Hard News by Russell Brown


Like being there

The webcast of LCD Soundsystem's swansong show from Madison Square Gardens was, I think, the most compelling experience of internet telepresence I have ever had. Better than the launch of the Large Hadron Collider. Clearly, I was not actually there on Sunday -- although Jose Barbosa was -- but I did feel part of a wider, global crowd, and it was thrilling.

The show had a number of things going for it: at the risk of stating the obvious, it was actually live. You feel something about live sound and pictures that you don't feel watching after the fact. It was fun that I had friends there, tweeting about the same performance I was seeing.

It was a show by a sensationally great live band, expanded for the occasion. When the Arcade Fire popped up to sing backing vocals on 'North American Scum' you felt like Twitter might just burst with excitement.

It was also a piece of history: this was, as things stand, this group's final performance.

Why, you might ask, does this not happen more often? Well, the Arcade Fire actually did the same thing from the same venue last year. Their webcast came via YouTube's stellar content distribution network and looked and sounded remarkable. LCD's webcast was a notch below that technically, but it was still more than acceptable.

The engineering problems -- at least up till to last mile to your house -- have basically been licked, and at what seems to be a reasonable price. The webcast was made available not by the band itself, but by the music website Pitchfork.com, which is successful on its own terms, but hardly a media titan.

One of the interesting things about webcast concerts like this is that they take the big stage show out of the picture. What worked with LCD wasn't the scale so much as the intimacy. We were right on stage with the band. You could do this from your lounge. (Indeed, Neil Finn did pretty much this years ago, as a tester for Telecom's subsequently abandoned IPTV project -- it looked marvellous, but hardly anyone saw it.)

In an age where the dollar value in music is shifting strongly towards performance, concert webcasts look quite compelling to me. And not necessarily for the monsters of rock, but for smaller bands with fans. Let's say you have 10,000 fan club members, Twitter followers, whatever, worldwide, and you can convince half of them to kick in five bucks via PayPal to watch your special show as you play it. That five bucks comes off the price of the DVD they can order later. Everybody's happy, right?


And yet, inside the home, most of us still don't have the kind of internet-connected TV and home theatre system that would be ideal for live music shows. What I do have is a $170 Apple TV 2 puck that connects to the TV via HDMI and works splendidly -- albeit with the content that's actually available, which is a movie purchase and rental service, YouTube, podcasts and whatever video I can be arsed importing into iTunes on my office computer.

What I would love is a Live Gig application on my Apple TV. I'll even cheerfully shell out five or 10 bucks to watch a concert if it's going to come with Prologic sound. The application doesn't even need to reside on the puck: it might be on any other iDevice, which will then stream to the Apple TV via AirPlay.

I know some of you regard Apple as incorporated evil, but they do make magic with gadgets. Which is why it's so odd that they don't make more of the magic. The most recent update to iOS has enhanced AirPlay to the point where it does what it's supposed to do: any website can enable its HTML 5 video so that you can be reading the website on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, bring up the video and beam it over to your Apple TV to watch. It's quite brilliant.

But, apart from YouTube and Vimeo, relatively few websites are AirPlay-enabled (before you ask: yes, I was able to find an AirPlay-enabled porn site; no, I'm not linking to it from my blog). It's basically just a line of code to switch on the AirPlay functionality, but Apple seems disinclined to evangelise to -- or hell, even just tell -- developers and website owners.

So I'm delighted to be able to say that NZ On Screen is now AirPlay-enabled. You can bring up a vintage video on your iDevice, perhaps via the NZ On Screen iPhone app, hit the button, and it's on your TV. (NB: This isn't television broadcast, for which our licences do not provide -- it's more akin to plugging in a bigger monitor.)

And yes, I realise that not everyone has an iDevice, and even fewer people have Apple TV -- but at $170 for the latter, it's cheap enough to bundle with new TV sets and I'm surprised we haven't seen that.

Also, $170 is the kind of price where I'll consider jailbreaking my puck, if it's easy and there are good reasons to do so. Anyone got the good word on that?


Had I posted this yesterday, I'd have embedded the entire three and a half hour concert video uploaded by the keeper of Arcade Fire's YouTube channel -- but, sadly, that's been taken down (glad I saved a copy!). But they have been allowed to keep the clip of 'North American Scum', which is here and will give you an idea of what went on:

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