Netflix Apologizes, Renames DVD Service To Qwikster, Draws More Fire

A couple months ago, the household name, Netflix, brought household outrage by eliminating their popular DVD/Streaming package and replacing it with the option to purchase two separate packages at a large price hike. Today, it seems that the wisdom “better late than never” might not apply to the apology email that Netflix sent out to its subscribers and posted on its blog. If the comments on the blog post are any indication, Netflix is in for another round of abuse.

The Apology that was sent out on behalf of CEO Reed Hastings started out feeling very heart-felt, opening with “I messed up. I owe you an explanation.” Hastings follows this with his sincere apology for the way Netflix rolled out the price/package changes:

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.

Qwikster

After the brief apology, the email goes on to point out that the pricing and package change was part of a much bigger move to turn the DVD side of Netflix into a completely separate company, complete with separate charges on your card if you have both services. The new company, Qwikster, will handle all the physical discs with Netflix freed up to focus on streaming. This leaves me with an obvious question…

What Are You Doing, Netflix?

As a subscriber only to the streaming service, neither the previous nor the current changes leave me with the feelings of betrayal others seem to have experienced, but as a business owner, I’m scratching my head. Netflix built a wonderful monopoly on the DVD-by-mail business and even began a decent transition into streaming. Despite kiosk offerings from RedBox and Blockbuster, Netflix still had the largest selection with a solid customer base. The pricing and package changes damaged customer loyalty, but this feels like Netflix is positioning themselves to move out of the DVD-by-mail arena completely.

At Least There’s Games By Mail Now

One thing I felt positive about in this announcement is that Netflix Qwikster will be offering games by mail as well. Though I’ve honestly never gotten serious enough about the idea of games by mail to sign up for a competitor like Game Fly, I love the idea. Sadly, the thought that I can’t do it through Netflix leaves me in the “maybe some day” area. Frankly, I’ve always had small nervous breakdowns when a disc from Netflix or RedBox looks like someone tried to watch it by scratching it up with a set of keys, so maybe this saves me from a mid-game mental meltdown anyway. You disc-scratchers know who you are.

The Streaming-Only Upside

Because I only subscribe to the streaming service at home, this change may actually present a large benefit to me. I often wonder when Netflix will bring the streaming library up to speed. They have millions of discs for mailing out, but far too often do I find myself searching for something only to find it unavailable for instant watching. I’m crossing my fingers that we’re headed for a larger Instant Watch selection, but I’m not holding my breath.

Panasonic’s VIERA CAST Bag Of Tricks : Skype, Netflix, 3D, And More

Earlier this year, it seemed that every television manufacturer was announcing a unit with either Skype built in or 3D functionality. Last week, I received an email inviting me to come check out Panasonic’s latest and greatest at their touring presentation that was coming through Scottsdale this week. The draw for me was the 3D, but I found a lot more when I arrived.

3D TVs With Skype

Maybe you’re thinking what I was thinking in the car on the way there… Can 3D stick around this time or is it just going to be hot for a while and die out again? It’s hard to say, but Panasonic is not only betting that 3D is here to stay, but they’re throwing in everything else just in case.

Panasonic 3D HD TVs

One of the VIERA CAST HDTVs I saw today, the VIERA TC-P50G25 Plasma (seen above for $1,499), included the ability to make video calls with Skype (requires an add-on camera), view YouTube videos, browse through photos on Picasa, view and stream movies instantly with Netflix or Amazon Video, and even peruse and update Twitter. To top it off, they threw in a weather screen with forecasts, Pandora radio, Bloomberg, and Fox Sports. You can even browse the web with it, which is probably why you can hook up a keyboard to one of the USB ports. Unfortunately, the demo played from a Blu-Ray disc, so it’s hard to say how the video streaming is and Skype won’t be available for use on VIERA CAST until June of this year. Regardless, it looks very promising. The geek inside me yearns to make a video call on a 50 inch screen without a lot of effort and that is a reality within reach. This model does not do 3D.

The PxxVT25 models, on the other hand, offer 3D and it looks awesome. To be fair, I haven’t seen any other 3D televisions first hand, so my basis for comparison is my 2D LCD and 3D at the movie theaters. That said, this blows my 2D away and makes the movie theater 3D seem a bit lacking. The first demo was with a movie, which looked great, but the real treat was the second demo I saw with some game playing in 3D. It looked incredible and the best part is that the games don’t all have to be made in 3D. There’s software that will make them work in 3D as long as you’re displaying them on one of these 3D TVs.

How To Watch TV In 3D

The televisions mentioned above display a 3D image, but where does that come from and how do you view it? Panasonic tells me they’ll have three channels loaded with 3D programming on DirecTV, and it sounded like 3D programming from other vendors will still work. All that’s left is those paper 3D glasses with the plastic red and blue lenses, right?

Panasonic 3D HD TVs

Not this time. This time, your 3D experience makes use of their special 3D glasses (TY-EW3D10). While I’d like to try the old paper glasses, I’m afraid these are the ones needed to make it work. They’re pretty cool and although the video doesn’t do the experience justice, you can see how they work below.

The problem is that the $150/pair price tag can be prohibitive, especially if you’re thinking about a family of four or five. They’re cheaper than some competitors, but still a bit up there. They definitely look $150 cooler than the old paper 3D glasses, though. I asked if Panasonic planned to bundle family packs of the eye wear and was told that it wasn’t planned yet but could happen as the consumer market accepts 3D more and more.

Cameras and Camcorders

In addition to all this 3D business, the tour included some new cameras of varying levels as well as video cameras. I honestly didn’t spend quite enough time with the video cameras, but it may have been due to all the time spent playing with the DMC-GH1K 12.1 MP digital camera. I’m not about to say I don’t like my Canon Rebel XTi because I love it, but the GH1K was wooing me with features I’ve been missing out on like 1080P HD video, a larger screen that swivels around, Live View, a more compact design, and a more widely used SD storage format (compared to the Compact Flash I use now). At $1499, it is almost twice what I paid for my camera, but still attractive.

Also attractive was the $399 DMC-ZS7K which more than a point-and-shoot, but not quite a DSLR. Every time I thought it had a lot of features I was shown one more. Personally, I’m looking to spend about half that on my next point-and-shoot camera but the feature list is enough to loosen up most any wallet. There’s the basics like auto focus and face targeting, but it also knows the difference between a face and, say, a cactus and adjusts photo settings the moment it makes the distinction. Better still, it can recognize specific faces and remember who it’s taking a photo of and label the photo properly. The 16X Intelligent Zoom was a nice surprise, too. The zoomed image wasn’t pixelated at all until zoomed all the way in and even then, it wasn’t much. Finally, the ZS7K records HD quality video as well, so I could replace my digital camera and my video camera with this one device.

The Touch The Future Tour

What I went to today was called the Touch the Future Tour. Panasonic is wandering around the country with all this cool stuff and showing people what all of it does. If you get a chance, the 3D is best seen in person. They’ll be dragging all their electronics to these cities next:

3/25 – 3/27 Philadelphia King of Prussia Mall – North Gulph Road
3/29 – 3/31 Minneapolis IDS Tower – 80 8th Street South
3/29 – 3/31 San Francisco One Market Plaza – 1 Market Street
3/31 – 4/2 Washington, DC Union Station – 50 Massachusetts Ave, NE
4/6 – 4/8 Dallas Grapevine Mills Mall – 3000 Grapevine Mills Parkway
4/6 – 4/8 Seattle Top of the Market – 93 Pike Street, Suite 307
4/7 – 4/9 Atlanta 595 North – 595 North Ave, NW Atlanta
4/12 – 4/14 Houston The Warehouse – 4108 Dupont Street
4/15 – 4/17 Miami Ice Palace – 59 Northwest 14th Street

Final Thoughts

Panasonic delivered more than I had planned for and showed off some really cool stuff. The new television offerings (3D and otherwise) were certainly giving me TV envy and I just bought a new LCD TV a few months back. The cameras (that I hadn’t really even gone to see) have me formulating evil plans in my head to convince my wife that I have two birthdays this year. I want it all, but would “settle” for any of the 3D TVs and the ZS7K camera.

Liquid Mongoose’s Paper Case Takes the Work Out of CD and DVD Cases

Have you ever made a copy of a CD or DVD and then forgotten what it was later or worse, just set it aside without a case and let it get scratched up? Maybe not too often, but it happens and who wants to take the time to go hunt down the album or movie artwork, copy the track listing, etc.?

Dan Wilson at Liquid Mongoose emailed me today to tell me about a free solution he came up with. It’s called, simply enough, Paper Case, and it’s just a script that re-arranges the album page from music.aol.com or the DVD listing from NetFlix into a format fit for printing. It looked pretty cool, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Find your Music / DVD info page
The first step is to find the information page for your album or DVD. I get a lot of promo CDs via digital download, so I decided to look up Ayria‘s album, Debris. (Really, check out Ayria when you get a chance.)

Prepare the page and print it
This was simple enough. I just clicked the little Paper Case bookmark and got a pop-up informing me that my paper case was ready to print. Then I told FireFox to print it.

Learn Oragami… I mean fold the paper case
The folding part seems a bit involved, but I didn’t let that deter me. It can’t be all that hard, can it? It’s actually not that hard, but you’ll want to pause the video a couple times. Also, be sure to center that CD or DVD on the paper before the first folds or it will come out uneven, as I found out.

Here’s what I ended up with:

IMG_0148_cropped

I’ll be honest. When I watched the above video the first time, the amount of required folding looks like it provided a lot of room for error, but it’s a lot easier than it looks. Thanks go out to Dan for the free DIY sleeve kit.