Sunday, November 27, 2005

Peter Griffin: TV takes to small screen in big way

One of the unexpected tech trends of the year is the way in which people have taken to watching video on small devices such as the video iPod, Sony PSP and mobile phones.

The smallest thing I find comfortable watching video on used to be my laptop's 12-inch screen, but that's changed since I got a PSP, Sony's handheld gaming device. The high-resolution, wide-screen display does video justice. The video iPod's 2.5-inch screen harder to look at for sustained periods, but it too handles video very well.

When Apple boss Steve Jobs launched the video iPod a few weeks back, it was one of the most low-key debuts the company has run. That's because Jobs has been skeptical all along that people want to watch video on their iPods.

But Apple took just 20 days to reach one million downloads of video files from its online store iTunes.com.

The model seems to be working and now spin-offs of popular shows like Lost and 24 are being developed specifically for mobile phones, another emerging outlet for video.

Now TiVo, the innovative company that introduced the idea of watching recorded TV without being subjected to adverts, is making its boxes compatible with the video iPod and the PSP.

The closest thing we have to TiVo here is the MySky digital recorder available for Sky subscribers. Non-subscribers can buy standalone hard drive recorders but there is no electronic programming guide available to schedule free-to-air programming outside of the Sky camp.

But forget for a moment how far behind the pack we are when it comes to new entertainment technologies and imagine the future: You're too busy to watch Survivor Guatemala so you record it to your hard drive recorder. You know you've got an hour to kill over lunch the next day, so before going to bed, you synchronise your PSP with the recorder and the show is copied across as you sleep.

You'll need a 1GB (gigabyte) memory card in your PSP to store an hour of television content, but the cards are rapidly coming down in price.

Rather than sprawling out on the couch to catch up on the week's recorded programmes, you'll watch them as you take the bus to work, wait at the dentist's clinic or sit on a plane.

Not surprisingly, Apple doesn't appear to be supportive of the move. Why pay US$2 to download an episode of Desperate Housewives through iTunes when you can copy it across from your TiVo box for free? There's a row brewing there. But such moves ultimately make a device like the video iPod much more useful.

Taking around two minutes to transfer for every minute of video, the video transfers are something you'll want to leave running overnight.

TiVo users would pay a one-off free of between US$15 and US$30 for the software upgrade to their box which will convert the video into formats supported by the portable devices such as mpeg4. Thirty minutes of video will consume about 200MB of storage, which in the case of the video iPod is a drop in the ocean.

As for the PSP, Sony expects to have sold 14 million of them by March, and there are bound to be a good number of TiVo viewers buying them.

Against expectations, TV is going portable and the shift in viewing habits has only just begun.

Deborah Coddington: Secret of her success - dedication

There'll be dark treasonous mutterings from the political right for my column today but you've got to hand it to Helen Clark. Fresh from gluing together support for a government with such unlikely factions as United Future, the Greens and NZ First, she jumps on a plane and heads for Dublin to help clinch the World Cup.

Yes, maybe the International Rugby Board delegates had already decided New Zealand should host the Webb Ellis trophy but when New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Jock Hobbs said, "jump for your country", Clark asked, "how high?".

No doubt the last thing she needed was 30 hours of flying to the end of the earth just to make a five-minute speech.

That she's notoriously known to prefer a good book to a game of footy speaks volumes of her commitment to country over self.

Sure, I don't like - I hate - much of the "third way communitarian" psychobabble that emanates from her and her MPs, ending up as legislation telling us how we can live our lives.

But, from where I sit, there isn't much visionary stuff being projected by the Opposition (six MPs excepted). Just more carping about Benson-Pope's "bullying", CYS' "ignoring child abuse", immigration "scams", scaremongering about a bird flu "pandemic", and an inquiry into TVNZ, which will waste yet more taxpayers' money but ensure the look-at-me MPs a clip on TV3 news. Is this, and getting booted out at question time, their big picture?

Meanwhile the Prime Minister, whom they love to hate, finds her seat in first class, dons her earplugs and eye-mask, refuses the champagne and fine wines the rest of us can't resist, and arrives clear-skinned and bright-eyed in time to join Hobbs, Colin Meads and Tana Umaga for a carefully crafted argument in favour of giving New Zealand the big one.

We later learned Hobbs suggested she rewrite her speech - leave out the arrogance and gloating and let the country's record speak. (Memo to Clark: please pass that advice on to the Deputy Prime Minister.)

But let's not get too dewy-eyed. Clark knew it was a gamble with high stakes, and not just for rugby. Pull it off (the Cup bid, I mean) and she'd be a hero-in-arms with Hobbs, Meads, Moller and Umaga. She's as cunning as an out-house rodent.

As Prime Minister, she has won hearts in sections where most politicians don't bother.

In her first term, she got an angry business sector to fall about her feet organising talk-fests and innovation hui. Then she wooed the arty-farty brigade by increasing the arts budget and visiting film sets.

In her second term, she elevated fashion designers to an export status higher than winemakers and sheep-breeders. Now, surely regretting her "I'd rather read a book" line when her speeding entourage was caught, it's the sporty blokes' turn.

It's almost as if this once shy and insecure career politician deliberately plonks herself in the midst of those she's most uncomfortable with and forces herself to relax. A sort of team-building exercise where she's the only player. Did she really get a high out of posing with weird Tom Cruise? Does she go home and scrub her face with a flannel after public kissy-kissies with ringlet and lace-clad Trelise Cooper?

As a politician often asked to speak to school students, I was inevitably asked if I'd met Helen Clark. "Of course" was followed by: "What's she like?" It would insult their intelligence to pretend the question was a political one so I removed my Act MP hat when answering. "Actually," I said, "I don't know the woman, just as she doesn't know me". You can't form an informed opinion after a few meetings. She's focused, has a good sense of mischief but can be spikey, loves her job and works like a Trojan.

At a private party last Christmas she and Peter Davis spent about half an hour with my husband and me, clearly not in an attempt to win votes. Nonetheless, my husband was charmed by her intelligence, her seemingly genuine interest in their discussion, and, yes, her appearance.

She is one person to whom television does not do justice. An academic at heart, her skin is not aged by vain strivings to be tanned; her slim figure's not been biffed out of shape by pregnancies, nor have teenage children's all-night antics left lines of worry across her face.

I don't agree with them, but I can see why Kiwis think she's great and keep her at the top of the preferred Prime Minister polls. Question is, will she still be there when we win the 2011 World Cup?

Kerre Woodham: Don't give up the day job

Rigel Walshe is in a band. The Dawn of Azazel is an extreme metal band, complete with the requisite satanic lyrics and violent riffs.

Probably not the sort of music you'll have on the CD player this lovely Sunday morning but each to their own.

And if Rigel Walshe wants to strut on stage in front of screaming metal fans, that's his business.

Except that Walshe is a metaller by night and a police officer by day. And that means when a Sunday newspaper outed him last week, his extra-curricular activities were put under the spotlight.

Now there's no question of Walshe's ability to do his job.

He's a court escort in the Counties Manukau district and, according to one of the team who works with him, he's great.

It's a diverse group of cops that works together and they have a diverse group of clients and Rigel gets along pretty well with all of them. But much has been made of his statement, lifted from the band's website, that there should be an eradication of the weak.

Taken at face value, the comment has all sorts of National Socialist overtones and nasty images of skinheads knocking people off their crutches comes to mind.

But the quote was more to do with his frustration with people who waste their potential, and the weak and mediocre people Rigel so despises are those who follow the flock in sheep-like fashion.

You'd probably find plenty of people who'd agree with his sentiments. Besides, many of the statements being quoted came from Rigel as a young, teenage metaller, long before he joined the police.

Give the man a break.

Surely the police are entitled to let off steam in their own particular way and although this is a somewhat more public private life than his fellow officers have, Rigel's entitled to do what he likes in his own time.

It's unreasonable to expect them to be police officers for 24 hours a day. And there have always been colourful officers.

Remember the hue and cry over Bob Moodie, when he was the Police Association representative.

Heartland New Zealand found it difficult to accept blokes in dresses, yet they managed to deal with a cop in a kaftan.

No wonder the police service is finding it hard to attract recruits when the National Party's police spokesman is banging on about them being always on duty and having to be role models.

The police are drawn from our own, imperfect ranks.

Tattooed fans of thrash metal are alive and well and living among us, so it's not surprising that eventually one will pop up in police ranks.

Rigel Walshe may eventually have to choose between the police and worldwide fame and domination of the music markets. Apparently his band is very popular among aficionados of thrash.

But in the meantime, if there is no question of his ability to do his job and do it well, why don't we let him get on with it?

Kerre Woodham: So who's being PC now?

Good on Pansy Wong for calling for a stop to the hysteria surrounding David Cunliffe's slip of the tongue in Parliament this week.

Her National Party colleague Tau Henare was all outraged bluster on Wednesday when in response to a question from Wong, Cunliffe advised her to "wead a document".

Henare maintained Cunliffe was making fun of Wong's accent, that it was appalling and that Cunliffe should be hung, drawn and quartered in the public square. Not in so many words, you understand, but the message was clear.

It was the sort of outburst you would normally expect to hear from the excruciatingly correct Labour Party, not a party with a spokesman designed to eradicate political correctness.

But still, Henare has to make a name for himself and no time like the present to start.

Except that it's somewhat backfired. In the first instance, Wong didn't hear the supposed slur.

Secondly, she accepts Cunliffe didn't do it deliberately.

And thirdly, the feisty, wee MP has told her colleague, in no uncertain terms, to back off.

She was reported in the Herald as saying: "I told him that being a fourth-term MP, I am quite capable of looking after myself."

Thwack! Right between the eyes.

That's the trouble with political correctness. Where does it begin and end?

Was Cunliffe's mispronunciation of read more politically incorrect than Henare's misplaced chivalry?

Was Henare not implying that Wong needed a big, strong man to take care of her?

What sport to have the engineer hoist by his own petard!