Hulu is for real!


I was lucky enough to score a beta invite to Hulu from one of my friends over at TechCrunch (thanks guys).

Hulu is what could be the precursor of the first legitimate online television network. Of course a major network is behind it, and NBC is doing exactly what the record companies didn’t do for online music by essentially getting a leg-up on this before the Napster’s and iTunes’ pop-up and do it before them. Sure, there’s still iTunes, youTube and other contenders like Joost to deal with, but from a usability, form factor, and quality level, Hulu is heads and shoulders ahead of them in all these aspects. By beating them at their own game, they can call their own shots in terms of licensing as well as monetization schemes from advertising.

In my opinion, this model will someday eclipse cable television as the preferred next step down from network. When you think of what it takes to operate a television studio like, let’s say, the Sci-fi Channel, imagine how much easier and cheaper it would be to serve up the same content with a similar advertising model. You’d shed the the headache of dealing with the cable operators and ISP’s (Comcast, Roadrunner, etc..) and instead of building a studio you invest in technology and infrastructure. None of this is a new concept but after seeing Hulu, it’s the first time that this really seems feasible.

Lastly Hulu seems to be positioned to succeed where products such as ESPN 360 have essentially failed. The ESPN 360 program only fully works through internet service providers who have signed up and paid ESPN for the programming. Viewers from non-subscribing ISP’s are essentially left out in the cold. So if you’re ISP doesn’t want it, you can’t get it. Why didn’t ESPN cut the IPS’s out and offer the service directly online? Who knows, though I’m sure there are different implications if your content is “live”.

Enough ranting, take a look at this SNL video below… as they say, the proof is in the pudding.


Flip4Mac Silverlight Export


Looks like Microsoft haven’t taken their eye off the ball in terms of video delivery online. The latest Flip4Mac update contains a new export option allowing you to publish your content with skinned Silverlight controls built in. This is going to particularly enticing for the folks who want an easy to use youTube like interface while still staying with wmv. Granted, in order to do exports you still need to buy Flip4mac Pro as well as Quicktime Pro, both for $29 each. Still it’s a clear shot across the bow to users of Flash encoded video, particularly to those on the Mac.

As for Silverlight, I still can’t get it to install on my Macbook after two attempts. Everytime I do and restart my browser I get the same “Get Microsoft Silverlight” message. Not willing to chase this down yet, nor would any casual person browsing the web. Sorry Silverlight, you have a long way to go before you become a legitimate RIA solution in my book.

Loving the Apple Wireless Keyboard


I picked up the Apple Bluetooth keyboard yesterday and so far am loving it. As with everything Apple, it’s beautifully designed even for a keyboard. It’s compact, nice on the fingers, and fits great with my family Mac Mini setup. You can kind of see that it fits in the same pullout draw as the Mini’s keyboard. That added with my Bluetooth mouse means I can share the 23″ LCD without crowding the workspace. Next up, hooking it to the 37″ LCD in the living room to try some browsing from the couch.

Flash on Flash using Div’s


Let me start by saying that I am anything but a html guru, in fact I am ever transitioning away from the code level and focusing more on business and project management lately, but after having some angst in getting this method to work I’d figure I’d share the love to someone running into this in the future. I did a lot of digging but didn’t find anything definitive that explained how to work this out but found a solution.

As I’m sure all of us have experienced at one point, I was working on a project that required an actor to walk in front of a previously created page and coach potential customers to click on a section of the page. In principle, this seemed like it would be a piece of cake since I work with flv so often. What I found out instead was some of the pitfalls in layering divs with flash content on top of each other with Flash detection and object placement, thrown in with some always fun browser compatibility issues.

Laying out the content with css using z-index surely should get this working right? Well it did, but only in the Mac version of Mozilla. IE and Mozilla for PC would not display my video on the top layer no matter what I did. Did some research… found everything from the “it just won’t do it” to “it only works in IE 6.0”, etc… I needed to get it to work in an older version of the browser and wasn’t ready to give up yet.

So I went back to basics and looked at the Flash detection and how the flash objects were laid out on the page. The existing page used Flash’s built-in active content plug-in. There’s a whole back story to this that I won’t go into, but basically Microsoft had changed the way it interacted with Active X objects, making it a requirement for users to click active content before they could interact with it. Think of how poor a user experience was when you clicked the play button a flash object, nothing happened until you clicked it again. Interestingly, as a result of recent technology licenses acquired by Microsoft, the “click to activate” restrictions are no longer mandatory as on this past 12/11/2007. Click here to read about that. Still doesn’t help me with old browser support, but at least there’s a work around I figured out.

UFO. This is what I consider to be the best way to implement flash objects on an html page. It’s simple, clean and very abstract for development purposes. Once I used UFO, I was able to layer the objects with no problem.

Click here for a working example.

As you can see by the example above, I have a flash object in the background with the handsets with another swf layer in front of it with the window mode set to transparent as a parameter in UFO (notice how she tastefully ignores the RIM Blackberry Curve). As a disclaimer, this is just a video I found on the web so don’t ask me who the girl is. 🙂

Here’s the code that nails it:

The CSS:

#top {
width: 700px;
height: 203px;
left: 11px;
top: 25px;
z-index: 1;

#bottom {
width: 700px;
height: 220px;

And the UFO:

var FO = { movie:”video_layer.swf”, width:”700″, height:”203″, majorversion:”8″, build:”0″, wmode:”transparent” };
UFO.create(FO, “top”);

var FO = { movie:”swf_layer.swf”, width:”700″, height:”220″, majorversion:”8″, build:”0″, wmode:”transparent” };
UFO.create(FO, “bottom”);

A good thing to note here is that absolute positioning the top object in your css is essential to getting the two objects to occupy the same space. In terms of performance, I think one should expect to see the same frame drop issues and slight lag they see on any site with multiple swfs running concurrently.

So there it is, and hopefully this will save you a the few hours I spent tracking this down.

Internet Video Smackdown!

hulu_logo.jpg home-logo-revised.png


Some really exciting things have been happening lately with video on the web…. for like 3 years now. But with TV networks and movie studios finally starting to latch on, the writing is on the wall that online video is here to stay and is only going to get better. Here’s a few words on a couple companies I’ve got my eye’s on. I’ll start with the new kids on the block and work my way down to the trailblazer…


    First is the NBC sponsored HULU… Hulu has finally released a private beta offering and is the first for-real test of Flash’s adoption of the H.264 video codec. When this was announced this Fall at MAX, I was convinced that this was going to be the honest for goodness push over the cliff in terms of Flash truly dominating online video. Right now Hulu is only offering HD-quality trailers and the application layer driving the content is pretty lacking. It will be interesting to see what the product will look like after it goes public (I hope I get on the beta… remember the Joost Beta invites on eBay for $110 a pop?). Speaking of which, Joost might want to pay attention here as HD quality video online will certainly be the norm someday.


    Miro comes in next with it’s 2,500 channels of video ready for the viewing. It’s open source and has the same “Live Free or Die” feel that Linux initiatives like Ubuntu has. And this is where they fall short like Linux does to the average online video consumer. With no legitimate buy-in from the content creators like NBC, ABC, CBS, HBO etc.. the quality of the offering is pedestrian at best. But what Miro does do well is line up dozens of existing online video offerings like youTube, MetaCafe, etc,… with a little bit of maybe legal BitTorrent capabilities and RSS feed burners and BAM! You can probably watch new content for years if you don’t mind poorly recorded Simpson’s episodes or content like Ask a Ninja). I like it, but in terms of a business model they can’t compare to corporate sponsored offerings like Hulu and Joost, though on their site they come right out and declare themselves better. Sorry Miro, you’re not the same or better, and that’s okay. You have your niche.


    Having gotten on the beta early, I’ve watched Joost evolve from a buggy app with crappy content to a favorite entertainment stop for me when I have a few minutes to kill. With content deals from Paramount to Comedy Central there is an eclectic mix of high quality content all organized in an easy to understand and beautiful user interface. My biggest complaint is still quality, which is as far as I’m concerned par with VHS at this point. I’m sure it’s hard to scale to better compressed formats but I expect to see some headway in this for 2008. Also they HAVE to integrate dynamic controls like fast-forward and rewind in the future. I know this is all tied into their advertisement monetization scheme, but man is it frustrating when I just want to jump to the funny part in an episode of “Stella“.

Anyway that’s my weigh-in on internet video for now. In the meantime I’ll still be wrestling with my HD Comcast box, waiting for the web to bail my HD hunger out.