, “Avatar” worked just as well in 2D as it did in 3D – which is why the 2D-only Blu-rays and DVDs flew off the shelves.  He knows that, as valuable a storytelling tool as 3D can be to enhance and intensify an audience’s experience, it still comes down to giving the audience an emotional experience based on character and story.

Exciting new technologies can make a good movie great, but can’t save a mediocre one.  When it comes to 3D, filmmakers are still going through major league growing pains.  One of the things they’re learning is that, in order for audiences to have the best possible experience, 3D has to be done right – and ideally designed from the very beginning for 3D. 

As for converting 2D movies into 3D, there are some movies that can absolutely be enhanced by the process – if the conversion is done right.  At the recent New Media Film Festival, an entire evening was devoted to 3D shorts.  Most of them were converted from 2D, including a breathtaking excerpt from the 1923 Harold Lloyd silent comedy “Safety Last” and even more breathtaking footage of deep space nebulas and galaxies shot from the Hubble telescope and converted.

 I’m confident that when perfectionists like James Cameron and George Lucas release the 3D converted versions of “Titanic” and the “Star Wars” saga over the next few years, they’ll prove to be text book examples of how to do conversions the right way.   

Getting back to Mr. Greenfield’s proclamation that "U.S. consumers are increasingly rejecting 3D movies," what they’re really rejecting is being charged a premium to see a bad or mediocre movie. 

By Gordon Meyer
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Way back in 1982, Disney released TRON, a ground breaking science fiction film that pioneered the use of computer generated graphics in movies and created an alternative world set in cyberspace.  The sequel, TRON: LEGACY was released with much hoopla and fanboy excitement last December.  And now comes the 3D Blu-ray release as part of a five disc set that includes a digital copy of the film, a 2D Blu-ray and DVD and a Blu-ray of the original 1982 TRON.  The combo pack streets on Tuesday, April 5.

The Movies:  The basic premise of TRON: LEGACY is intriguing. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who was sucked into the cyber world in the original film, has mysteriously disappeared, leaving his young son Sam to be raised by grandparents.  Twenty years later, an unexplained page brings Sam to his father’s abandoned videogame arcade where he discovers dad’s secret computer lab and gets sucked into that same cyber world on a quest to find and bring back his father while fighting a power hungry enemy.

Part of the problem I had with TRON: LEGACY is that it just took way too long to get Sam into that cyber world and that once there, many of the action sequences seemed designed more to show off kick ass visuals than to move the story forward.   The filmmakers used a “Wizard of Oz” like visual technique, presenting the “real world” segments in 2D and the cyber world in 3D.  Unfortunately, as a producer friend of mine pointed out as we watched the 3D Blu-ray, the color palette was so dark that it ended up flattening out the image, often minimizing the stereoscopic effects. 

On the other hand, the digitally restored original film never looked better.  Even though the vector graphics are relatively simple by 2011 standards, there’s an other-worldly look and feel to them that’s both striking and timeless.  First time writer/director Steven Lisberger successfully transports us into that other world in a way that surprisingly enough holds up well even after almost 30 years.  Sure, some of the dialog is pretty hokey, but I like the story and the way it’s told.

Of course one of the reasons that taking a look back at TRON is so relevant for P3 Update readers is because of the impact it’s had and continues to have on filmic storytellers.  For the first time, it demonstrated the link between videogames and movies and it really worked!  Lisberger, whose background is in traditional animation, demonstrated a mastery of visuals and pacing that his successor, Joseph Kosinski (the sequel’s director) could have learned from.

3D Show Off Factor: Truthfully, if you want to show off your 3D TV, you’re probably best off using the “Pirates of the Caribbean 4” trailer that precedes the feature.  While the 3D is competently executed in the film, the only segments that stand out are the transitions between the cyber and real worlds. Rating: ** (out of 5)

Bonus Content: Most of the content here is fanboy, rather than serious film student oriented.  There is a pretty decent “making of” documentary featuring the filmmakers along with footage of director Joseph Kosinski at an early Comic-Con presentation.  Again though, from a film student’s perspective, I found the bonus content with the original TRON to be much more informative, including all the standard def bonus content from the original TRON DVD release a few years ago.

Overall Rating: *** ½ out of 5

Disc reviewed on a 64 bit Windows 7 system powered by an AMD Phenom II X4 CPU, NVIDIA GeForce 480, NVIDIA 3D Vision and LG W2363D monitor.

Tuesday, 01 February 2011 00:01

The Gizmo Guy's Oscar Predictions

By Gordon Meyer
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It’s going to be an interesting Oscar race this year, to be sure, though I doubt there will be many surprises.  Now that “The King’s Speech” took this year’s DGA honors, statistically it’s the film most likely to capture both Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, in spite of all the buzz about “The Social Network.” Frankly, considering the older demographic of the Academy’s membership, the subject matter of “The King’s Speech” is probably much more appealing anyway.

So what horse races there are will be in the other categories.  Here are some of my predictions:

Best Actor: A tossup between Jeff Bridges in “True Grit” and James Franco” in “127 Hours.” While I don’t rule out Colin Firth’s performance in “The King’s Speech,” I’m leaning towards Franco getting the gold because this grueling and ultimately inspirational movie, based on a true story (always a plus in an Oscar race) is largely a one man show and he pulls it off brilliantly.

Best Actress: Natalie Portman for “Black Swan.”  Halle Berry gave a truly Oscar worthy performance in the little seen “Frankie and Alice,” but since that film didn’t even get nominated, my spidey-sense tells me that Portman’s got the buzz.

Original Screenplay: While I really liked Christopher Nolan’s script for “Inception,” I suspect David Seidler will benefit from the growing momentum of “The King’s Speech.”

Adapted Screenplay: “The Social Network” in spite of its admitted lapses in accuracy.   

Animated Feature:  Even though “Toy Story 3” is also nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, which you would think might cannibalize the voting, I don’t think enough Academy members would take it seriously enough for Best Picture since it’s a kid’s movie for heaven’s sake.  But that “kid’s movie” is so sophisticated and smartly written, I’m laying odds that it will beat out “How To Train Your Dragon.”

Visual Effects: While all the nominated films are standouts, I’ve gotta go with the “Inception” team. This award tends to go to teams that show us things we’ve never seen before.  Normally I’d lean towards “Harry Potter,” but since that’s the first of a two-part movie and since there was that whole 3D conversion debacle, if that film wins at all it will be for Part 2 next year.

How accurate are my predictions?  Stay tuned!

Monday, 31 January 2011 23:24

The Gizmo Guy - The Desk Set

By Gordon Meyer
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It’s a simple fact of life. You gotta have a desk to work from.  And when so much of your work is on a computer, it’s always better to work on a desk designed for that computer use.  My first computer desk was actually my dining room table.  But over the years, I’ve worked on any number of inexpensive Staples or Ikea type assemble it yourself workstations.  They were all designed for your simple, basic setup with CPU, keyboard and mouse and a monitor.

But there’s a growing trend, especially with systems intended for HD editing, to have multiple monitors in use.  Having so much more screen real estate makes can be not just a luxury, but an actual requirement for editors, especially when juxtaposing multiple video and audio streams.  Unfortunately, most conventional computer desks are designed to support only one monitor.  That’s a problem.

When I upgraded my system last year to run dual displays (which spoiled me rotten fast), I looked for the perfect work desk.  It had to be the right height to give me comfortable access to my keyboard, sturdy enough to handle a lot of abuse and with a wide enough “deck” area to support multiple monitors.  Everything I saw at Staples and the lot would be a compromise.  Then to my joy, I discovered the Anthro Console.

Anthro specializes in high end “technology furniture.”  While it costs several times what I paid for my old metal and glass Staples desk, the Console, which is the model I’ve been living with for the past several months, is something that could easily provide a lifetime of reliable service. 

If you click on the link (http://www.anthro.com/computer-furniture.aspx?desk=fit-console) you’ll see that the Console consists of two “C” shaped shelves, the smaller intended for your keyboard and mouse with adjustable height so you can work sitting or standing. I love that the keyboard shelf is so wide that I’ve got plenty of room for things like a notepad, my USB microphone or even the occasional dinner plate for my lunch.  In fact, it’s rated to hold up to 40 pounds, which should be more than enough for anything you’d want on a keyboard shelf.  The height of the upper shelf easily puts both monitors at a comfortable eye level and distance.  I use dual 22” monitors, but the Console could easily accommodate a third if I really wanted it.

The whole shebang is on wheels, which makes it very easy to shift around in my environment, especially if I want to have my system turned around to accommodate visitors, or even to just make it easier to clean under.  I like the fact that the Console was made to be flexible and expandable.  Some of the options I took advantage of include a CPU side rack, clamp on document stand (kind of looks like a music stand with a flexible neck) and a flat panel monitor arm.  Each of the six super strong aluminum legs has a series of holes so you can easily add things like additional shelves below the main surface.  There’s even an option to add a second shelf 24” or 36” above the main shelf. 

Like the other desks I’ve had, you have to assemble the Console yourself.  Anthro provides all the tools you need, including a rubber mallet and a screwdriver with a hex head.  I had to re-read the instructions and triple check the illustrations several times during the assembly process, because they weren’t always as clear as I would have liked.  And although I managed to build the Console solo, it will make your life a lot easier if you’ve got some help, especially when it comes time to rotate and ultimately flip the desk over onto its legs.  While I don’t have the exact weight of the Console, it’s probably close to 100 pounds fully assembled.  So again, it will make your life much easier to have some help.

Once assembled, it’s a very impressive piece of furniture and works very well as an edit bay station.  More importantly, it’s exceptionally functional, durable and expandable.  In fact, I was told that Anthro fabricates all the components in-house at their Oregon factory.   

Here’s the bottom line.  Because the base Console desk is so sturdy and well designed and because of all the expansion options, this is a piece of workspace furniture that you’ll get productive use from for decades to come without going out of style. 

 

Sunday, 30 January 2011 05:16

The Gizmo Guy: Master of My Domain

By Gordon Meyer
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I’m about to embark on a project that other entrepreneurs have been doing at various levels of sophistication for many years: create a website to promote my business.  Because this is the first impression that many people may have of me and my business, it’s got to look like a million bucks, even if it costs less than $100 – and it will.

The process takes the following stages:

  1. Creating and registering a nifty domain name
  2. Finding an inexpensive web hosting service that includes a reasonable amount of storage plus email forwarding
  3. Designing and building the site
  4. Regularly updating the site with text and video content

I came up with what I thought was a pretty good name for my site, then starting shopping some of the sites that offer inexpensive domain registration, often discounted even further if bundled with a year or two of web hosting.  One of the gotchas about the latter is that while the companies often promote low monthly hosting fees, you actually have to pay for a full year at a time so the upfront costs may be higher than anticipated.

For now, I decided to just register the domain name and then deal with who would host the site and how I’ll build it later.  For now, I may even use my new domain strictly for email.

But, first things first – time to register that domain name, which it turns out was already taken, at least if I wanted a “.com” domain. I could use something like .biz or .info, but let’s face it – most people automatically look for .com.  Fortunately by making a minor change, I was able to get my domain name as a .com.  Thanks to a sale at Network Solutions, my registration cost only $6.99 a year. 

When deciding who to register your domain through, some things to consider include how many years you want to initially register the domain for, confidentiality issues in the public domain ownership record (i.e. what shows up when someone does a WHOIS search on your domain) and what kind of web hosting packages, if any, they offer.  The last element was at least initially a lower priority for me, but Network Solutions does have some low cost hosting packages that I may well consider when I’m ready.

My next step is to figure out who, in fact, will ultimately host my new site and what features can I look forward to, including any site building tools.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, 30 January 2011 04:13

The Gizmo Guy: The joys of trade show swag

By Gordon Meyer
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Even though I’ve been back from CES almost a month, I’m still wading through the mountain of promotional material, press kits and swag accumulated at the show. This year, that included a device I almost overlooked, which turns out to be a cool little perk for travelers.  Or is it?

When I first saw the Green Play media player, I thought, “Here’s a nifty little USB gizmo that lets me access SD cards on my computer.  Hey! They even included a 4GB SD card.”  But it turns out that gizmo is actually a digital media player powered by Roxio.  The idea is that by going to a conveniently located Download2Go kiosk, you can download the latest movies or TV shows in encrypted form onto your SD card on either a rental or purchase basis.

At present, most kiosks are located at major airports around the country since the current primary target market is busy travelers who want to get some video entertainment for their flight as an impulse buy.  Since the SD reader is so tiny, it’s easy to slip in your pocket, which is great for travelers.  According to the Download2Go website, it takes just a minute or so to download a full length movie onto an SD card, which is also being touted as eco-friendly since it’s on reusable media and there’s no packaging involved.

When I plugged in the sample that came in my gift bag, I discovered to my delight that it had a copy of the movie “Inception” pre-loaded onto it.  Cool! 

So how did it look and sound on my computer? Good, but not great. The picture is roughly a half notch below DVD quality with a slightly soft image.  The sound was also good, but not great and certainly good enough if I were watching on my laptop with a decent pair of earphones.  Although there were chapter stops, there was no bonus content. 

When it comes to watching movies at home, I have to tell you that between the superb picture and sound quality and bonus content, I’m spoiled by Blu-ray and DVD.  So any alternative delivery system like Green Play/Download2Go has got to have both a major convenience factor and price advantage for me to want to use.  Since my nearest Download2Go kiosk is at the Tom Bradley International terminal at LAX, I have no idea how attractive their pricing is. 

According to the Download2Go website, the plan is to roll out the service to your neighborhood grocery or convenience store as well as those airport locations where the service will compete with Redbox and Blockbuster kiosks and their $1 rentals.  While you’ll have to provide your own SD card, presumably these kiosks will offer you the option of buying one as you can at their airport locations.

Consumers have said through their buying patterns, “Make it easy for me.  Don’t make me work.” One of the reasons the disc kiosks have been so successful is that they make it easy for consumers to make an impulse buy.  It will be interesting to see how well a business model that requires customers to supply their own storage media can compete with the ease and convenience of disc kiosks. 

Stay tuned.

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