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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 27, 2006 2 comments
As tired as I am of hyping HD DVD and, um, that other one, the Toshiba-championed format will take a huge step forward on May 9 with Warner's first dual-format title. Rumor Has It will have high-def HD DVD on one side and standard-def DVD-Video on the other. What's great about it is that you can start building your HD DVD library now without having to spring for first-generation hardware, which is both feature-light and probably destined for price drops before year-end. The backward-compatibility move is reminiscent of hybrid SACD, which includes high-res audio on one layer and standard CD audio on the other. That helped SACD trump DVD-Audio, and the horrible DualDisc hasn't done much to help DVD-A to catch up. Of course, the format war undermined both of those formats, and HD DVD and Blu-ray seem headed in the same downward direction. But I must add: Only one of my systems is SACD-compatible, so I play both layers of my dozens of SACDs quite often. So there!
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 26, 2006 1 comments
Family-tier cable packages are drawing fire from family activists—and regulators are listening. Brent L. Bozell of the Parents Television Council is an especially loud complainer. He dismisses Time Warner Cable's family tier as "a very bad joke.... It is perfectly obvious Time Warner is deliberately offering a product designed to fail. According to Time Warner, no family should want to watch sports. According to Time Warner, no family should want to receive any news channel other than Time Warner's CNN. According to Time Warner, classic movies are not appropriate for families. And neither is religious programming.... I bet you couldn't find five employees of Time Warner who would subscribe to this foolishness for their own families." Bozell bared his teeth in December but a recent echo by Federal Communications Commission chair Kevin Martin lent greater weight to his "legitimate concerns." Martin added that members of Congress are equally concerned. Both parent groups and the FCC appear to be moving toward their previously stated preference for letting consumers order cable and satellite service channel by channel, à la carte—or to use the PTC's resonant phrase, "cable choice."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 25, 2006 2 comments
Powered-subwoofer specifications have long been a minefield of inconsistency. How deep, how loud can they really play? Consumers may shop with greater confidence now that the Consumer Electronics Association has delivered its long-awaited sub specs. Given the catchy name CEA-2010, the document commands that subs be tested "in a calibrated anechoic [non-echoing] chamber, in a suitable ground plane environment, or in a large calibrated room." Test tones, with one-third octave spacing, are at these frequencies: 20, 25, 31.5, 40, 50, and 63 Hertz. The specs don't cover power ratings, but it will be great for consumers to get standardized information on the acoustic output of powered subs. The end result on spec sheets should look like this:
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 24, 2006 0 comments
Soon to be announced in Congress is new legislation that would strip the fair-use rights of consumers to the bone. And maybe beyond. c|net's News.com got a look at the draft bill crafted by the Bush administration and Congress and it's not pretty. Under the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006, just trying to infringe a copyright would become a federal crime. Existing law that makes it illegal to distribute hardware or software that circumvent anti-copy systems would expand to punish anyone who makes, exports, imports, obtains control of, or possesses such tools. Wiretaps, forfeitures, and seizure of records—including server logs—are part of the package. My favorite part is the provision that would permit copyright prosecutions even in cases where the work is not registered with the U.S. copyright office. The existing DMCA has had some unintended consequences but its successor promises to be far worse. This bill isn't about mass piracy, which is amply covered under existing law (and prosecutions). It's about you. The bill will first surface in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), though the official sponsor will be James Sensenbrenner (R-WI, pictured), chair of the Judiciary Committee. Does someone on this list represent your congressional district?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 21, 2006 0 comments
Do you flip the channel when a commercial comes on? Or use your DVR to fast-forward through ads? Get a load of this U.S. patent application from Philips: "The apparatus and method comprises an advertisement controller in a video playback device that prevents a viewer of a direct (non-recorded) broadcast from switching channels when an advertisement is displayed, and prevents a viewer of a recorded program from fast forwarding the recorded program in order to skip past advertisements that were recorded with the program." Wait, there's more: "A viewer may either watch the advertisements or pay a fee in order to be able to change channels or fast forward when the advertisements are being displayed." Of course, you still might use the mute button, or just flee the room screaming. Based on the Multimedia Home Platform, which uses digital flags to trigger interactive features, the "advertisement controller" may be built into DTVs, video recorders, cable boxes, satellite boxes, even Internet service. The patent app acknowledges that it may be "greatly resented."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 20, 2006 0 comments
A little while back I ran an item about Google Video. Guess what? Google's and Yahoo's video departments have been overtaken by a classic two-guys-in-a-garage web startup, youtube.com. Some of the user-posted content probably violates copyright but there is an appealing early-Napster-like breadth. Check out this goofy pick hit (from press agent and audiophile Jonathan Scull). I searched Robyn Hitchcock and came up with several music videos, including a great radio appearance from public-radio treasure KCRW, a lovely duet with violinist Deni Bonet, and others obviously shot on someone's cell phone. The look is blessedly utilitarian, the user interface simple and versatile. And the underlying video player is the Macromedia Flash Player, something most of us already have installed. Check it out before it gets bought up or outlawed.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 19, 2006 0 comments
ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC are challenging the Federal Communications Commission's "indecency" enforcement in federal court. They state: “We are seeking to overturn the FCC decisions that the broadcast of fleeting, isolated—and in some cases unintentional—words rendered these programs indecent. The FCC overstepped its authority in an attempt to regulate content protected by the First Amendment, acted arbitrarily and failed to provide broadcasters with a clear and consistent standard for determining what content is indecent. Furthermore, the FCC rulings underscore the inherent problem in growing government control over what viewers should and shouldn’t see on television. Parents currently have the ability to control and block programming they deem inappropriate...." The Parents Television Council fired back, calling the suit "utterly shameless." Programs involved include ABC's N.Y.P.D. Blue, CBS's The Early Show, and Fox's telecast of the Billboard Music Awards. Under new-ish chairman Kevin Martin the FCC has recently levied $4 million in new fines and revamped its website to encourage more, uh, public participation.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 18, 2006 2 comments
Yesterday's item about the dumping of CDs reminded me of a bit of future-proofing I masterminded awhile ago. I'd just set up some new CD shelves but was already dreading the day when my 2400-disc storage capacity would finally run out. So I bought four jumbo CaseLogic CD wallets. Each one holds 264 discs—or half that many if I decide to keep the booklets alongside the discs—so eventually my least significant thousand discs will find new homes there. The mere thought of dumping several shopping bags full of jewelboxes in the plastics-recycling bin brings a smile to my face. Since then CaseLogic has introduced an even bigger model holding 320 discs.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 17, 2006 2 comments
Hard-copy music libraries are becoming passé, at least across the pond. eBay surveyed 1000 households in the U.K. and found that £17.2 billion, with a b, worth of CDs will have been ripped to MP3 by year-end. What's happening to them? The Guardian reports that charity shops are being "inundated with donated CDs, as more and more people trim their collections—or even get rid of them altogether to free up space." Of course, for those of us who like our music uncompressed, or just want to stay up to date with the latest codec, this avalanche of cheap CDs is a buying opportunity reminiscent of the days when faddish listeners dumped perfectly good LPs. Do you really want to eviscerate your music library? Go ahead, make my day!
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 14, 2006 1 comments
Convergence shows many faces to music lovers. If you've got the bucks, you can add a hard-drive-based music server to your system. Or you can pay a custom installer to bring IP-based networking to every room in the house. But if you just want to move music from one PC to one rack, all you need is a simple device and it doesn't have to cost much. One of many possible options is the Roku SoundBridge.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 13, 2006 1 comments
Moviegoers in Japan will get a special treat when they see The New World starring Colin Farrell. Telecom company NTT will supply hardware that releases aromas from scented oils. According to Yuri Kageyama of AP: "A floral scent accompanies a love scene, while a mix of peppermint and rosemary is emitted during a tear-jerking scene. Joy is a citrus mix of orange and grapefruit, while anger is enhanced by a herb-like concoction with a hint of eucalyptus and tea tree." Variations of the technique date back to 1959 when Aroma-Rama delivered scent through the air-conditioning system during Behind the Great Wall. In 1960, Smell-o-Vision injected olfactory enhancements into the seating for Scent of Mystery. Most notorious was John Waters' Polyester (1981) with Odorama, a relatively low-tech scratch-and-sniff card that provided suggestions of flowers, pizza, glue, grass, and feces. Waters later exulted over having gotten audiences to "pay to smell..." the latter.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 12, 2006 2 comments
Blockbuster's online DVD rentals have attracted a patent-infringement lawsuit from Netflix. At issue are two patents. The first one, granted in 2003, concerns the method of letting users choose and return titles. The second relates to the waiving of late fees, obtaining new discs at no extra charge, and prioritizing want lists. For Netflix, the timing is interesting—that second patent was granted just last week! For Blockbuster, it's disastrous. The company is a billion bucks in the red, spent $300 million to set up Blockbuster Online, and has only one million subscribers, versus four million for Netflix. Compulsive letter writers, here's a hot question for your senators and congressthings: Why is the federal government granting business-methodology patents that squelch competition and raise prices for consumers?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 11, 2006 5 comments
Consumers junk millions of remote controls each year. But 20 percent of remotes deemed defective can be returned to service with a simple reset routine, according to MrRemoteControls.com. Here are the instructions verbatim:
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 10, 2006 4 comments
A good idea has gone slightly awry with the recall of 11,800 Philips Ambilight plasma HDTVs. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, nine users have reported arcing in capacitors on the back of the enclosure. Arcing is a prolonged and visible electric discharge—not the sort of thing you like to see when you're kicking back to watch American Idol. Affected models include the 42-inch 42PF9630A/37 and three 50-inchers: 50PF9630A/37, 50PF9630A/37, and 50PF9830A/37. All sets are from the 2005 model year. For more information see the USPC warning or call Philips at 888-744-5477. Despite all this, Ambilight is a very cool feature that builds backlighting into the set, easing strain on the optic nerve. An x-treem optimist might even point out that Philips has reinvented the fireplace.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 07, 2006 1 comments
It's Apple vs. Apple! Apple Corps, the record label owned by the Beatles, is suing Apple Computer over trademark infringement. Don't you love it when rich people get into a fistfight? I can just visualize Steve Jobs giving Paul McCartney the evil eye.

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