EARS ON

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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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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 06, 2006 0 comments
If you thought your PC security problems began and ended with those Sony rootkit CDs, think again. The watchdog organization stopbadware.org has issued a warning about the file-sharing service Kazaa: "We find that Kazaa is badware because it misleadingly advertises itself as spywarefree, does not completely remove all components during the uninstall process, interferes with computer use, and makes undisclosed modifications to other software." The group issued similar warnings about MediaPipe, a movie download program; Waterfalls 3, a screen saver; and even SpyAxe, which ironically enough bills itself as an anti-spyware program. Stopbadware.org is led by heavy hitters from the Harvard Law School and the Oxford Internet Institute with support from Google, Lenovo, and Sun Microsystems.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 05, 2006 1 comments
Complaints about scratched iPod nanos are giving way to solutions from Apple and other parties. First there are those three Apple-branded iPod cases in Italian leather. Tug a little ribbon and your iPod slides out gracefully. Cases are available for the 60GB, 30GB, and nano. The $99 pricetag may raise an eyebrow among the hoi i-polloi but clearly Apple is lunging for the carriage trade here. Meanwhile NYC retailer J&R is selling iPod nanos that have been put through a custom hardening procedure described this way: "Each custom colored iPod goes through a thorough process of cleaning, painting, protection and curing before it is ready for use. The protection comprises of the unique X2 scratch resistant liquid plastic coating. It's applied right after the painting process and cured with ultraviolet light, to achieve superior scratch resistance and clarity. The final product has a finish that won't fade or crack!" The price for a treated 2GB nano is $265 or $66 more than list.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 04, 2006 1 comments
Downloads for movie collectors—as opposed to renters—are finally happening in a big way. Warner-owned Movielink, until now just a download-rental service, now offers 300 titles for download-ownership from six major studios. CinemaNow offers another 75 titles worth of ownable bits from three studios. Pricing, unfortunately, is actually higher than Amazon disc purchases, but hey, it's a start. The coolest permutation—alas, for Brits only—is Download to Own from Universal Pictures and Lovefilm. For one price you get two downloads, one for a PC and one for a portable media player—plus a hard-copy disc—all for one admittedly stratospheric price. Even if none of these schemes appeals to you now, it's clear that movie downloads are now a viable option for library builders, and it's only a matter of time before they go high-def. Blu-what?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 03, 2006 4 comments
The maker of the world's most deliriously successful music player offers these words of advice: "If you expose your ears to excessive sound pressure, you can harm those small hair cells in your ears." Whether this has anything to do with the class-action lawsuit filed in Louisiana alleging hearing damage from iPods is, of course, just so much irresponsible speculation. According to my colleagues at Stereophile, a recent poll indicates hearing loss among the young is a real problem. What is certain is that Apple has announced a firmware upgrade that sets a top volume level deemed safe with Apple's supplied iPod earbuds and other products with similar sensitivity ratings.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 31, 2006 0 comments
Why are component audio sales lagging portables? "More than 56 percent of potential audio buyers say they have never even heard what they'd consider a great sounding audio system," says a press release from the Consumer Electronics Association. For those of us who have both heard and felt soul-stirring sound, that is nothing short of horrific. "The good news for retailers is that many consumers are leaving the door of opportunity cracked open through their willingness to interact with a sales person and to receive a demonstration of better audio equipment," says Sean Wargo, CEA's director of industry analysis. CEA recently released a training DVD for dealers, "The Specialty Audio/Video Difference," showing how to conduct effective demos and supply good customer service. If you're a consumer, as opposed to a dealer, maybe it's time to walk into an a/v specialty store and say "play me something good!" It just might change your life. To find a store in your area with some real class, click here. (Today's poster boy is Tycho the Wonder Dog, courtesy of www.nomoon.org.)
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 30, 2006 2 comments
High-performance audio's long, slow decline is officially a crisis. The latest figures from the Consumer Electronics Association say that portable audio devices now outsell components—"for the first time in history," as This Week In Consumer Electronics reported. Put portable, home, and car audio together and the audio industry grew a total of 29 percent in 2005. But that includes an 85 percent hike in sales of portables, four percent growth in car audio, and a decline of 16 percent in the good-sounding stuff that sits on your rack, if you still have a rack. You can blame paradigm shifts, generational changes, i-everything, blabbity blabbity blah, but there's a smoking gun here, and I'll talk about it tomorrow.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 29, 2006 0 comments
Read the fine print on some DVD and CD releases and you'll see the phrase CarbonNeutral. What's that? CarbonNeutral, formerly known as Future Forests, has convinced a variety of manufacturers to offset the CO2 emissions caused in the making of plastics by paying landowners to plant trees. Celebrity enthusiasts include Atomic Kitten, Beth Orton, Coldplay, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones—not to mention Gwyneth Paltrow and Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, critics of the scheme say that the company is just selling the carbon rights for trees that would have been planted anyway. Still worse, Mike Mason of Climate Care told The Times of London: "When Mick Jagger's trees die in 50 years' time, they will release the CO2 they have been storing at a time when the situation is likely to be more critical." You know what the road to hell is paved with. Bit of a heartbreaker, isn't it?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 28, 2006 2 comments
Apple Computer doesn't like France's pending copyright reform. Though widely viewed as a blow against the binding of iTunes purchases to iPods—horreur!—the law actually would require all downloads to be compatible with all devices. An Apple spokesperson equated this with "state-sponsored piracy," and your federal government has chimed in with cabinet-level agreement: "Any time that we believe that intellectual property rights are being violated, we need to speak up and in this case, the company is taking the initiative," Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told CNBC. What makes the situation so ironic is that just a few years ago, the same federal government (well, almost the same) was energetically litigating against Microsoft for binding Internet Explorer to Windows. In similar spirit, the European Union is about to hit Microsoft with a big fine for binding the Windows Media Player to the OS. Since no one else is asking the question, I will: Why should there be one antitrust standard for Microsoft and a totally different one for Apple? The French, at least, are proposing to level the playing field in an increasingly lucrative download market.

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