SciBlogs

Archive 2007

STUFF OF NONSENSE Peter Griffin Aug 06

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What a surprise it was to log onto the Stuff website today and see the headline pictured to the left “Peter Griffin is God”. One of the better headlines the subs have come up with, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately it was that other Peter Griffin again, the one who would get all the chicks if he was real…

STUFF OF NONSENSE Peter Griffin Aug 06

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What a surprise it was to log onto the Stuff website today and see the headline pictured to the left “Peter Griffin is God”. One of the better headlines the subs have come up with, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately it was that other Peter Griffin again, the one who would get all the chicks if he was real…

DOING MORE WITH THE BLACK BOX Peter Griffin Aug 05

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Sony New Zealand was responsible for leaking one major tidbit of news about the upcoming functions of the Playstation 3, namely, that it will be able to be used as a digital recorder, ala Tivo and MySky. Recently I’ve also been looking at some of the great networking features of the PS3… since I wrote this I’ve been accessing my PS3 and laptop at home from wireless hotspots all over the country. I haven’t tried it on an international basis yet but would be interested in hearing the experiences of anyone who has…


NETWORKING THE PS3

by Peter Griffin | from the New Zealand Herald

The PlayStation 3 is back from the repair shop after inexplicably dying on me. Since its return I’ve been testing out Sony’s claim that the PS3 can serve as the multimedia hub for the home.

You see, I want to have all my digital media – music, videos and photos, in one place that I can access, ideally from anywhere in the world. I want the networking side of it to be easy and the interface to be nice to look at. Does the PS3 deliver? Yes, mostly it does.

Sony and the PS3 are part of the Digital Living Network Alliance which has set standards to make it easy for various consumer electronics devices to network together. This is where computers and lounge-centric gadgets like games consoles and digital recorders finally shake hands.

By activating media sharing in Windows Media Player 11 on my laptop, the My Music, My Videos and My Pictures folders were recognised by the PS3. Two icons denoting the laptops now appear on the PS3′s user interface on my TV screen and I can browse, play and copy the contents of those remote folders to the PS3′s hard drive. All of this connectivity is done wirelessly. The laptops beam the files to the PS3 which gains its internet access via the wireless connection provided by my router. The only cables involved provide power.

Then I introduced my PSP to the mix. The PSP is Sony’s underrated handheld gaming device. Released in New Zealand in September 2005, it had the potential for iPhone-like success, but has been hamstrung by its unpopular UMD disc format for movies. A couple of years on, it is still a slick-looking device. The Wi-fi connectivity makes it easy to network and the software updates have kept useful new features coming.

The PSP talks wirelessly to the PS3 so all of that media I’ve assembled on the network can be accessed from the PSP. I now use it for playing media around the house with great results. Even video trailers I’ve downloaded from the PS3 network stream smoothly over the wireless connection. It’s changing the way I access digital media in the home. But using the internet, the PSP is capable of extending that multimedia network to wherever there is wireless network coverage.

So I set off walking in the driving rain down to Courtney Place in Wellington, where between Telecom and CafeNet there’s very good wireless hotspot coverage. At a coffee shop I produced my PSP and logged onto Telecom’s hotspot, then into my home media network. I was impressed and a bit surprised when the PS3′s interface popped up, showing all the music, photos and videos stored on my two laptops and the PS3′s hard drive back at the house.

I could have been doing this from any wireless hotspot in the world. .

But while the wireless networking between PS3 and computers and PSP in the home is fairly flawless, connecting back to your media network from public hotspots is a little problematic.

For starters, most public hotspots require you to log in using a web browser and surfing the web and punching in password details on the PSP can be pretty frustrating. Still, I was determined to make this work but my experience connecting to three different public hotspots around Wellington was that streaming music to the PSP is pretty patchy. Video is much worse. Its easier to load up the Memory Stick slotted into your PSP with music and video, iPod style – at least you’ll get uninterrupted entertainment.

But the good experience on my home wireless network suggests that streaming over private networks delivers better results.

Upcoming PSP and PS3 software updates are likely to allow you to use the PSP to video conference with other PS3 and PSP owners.

Ideally, you’ll be able to make a PSP video call over a wireless hotspot back to the PS3 at home, so you can conference with family members. That would be pretty useful.

For me, the multimedia networking aspect of the PS3 is far more exciting than the console’s gaming capability, which isn’t much different from that of the Xbox 360.

But it has to be cheaper. The console costs US$500 ($630) in the US. New Zealanders are paying $1200. That price needs to be slashed but Sony says there are no immediate plans to drop the price in New Zealand.

Whether the PS3 emerges as the leading multimedia hub for the home is up in the air, but at the moment it is perhaps the best example of a user-friendly consumer electronics device that serves that purpose.

THE LESSONS FROM MORGO Peter Griffin Aug 05

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Lesson number one: Don’t eat at the Thai restaurant at Paihia. I did on the evening of Morgo’s second day after just about everyone else had dispersed south and my stomach has only just come right. The Thai beef tasted a little funny when I was eating it but I just assumed that was the tang of MSG or something. Boy did I pay for that mistake!

Anyway, Morgo was a great event once again. I hope the feature below, which ran in The Business gives the impression of a tight-knit group of entrepreneurs getting together to discuss some of the issues their businesses are facing, because that’s what Morgo is. Without any proper representation for the IT sector at an industry level it’s sort of a defacto event for setting the agenda, examining the isues of importance. In addition to the feature, I also blogged from Morgo for the Herald:

MORGO: A tale of two tech listings
MORGO: Going global from NZ

MORGO 2007 – highlights from the tech talkfest

By Peter Griffin

Jenny Morel knows how to get a good crowd together. The venture capitalist’s invite-only retreats have, for five years straight, drawn the top ranks of the tech sector.

Last week’s Morgo summit in Waitangi was no different.

The seeds of business deals have been planted at Morgo, stock exchange listings quietly planned. A sense of kinship pervades the proceedings. The competitive spirit may have come out during the haphazard games of Segway polo held on the manicured lawn of the Copthorne Hotel, but Waitangi was full last week of innovative people united in the goal of growing their technology businesses quickly.

If anyone knows a thing or two about that, its Trademe founder Sam Morgan, who in the space of seven years built his tiny internet auction business into the country’s most popular website before selling it last year to Fairfax in an unprecedented $700 million deal.

Morgan also knows the value of Morgo – he met entrepreneur Craig Meek at last year’s conference and went on to invest in his data visualization company, iVistra. It was Morgo that put him in touch with DeviceWorks, which recently won worldwide attention with its Lomak light-operated mouse and keyboard, which is designed to help the disabled use computers. Morgan is now an investor in the business and is casting the net wide for new opportunities to plough his share of the Trademe sale proceeds into. Morgan’s investment adviser accompanied him to Morgo in the hope of finding some leads.

“I’ve made a few start-up investments and I’ve made a few social investments,” says Morgan.

“I don’t invest in stem cell research, just because I don’t get it,” he says.

He has underwritten the formation of a micro-finance scheme in Samoa and in addition to iVistra and Lomak, has put money into people management software maker Sonar6. Morgan spent much of his talk at Morgo outlining how little his life has changed since the Trademe sale. He has earn-out targets to meet, so is still preoccupied with Trademe.

“I’m planning on being there in some capacity for quite a while yet,” he says.

But he recognizes succession planning is underway and that involves building a team he trusts – then leaving them to get on with their work. His “Don’t be a dick” mantra, the equivalent of Google’s “Don’t be evil”, became a bit of a catchphrase at Morgo.

“Moving out of the picture means making sure everyone has the ‘Don’t be a dick’ certificate,” says Morgan, who sits on the board of listed accounting software Xero, the creation of another Morgo regular, Rod Drury.

“I really hope it’s the Nokia of New Zealand,” Drury said of Xero towards the end of his speech at Morgo.

“This is a ten year play. I plan to work until I’m at least 50,” he added.

After last year selling his mail archiving company Aftermail to US software company Quest, Drury could have retired. That wasn’t an option. Drury says the aim was always to sell Aftermail so he could fund his next venture, which he always anticipated would be a public company, listed on the NXZ.

“I thought if we want to be here in the long term, we’ve got to do it as a public company,” he said.

For Drury, preparing Xero for going global has meant investing heavily in getting top talent onboard and designing a software platform that can easily be tweaked for bigger markets.

“The breadth of the wall chart was built from day one,” he said.

“We did a lot of R&D so… we could have one system across the world.”

Sysdoc founder and director Katherine Corich faced a different challenge trying to scale her document management company in Britain – negotiating the old boy’s network that pervades business over there.

“It’s definitely a land of old boy networks,” she told Morgo. No more obvious was that than in the Government sector, where Korich says seven IT providers claim over two-thirds of the budgeted IT spend.

“You have to align yourself with one of ten providers. I’ve focused on getting non-executive directors with extensive UK government experience,” she said.

If those who spoke at Morgo honed in on some specific examples of how they have refined their businesses for global expansion, it was left to Endace-founder Selwyn Pellet to issue a rallying cry for the tech sector in general.

“As New Zealanders, we don’t have to be second class citizens. We are good,” Pellett reminded his fellow entrepreneurs.

But reeling off a list of similarly small countries that have grown thriving technology sectors – Ireland, Israel and Finland among them, he reminded them that New Zealand is “outgunned and outnumbered” and needs some visionary thinking to stay competitive.

“If you stick with five – ten per cent growth a year, it’s not going to happen,” said Pellett.

“The business plan needs to be a hairy-arsed audacious goal.”

Endace, a maker of networking management technology with a global blue chip client base, was the first New Zealand registered company to list on the London stock exchange’s alternative investment market.

“If you want to get out of the trenches and start charging, list your company,” Pellet advised. But for those considering a public listing, and there were several at Morgo, we told them to “look beyond the listing”, to have a long term goal for success.

“We listed Endace. The end goal was the listing. Suddenly we had to pump really hard to get going again.”

Endace had created seven New Zealand-based millionaires who have gone on to reinvest.

“Instead of us being bought, we’re going around the world buying companies.”

“The entrepreneurs in the room have to do more and more companies. They’re not allowed to retire,” he added.

Andy Lark, a Silicon Valley-based marketing guru, who heads NZTE’s technology beachhead in the US and is a director of Morel’s No. 8 Ventures, likewise encouraged kiwi entrepreneurs to think big.

“The real model for me is Israel. These guys are building more hi-tech companies than any small nation on earth,” he said.

“It’s because they’ve differentiated between what’s a good business model and what allows them to succeed outside of their market.”

Later, in a small session devoted to using the internet to overcome the tyranny of distance, he explained how much New Zealand companies can do with blogs, wikis and search engines to cheaply market their companies.

“People are breaking down the barriers between themselves and the customer using the web,” he said.

“Information is a commodity and it doesn’t cost too much to share it.”

APPLE & GOOGLE PHONE IN THE NEWS Peter Griffin Aug 05

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Griffin’s Gadgets has been quiet for an unacceptably long period of time by blogging standards – over a month! I’ve nevertheless been busy on some creative projects, at least one of which will hopefully bear fruit in the coming months. In the meantime here’s a wrap of some of the stuff I’ve been writing in the “mainstream media”. Ironically, my last post was on the eve of the iPhone’s debut in the US. So much has happened since then…

The gPhone is in the works


by Peter Griffin | Tomorrow’s World in the Herald on Sunday

If there was any doubt that internet search giant Google has its heart set on dominating the mobile phone industry the way it has the internet, it was well and truly snuffed out last week.

Not only was Google instrumental in winning concessions in the rules of an upcoming auction in the US of radio spectrum that will guarantee that any device or service can be used on that spectrum, but Google has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into developing mobile phone designs.

Whether Google will, in the next few years, go head to head with AT and T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile to construct a mobile network in the US is far from clear. To do so would be horrendously expensive, even for a cash-rich behemoth like Google. It would need to be successful in grabbing a slice of the airwaves in the upcoming auction, and it hasn’t indicated yet whether it will participate.

Last week I reviewed Apple’s iPhone which, with its touch screen and intuitive user interface, is a game-changing device. By as early as next year, if rumours of Google’s tie-ups with Taiwanese hardware makers are correct, the gPhone could be on the market, offering even more compelling functionality.

After all, applications like Google Search, Maps, Talk, Gmail and Documents have been adopted by millions of web users around the world. While many of those people are using Google on their mobile phones, a handset designed to deliver the best Google experience would be very powerful. (The image left is a leaked pic of what is reported to be a mobile phone user interface designed by Google engineers).

If the risk of over-extending itself in the mobile space is a real one for Google, the rewards for going mobile are also very real. The US mobile phone advertising market was worth US$1.5 billion last year and is expected to reach US$14 billion by 2011, says research company eMarketer.

I very rarely click on adverts displayed on the Google search engine or to the right of my messages in Gmail, Google’s free email service. But I’d be much more likely to click on an advertising link on my mobile phone that throws up results based not only on what I punch into Google’s search engine, but also on my physical location. Maybe I could type in “movie sessions” and a group of links to movies showing in the next few hours at inner-city Auckland theatres would appear, because I am standing on Queen St. That would be very useful.

I use Gmail on my Harrier smartphone, but if I could use a phone to have Google Talk chat sessions and to access Google Documents in a nice way, I’d consider switching.

While Google has prototypes of its own phones in the works, it also appears that it is developing software and hardware standards that it will encourage mobile handset makers to adopt. If early reports are accurate, the standards have a heavy weighting towards mobile internet access, with recommendations that handset makers build Wi-fi and 3G high-speed data access into their phones. Google is also said to be working on an internet browser for mobile phones.

Google’s business model has always rested on free services, but supporting them with advertising is a highly lucrative strategy. Would a “gPhone” allow free calling and internet access but require you to listen to or watch adverts? It’s not out of the question and would turn the existing mobile billing model on its ear. Will Google and Apple steamroller the traditional mobile heavyweights Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson? Unlikely, but they’ll certainly get a run for their money in the next couple of years if the gPhone comes to life.


APPLE IPHONE FIRST LOOK REVIEW – 8/10

by Peter Griffin | Tomorrow’s World in the Herald on Sunday

I’ve finally had some decent hands-on time with the Apple iPhone, the music player cum phone released on June 29 in one of the most anticipated product debuts in history.

Much of the hype has turned out to be true. The iPhone is simply a fantastic little gadget. I probably wouldn’t be inclined to buy one myself, having recently acquired a stand-alone iPod, but I’m excited about what the gadget, selling for NZ$653-$818 depending on storage allowance, means for the mobile phone design of other companies now clambering to catch up.

My reservations about the iPhone’s touch-screen, the only form of interaction with the phone (there being very few buttons to push) began to evaporate as I started tapping icons and punching in web addresses on the iPhone’s virtual keyboard. I’ve been a keen user of touch screens for years, from the Palm Pilot, to a range of Windows-based smart phones, to the likes of Sony Ericsson’s P800.

All those phones required a little plastic pen to tap on the screen with precision. Not so the iPhone. The icons on the menu screen are big enough to be tapped with your finger and the keys on the virtual keyboard enlarge as your finger hovers over them allowing for surprisingly easy typing.

The iPhone is really an entertainment device first and foremost. It will appeal to people who want good messaging options, the ability to do some light web browsing, listen to music on the move and make phone calls.

You can’t now use the iPhone with a Vodafone or Telecom mobile account as American network operator AT and T stitched up an exclusive deal for the iPhone’s release in the US. Instead, people have hacked the iPod to unlock all of its functions bar the mobile calling. That means you can surf the web on the iPhone using its wi-fi connection, if you are in range of a wireless hotspot. That’s a surprisingly seamless experience.

The iPhone uses the Safari browser Apple Mac owners will be familiar with and has a couple of great features that make surfing the web on the iPhone better than on any other phone I’ve used. You can navigate full-sized web pages simply by dragging your finger around the screen and by pinching your fingers together or spreading them out, zoom in and out. The iPhone senses when you tilt it on its side, so will change the layout of the screen to landscape, automatically giving you a better view of web pages and pictures.

The email suite is pretty smart, allowing you to set up inboxes for multiple email accounts. The fonts and icons look crisp on the large screen and the camera takes reasonable-quality digital photos as long as there is good light.

Then there’s the music player function, which has been cleverly adapted for the phone. Again, your finger does the navigating. You can skip through your songs and albums quickly, just by tapping the screen.

The real test of the iPhone will be how it ages, how, after constant fingering over months or years, that touch screen holds up. I know people who are still happily using first and second generation iPods. Will the iPhone have that staying power and, therefore, the value for money?

What I’m looking forward to is the response from the traditional mobile heavyweights to the iPhone. Apple has proven that the touch screen can act effectively as the sole form of interaction with a phone. The mobile phone makers are sure to follow.

I should point out my Herald blog posting on the iPhone which I wrote in the lead-up to the iPhone launch and suggested that people should forget about the iPhone and look at some of the other decent smartphones on the market. That piece, which sparked a pretty big mailbag of responses from readers (which is always good) was in response to the unbelievable hype that had built up around the phone and was meant to be slightly antagonistic. Still, my advice remains the same, given the iPhone’s absence from our market.

Google muscles in on mobile

by Peter Griffin | from New Zealand Herald

We have a little Government radio spectrum auction coming up in December that will sell access to some highly sought-after radio frequencies so new services such as wireless broadband can be offered.

That will raise a reasonable sum for the Government, maybe tens of millions of dollars.

But just wait for the frenzy the auction of 700Mhz radio spectrum in the US will generate.

Payments for that spectrum – seen as the “last beachfront property” in the US wireless space, as most of the other appropriate frequencies are already in use – are expected to total upwards of US$15 billion ($19.9 billion).

We haven’t seen that sort of money on the table since the European 3G auctions, which sent more than one mobile player bankrupt.

And if there wasn’t enough competition for the airwaves from traditional US mobile players such as Verizon and Sprint, internet giant Google has also given a strong indication that it will join the bidding.

That has no doubt struck fear into the mobile industry, whose collective pockets are nowhere near as deep as Google’s, with its US$160 billion market capitalisation.

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday bowed to the lobbying of Google, which was demanding that a good portion of the spectrum sold in the auction be used to support any device or service desired by the consumer.

Traditionally, the successful bidders in spectrum auctions have been able to tightly control what their customers can use.

This has largely determined over the past 15 years what mobile operator a customer chooses to sign up to.

Now Google, whose allegiances lie not with the network operators but with the consumers who use its search engine, wants mobile phone networks to be treated with the flexibility the internet offers.

Bring along any compatible mobile phone and, in theory, you’ll be able to use any service on offer.

On the web, you can pretty much do this now.

Internet providers sell access to the pipe that connects you to the internet but unless you’re illegally downloading thousands of movies or albums, making you what’s known in the industry as a “bandwidth leech”, you are generally left to your own devices.

Contrast this with the mobile operators, which do their best to keep you in a walled-garden of content offerings.

Vodafone Live is the best example of this approach.

While most mobile operators now sell straight internet access, they also package up services to make it more attractive to buy what they decide to offer – whether that be ringtone downloads, streaming TV feeds or news alerts.

Google is trying to offer better access to the services its business relies on, and in this area it sees the wireless providers and their walled gardens as the enemy.

The hostility between Google and the mobile industry was no more obvious than at the 3GSM mobile industry show in Barcelona this year, where several mobile operators said they’d rather work together to build their own alternative search engine for mobile phones than use Google’s.

The tension springs from the fact that everyone knows that mobile search is the next major form of advertising revenue.

The location-sensing power of mobile phones mean search engine results can be tailored to your actual location, giving more targeted results than you would get from using the Google search engine on your home computer.

With those location-based services in mind, Google has been building a free city-wide Wi-Fi networks in San Francisco and Mountain View, California, to give people in those areas better, unimpeded access to the internet.

It also struck a deal with mobile operator Sprint to offer Google applications on Sprint’s WiMAX wireless broadband service.

With its acquisition of the YouTube video-sharing website, and already the biggest search engine provider in the world, Google’s success depends on its customers being able to gain access to enough bandwidth to use its services, and preferably from mobile devices.

For that reason, an increasingly realistic scenario would see Google buy radio spectrum and build its own mobile network.

On the other hand, it may be a bluff to extract better co-operation from the mobile industry.

Either way, the mobile landscape is irreversibly shifting and Google, with its desire to take internet search mobile, is driving the change.

KIWI BUSINESSMEN SUM UP THE IPHONE

by Peter Griffin | from the New Zealand Herald

New Zealand
‘s first iPhone owners are globe-trotting technology entrepreneurs who see business opportunities for themselves in Apple’s sought-after gadget.

Tech sector veterans and regular visitors to the US, Steve Simms and Derek and Geoffrey Handley, picked up iPhones after the combined phone and music player was launched last week.

While the three share an interest in gadgets, their iPhone purchases also fall into the category of market research – they may soon be tailoring services to meet the new gadget’s requirements.

The three will not be able to use their phones on the local Telecom or Vodafone networks as they signed up to exclusive contacts with US operator AT andT.

Hackers are already working on ways to bypass the exclusivity deal so that the iPhone can be used on any GSM network.

Simms is the founder of Wi-Fi hotspot service provider Tomizone, which allows you to turn your wireless internet connection into a commercial service, selling access to others with Tomizone providing the back-end billing functions.

The iPhone has Wi-Fi connectivity built into it, allowing users to surf the web from wireless hotspots.

Derek Handley’s (pictured left) company, The Hyperfactory, designs and hosts internet-based advertising and branding campaigns for companies with a focus on the mobile internet delivered to phones.

If his clients take an interest in the iPhone, Handley will have to adapt services to suit its format and the Safari web browser that is used by iPhone owners to access the internet.

Still in their honeymoon phase with the most desired of gadgets, Simms and Handley suggest the iPhone lives up to much of the hype.

“It has a really slick interface, beautifully silky,” said Handley, who was also impressed with the iPhone’s suite of applications.”There’s a nice Google Maps function, you can get directions to go places. There’s a very cool YouTube widget for streaming YouTube videos.

“It’s not some old stylus thing or one-touch wonder. I’m talking Minority Report styling. Touch the screen with one or more fingers, pinch or expand photos and websites. It’s cool,” said Simms, who was given his iPhone by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. The pair share a passion for the geeky sport of Segway Polo.

But it’s not all praise from New Zealand‘s first iPhone owners.

Simms (pictured left) picked out Apple’s “dumb exclusivity deal” with AT and T which limits use of the iPhone to one mobile network in the US. The model is likely to be replicated around the world, with Apple rumoured to be in the final stages of negotiating a worldwide deal for the iPhone with Vodafone.

“The keypad is crap, it will never replace the Blackberry,” said Handley.

“The browsing experience is designed for Wi-Fi and Edge, not 3G.”

Handley admits that Hyperfactory’s philosophy for how the mobile internet should be presented to users differs from that of Apple boss Steve Jobs.

“He thinks that the [regular] internet 100 per cent on the go is the way forward, but no one goes from Wi-Fi spot to Wi-Fi spot. Things need to be designed for the mobile internet,” said Handley.

“When you get to a mobile internet site on [the iPhone], it treats it like a web page, which is completely unworkable,” he added.

With his business case resting on the availability of Wi-Fi internet hotspots and devices that can connect to them, Simms naturally has a different view.

“Wi-Fi is massive on this, a great call by Apple not to get painted into a corner with the 3G argument,” he said.

“The ease of use for Wi-Fi in the iPhone is a dream and in the field its faster and cheaper than 3G any day.”

Both Simms and Handley saw plenty of opportunity to develop their offerings for the iPhone.

“Our opportunity is to take advantage of their stubbornness and their view of the mobile world and render content in a much smarter way, recognising the Safari operating system,” said Handley.

“We are looking for a widget for the iPhone that will auto-detect and log in to a Tomizone hotspot or any other hotspot you are registered with,”said Simms. “My guys will be figuring that out shortly.”

Locked out

- Apple’s iPhone cannot be used on the Vodafone or Telecom networks, but can be used outside the US where AT and T has roaming coverage. International charges apply.

- iPhone owners have to sign up to mobile plans starting at US$60 ($76) a month, locking them into a service contract for two years or more.

- Hackers are working to crack the lock-in technology that prevents the phones from working with sim cards from other mobile network operators.

- No date has been given for the iPhone’s arrival on the market here, however Apple is rumoured to be in discussions with Vodafone for a worldwide partnership to launch the iPhone where Vodafone has subsidiaries.

DOING MORE WITH THE BLACK BOX Peter Griffin Aug 05

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Sony New Zealand was responsible for leaking one major tidbit of news about the upcoming functions of the Playstation 3, namely, that it will be able to be used as a digital recorder, ala Tivo and MySky. Recently I’ve also been looking at some of the great networking features of the PS3… since I wrote this I’ve been accessing my PS3 and laptop at home from wireless hotspots all over the country. I haven’t tried it on an international basis yet but would be interested in hearing the experiences of anyone who has…


NETWORKING THE PS3

by Peter Griffin | from the New Zealand Herald

The PlayStation 3 is back from the repair shop after inexplicably dying on me. Since its return I’ve been testing out Sony’s claim that the PS3 can serve as the multimedia hub for the home.

You see, I want to have all my digital media – music, videos and photos, in one place that I can access, ideally from anywhere in the world. I want the networking side of it to be easy and the interface to be nice to look at. Does the PS3 deliver? Yes, mostly it does.

Sony and the PS3 are part of the Digital Living Network Alliance which has set standards to make it easy for various consumer electronics devices to network together. This is where computers and lounge-centric gadgets like games consoles and digital recorders finally shake hands.

By activating media sharing in Windows Media Player 11 on my laptop, the My Music, My Videos and My Pictures folders were recognised by the PS3. Two icons denoting the laptops now appear on the PS3′s user interface on my TV screen and I can browse, play and copy the contents of those remote folders to the PS3′s hard drive. All of this connectivity is done wirelessly. The laptops beam the files to the PS3 which gains its internet access via the wireless connection provided by my router. The only cables involved provide power.

Then I introduced my PSP to the mix. The PSP is Sony’s underrated handheld gaming device. Released in New Zealand in September 2005, it had the potential for iPhone-like success, but has been hamstrung by its unpopular UMD disc format for movies. A couple of years on, it is still a slick-looking device. The Wi-fi connectivity makes it easy to network and the software updates have kept useful new features coming.

The PSP talks wirelessly to the PS3 so all of that media I’ve assembled on the network can be accessed from the PSP. I now use it for playing media around the house with great results. Even video trailers I’ve downloaded from the PS3 network stream smoothly over the wireless connection. It’s changing the way I access digital media in the home. But using the internet, the PSP is capable of extending that multimedia network to wherever there is wireless network coverage.

So I set off walking in the driving rain down to Courtney Place in Wellington, where between Telecom and CafeNet there’s very good wireless hotspot coverage. At a coffee shop I produced my PSP and logged onto Telecom’s hotspot, then into my home media network. I was impressed and a bit surprised when the PS3′s interface popped up, showing all the music, photos and videos stored on my two laptops and the PS3′s hard drive back at the house.

I could have been doing this from any wireless hotspot in the world. .

But while the wireless networking between PS3 and computers and PSP in the home is fairly flawless, connecting back to your media network from public hotspots is a little problematic.

For starters, most public hotspots require you to log in using a web browser and surfing the web and punching in password details on the PSP can be pretty frustrating. Still, I was determined to make this work but my experience connecting to three different public hotspots around Wellington was that streaming music to the PSP is pretty patchy. Video is much worse. Its easier to load up the Memory Stick slotted into your PSP with music and video, iPod style – at least you’ll get uninterrupted entertainment.

But the good experience on my home wireless network suggests that streaming over private networks delivers better results.

Upcoming PSP and PS3 software updates are likely to allow you to use the PSP to video conference with other PS3 and PSP owners.

Ideally, you’ll be able to make a PSP video call over a wireless hotspot back to the PS3 at home, so you can conference with family members. That would be pretty useful.

For me, the multimedia networking aspect of the PS3 is far more exciting than the console’s gaming capability, which isn’t much different from that of the Xbox 360.

But it has to be cheaper. The console costs US$500 ($630) in the US. New Zealanders are paying $1200. That price needs to be slashed but Sony says there are no immediate plans to drop the price in New Zealand.

Whether the PS3 emerges as the leading multimedia hub for the home is up in the air, but at the moment it is perhaps the best example of a user-friendly consumer electronics device that serves that purpose.

THE LESSONS FROM MORGO Peter Griffin Aug 05

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Lesson number one: Don’t eat at the Thai restaurant at Paihia. I did on the evening of Morgo’s second day after just about everyone else had dispersed south and my stomach has only just come right. The Thai beef tasted a little funny when I was eating it but I just assumed that was the tang of MSG or something. Boy did I pay for that mistake!

Anyway, Morgo was a great event once again. I hope the feature below, which ran in The Business gives the impression of a tight-knit group of entrepreneurs getting together to discuss some of the issues their businesses are facing, because that’s what Morgo is. Without any proper representation for the IT sector at an industry level it’s sort of a defacto event for setting the agenda, examining the isues of importance. In addition to the feature, I also blogged from Morgo for the Herald:

MORGO: A tale of two tech listings
MORGO: Going global from NZ

MORGO 2007 – highlights from the tech talkfest

By Peter Griffin

Jenny Morel knows how to get a good crowd together. The venture capitalist’s invite-only retreats have, for five years straight, drawn the top ranks of the tech sector.

Last week’s Morgo summit in Waitangi was no different.

The seeds of business deals have been planted at Morgo, stock exchange listings quietly planned. A sense of kinship pervades the proceedings. The competitive spirit may have come out during the haphazard games of Segway polo held on the manicured lawn of the Copthorne Hotel, but Waitangi was full last week of innovative people united in the goal of growing their technology businesses quickly.

If anyone knows a thing or two about that, its Trademe founder Sam Morgan, who in the space of seven years built his tiny internet auction business into the country’s most popular website before selling it last year to Fairfax in an unprecedented $700 million deal.

Morgan also knows the value of Morgo – he met entrepreneur Craig Meek at last year’s conference and went on to invest in his data visualization company, iVistra. It was Morgo that put him in touch with DeviceWorks, which recently won worldwide attention with its Lomak light-operated mouse and keyboard, which is designed to help the disabled use computers. Morgan is now an investor in the business and is casting the net wide for new opportunities to plough his share of the Trademe sale proceeds into. Morgan’s investment adviser accompanied him to Morgo in the hope of finding some leads.

“I’ve made a few start-up investments and I’ve made a few social investments,” says Morgan.

“I don’t invest in stem cell research, just because I don’t get it,” he says.

He has underwritten the formation of a micro-finance scheme in Samoa and in addition to iVistra and Lomak, has put money into people management software maker Sonar6. Morgan spent much of his talk at Morgo outlining how little his life has changed since the Trademe sale. He has earn-out targets to meet, so is still preoccupied with Trademe.

“I’m planning on being there in some capacity for quite a while yet,” he says.

But he recognizes succession planning is underway and that involves building a team he trusts – then leaving them to get on with their work. His “Don’t be a dick” mantra, the equivalent of Google’s “Don’t be evil”, became a bit of a catchphrase at Morgo.

“Moving out of the picture means making sure everyone has the ‘Don’t be a dick’ certificate,” says Morgan, who sits on the board of listed accounting software Xero, the creation of another Morgo regular, Rod Drury.

“I really hope it’s the Nokia of New Zealand,” Drury said of Xero towards the end of his speech at Morgo.

“This is a ten year play. I plan to work until I’m at least 50,” he added.

After last year selling his mail archiving company Aftermail to US software company Quest, Drury could have retired. That wasn’t an option. Drury says the aim was always to sell Aftermail so he could fund his next venture, which he always anticipated would be a public company, listed on the NXZ.

“I thought if we want to be here in the long term, we’ve got to do it as a public company,” he said.

For Drury, preparing Xero for going global has meant investing heavily in getting top talent onboard and designing a software platform that can easily be tweaked for bigger markets.

“The breadth of the wall chart was built from day one,” he said.

“We did a lot of R&D so… we could have one system across the world.”

Sysdoc founder and director Katherine Corich faced a different challenge trying to scale her document management company in Britain – negotiating the old boy’s network that pervades business over there.

“It’s definitely a land of old boy networks,” she told Morgo. No more obvious was that than in the Government sector, where Korich says seven IT providers claim over two-thirds of the budgeted IT spend.

“You have to align yourself with one of ten providers. I’ve focused on getting non-executive directors with extensive UK government experience,” she said.

If those who spoke at Morgo honed in on some specific examples of how they have refined their businesses for global expansion, it was left to Endace-founder Selwyn Pellet to issue a rallying cry for the tech sector in general.

“As New Zealanders, we don’t have to be second class citizens. We are good,” Pellett reminded his fellow entrepreneurs.

But reeling off a list of similarly small countries that have grown thriving technology sectors – Ireland, Israel and Finland among them, he reminded them that New Zealand is “outgunned and outnumbered” and needs some visionary thinking to stay competitive.

“If you stick with five – ten per cent growth a year, it’s not going to happen,” said Pellett.

“The business plan needs to be a hairy-arsed audacious goal.”

Endace, a maker of networking management technology with a global blue chip client base, was the first New Zealand registered company to list on the London stock exchange’s alternative investment market.

“If you want to get out of the trenches and start charging, list your company,” Pellet advised. But for those considering a public listing, and there were several at Morgo, we told them to “look beyond the listing”, to have a long term goal for success.

“We listed Endace. The end goal was the listing. Suddenly we had to pump really hard to get going again.”

Endace had created seven New Zealand-based millionaires who have gone on to reinvest.

“Instead of us being bought, we’re going around the world buying companies.”

“The entrepreneurs in the room have to do more and more companies. They’re not allowed to retire,” he added.

Andy Lark, a Silicon Valley-based marketing guru, who heads NZTE’s technology beachhead in the US and is a director of Morel’s No. 8 Ventures, likewise encouraged kiwi entrepreneurs to think big.

“The real model for me is Israel. These guys are building more hi-tech companies than any small nation on earth,” he said.

“It’s because they’ve differentiated between what’s a good business model and what allows them to succeed outside of their market.”

Later, in a small session devoted to using the internet to overcome the tyranny of distance, he explained how much New Zealand companies can do with blogs, wikis and search engines to cheaply market their companies.

“People are breaking down the barriers between themselves and the customer using the web,” he said.

“Information is a commodity and it doesn’t cost too much to share it.”

APPLE & GOOGLE PHONE IN THE NEWS Peter Griffin Aug 05

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Griffin’s Gadgets has been quiet for an unacceptably long period of time by blogging standards – over a month! I’ve nevertheless been busy on some creative projects, at least one of which will hopefully bear fruit in the coming months. In the meantime here’s a wrap of some of the stuff I’ve been writing in the “mainstream media”. Ironically, my last post was on the eve of the iPhone’s debut in the US. So much has happened since then…

The gPhone is in the works


by Peter Griffin | Tomorrow’s World in the Herald on Sunday

If there was any doubt that internet search giant Google has its heart set on dominating the mobile phone industry the way it has the internet, it was well and truly snuffed out last week.

Not only was Google instrumental in winning concessions in the rules of an upcoming auction in the US of radio spectrum that will guarantee that any device or service can be used on that spectrum, but Google has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into developing mobile phone designs.

Whether Google will, in the next few years, go head to head with AT and T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile to construct a mobile network in the US is far from clear. To do so would be horrendously expensive, even for a cash-rich behemoth like Google. It would need to be successful in grabbing a slice of the airwaves in the upcoming auction, and it hasn’t indicated yet whether it will participate.

Last week I reviewed Apple’s iPhone which, with its touch screen and intuitive user interface, is a game-changing device. By as early as next year, if rumours of Google’s tie-ups with Taiwanese hardware makers are correct, the gPhone could be on the market, offering even more compelling functionality.

After all, applications like Google Search, Maps, Talk, Gmail and Documents have been adopted by millions of web users around the world. While many of those people are using Google on their mobile phones, a handset designed to deliver the best Google experience would be very powerful. (The image left is a leaked pic of what is reported to be a mobile phone user interface designed by Google engineers).

If the risk of over-extending itself in the mobile space is a real one for Google, the rewards for going mobile are also very real. The US mobile phone advertising market was worth US$1.5 billion last year and is expected to reach US$14 billion by 2011, says research company eMarketer.

I very rarely click on adverts displayed on the Google search engine or to the right of my messages in Gmail, Google’s free email service. But I’d be much more likely to click on an advertising link on my mobile phone that throws up results based not only on what I punch into Google’s search engine, but also on my physical location. Maybe I could type in “movie sessions” and a group of links to movies showing in the next few hours at inner-city Auckland theatres would appear, because I am standing on Queen St. That would be very useful.

I use Gmail on my Harrier smartphone, but if I could use a phone to have Google Talk chat sessions and to access Google Documents in a nice way, I’d consider switching.

While Google has prototypes of its own phones in the works, it also appears that it is developing software and hardware standards that it will encourage mobile handset makers to adopt. If early reports are accurate, the standards have a heavy weighting towards mobile internet access, with recommendations that handset makers build Wi-fi and 3G high-speed data access into their phones. Google is also said to be working on an internet browser for mobile phones.

Google’s business model has always rested on free services, but supporting them with advertising is a highly lucrative strategy. Would a “gPhone” allow free calling and internet access but require you to listen to or watch adverts? It’s not out of the question and would turn the existing mobile billing model on its ear. Will Google and Apple steamroller the traditional mobile heavyweights Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson? Unlikely, but they’ll certainly get a run for their money in the next couple of years if the gPhone comes to life.


APPLE IPHONE FIRST LOOK REVIEW – 8/10

by Peter Griffin | Tomorrow’s World in the Herald on Sunday

I’ve finally had some decent hands-on time with the Apple iPhone, the music player cum phone released on June 29 in one of the most anticipated product debuts in history.

Much of the hype has turned out to be true. The iPhone is simply a fantastic little gadget. I probably wouldn’t be inclined to buy one myself, having recently acquired a stand-alone iPod, but I’m excited about what the gadget, selling for NZ$653-$818 depending on storage allowance, means for the mobile phone design of other companies now clambering to catch up.

My reservations about the iPhone’s touch-screen, the only form of interaction with the phone (there being very few buttons to push) began to evaporate as I started tapping icons and punching in web addresses on the iPhone’s virtual keyboard. I’ve been a keen user of touch screens for years, from the Palm Pilot, to a range of Windows-based smart phones, to the likes of Sony Ericsson’s P800.

All those phones required a little plastic pen to tap on the screen with precision. Not so the iPhone. The icons on the menu screen are big enough to be tapped with your finger and the keys on the virtual keyboard enlarge as your finger hovers over them allowing for surprisingly easy typing.

The iPhone is really an entertainment device first and foremost. It will appeal to people who want good messaging options, the ability to do some light web browsing, listen to music on the move and make phone calls.

You can’t now use the iPhone with a Vodafone or Telecom mobile account as American network operator AT and T stitched up an exclusive deal for the iPhone’s release in the US. Instead, people have hacked the iPod to unlock all of its functions bar the mobile calling. That means you can surf the web on the iPhone using its wi-fi connection, if you are in range of a wireless hotspot. That’s a surprisingly seamless experience.

The iPhone uses the Safari browser Apple Mac owners will be familiar with and has a couple of great features that make surfing the web on the iPhone better than on any other phone I’ve used. You can navigate full-sized web pages simply by dragging your finger around the screen and by pinching your fingers together or spreading them out, zoom in and out. The iPhone senses when you tilt it on its side, so will change the layout of the screen to landscape, automatically giving you a better view of web pages and pictures.

The email suite is pretty smart, allowing you to set up inboxes for multiple email accounts. The fonts and icons look crisp on the large screen and the camera takes reasonable-quality digital photos as long as there is good light.

Then there’s the music player function, which has been cleverly adapted for the phone. Again, your finger does the navigating. You can skip through your songs and albums quickly, just by tapping the screen.

The real test of the iPhone will be how it ages, how, after constant fingering over months or years, that touch screen holds up. I know people who are still happily using first and second generation iPods. Will the iPhone have that staying power and, therefore, the value for money?

What I’m looking forward to is the response from the traditional mobile heavyweights to the iPhone. Apple has proven that the touch screen can act effectively as the sole form of interaction with a phone. The mobile phone makers are sure to follow.

I should point out my Herald blog posting on the iPhone which I wrote in the lead-up to the iPhone launch and suggested that people should forget about the iPhone and look at some of the other decent smartphones on the market. That piece, which sparked a pretty big mailbag of responses from readers (which is always good) was in response to the unbelievable hype that had built up around the phone and was meant to be slightly antagonistic. Still, my advice remains the same, given the iPhone’s absence from our market.

Google muscles in on mobile

by Peter Griffin | from New Zealand Herald

We have a little Government radio spectrum auction coming up in December that will sell access to some highly sought-after radio frequencies so new services such as wireless broadband can be offered.

That will raise a reasonable sum for the Government, maybe tens of millions of dollars.

But just wait for the frenzy the auction of 700Mhz radio spectrum in the US will generate.

Payments for that spectrum – seen as the “last beachfront property” in the US wireless space, as most of the other appropriate frequencies are already in use – are expected to total upwards of US$15 billion ($19.9 billion).

We haven’t seen that sort of money on the table since the European 3G auctions, which sent more than one mobile player bankrupt.

And if there wasn’t enough competition for the airwaves from traditional US mobile players such as Verizon and Sprint, internet giant Google has also given a strong indication that it will join the bidding.

That has no doubt struck fear into the mobile industry, whose collective pockets are nowhere near as deep as Google’s, with its US$160 billion market capitalisation.

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday bowed to the lobbying of Google, which was demanding that a good portion of the spectrum sold in the auction be used to support any device or service desired by the consumer.

Traditionally, the successful bidders in spectrum auctions have been able to tightly control what their customers can use.

This has largely determined over the past 15 years what mobile operator a customer chooses to sign up to.

Now Google, whose allegiances lie not with the network operators but with the consumers who use its search engine, wants mobile phone networks to be treated with the flexibility the internet offers.

Bring along any compatible mobile phone and, in theory, you’ll be able to use any service on offer.

On the web, you can pretty much do this now.

Internet providers sell access to the pipe that connects you to the internet but unless you’re illegally downloading thousands of movies or albums, making you what’s known in the industry as a “bandwidth leech”, you are generally left to your own devices.

Contrast this with the mobile operators, which do their best to keep you in a walled-garden of content offerings.

Vodafone Live is the best example of this approach.

While most mobile operators now sell straight internet access, they also package up services to make it more attractive to buy what they decide to offer – whether that be ringtone downloads, streaming TV feeds or news alerts.

Google is trying to offer better access to the services its business relies on, and in this area it sees the wireless providers and their walled gardens as the enemy.

The hostility between Google and the mobile industry was no more obvious than at the 3GSM mobile industry show in Barcelona this year, where several mobile operators said they’d rather work together to build their own alternative search engine for mobile phones than use Google’s.

The tension springs from the fact that everyone knows that mobile search is the next major form of advertising revenue.

The location-sensing power of mobile phones mean search engine results can be tailored to your actual location, giving more targeted results than you would get from using the Google search engine on your home computer.

With those location-based services in mind, Google has been building a free city-wide Wi-Fi networks in San Francisco and Mountain View, California, to give people in those areas better, unimpeded access to the internet.

It also struck a deal with mobile operator Sprint to offer Google applications on Sprint’s WiMAX wireless broadband service.

With its acquisition of the YouTube video-sharing website, and already the biggest search engine provider in the world, Google’s success depends on its customers being able to gain access to enough bandwidth to use its services, and preferably from mobile devices.

For that reason, an increasingly realistic scenario would see Google buy radio spectrum and build its own mobile network.

On the other hand, it may be a bluff to extract better co-operation from the mobile industry.

Either way, the mobile landscape is irreversibly shifting and Google, with its desire to take internet search mobile, is driving the change.

KIWI BUSINESSMEN SUM UP THE IPHONE

by Peter Griffin | from the New Zealand Herald

New Zealand
‘s first iPhone owners are globe-trotting technology entrepreneurs who see business opportunities for themselves in Apple’s sought-after gadget.

Tech sector veterans and regular visitors to the US, Steve Simms and Derek and Geoffrey Handley, picked up iPhones after the combined phone and music player was launched last week.

While the three share an interest in gadgets, their iPhone purchases also fall into the category of market research – they may soon be tailoring services to meet the new gadget’s requirements.

The three will not be able to use their phones on the local Telecom or Vodafone networks as they signed up to exclusive contacts with US operator AT andT.

Hackers are already working on ways to bypass the exclusivity deal so that the iPhone can be used on any GSM network.

Simms is the founder of Wi-Fi hotspot service provider Tomizone, which allows you to turn your wireless internet connection into a commercial service, selling access to others with Tomizone providing the back-end billing functions.

The iPhone has Wi-Fi connectivity built into it, allowing users to surf the web from wireless hotspots.

Derek Handley’s (pictured left) company, The Hyperfactory, designs and hosts internet-based advertising and branding campaigns for companies with a focus on the mobile internet delivered to phones.

If his clients take an interest in the iPhone, Handley will have to adapt services to suit its format and the Safari web browser that is used by iPhone owners to access the internet.

Still in their honeymoon phase with the most desired of gadgets, Simms and Handley suggest the iPhone lives up to much of the hype.

“It has a really slick interface, beautifully silky,” said Handley, who was also impressed with the iPhone’s suite of applications.”There’s a nice Google Maps function, you can get directions to go places. There’s a very cool YouTube widget for streaming YouTube videos.

“It’s not some old stylus thing or one-touch wonder. I’m talking Minority Report styling. Touch the screen with one or more fingers, pinch or expand photos and websites. It’s cool,” said Simms, who was given his iPhone by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. The pair share a passion for the geeky sport of Segway Polo.

But it’s not all praise from New Zealand‘s first iPhone owners.

Simms (pictured left) picked out Apple’s “dumb exclusivity deal” with AT and T which limits use of the iPhone to one mobile network in the US. The model is likely to be replicated around the world, with Apple rumoured to be in the final stages of negotiating a worldwide deal for the iPhone with Vodafone.

“The keypad is crap, it will never replace the Blackberry,” said Handley.

“The browsing experience is designed for Wi-Fi and Edge, not 3G.”

Handley admits that Hyperfactory’s philosophy for how the mobile internet should be presented to users differs from that of Apple boss Steve Jobs.

“He thinks that the [regular] internet 100 per cent on the go is the way forward, but no one goes from Wi-Fi spot to Wi-Fi spot. Things need to be designed for the mobile internet,” said Handley.

“When you get to a mobile internet site on [the iPhone], it treats it like a web page, which is completely unworkable,” he added.

With his business case resting on the availability of Wi-Fi internet hotspots and devices that can connect to them, Simms naturally has a different view.

“Wi-Fi is massive on this, a great call by Apple not to get painted into a corner with the 3G argument,” he said.

“The ease of use for Wi-Fi in the iPhone is a dream and in the field its faster and cheaper than 3G any day.”

Both Simms and Handley saw plenty of opportunity to develop their offerings for the iPhone.

“Our opportunity is to take advantage of their stubbornness and their view of the mobile world and render content in a much smarter way, recognising the Safari operating system,” said Handley.

“We are looking for a widget for the iPhone that will auto-detect and log in to a Tomizone hotspot or any other hotspot you are registered with,”said Simms. “My guys will be figuring that out shortly.”

Locked out

- Apple’s iPhone cannot be used on the Vodafone or Telecom networks, but can be used outside the US where AT and T has roaming coverage. International charges apply.

- iPhone owners have to sign up to mobile plans starting at US$60 ($76) a month, locking them into a service contract for two years or more.

- Hackers are working to crack the lock-in technology that prevents the phones from working with sim cards from other mobile network operators.

- No date has been given for the iPhone’s arrival on the market here, however Apple is rumoured to be in discussions with Vodafone for a worldwide partnership to launch the iPhone where Vodafone has subsidiaries.

REVIEWS: THE OFFICIAL FREEVIEW RECEIVERS Peter Griffin Jun 28

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by Peter Griffin | from the New Zealand Herald

Digital satellite TV operator Freeview admits a “stuff-up” with its flagship brand of set-top boxes marred the service’s launch, but says the technical glitches are now behind it.

Freeview general manager Steve Browning said it was too early to give accurate Freeview sales figures and that a clear picture of usage patterns would not emerge until ratings company ACNielsen began collecting viewer-trend information for the platform.

Technical problems with one of the two Freeview-approved set-top boxes led to many having to be returned by customers, while other glitches were able to be fixed with an over-the-air software update from the Optus D1 satellite.

Browning said new channels, such as the family and 24-hour news channels in the works at TVNZ, would make the Freeview proposition more attractive. He had also been talking with radio-station operators who were struggling to find sufficient FM radio frequencies to expand their services and were considering Freeview as an alternative platform.

Despite issues with the Zinwell set-top box, Browning said it was the more popular of the two currently selling in stores. He put that down to the presence of an RF (radio frequency) connector on the back of the Zinwell box, which gives users the option of plugging it directly into the aerial socket on their TV sets.

However, most users are connecting their set-top boxes via AV (audio-visual) cables as they offer a better signal. AV connections are standard on all but the oldest of TV sets.

The Business Herald took a look at the two official digital set-top boxes on the market.

Hills Satellite Receiver

Price: $299

Herald rating: 7/10 What strikes you about the Hills set-top box is how small it is compared to its Zinwell rival.

The Hills receiver has a profile similar to that of the slim-line PlayStation 2 console and like the PS2 can be positioned vertically to save space. Hills uses a European Scart connection to link the receiver to the TV’s AV (audio-visual) inputs.

There are two Scart connections, one for the TV and one to feed the signal to a VCR or digital recorder. I’m not a big fan of Scart cables, but they seem to work fine here. Set-up was a breeze – I simply plugged the satellite lead coming from the wall into the Hills box, connected the Scart cable to my TV, plugged in the power cable and was away.

The Hills logo pops up on your TV screen when you first boot up the receiver and set the TV to an AV channel. An online menu then appears and asks you to set your geographical region.

Tuning of the channels is automatic. A screen showed me the signal strength of the satellite feed – virtually 100 per cent on the Hills bar graph. I exited the menu and was greeted by a crystal-clear TV One. The channels were listed in order, one through five, the latter being Maori TV and channel 20 reserved for V8 Supercar coverage.

A basic four-digit display on the front of the Hills box tells you what channel you are on. Button functionality on the receiver itself is minimal, with the remote control and electronic menu system favoured for adjusting settings.

The menu and eight-day electronic programming guide are simply laid out and straightforward to use.

While the Hills box does everything advertised well, it’s slightly lacking in the aesthetics department. The box is made of standard silver and white plastic, and the remote control has a gaudy, plastic feel to it.

Again, the comparison with the PS2 comes in handy. That is a device that with a DVD drive and computer processor, is much more sophisticated than the Hills receiver. Yet it looks much better and sells for $220.

At least you can tuck the Hills receiver away out of sight.

Zinwell Satellite Receiver

Price: $299

Herald rating: 5/10

The Zinwell receiver has a larger form factor than its Hills rival, although it performs almost the exact same set of functions.

The most obvious differences between the two are discovered when you look at the rear of the Zinwell box – it has more options when it comes to connectivity, notably the RF connector mentioned above. The presence of standard composite video and component connectors give you better options when it comes to cabling.

Again, set-up was simple. The menu screen asked me to set my region and then automatically found the channels for me.

That is where things started to go wrong: the Zinwell box failed to pick up channels 3 and 4. After repeating the process several times I gave up and rang Zinwell service agent Next Electronics. I was sent an email with instructions on how to manually tune the channels. However, following those instructions failed to produce anything.

“If you still cannot receive the missing channels, after manual tuning, then your antenna dish and LNB most likely needs professional alignment by an accredited installer,” an email from Next stated.

That was despite the Hills receiver and my Sky receiver, which connect to the same Optus D1 satellite, picking up all channels. It seems my Zinwell receiver hadn’t picked up the over-the-air software upgrade that was issued to fix the initial glitches with the box.

The Zinwell receiver does have the additional options of programmable timers and favourite channel lists.

But again, the box seems pricey for its basic functionality and the average quality of the hardware and remote. Hardware this common around the world should be cheaper and glitch-free right from the start.

REVIEWS: THE OFFICIAL FREEVIEW RECEIVERS Peter Griffin Jun 28

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by Peter Griffin | from the New Zealand Herald

Digital satellite TV operator Freeview admits a “stuff-up” with its flagship brand of set-top boxes marred the service’s launch, but says the technical glitches are now behind it.

Freeview general manager Steve Browning said it was too early to give accurate Freeview sales figures and that a clear picture of usage patterns would not emerge until ratings company ACNielsen began collecting viewer-trend information for the platform.

Technical problems with one of the two Freeview-approved set-top boxes led to many having to be returned by customers, while other glitches were able to be fixed with an over-the-air software update from the Optus D1 satellite.

Browning said new channels, such as the family and 24-hour news channels in the works at TVNZ, would make the Freeview proposition more attractive. He had also been talking with radio-station operators who were struggling to find sufficient FM radio frequencies to expand their services and were considering Freeview as an alternative platform.

Despite issues with the Zinwell set-top box, Browning said it was the more popular of the two currently selling in stores. He put that down to the presence of an RF (radio frequency) connector on the back of the Zinwell box, which gives users the option of plugging it directly into the aerial socket on their TV sets.

However, most users are connecting their set-top boxes via AV (audio-visual) cables as they offer a better signal. AV connections are standard on all but the oldest of TV sets.

The Business Herald took a look at the two official digital set-top boxes on the market.

Hills Satellite Receiver

Price: $299

Herald rating: 7/10 What strikes you about the Hills set-top box is how small it is compared to its Zinwell rival.

The Hills receiver has a profile similar to that of the slim-line PlayStation 2 console and like the PS2 can be positioned vertically to save space. Hills uses a European Scart connection to link the receiver to the TV’s AV (audio-visual) inputs.

There are two Scart connections, one for the TV and one to feed the signal to a VCR or digital recorder. I’m not a big fan of Scart cables, but they seem to work fine here. Set-up was a breeze – I simply plugged the satellite lead coming from the wall into the Hills box, connected the Scart cable to my TV, plugged in the power cable and was away.

The Hills logo pops up on your TV screen when you first boot up the receiver and set the TV to an AV channel. An online menu then appears and asks you to set your geographical region.

Tuning of the channels is automatic. A screen showed me the signal strength of the satellite feed – virtually 100 per cent on the Hills bar graph. I exited the menu and was greeted by a crystal-clear TV One. The channels were listed in order, one through five, the latter being Maori TV and channel 20 reserved for V8 Supercar coverage.

A basic four-digit display on the front of the Hills box tells you what channel you are on. Button functionality on the receiver itself is minimal, with the remote control and electronic menu system favoured for adjusting settings.

The menu and eight-day electronic programming guide are simply laid out and straightforward to use.

While the Hills box does everything advertised well, it’s slightly lacking in the aesthetics department. The box is made of standard silver and white plastic, and the remote control has a gaudy, plastic feel to it.

Again, the comparison with the PS2 comes in handy. That is a device that with a DVD drive and computer processor, is much more sophisticated than the Hills receiver. Yet it looks much better and sells for $220.

At least you can tuck the Hills receiver away out of sight.

Zinwell Satellite Receiver

Price: $299

Herald rating: 5/10

The Zinwell receiver has a larger form factor than its Hills rival, although it performs almost the exact same set of functions.

The most obvious differences between the two are discovered when you look at the rear of the Zinwell box – it has more options when it comes to connectivity, notably the RF connector mentioned above. The presence of standard composite video and component connectors give you better options when it comes to cabling.

Again, set-up was simple. The menu screen asked me to set my region and then automatically found the channels for me.

That is where things started to go wrong: the Zinwell box failed to pick up channels 3 and 4. After repeating the process several times I gave up and rang Zinwell service agent Next Electronics. I was sent an email with instructions on how to manually tune the channels. However, following those instructions failed to produce anything.

“If you still cannot receive the missing channels, after manual tuning, then your antenna dish and LNB most likely needs professional alignment by an accredited installer,” an email from Next stated.

That was despite the Hills receiver and my Sky receiver, which connect to the same Optus D1 satellite, picking up all channels. It seems my Zinwell receiver hadn’t picked up the over-the-air software upgrade that was issued to fix the initial glitches with the box.

The Zinwell receiver does have the additional options of programmable timers and favourite channel lists.

But again, the box seems pricey for its basic functionality and the average quality of the hardware and remote. Hardware this common around the world should be cheaper and glitch-free right from the start.

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