Author: blogmeister

Dish Stops Lool From Selling Someone Else’s Channels

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Lool IPTV box with antennas
The “2017 LOOL Arabic Gold IPTV Box,” as currently advertised on eBay

Dish Network and NagraStar shut down a different kind of pirate this week. According to Advanced Television, the two won a court order against Lool Tech Co. and a partner over the Lool IPTV box, which streamed mostly Arabic channels.

Dish and Nagra had been on a tear, picking off distributors and even end users of the NFPS IKS service, which streamed pay-TV channels that apparently originated from Dish. But Lool looks like it’s different. Lool boasts over 700 Arabic channels, which is more than Dish handles, so at least some of them must be from other sources. The Advanced Television story mentioned instead that “the Lool defendants retransmitted channels in which DISH holds exclusive rights”.

This reminds me a lot more of our dear departed NimbleTV, which was built with the goal of facilitating overseas pay-TV subscriptions to be viewed in the US. Every channel was paid for by the US subscriber, but Dish really didn’t like it, and Nimble soon shut down. Dish has the US rights to certain foreign channels, so there’s no good way to provide them otherwise.

There are still web sites such as wwiTV.com that provide links to hundreds of IP-delivered channels, originating all over the world. I guess it’s when you build them into a box or sell them as a service that Dish thinks you’ve gone too far.

Cheddar Will Give Away Antennas in OTA Push

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According to an article in Bloomberg today, the “live and on demand video news network” Cheddar plans to give away small over-the-air UHF antennas. Cheddar is renting broadcast space from DTV America in five markets and will partner with advertiser Dunkin Donuts to give away antennas in those markets.

Jon Steinberg, founder of Cheddar, said that the number of broadcast-only homes is rising. “Anywhere we can provide a stream that replicates that cable news viewing experience is where we’re going to be,” he said.

Cheddar’s eight-hour programming day is available on Sling TV and as a separate app. “It also has a second feed — two to three hours a day of original content plus archived programming — that’s carried on Facebook and will air on the broadcast stations.”

It’s great to see another entry into the universe of digital sub-channels. I hope that more OTA choices will lead to more OTA viewers, which then lead to more OTA choices.

Two Months Later, AirTV Integrates OTA

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Air TV channel guide window
Now on Air TV, the OTA channels begin to the right of where the Sling TV channels end.

As I wrote when I first received my AirTV a couple of months ago, it came without all of the functionality that I saw at its demo at CES. Over-the-air channels were pushed aside, not integrated, and it took several clicks just to get over to them.

It’s taken a long time, even longer than promised, but AirTV has fixed the problem. I suspect the delay may have had something to do with a change in direction; instead of choosing a few favorite OTA channels to join the Sling TV crowd, they’re all integrated in the same channel guide bar complete with logos.

AirTV is still without a DVR, although Sling offers a lot of on-demand programming from its networks. With my Sling app on my Android phone and tablet, I can record most OTT network programs, but there’s no OTA channel support. I’m guessing it’ll be a long time before Sling/Air can straddle that divide, all the more reason to keep my Tablo and Channel Master DVR+ around.

ATSC 3.0 Is Coming, And Maybe It’s Not All Good

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I’ve been struggling to summarize what I feel about ATSC 3.0, the upcoming broadcast TV standard. On one hand, it will enable reception in motion (perhaps in phones?), superb early warning capabilities, and possibly 4K video. But on the other hand…

Fortunately, Wayde Robson at Audioholics has released an excellent long article describing a lot of the stuff I’ve been thinking over the past few weeks. Here are some highlights:

ATSC 3.0 is IP-based, like the internet. It’ll need a new tuner, but we’ve got a few years to prepare for that. Besides, that antenna and tuner won’t need to be near the TV (now a monitor) because it will be able to feed the signal over the home network. And since it’s IP-based, its possibilities will be open-ended. As FCC Chairman Ajit Pai put it:

“Imagine a world in which TV broadcasts of your favorite show or new programs were delivered in Ultra High Definition and immersive audio. Imagine a world in which programming was hyperlocalized and broadcasters could deliver niche content to specific geographic areas within a station’s signal areas. Imagine a world that offered Americans with disabilities far better accessibility options for experiencing broadcast television. Imagine a world in which every consumer smartphone could serve as an over-the-air programming device.”

Then Robson gets around to the dark side. “(I)t’s unlikely ATSC 3.0 will result in any long-term gain for free access to digital entertainment,” he writes. “In fact, ATSC 3.0 opens the door to fully authenticated, tiered broadcast services. … the next generation of TV will be hungry for new ways to get paid.”

That’s part of what I worry about. What if every tuner has to be registered and kept online, the better to target advertisements and reap viewing data? What if some sub-channels or even major networks begin demanding a paid subscription? What if every show includes DRM to prevent piracy, with the side-effect that all third-party OTA DVRs (think Tablo) have nothing to record?

One of the major players successfully pushing for quick adoption of ATSC is Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which has a long history of serving its shareholders. As FierceCable put it in January, “Sinclair and (its subsidiary) One Media are considering multiple ways of monetizing the data captured by ATSC 3.0 Next Gen-enabled devices.” The industry is rushing to adopt the new standard, but I worry that cord-cutting free-TV viewers aren’t who they have in mind.

AirTV: OTA/OTT Box of the Future, But Not Yet

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AirTV receiver and remote
The AirTV receiver and remote look great in their box.

The new AirTV receiver, made to integrate Sling TV and other over-the-top sources with over-the-air local channels, was a big hit at CES. As I wrote and photographed at the show, that AirTV allows users to mix OTA channels with Sling channels in a favorites list, making it easy to switch between say, NFL Network and the local CBS station.

Having heard reports of a two-week or longer delay in shipping for some signups, I was so excited to get my AirTV box delivered today. It has a lot of great features, but it does not have that OTA favorites integration. A call to support verified what I experienced, but they assured me that those features will probably arrive in a future software update. How disappointing to be shown one set of features at CES only to find them unavailable 10 days later!

The AirTV starts up as an Android TV box before defaulting to SlingTV. It has full access to the Google Play Store for apps, movies, TV and music. The receiver comes with Sling TV, YouTube, and Netflix preloaded, has Chromecast baked in, and it works fine with Hulu, Crackle, Vudu, ESPN, and any other Android TV app I’ve tried on it. Even Tablo works; that’s another OTA channel source. The remote is a little wide (about 2.25 inches) but has a nice, smooth feel. There’s a small, easy-to-remember set of buttons, including dedicated Google, Netflix, and Sling access. The remote also has a mic for voice commands.

After I plugged in the AirTV OTA Adapter, really a Hauppauge USB dongle, the AirTV recognized it and, after prompting me, scanned in my local channels. It missed the goofy channels that broadcast without identifiers (looking at you, KHDT) and missed my Movies! affiliate, but pulled in the majors just fine.

For me, the biggest disappointment is how awkward it is to watch OTA channels on AirTV. After that initial scan, the only way to access locals is to scroll all the way to the right in the Sling TV guide, click the unlabeled blank TV for “View Over the Air and Internet Channels,” then click Launch. That brings you to the most recently viewed channel; the remote’s up and down buttons will channel up and down. After some trial and error, without the benefit of documentation, I discovered that holding the OK button for a second before releasing it brings up a list of previous channels, plus a link to the OTA program guide. That guide can import OTT live channels such as those in Pluto TV. But clicking the Guide button on the remote drags the user away to the Sling guide and the most recent Sling channel viewed.

The AirTV has two USB ports – presumably one for the OTA dongle and one for an external hard drive. Although it recognizes a USB drive, it will only use it for Android-based storage; there’s still no DVR. Another oddity: my TV set reports that the HDMI signal from the AirTV receiver is just 720p. My other HDMI sources, including my ChannelMaster DVR+, serve up the full 1080p. AirTV is reportedly capable of 4K, but I don’t have any 4K sets to test.

In summary, the AirTV is a perky, responsive TV box. I had hoped to see exactly how well it integrates OTA with OTT only to discover that it hardly integrates them at all. This receiver has a lot of promise, and the right software, especially if it includes a DVR, could make this the perfect cord-cutter device. As it works today, it’s still missing some pieces.

CES: New Mohu device is intriguing

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AirWave antenna receiver
The AirWave, as seen in the Mohu suite at CES.

There were so many new and interesting devices available at CES that I hesitate to talk about one that isn’t quite ready yet. A lot of people have been writing about the Mohu AirWave, the latest over-the-air TV receiver meant to integrate with over-the-top streaming services, so I guess I’ll add what I saw.

The AirWave takes a different approach to OTA-OTT integration. Its OTA antenna is built-in, and it uses wifi for streaming access, so it should be particularly attractive to literal cord-cutters. The AirWave provides a nice OTA guide with free program data, plus access to the usual OTT suspects. Once it reaches your shelf, it will be able to send that OTA-OTT signal to just about any viewing device you can imagine, including those that get attached to the TV set.

(Mohu was also excited about its free Untangle.TV web app, which launched in November. Untangle interviews visitors about which shows they want to keep, then illustrates how much money they’d save over cable with strategic OTT subscriptions and a Mohu OTA antenna. Nice to have to show cord-cutter wannabes.)

There’s so much to like about the AirWave that I feel sad about its drawbacks. The first kicker is its release date. The AirWave won’t be available until “late Spring 2017,” and only at Best Buy. The second, as noted by Streaming Media, is that it’s still fairly limited, with only a single tuner and no DVR. That could change by the time the next version comes out, but that’s even more speculative than saying version 1.0 will make it to Best Buy before June 20.

Like so many devices, the AirWave strikes me as about 3/4 of a perfect cord-cutter OTA-OTT solution. There are a bunch of almost-perfect devices out there, and each seems to be missing a different piece.

CES: New Tablo products split OTA tuner, DVR

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Tablo tuners and TV guide screen
Tablo’s new guide interface and the new Tablo Live tuner.

At CES this year, there was more over-the-air TV on display than in the previous five years put together. (More about that in a later post.) Many of the products on display worked to combine OTA with other technology to appeal to cord-cutters. Tablo took the opposite approach, introducing new products that provide smaller parts of its flagship’s functionality.

On one hand, there’s the new Tablo DROID Android-Based Software DVR for the Nvideo Shield streaming receiver. From what I could see, the Shield looks blazing fast, and the new striped guide interface was a step up from Tablo’s solid guide for other devices. With a two-tuner USB dongle attached to the Shield, while the user watches one show, the DVR can record a second to the Shield’s storage or to an external USB hard drive. Tablo subscription fees apply, though the press release quoted $4/month rather than the $5/$50/$150 Tablo charges for monthly, yearly, or lifetime subscriptions to its standard receiver.

On the other hand, some folks just want an inexpensive way to distribute OTA TV around the house. The new Tablo Live tuner converts the signal to the local WiFi network and includes the standard Tablo interface with an on-screen 24 hour grid guide, all without subscription fees. Tablo also said it was developing a cloud-based DVR that could be used with the Tablo Live, but it’s still “in the proof-of-concept stage.”

With so many other companies jumping in with IP-connected OTA devices, it’s nice to see Tablo diversify. I wonder which products will catch on by this time next year.

CES: First real look at Dish’s AirTV 

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AirTV and Roku receivers

The CES exhibit floor opened today, so I got a chance to actually see AirTV, which I wrote about a couple of days ago. The Dish Network’s subsidiary’s new receiver showed off its promised unification of over-the-air TV and SlingTV, with easy Netflix integration to boot.

To answer my most important question about AirTV, there will be no subscription fee for guide data, at least according to the project developer I talked to at the Dish / Sling booth. (He preferred that I didn’t mention his name.) Not now, and not in the foreseen future. On the other hand, no DVR either. They were still discussing whether to allow local OTA recordings even as Sling rolls out a cloud-based, 100-hour DVR, currently in beta.

AirTV display screenUpon installation, an AirTV with the OTA USB dangle will scan for available channels, then lay them out on a typical (for Sling) left-right program strip. As you can see by this photo, users can mix local channels and Sling pay-TV channels in their favorites list. I also saw a strip of Netflix shows, ordered by previous viewings and suggestions. And I also saw the Google Play Store on-screen button for adding any number of TV-friendly apps.

I’ve got a unit on order, and I’ll write a better review once I can put the receiver through its paces. Till that happens, I’ll know that I was right about at least one thing. The AirTV developer confirmed that the OTA USB dangle is a rebranded Hauppauge.

Pre-CES: Dish announces AirTV OTA box

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AirTV screenshot
This screenshot from the AirTV promo video is strangely Denver-specific. Our ABC affiliate Channel 7 broadcasts on both VHF and UHF, causing many over-the-air tuners to list it twice.

Just before the CES exhibit floor opens Thursday, Dish Network announced that its AirTV set-top box is available for purchase. The AirTV player supports SlingTV (another Dish subsidiary), YouTube and Netflix, streaming up to 4K quality. What’s most intriguing at this blog is that, with an optional over-the-air TV dongle, “access to local OTA channels is integrated into the Sling TV channel guide.”

AirTV released a cute promotional video that you can watch here (warning: autoplay). Most viewers won’t see OTA duplicates as shown at 0:35, but the guide information looks good for what we can see of it. Even better is the revelation that the AirTV player will allow users to download Android apps from the Google Play Store. The voice-enabled remote controls “all HDTVs and external audio devices.” Sounds like a great deal at $100 without OTA, and even better at $130 with the OTA dongle, and amazing considering that it includes $50 in SlingTV credit.

There are a lot more details in the press release, but left unaddressed is whether there will be any subscription charges for guide data. That’s going to be one of my first questions when I visit the Dish/Sling booth at CES later this week. Meanwhile, here’s a comparison you won’t find anywhere else: Take a look at the OTA dongle that AirTV sells.

AirTV OTA adapter

Now look at the Hauppauge 1191 USB TV Tuner, available on Amazon and elsewhere.

I guarantee that the AirTV OTA USB dongle is a rebranded Hauppauge like the one FilmOn once sent me. I’ve used that OTA dongle for years when I travel with my laptop to bring in OTA signals. So it’s possible that the AirTV version might be valuable even when you’re not home. I’ll let you know what I find out this week.

Here’s what you won’t be getting for free today

Housekeeping

Every January 1 always makes me a little sad. If we still operated on the same copyright laws that were in place when I was a kid, then some of the works created when I was a kid (or a few decades earlier) would now be freely available in the public domain. The Center for the Study of the Public Domain points out every year a sampling of the new works we really should have had available – it never made sense to change copyright rules retroactively. Here’s the report for 2017:

Current US law extends copyright for 70 years after the date of the author’s death, and corporate “works-for-hire” are copyrighted for 95 years after publication. But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years—an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years. Under those laws, works published in 1960 would enter the public domain on January 1, 2017, where they would be “free as the air to common use.” Under current copyright law, we’ll have to wait until 2056.1 And no published works will enter our public domain until 2019. The laws in other countries are different—thousands of works are entering the public domain in Canada and the EU on January 1.

Born Free

What books would be entering the public domain if we had the pre-1978 copyright laws? You might recognize some of the titles below.
The Constitution of Liberty by Friedrich A. Hayek book cover

  • Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
  • John Updike, Rabbit, Run
  • Joy Adamson, Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds
  • William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
  • Friedrich A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty
  • Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Politics of Upheaval: The Age of Roosevelt
  • Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
  • Scott O’Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins
  • John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la raison dialectique

Dr. Seuss's Sam-I-Am running with a book on a platter: Read them freely! And you may. Share them and you may, I say. ...But not until 2056.The books above are but a fraction of what would be entering the public domain on January 1. Imagine them being freely available to students and teachers around the world. Readers interested in iconic stories of courage in the face of racial injustice, or middle class America in the late 1950s, or just great literature, would have something to celebrate. In the current political climate, Shirer’s work, and also those of Hayek, Bell, and Schlesinger, might provide food for thought. And Dr. Seuss’s beloved books would be legally available for free online for children (of all ages).

You would be free to use these books in your own stories, adapt them for theater, animate them, or make them into a film. You could translate them into other languages, or create accessible Braille or audio versions.2 You could read them online or buy cheaper print editions, because others were free to republish them. Empirical studies have shown that public domain books are less expensive, available in more editions and formats, and more likely to be in print—see here, here, and here. Take, for example, The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater—like the works listed above, it was published in 1960; but unlike those works, it’s in the public domain because the copyright was not renewed. You can legally download it for free, and the purchase price for an eBook is $0.99, instead of $10 or $20.

Imagine a digital Library of Alexandria containing all of the world’s books from 1960 and earlier, where, thanks to technology, you can search, link, annotate, copy and paste. (Google Books has brought us closer to this reality, but for copyrighted books where there is no separate agreement with the copyright holder, it only shows three short snippets, not the whole book.) Instead of seeing these literary works enter the public domain in 2017, we will have to wait until 2056.

The Frozen-in-Time Machine

Consider the films and television shows from 1960 that would have become available this year. Fans could share clips with friends or incorporate them into homages. Local theaters could show the full features. Libraries and archivists would be free to digitize and preserve them. Here are a few of the movies that we won’t see in the public domain for another 39 years.
The Apartment movie poster

  • The Time Machine
  • Psycho
  • Spartacus
  • Exodus
  • The Apartment
  • Inherit the Wind
  • The Magnificent Seven
  • Ocean’s 11
  • The Alamo
  • The Andy Griffith Show (first episodes)
  • The Flintstones (first episodes)

These works are famous, so thanks to projects like the National Film Registry, we’re not likely to lose them entirely. The true tragedy is that of forgotten films that are literally disintegrating while preservationists wait for their copyright terms to expire.3

The Magnificent...Life-Plus-70?

It’s Now or . . . 2056?

What 1960 music could you have used without fear of a lawsuit? If you wanted to find guitar tabs or sheet music and freely use some of the great music from this year, January 1, 2017 would have been a rocking day for you under earlier copyright laws. Elvis Presley’s hit song It’s Now or Never (Wally Gold, Aaron Schroeder) would be available. So would Only the lonely (know the way I feel) (Roy Orbison, Joe Melson), Save the Last Dance for Me (Mort Shuman, Jerome Pomus), and Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini (Paul J. Vance, Lee Pockriss). Your school would be free to stage public performances of the songs from the musical Camelot (Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe). Or you could set a video to Harry Belafonte’s Grizzly Bear (Harry Belafonte, Robert DeCormier, Milt Okun) from Swing Dat Hammer. Today, these musical works remain copyrighted until 2056.4

Science from 1960—copyrighted research, still behind paywalls

1960 was another significant year for science. Max Perutz and Sir John Kendrew published articles on the structure of hemoglobin and the structure of myoglobin, respectively, and Robert Burns Woodward published an article describing a total synthesis of chlorophyll. (All three later won Nobel Prizes in Chemistry.) Theodore Maiman demonstrated the first working laser, a ruby laser. And the US launched its first successful weather satellite, TIROS-1.

If you follow the links above (and you do not have a subscription or institutional access), you will see that these 1960 articles are still behind paywalls. You can purchase the individual articles from the journal Nature for $32. A distressing number of scientific articles from 1960 require payment or a subscription or account, including those in major journals such as Science and JAMA. And the institutional access that many top scientists enjoy is not guaranteed—even institutions such as Harvard have considered canceling their subscriptions because they could no longer afford the escalating prices of major journal subscriptions.

It’s remarkable to find scientific research from 1960 hidden behind publisher paywalls. Thankfully, some publishers have made older articles available in full online, so that you can read them, even though it may still be illegal to copy and distribute them. In addition, some older articles have been made available on third party websites, but this is not a stable solution for providing reliable access to science. Third party postings can be difficult to find or taken down, links can get broken, and would-be posters may be deterred by the risk of a lawsuit. Under the pre-1978 copyright term, all of this history would be free to scholars, students, and enthusiasts.

Not all scientific publishers work under this kind of copyright scheme. “Open Access” scientific publications, like those of the Public Library of Science, are under Creative Commons licenses, meaning that they can be copied freely from the day they are published.

Works from 1988!

Most of the works highlighted here are famous—that is why we included them. And if that fame meant that the work was still being exploited commercially 28 years after its publication, the rights holders would probably renew the copyright. But we know from empirical studies that 85% of authors did not renew their copyrights (for books, the number is even higher—93% did not renew), since most works exhaust their commercial value very quickly.

Under the law that existed until 1978 . . . Up to 85% of all copyrighted works from 1988 might have been entering the public domain on January 1, 2017.

That means that all of these examples from 1960 are only the tip of the iceberg. If the pre-1978 laws were still in effect, we could have seen 85% of the works published in 1988 enter the public domain on January 1, 2017. Imagine what that would mean to our archives, our libraries, our schools and our culture. Such works could be digitized, preserved, and made available for education, for research, for future creators. Instead, they will remain under copyright for decades to come, perhaps even into the next century.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the current copyright term is that in most cases, the cultural harm is not offset by any benefit to an author or rights holder. Unlike the famous works highlighted here, the vast majority of works from 1960 do not retain commercial value,5 but they are presumably off limits to users who do not want to risk a copyright lawsuit. This means that no one is benefiting from continued copyright, while the works remain both commercially unavailable and culturally off limits. The public loses the possibility of meaningful access for no good reason. You can read more about the current costs associated with orphan works—works that are still presumably under copyright, but with no identifiable or locatable copyright holder—here and here. Importantly, the US Copyright Office has been engaged in efforts to find solutions to the orphan works problem. However, unlike other countries, the US has not enacted any such solutions.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Public Domain Day 2017 web pages by Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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