EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 14, 2006 0 comments
Does your loved one own a Creative Labs Zen music player and look longingly at shop windows full of "Made for iPod" docking systems? Well, just in time for the holiday season, Cambridge SoundWorks comes to the rescue with the PlayDock Zen. It recharges the player and runs on AC or, gulp, eight C batteries (note to CSW: think rechargable next time). It's also got a line-input to accommodate any other kind of music player, 480 by 640 video output, telescoping antenna for radio-equipped players, and--miraculous!--a handle. If you're looking for an alternative, Creative Labs offers its own TravelDock Zen Micro and many other Zen accessories. Think differently! Oh, and the PlayDock will also support iPods starting in January with the PlayDock i. In either case, the price is $199.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 13, 2006 1 comments
If you live in Germany, blowing away virtual baddies may soon do more than stress your thumb joints. Pending legislation in Bavaria and Lower Saxony would give creators, distributors, and--yes--players of violent video games up to a year in the slammer. To be specific, it would penalize "cruel violence on humans or human-looking characters." The move in the world's third-largest gaming market follows a horrific school shooting in a town on the Dutch border, where an 18-year-old gamer wounded 37 people before killing himself. Officials blame the rampage on the teen's fondness for the game "Counter Strike," although his video suicide note cites school, anarchist politics, bullying, a desire for revenge, social isolation, and the joy of gun possession--everything but video games. Even so, insists Bavarian interior minister Günther Beckstein: "It is absolutely beyond any doubt that such killer games desensitize unstable characters and can have a stimulating effect." Digg readers retorted: "Computer games don't kill people. It's the nutters with guns that kill people." And: "I propose a ban on bad parenting." But the outlawing of virtual crimes literally crosses the line between fantasy and reality. Maybe the best solution for virtual violence is a virtual prison sentence.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 12, 2006 0 comments
The transition to digital television is finally complete. Yes, it's true. Analog signals have been banished from the airwaves. If you don't believe me, hop a plane to the Netherlands and see for yourself. The cutoff came between midnight and two a.m. Monday morning, affecting 74,000 of the country's 16 million viewers--most of the remainder get cable, with only token numbers of satellite and IPTV addicts. Broadcast-dependent Dutch viewers will have to pay $66.50 for a set-top box to adapt their analog sets to the new digital signals. However, the government will save $200 per year for each of them, making subsidies at least theoretically possible. Broadcaster Royal KPN NV paid to construct the DTV transmitters. It is obligated to keep broadcasting the three state channels but can charge $18.50 a month for a package of extra channels similar to cable. Belgium and Scandinavia will jump into the DTV pool in 2007, though the United States won't follow till 2009 (or never, if broadcasters get their way).
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 11, 2006 0 comments
How often does The New York Times print something clueless about home theater technology? About as often as you go to the bathroom. The latest outrage comes in a story debunking various tech underachievers with the headline The Hat Trick That Didn't Happen. Reporter Richard Siklos cites a Frank N. Magid Associates survey saying that the number of HDTV buyers who are looking forward to watching high-def has declined from 63 percent two years ago to 47 percent now. He goes on to say: "The reason for this lack of enthusiasm is pretty clear in my own home. For one thing, plenty of shows on the high-definition channels I receive with my digital cable package appear with big black borders--because of the aspect ratio or somesuch--and I can't figure out whether this is my doing or the cable company's or the broadcaster's." Actually, aspect ratio is the program producer's decision, and those black borders are usually a superior alternative to stretching. Note to Siklos' editor: Tell your reporter to find his remote and learn to use the aspect ratio control or somesuch. He can learn more about aspect ratio in any number of places, including the Wiki. And while he's at it, RTFM. If fewer HDTV buyers are interested than HDTV today versus two years ago, the most likely explanation is that plummeting flat-panel prices have lured less knowledgable viewers into the market. And the solution is to assign knowledgable writers to cover the subject.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 08, 2006 8 comments
Affectionately known as the "Moo," the NHT M-00 has been around since the late nineties. Originally it was a pro product that also appealed to savvy consumers seeking higher quality in desktop audio. Nowadays that secondary mission is more explicit, as the M-00 struts its double zeroes on two different parts of the NHT website: Pro Audio and PC Hi-Fi. And now that everyone and her sister is plugged into an iPod, a third mission beckons. What will this thing do for nearly everyone's favorite portable signal source?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 07, 2006 1 comments
"Police blame iPod explosion for 5% rise in robberies," says a headline in The Guardian. Crime actually fell by two percent from April to June, according to figures from the Home Office, but the same period saw a five percent hike in robberies. One top cop attributed the bump to "the products that are available to be stolen these days. The mobile phone explosion is continuing. The iPod explosion is continuing. All of these gadgets that people carry around with them are very attractive to robbers, so that puts the opportunities up." To New York subway riders, this is old news—about a year and a half old, to be precise. It's hard to resist whipping out your 'Pod and putting it in harm's way when you're accessing MTA info the fun way.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 06, 2006 0 comments
Will the pink Zune become the next collector's item? Apparently Microsoft gave 100 of them as gifts to the development team and sent another 100 into the holiday shopping mêlée to titillate consumers. Inevitably, one of the latter has ended up on Ebay. The pink Zune has inspired curiously heated commentary from folks who seem to have, um, issues with the color. Then again, Apple didn't catch hell for the pink iPod nano so maybe the real bias is merely garden-variety anti-Microsoftianism. I think the worst Microsoft can be accused of is me-too-ing. After all, in addition to the pink nano, there are many pink cell phones from LG, Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung. Pink just might be the new black.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 05, 2006 0 comments
Sony's long-awaited BDP-S1 Blu-ray player has finally hit the shelves. It does 1080 lines at 24 frame per second for the ultimate in filmlikeness. And it's not just a product--it's a punctuation mark, adding "an exclamation point to Sony’s full HD 1080 line of products, which ranges from BRAVIA™ flat-panel LCD and Grand WEGA SXRD® rear-projection televisions to the new PlayStation® 3 game console, Blu-ray Disc enabled VAIO computers, PC drives and recordable BD media," says the press release. Speaking of Sony HDTVs, did you catch the secret sale from November 24-27? Too bad, so sad. The BDP-S1 sells for $1000, not bad by early-adopter standards, but if you can wait till 2008, the cost of a Blu-ray drive will drop 50 percent, according to DigiTimes. Of course, just because a major component drops in price, that doesn't necessarily mean that a product will do the same--but given the fact that a BD drive is the major component of a BD player, we might entertain hopes.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 04, 2006 0 comments
"Fortune has learned that iTunes is close to a deal to bring the Beatles catalog online," the magazine's Tim Arango reported last week. How ironic, given their 20 years of legal battles, including most recently a tug of war over the right to use the brandname Apple. Neither Apple Computer or Apple Corps has confirmed the rumor and the deal may still fall through. However, the president of EMI recently told a music industry conference that he expected to see Beatles downloads available "soon." Still to be determined: What window of exclusivity will iTunes win from the Fab Four and their survivors? Will the Beatles allow their tunes and images be used for televised or other cross-promotional advertising, as U2 has done so successfully? Frankly, I couldn't care less, since my iPod already contains Beatles content ripped from legally purchased CDs. What I want to know is: How much longer do I have to wait for the Beatles catalog to be remixed in surround and released on SACD, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray, or HD DVD?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 17, 2006 0 comments
"There are eight million stories in the naked city," says the voiceover from the 1958 film noir of that name, and there are also 3000 stories in the Made for iPod city. One of them is Logitech's AudioStation. It hasn't got a handle, so it isn't exactly a boombox, but it does have two speakers surrounding a central control unit. What makes it special are touch-sensitive controls and a jutting dock for the iPod's 30-pin receptacle.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 16, 2006 0 comments
Jon Johansen strikes again. As a teen, the now 22-year-old Norwegian became notorious for hacking the CSS digital rights management associated with the DVD format. His latest project is to open up tightly guarded ecosystem of Apple's iPod and iTunes Store by hacking Apple's FairPlay DRM. To that end he's cofounded DoubleTwist Ventures with partner Monique Farantzos. They plan to license their technology to manufacturers and download services, as Farantzos explained to news.com, with two aims: "One is to enable other online stores to wrap their content with FairPlay so that it works on the iPod.... We also plan to allow competing devices play iTunes content." No doubt Apple will litigate fiercely to protect its highly profitable closed system. But the music industry, long uncomfortable with Apple's rigid pricing, has been praying for something like this to happen. And several European governments have been quietly or not so quietly demanding it.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 15, 2006 1 comments
Looking for a way to get free music without being attacked by the Recording Industry Antichrist of America? Napster will keep you out of court with its "Free Download of the Day," which began last week. Each day will feature a different track, with initial sponsorship from Intel, which will push its Viiv technology for the next three months. Today's featured artists: Airpushers, with MoZella. The codec is good old DRM-free MP3 and tracks posted to the Napster Free Downloads page—gosh, how I love the sound of that—will remain up for a week. So plan at least one day a week to visit Napster and check out the free goodies. Oh, there's one catch: You'll have to register to get your free downloads and provide an email addresss. But you can opt out of emailings and needn't supply a credit-card number. Napster, for those who were literally born yesterday, was once the nexus of P2P file sharing on the net but has been reborn as a music-industry-sanctioned paid download service.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 14, 2006 0 comments
No one writes iPod reviews like ArsTechnica's questing Jacqui Cheng. Already notorious for putting two generations of iPod nanos through a washing machine, she upped the ante by dipping the second-generation iPod shuffle in beer, then running over it with a car. Did it survive? I won't deprive you of the pleasure of finding out for yourself. She also literally took the unit apart, as you can see from the pic. One of many things I learned from her review is that Apple has eliminated the "universal" 30-pin docking connector. Instead, the new shuffle's mini-jack handles power and transfer as well as audio output.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 13, 2006 0 comments
Microsoft's Zune goes on sale tomorrow. It may already be getting the attention of consumers, according a survey by ABI Research. Of 1725 teens and adults queried, most of those planning to buy a new music player in the next year would consider Zune. That includes 59 percent of non-iPod player owners and--shock!--58 percent of iPod owners. Only 15 percent of iPod owners said they were "not very likely" or "not at all likely" to choose Zune. "Our conclusion is that iPod users don't display the same passionate loyalty to iPods that Macintosh users have historically shown for their Apple products," says analyst Steve Wilson. The press release does not mention Microsoft sponsorship though it admits that respondents were shown a photo and description of Zune before answering. In other Zune news, Microsoft is discontinuing its MSN Music Store in favor of the new Zune Marketplace (full-sized screen shot here. And in a surprise announcement, Microsoft announced it would pay a hardware royalty of more than a buck per player to the Universal Music Group—home of U2 and Jay-Z—in addition to a software royalty for every download. Zune has attracted mixed reviews in The New York Times (a free read if you register), The Wall Street Journal and a brief hands-on assessment in Wired News.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 10, 2006 1 comments
There you are, hunched over the keyboard, doing something that looks spectacularly painful. What are you up to, editing filenames?

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