We've known for a while that HBO is developing a stand-alone streaming service. No longer will you need a cable TV subscription to enjoy HBO content (though of course you'll still need to pay HBO).
And now we know when it is coming, or at least the target date: next April, just in time for the new season of Game of Thrones. Fortune uncovered this news yesterday, along with some dirt about the team that had been building the service.
You see, the company has switched gears from developing its own technology (code-named Maui) to licensing technology from MLB Advanced. As the name suggests, this is the firm that handles the tech behind MLB.TV as well as other, mostly sports related streaming services (notably WatchESPN and WWE Network).
Fortune goes after HBO's CTO Otto Berkes pretty hard, quoting sources that blame him for HBO Go outages during big events like the Game of Thrones season debut and others that say the rumored $100 million/year office hasn't produced much in the past two years: "If you look at what [HBO Go] is today versus two years ago, he hasn’t really done anything." says one source. HBO's execs, according to another source, decided to use third party technology because "...they realized he [Berkes] couldn’t pull it off."
Pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if this is the same reason it took so long to get an HBO Go app for the Xbox One while the Playstation 4 still doesn't have one.
So HBO's stand-alone service will use a third party technology platform, and according to an internal memo parts of the Maui project will be re-purposed for HBO Go, though no mention is made of what improvements this will bring to the table aside from improving robustness of the service.
In other streaming news, Amazon has announced '4K' (technically Ultra HD) streaming for Amazon Instant Video, but there are some catches.
First Amazon says this 3840 x 2160 content is "accessible through the Amazon Instant Video app on compatible Ultra HD smart TVs." Amazon has a list of compatible televisions at the bottom of this page.
Second, not all, or even most, content is available in Ultra HD format. Some titles mentioned are Amazon Originals Alpha House and Transparent, BBC America's Orphan Black and for the kids, Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. These are all included via Amazon Prime. Additionally there will be Ultra HD versions of movies available for purchase starting at $19.99.
Third, it's not clear at this point what kind of bandwidth, in practical terms, you'll require to get a smooth Ultra HD experience. Netflix says for its Ultra HD content you need a 25 Mbps connection, but that (I assume) is based on no one else in the house using bandwidth at the same time. I'm guessing you're going to want at least a 30 Mbps connection is you don't want your signal to degrade while watching and as always with bandwidth, more is better.
So really this is a niche product for now, but it's good to see another company getting on board with 4K content. It's kind of a chicken and egg situation. There's no sense in buying a 4K compatible TV if there's no content available, and there's no sense in companies delivering 4K content if no one has a 4K set to watch it with. So kudos to Amazon (and Netflix before them) for getting the ball rolling.
Now let's hope our Internet infrastructure can handle all the 4K video clogging up the tubes.