The Red Vs. Blue Guys Get Real With Immersion

Rooster Teeth Studios already has one of the most successful shows on Blip.tv, if not the web series world in general, with the long-running machinima series Red vs. Blue. But the empire goes far beyond that with original shorts, comics and podcasts — plus, a whole new other show, one that takes on the world of video games from an entirely new perspective.

The seven-episode series Immersion, hosted by Burnie Burns with assistance by Griffon Ramsey, features Geoff Ramsey and Gustavo Sorola as crash-test dummies discovering how specific video game tropes might work in real life. Launched last November, the first season explores important issues like the realism of video game inventory systems and whether or not eating food will really restore health points.

From its use of elaborate dummies to test scenarios to the mannerisms of its hosts, Immersion‘s debt to the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters is very clear. However, I’d never call it a rip-off, because the Rooster Teeth team has taken that foundation and built upon it extreme levels of video game nerdy: Crew members are referenced as monsters from Doom, time and care is put into replicating costumes from Soul Caliber, and when testing the average person’s zombie-shooting skills, the on-screen graphics directly mimic those from the Left 4 Dead series.

Honestly, the empirical value of these experiments is pretty much nil; making two guys drink all night to “lower their health” and then making them eat a bunch of random food items until they throw up has nothing to do with the scientific method.

But it really doesn’t matter, because it’s just a whole lot of fun. The stunts and gags are bring with them a delightful slapstick element — the side-scroller episode, just to pick one, brilliantly combines classic Nintendo tropes and pratfalls. Everyone involved has great chemistry and timing, and Ramsey and Sorola are just naturally funny people, something I learned when I interviewed them at Comic-Con this year.

Ultimately, it’s a well-produced series that wouldn’t look out of place on any cable channel, except for the part where — at five minutes each — the episodes are pretty perfectly paced. I’m not necessarily sure what it is about video games and web video that make them work so well together. They just do.

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Don’t Stop Believin’: Studio Exec Still Bullish on 3D TV

We’ve been skeptical of the 3D TV market since it began in earnest early last year with a huge coming-out party at CES 2010. Well, it’s a whole year later, and despite some lowered forecasts for 3D TV sales, studios and consumer electronics manufacturers are still betting big that consumers will pony up for a “whole new dimension” of viewing in the home.

VP of Worldwide High-Def Marketing for Warner Home Video Kris Brown is unsurprisingly bullish on the technology. Unsurprising because, well, it’s his job to be bullish on new technologies for home distribution. That said, it was interesting to see the extent to which at least one studio exec sees 3-D as the future.

“3-D is an irreversible trend,” Brown told me during a phone interview. In fact, according to a recent study by consumer electronics industry group, 92 percent say 3-D is worth the extra money. And, according to Brown, “Once you see a demo, purchase intent doubles.”

Of course, there’s research from other sources that shows just the opposite reaction. A survey conducted by Nielsen last year found an interesting stat: The more exposure a consumer has to 3D TV, the less likely he is to say he’ll buy a TV set. And even though Nielsen is a big cheerleader for TV programmers in general, it had a difficult time spinning its most recent research on the technology: The title for its blog post, “Purchase Intent for 3DTV Varies Around the Globe,” completely whitewashes the fact that survey respondents in the U.S. overwhelmingly stated that they will not purchase a 3D TV in the next 12 months.

Part of Brown’s premise, that 3D TV will become pervasive, is simply the belief that the price premium between a 2D TV set and a 3D TV set will disappear over the next few years. Over the next 12 months, he believes the delta between prices will fall to between $100 and $300 for most HDTV sets, at which point the barrier to entry will be much lower for most consumers.

“What most consumers also don’t realize is that by the end of next year [that is, 2012], 50 to 70 percent of HDTVs will have 3-D technology,” Brown said. As a result, he suggests consumers future-proof their HDTV purchase now rather than waiting for the next time they buy a TV for the home. The argument is essentially that consumers’ friends and neighbors will be buying 3D TVs just as a matter of course, so better to keep up with the Joneses by getting a 3D TV before they do.

It’s a novel idea, but not one we think will necessarily catch on; now that the hype over Avatar has calmed down, Hollywood will need to reignite some interest in 3-D, not just in the home but in theaters. 3-D fatigue and the higher prices associated with the technology are scaring viewers away from movie theaters. Hollywood needs to figure that out before relying on more expensive technology and a premium price for 3-D Blu-ray or digital sales to boost revenues.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user bark.

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Vevo Releases Android App, Racks Up 3M Installs on iOS

Vevo officially released its Android app on Wednesday in response to what CEO Rio Caraeff described as strong consumer demand. “We literally got thousands of consumer requests per week” for an Android app, he told me during a phone conversation.

Vevo’s Android app follows in the footsteps of its iPhone and iPad applications, which have proven to be very successful for the major-label music video site: Caraeff said that Vevo has seen some 50 million video views through its iOS apps in the past 90 days. It has also clocked a total of 3 million installs across all iOS devices. The iPhone application was first released in August 2010, and the iPad app became available in December.

Currently, about 20 percent of all iOS installs are on the iPad. However, Caraeff said the iPad app user base is growing more quickly, and that the tablet is leading to more interaction on the small screen. People watch twice as many videos per session on the iPad than on the iPhone or iPod touch, he said.

The first step to repeat its success story on Android is to add some of the more advanced features available on Vevo’s iOS app today. Caraeff said music maps and other location-based features as well as tour dates will be part of an update to be released over the next few weeks. The next step will be to specifically target Android tablets: “Our app is optimized for large screen Android devices today,” explained Caraeff, adding that it was tested on the Samsung Galaxy Tab. However, in the future, we could see a dedicated Android tablet app, much in the same way that Vevo has targeted the iPad with a dedicated app that’s different from the iPhone app.

Vevo is also working on apps for WP7, Blackberry and Nokia phones, and it’s looking to extend its reach in the connected device space. The site is currently available on Google TV and Boxee, and Caraeff hinted at further partnership announcements in the coming months. However, he didn’t seem to have any illusions about consumer demand in this space. “We see it as an investment in the future,” he told me.

Embracing mobile and connected devices has proven to be challenging for many online video platforms. Rights holders frequently restrict the viewing of their videos to the PC screen, leaving consumers confused and disappointed. However, Vevo’s entire catalog is available on all supported devices. Caraeff said that this was a key component of the way Vevo structured its business from the onset. “We knew at the very beginning that everything would be connected to the Internet,” he said.

Convincing rights holders of this vision and licensing the rights across all devices did require some arm wrestling. “It was very difficult and very time-consuming,” Caraeff told me, adding: “But it was the right thing to do for the consumer.” It certainly seems to be paying off for Vevo.

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New Jailbreak Brings Full Browser to 2nd Gen Apple TV

Second-generation Apple TV users can now access the entire web via an HTML5-compatible web browser, thanks to a new jailbreak published this week by Firecore. The Colorado-based startup released a tool called Seas0npass on Tuesday afternoon that allows users to install a modified version of the latest Apple TV system software. Users can then install additional applications, including a Last.fm app, a client for the Plex media center and a full HTML5-compatible web browser.

Firecore is also working on adding access to media stored on network-attached storage (NAS) drives and support for additional video formats. The company is offering the jailbreak tool as a free download, but sells the apps for $20.

Apple TV hackers previously released more complicated proof-of-concept jailbreaks for the second-gen Apple TV, but Seas0npass is the first tool that seems ready for the average, if sightly more adventurous consumer. However, there’s still one downside to the current method: Seas0npass is a so-called tethered jailbreak, which means that users have to connect the device to their computer every time it boots up. Firecore said that it’s working on an untethered jailbreak that would enable a persistent modification of the device, but it hasn’t said when this is going to be available.

Also, don’t get your hopes about accessing Hulu on the Apple TV anytime soon: The browser doesn’t support any Flash playback, which means that videos from Hulu and many other sites won’t play. Apple TV hackers previously found a way to enable Flash playback on the first-generation Apple TV, but the fact that the current device generation is based on Apple’s iOS means that Flash can’t be easily ported from other platforms.

Apple TV isn’t the only set top-box platform that’s currently targeted by hackers in search of a better media center solution. Google TV hackers published a jailbreak of that platform just last week. However, jailbreaking Google TV is still far more complicated than doing the same thing to an Apple TV, as it requires, amongst other things, solid soldering skills.

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Flash Still Rules in Chrome’s WebM-Only World

The news yesterday that Google’s Chrome web browser would be dropping support for H.264 was seen by many as a big step backward for HTML5 adoption. Despite Google’s insistence that the announcement was about advancing openness for the future of video on the Web, the unintended consequence of the announcement is that now more than ever, publishers will rely on a proprietary technology rather than open standards to reach a mass audience on the web.

That’s because Chrome’s backing of its own open-source video codec at the expense of H.264 will only create more confusion for video publishers trying to balance the needs of reaching a wide audience while also embracing standards. In a tweet yesterday, Adobe’s John Dowdell had this to say about the news:

Practically speaking, today’s codec news changes nothing save the propaganda. To reach the world, you need Flash, then something for Apple.

Which is precisely true. But the common thread between Flash and Apple was support of H.264 — which is one reason why so many publishers have embraced the codec to this point. Encoding in H.264 meant you could serve in Flash, but also reach iOS devices with an HTML5 video implementation. Dowdell even admits as much in another tweet, suggesting “Apple needs Flash even more now, to help rationalize creators encoding to H.264.” Those HTML5 video streams could also be viewed by a growing number of browsers on the desktop, including such as Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 and Apple’s Safari.

Because of this, the amount of video encoded in the HTML5-ready H.264 format doubled over the course of five months last year, and now accounts for more than half of all video on the web. But for publishers that have already bet heavily on HTML5 video — and on H.264 as the codec for most HTML5 delivery — Chrome’s decision throws a big monkey wrench in those plans and could force them to encode all their videos again.

One such publisher, Blip.tv, announced plans last year that it would default to HTML5 video when possible, delivering in Flash only when a viewer with an unsupported browser (like Firefox or an older version of Internet Explorer) tried to access its videos. Now that strategy is being thrown into question, as Chrome’s non-support of H.264 now means that it will either fall back to delivery via Flash when a future Chrome user tries to launch a video — or it will need to re-encode all its video assets in the WebM format.

In an email, Blip.tv founder and CTO Justin Day wrote:

“Our current HTML5 player in testing already uses Flash as a fallback video component so it’s likely we would rely on that rather than double encode everything. At the end of the day it doesn’t really change much since Firefox doesn’t support H.264 either. That said it’s frustrating to have another hurdle to get over in a technology already fraught with hurdles.”

The good and bad news for publishers is that with Chrome support, as well as the support of open source browsers such as Firefox and Opera, a majority of next-gen web users will be able to access WebM-encoded videos. Even Microsoft has said that, while WebM won’t be supported out-of-the-box on IE9, it will support the codec if users install it on their systems. That means Apple’s Safari will be the lone browser holdout, but Safari only holds a tiny amount of market share compared to the others.

But the codec war on the desktop is really just the tip of the iceberg; getting open standards embraced on future connected devices will be the real hurdle. H.264 support is near-ubiquitous on mobile devices and connected TVs, in part due to hardware acceleration already built into today’s device chipsets, but VP8 has a long way to go before it has anywhere near the hardware support.

For publishers looking to reach audiences on the next generation of screens, it will be a long time before VP8 is a suitable replacement for H.264. Until that time comes, they will need to either encode to support both WebM and H.264, or encode in H.264 and use Flash for delivery to most browsers while using HTML5 video to reach iOS devices.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Cameron Russell.

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Those Mass Bird Deaths? Payback For Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

On CNN’s AC 360 Tuesday night, Anderson Cooper put a lady named Cindy Jacobs on his “RidicuList.” Who is Cindy Jacobs? Oh, just you wait.

Jacobs is a video-making self-described “respected prophet” of a ministry called Generals International, and she believes the aflockalypse deaths of thousands of birds in Arkansas and other places recent weeks has an easily-determined cause: the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Yep, it’s that simple. The nation did wrong, and we’re getting a kind of dead-bird pushback:

“Nature will begin to talk to us,” says Jacobs, and Cooper takes that and runs with it, finding a way to work in a clip from the movie Babe.

Watch it here, from CNN:

(h/t Towleroad)