Microsoft’s $60 Netflix Tax/Toll Sucks

XBox 360

I’ve had a Microsoft Media Center set up in my home now for several years. I’ve got a media center PC in the basement which is connected to three XBox 360 extender units. One in my bedroom, one in my sons’ bedroom and one in the living room. These units stream OTA HDTV that I get from a TV Tuner. They also stream my music and photos. I like this functionality with my XBoxes.

I also use the DVD drive in my XBoxes to play movies that I get from my Netflix subscription.

What I don’t do with my XBox 360s is play games. I have no time for video games. I’m trying to publish a million photos before I die. When I’m not spending time with my family or shooting or processing or doing other internet stuff, I’m definitely not gaming. My kids play games a little, but even then they are not *that* into it, they certainly don’t use XBox Live. What we mostly use our XBox 360s for is for streaming media in our home. And while I understand that this is not really the primary reason why this device was created, they work well for this generally speaking.

One thing I *hate* about my XBoxes though is that Microsoft forces me to have an XBox Live Gold account in order to stream my already paid for Netflix content. Sony Playstation doesn’t require an XBox Live Gold subscription to stream Netlix. the wii doesn’t require an XBox Live Gold subscription to stream Netflix. The Roku doesn’t require an XBox Live Gold subscription to stream Netflix. Apparently there are tons of other devices, blue ray DVD players, etc., none of which require a tax to stream Netflix. I’m guessing that the new streaming options on the upcoming Google TV and Apple’s new revamped Apple TV aren’t going to require an XBox Live Gold account either.

It seems like Microsoft is the only company that wants to screw over Netflix subscribers. So why does Microsoft insist on boning me $60 a year to watch the Netflix that I already pay for on their device? They were charging me $50 a year to watch my already paid for content but then two days ago I got this friendly greedy email from the XBox Live Team rubbing salt into the wound letting me know that they were going to start charging me even more:

Dear thomashawk22:

Thank you for being a valued member of Xbox LIVE Gold. We hope you are enjoying the many exciting and exclusive features that are included in your membership. We wanted to let you know about an upcoming price increase for your Xbox LIVE Gold subscription and how you can lock in your current price to continue enjoying everything you’ve come to love about Xbox LIVE, plus all the upcoming additions, including ESPN and Hulu Plus.

Besides launching the new features and titles, we will also be increasing the price of Gold membership on November 1, 2010. The new prices are as follows:

Old Price New Price

1-Month Gold Subscription $7.99 $9.99

3-Month Gold Subscription $19.99 $24.99

12-Month Gold Subscription $49.99 $59.99

If the renewal date on your current subscription is on or after November 1, 2010, your subscription will automatically renew at the new price, charged to the credit card we currently have on file for your account.

In my case, I’m generally happy with using the Microsoft Media Center platform to consume media in my home. But I’m not happy about paying a Microsoft tax in order to consume already paid for content.

So I won’t be renewing my XBox Live Gold account. I want to put my XBox 360s up for sale on eBay, but first I have to figure out a better overall media streaming strategy for my home. I’m hoping that Google TV will actually do a lot of what I’d like to do as my life seems to be moving more and more to Google products anyways.

I might even be able to put up with Microsoft’s lame $60 tax except for the fact that they insist on charging me $60 per year for each unit. Yes, that’s right, $180 per year to consume paid for Netflix content on these devices. This greedy move on Microsoft’s part is short sighted. I’m sure I’m just a blip on the radar and they probably don’t care one iota about screwing over home media non-gamer enthusiasts with their tax.

Video Footage of US Bank Tower Security Guards Harassing and Threatening Photographers

The video above is an interesting one. You can read more of the backstory at Discarted, but basically a group of photographers headed out on a photowalk in Downtown L.A. only to run afoul of six security guards:

From Discarted:

“As we began photographing the US Bank Tower at 633 W. 5th Street, managed by Maguire Properties, we were approached almost immediately by a United Protective Services (UPS) security guard, and soon there were six (6!). We were told they would call the police and we would be arrested, that no pictures were allowed from their “private sidewalk,” that they actually owned the sidewalk, and that we were idiots and jerks who should quit asking questions.

The kicker is that, when Angelo of Hollywood politely explained photographers’ rights to one of the UPS guards, he responded that that was just “differing points of view.” Yeah … except that one viewpoint is about the law, and one is not.”

During the altercation, as is usually the case, the Holy Name of “9/11” was brought up yet again, as rationale for not allowing the photography. Seems like nothing ever changes. Be careful out there folks and remember, even under the new Obama administration, photography is still not a crime.

Thanks, David!

Update: an update on this incident from discarted here.

Second Wave of Flickr/Getty Invites Being Sent “En Masse”

Flickr and Getty Images Begin Inviting Select Flickr Photographers Into Their Joint Stock Photography Business

Today on the Flickr blog Flickr is announcing that the “second phase” of their partnership with Getty Images is launching and says that a new round of invitations to participate in the stock photography program are being sent out “en masse.” Flickr says that the new service will formally launch in March. Flickr has an updated FAQ on the program here.

An interesting side note to the new offering is that if you are selected for inclusion in this program you will need to change the license on any Creative Commons photos put up for sale to “all rights reserved,” on Flickr.

From the Flickr FAQ:

“There is a chance one of your Creative Commons-licensed photos may catch the eye of a perceptive Getty Images editor. You are welcome to upload these photos into the Flickr collection on Getty Images, but you are contractually obliged to reserve all rights to sale for your work sold via Getty Images. If you proceed with your submission, switching your license to All Rights Reserved (on Flickr) will happen automatically.

If you’re not cool with that, that’s totally cool. It just means that particular photo will need to stay out of the Flickr collection on Getty Images.”

As an advocate for the Creative Commons license personally I would have liked to have seen Getty/Flickr allow this license. There is no reason why a CC non commercial image cannot be sold and it would have been a good endorsement for this license if they could have figured out a way to work with it.

If you want to follow more of the Flickr Community’s reaction to this offering there are a few threads on Flickr that you can follow here and here. Note, you have to be logged into Flickr and allow yourself to see “adult” content in your settings in order to read the first thread.

Getty’s announcement on the new service is on their blog as well today where they say that “thousands” of invitations were sent out today. If you want to see what the invite looks like you can see this screenshot of it here.

Did you receive an invitations from Getty/Flickr today? If so or if not, what do you think of this new offering?

Related: Mike Arrington had an interesting blog post over at TechCrunch last week as well entitled, “The Photo Marketplace That Never Launched: Flickr Stock.”

Sony PS3 Launches Photo Gallery Enhancement Firmware Upgrade

Picture 8Sony today announced a firmware update to their PS3 that adds significant photo functionality to the popular PS3 gaming console.

The system software update 2.60 becomes available tomorrow and now offers a new Photo Gallery application allowing users to better manage, sort and control the presentation of their photos on their PS3s. With the new upgrade users will now be able to sort their photos by color, age, and even facial expressions like smiling. In a video demo of the new technology Sony shows how parents might, for instance, pull together photos on their unit only of their children smiling and then run these photos as a slide show.

In addition to the Photo Gallery, firmware 2.60 provides guest access to PlayStation Store, enabling non-PlayStation Network members to browse the storefront’s downloadable content, including games, game trailers, and demos, along with more than 4,200 movies and TV shows. The firmware upgrade also upgrades the PS3 system’s video capability to support DivX 3.11 media files.

I wonder at what point in the future we might see Netflix Watch Now on the Sony PS3.

It is interesting to me to see gaming consoles more and more becoming home media boxes. Both Sony with their PS3 and Microsoft with their XBox360 seem to be increasingly going after both the gaming market as well as the home media market including things like music, photos and video.

One thing that both Microsoft and Sony still seem to be missing though is natural integration with the photo sharing site Flickr. Viewing your own photos on your XBox 360 or PS3 is a nice thing to be able to do, but being able to better display and share photos between friends and family through an online platform like Flickr would make an even more memorable experience. Imagine if, for instance, my parents could automatically subscribe on a PS3 or XBox360 to all of my photos tagged with my kids names on Flickr. Or imagine if you could pull up all of the most interesting photos of Barcelona Spain before going there on a trip. Integrating the photo experience with the vast archives of both personal and online photos ought to be what both Microsoft and Sony should be working on.

CNN Uses Microsoft PhotoSynth Technology to Showcase Obama Inauguration

Microsoft PhotoSynth of Today's Inaguration on CNN

I’ve blogged a few times in the past about Microsoft’s interesting new PhotoSynth technology that allows the ability to stitch your photos together to create a multi layered almost 3D sort of view using multiple photographs.

In perhaps the most historically significant use of the technology yet, CNN today asked viewers to email in their photographs taken of Barack Obama being sworn in today as President. CNN then used the technology to create a mass collaborative composite PhotoSynth presentation of today’s event and the results are stunning.

If you want to check it out you can check it out here. The PhotoSynth by CNN works on both PCs and Macs. Once you land on the page, move your mouse around and click a bit to get the hang of it. You can zoom in and out of the PhotoSynth and look through the crowd for familiar faces. Using this technology you can see several famous celebrities in the crowd up close and personal. Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Cusak and several other celebrities can be seen in the PhotoSynth.

25 Things You May or May Not Know About Me

Ok, so internet peer pressure can be a powerful thing — and after seeing dozens of my online pals write up their lists of 25 things about them that people may or may not know as part of the “25 things meme,” I’m giving into the peer pressure.

Better late than never.

Testify1. I’m the oldest of eight children. 7 boys and one girl. When I was in kindergarten one of my siblings drowned and died in a swimming pool accident when he was one and a half — so now I have six brothers and one sister. I haven’t seen my oldest brother in years and he’s been part of a cult for over a decade now.

2. I rode my bicycle from Lincoln City Oregon to Rehobeth Beach Delaware when I was 15.

3. I was the editor-in-chief of my college newspaper. I graduated from Westmont College in Santa Barbara. After College in 1990 I moved to San Francisco.

4. The worst job I ever had was collecting carts for Gemco in Southern California when I was 16. I did the job for about 2 weeks while it rained constantly and finally quit but felt really nervous about quiting. I worked most of my high school and college days including several jobs telemarketing and interviewing and a job at Jack in the Box for a while.

5. I’ve voted in every Presidential election that I’ve legally been allowed to vote in. I voted for the following Presidential candidates: Dukakis, Perot, Dole, Bush, Bush, and Obama.

6. I started taking photographs when I was 7 or so. I got my first SLR camera when I was 15. The only formal training I’ve had in photography came for a class that I took at Glendale Community College when I was 15.

7. My favorite restaurant is Tommy’s Hamburgers (all over Southern California). My second favorite restaurant is Henry’s Hunan in San Francisco.

8. My right eye is far sighted and I never use it. Mostly I just see out of one eye, my left one.

9. My favorite kind of pie is cherry.

10. My favorite beer is Saporro.

11. When I was a kid I had a bb gun. I mostly just shot cans with it until my dad told me that I was allowed to shoot the birds that ate the fruit in our fruit tree. I shot a sparrow in the tree once and felt about as awful as I’ve felt. I never shot another living thing with that bb gun again.

12. I hate the sun and much prefer the rain and cooler weather.

13. My favorite author is Hunter S. Thompson. My favorite book is Catch 22.

14. My favorite film is Lost in Translation.

15. When I was five I used to get paid a nickel each week for bringing in the garbage cans. When I was eight or so my dad started paying me 25 cents per Hardy Boy book that I’d read. I read every single Hardy Boy book and early on became very interested in both earning money and reading.

16. My favorite color is green.

17. My favorite television series of all time is the Wire.

18. During the past 18 years I’ve worked in the financial markets. When I was in college I read the entire Los Angeles Times every single day, but every single day I’d throw out both the business and sports section without reading them.

19. I’m a proud father of four, 2 boys and 2 girls aged 4, 5, 6, and 8.

20. I’ve been married once and for 12 years to the same woman, mrsth. We went to Prague and Vienna for our Honeymoon.

21. I used to raise pet rabbits and sell them when I was a kid.

22. I first kissed a girl when I was 15 (Jody).

23. I shaved my head in high school once. I had longer hair in college.

24. The first time I ever got drunk it was by drinking a fifth of Bacardi that I’d smuggled up in a Mexican blanket from my high school Spanish Club’s field trip to Tijuana.

25. Someday I plan on walking across the United States with my camera and documenting both American portraits and the American landscape.

Wordle Comparing President Obama’s Inagural Address With President Bush’s Farewell Speech

Wordle Comparing Obama's Inaugural Address vs President Bush's Farewell Speech

The wordle above compares the Inaugural Address presented earlier this morning by newly elected President Barack Obama (top) with President George Bush’s Farewell Speech (bottom).

No matter what your politics, we are very fortunate to live in a country where every 4 or 8 years a peaceful transfer of power takes place based on Democratic elections.

You can read President Barack Obama’s entire Inaugural Address here. You can read a transcript of President George Bush’s farewell speech here.

View large here.

Santa Monica Pacific Park’s Weird and Confusing Photography Policy

Anthony Citrano decided to do some high ISO night shooting Friday Night on the Santa Monica Pier but quickly found himself in a confrontation with your friendly neighborhood photo police. According to Anthony, a confusing interchange took place between him and the photocops between what he could and couldn’t shoot on the Pier even though he was clearly shooting for personal non-commercial use.

From Anthony:

“He then led me a short distance to a second security guy who explained that it’s OK to take pictures of “people, etc.” but I could not take pictures of park “things.” He described it as “private property” and “you see, everything you photograph in this park, it’s copyrighted.” I replied, “yes, copyrighted by the photographer.”

He seemed confused by that. So I asked, “is it a question of the subject matter of the photograph? that’s the basis of the policy?” Yes, he said, that’s the policy. “Otherwise, you need to sign a waiver and show ID.”

I asked how they determine what I’m photographing. Do you review the photos? “For instance, your colleague said it was `family’; how do you know who my family is?”

He did not have an answer for that, so decided instead to move on to a new line of reasoning. He said that “if it’s for commercial use” I would need to sign. Then – acting quite relieved – I said, “oh cool, then, because this isn’t for commercial use. So, can I go take some shots?” But still he said no, that I would need to sign the waiver if I wanted to take pictures of “park property.” I was confused, and told him so: You just said that the waiver was required if the images were for “commercial use”. They are most definitely not for commercial use. So why do I need to show ID and sign a document?”

You can read more about Anthony’s run in here.

Remember kids, stay in school, do what adults tell you. Cameras don’t kill people, people kill people.

Photography is not a crime.

Pacific Park photo by Anthony Citrano.

Update: The L.A. Weekly has picked up on this story and is running a post on it as well right now.