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EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 21, 2006 3 comments
The legislative silly season is barely underway but this year promises a bumper crop of whoppers. Arguably the biggest mistake about to be written into law is a national franchise agreement for telcos muscling their way into the video-delivery biz. Cable companies have to win municipal franchises that bring in money for local governments and give consumers at least an indirect stick with which to beat slovenly cable operators. They are also required to serve all paying households in their service areas. Now the telcos can compete with cable companies while remaining blissfully free of the local regulation that encourages your local cable op to serve every neighborhood and keep his nose clean. If you think your cable company is arrogant, wait till you've got one wire coming into your home from a company that doesn't have to play by the rules, be it AT&T or Verizon. The cable industry is crying foul, and let's face it, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Give due consideration to this heated position paper from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 20, 2006 1 comments
Pope Benedict XVI is now an iPod owner. According to the Catholic News Service, employees of Vatican Radio honored the pontiff's first visit to their premises by giving him a nano inscribed on the back, "To His Holiness, Benedict XVI." The pope accepted the gift saying, "computer technology is the future." The iPod—in white, appropriately enough—is loaded with Vatican Radio programming, including a documentary on the life of St. Thomas a Becket, and music, including the works of Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky. The iPod will allow the pope to enjoy Vatican Radio's daily podcasts, which are offered in eight languages.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 17, 2006 3 comments
Initial Blu-ray titles from Sony-owned studios will not include a down-res flag that would cripple older HDTVs. For months videophiles have been complaining bitterly that the bizarrely named Image Constraint Token would give studios the option of reducing analog component video output from high- to standard-definition. Sony, at least, has decided not to use the ICT. Though the decision certainly is not binding on other studios, Sony deserves a pat on the back for showing leadership. And it's comforting to know that you can put Sony software into a Sony Blu-ray player and see a full 1920 by 1080 pixels on your first-generation Sony HDTV.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 16, 2006 4 comments
Annoyed because that Rhapsody purchase won't work on your iPod? You'd love the new copyright law about to be enacted in France. Legal downloads would be required to operate on all devices, and consumers would be allowed to defeat DRM while making file conversions. Unauthorized downloads would still be illegal, carrying a file of 38 euros, and the penalties for selling illegal file-sharing software would be really stiff, at 300,000 euros or three years in jail. Prompted by France's need to bring itself into compliance with new EU copyright regulations, the law is getting attention because it's more unabashedly pro-consumer than bills being mulled in other EU nations. An earlier bill that would have legalized file sharing for a flat monthly fee has been dropped.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 15, 2006 2 comments
A successful format needs both hardware and software. Unfortunately for HD DVD, the software expected for the format's official March 28 launch date has just turned to vaporware. Warner Home Video announced that titles won't make it to the church on time due to unnamed technical problems. The delay may be only a week or two—"we just don't know." One possible explanation would be a delay with the content security system used, in some form, by both HD DVD and Blu-ray. The rumor mill said it hadn't gotten completed on time. A subsequent report said an interim agreement would let both formats move forward. And now—well, who knows? Though Paramount and Universal have also announced HD DVD titles, they’ve never provided a hard date. How this will affect Blu-ray's May 23 software launch remains unclear. Oh, one more thing—Disney is hinting it may support both formats, which would be welcome news in the HD DVD camp.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 14, 2006 4 comments
Half of electronic product returns happen because the products are just too complex for the consumer. That's the conclusion of a thesis published at Eindhoven University in the Netherlands. The study by Elke van Ouden found that American consumers are willing to spend 20 minutes on how do you work this thing before giving up. Even professionals—product managers from Philips, no less—had trouble when confronted with unfamiliar products. The researcher found that the single biggest problem was "product definition." It appears many consumers don't even know what they're buying. Maybe they should spend more time reading Home Theater. Just a suggestion.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 13, 2006 2 comments
TiVo's struggle for survival continues to generate headlines. Two weeks ago I reported that the company may reduced rebated hardware prices to nothing, concentrating on software for survival. This week's big announcement, as Darryl reports, is that TiVo is axing its $299 lifetime service plan in favor of shorter-term plans for one to three years. Darryl's also got the details on the new TiVo Mobile plan which will allow remote scheduling of DVR recordings from the Verizon Wireless network. And there's more: In June TiVo Kidzone will make the DVR more family-friendly by permitting parents to ix-nay programs either individually or under built-in advice from groups like the Parents Television Council. The company is targeting doctors with what it describes as "physician-oriented programs." Finally, the future may be brightening for TiVo—last year's fourth-quarter loss was 24 cents per share, down from 42 cents the previous year.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 10, 2006 2 comments
What is all this white stuff on the floor?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 09, 2006 2 comments
Samsung is the object of a Hollywood feeding frenzy. Five studios are suing the manufacturer for selling the DVD-HD841 DVD, DVD-Audio, and SACD player, though it was available for only a few months in 2004. Apparently this universal player was a little too universal. Like many players still sold, it allowed the regional coding feature to be easily hacked with a few remote keystrokes. Worse, from Hollywood's point of view, was its content-security weakness. Hackers found ways to defeat HDCP, allowing upconverted DVD content to be copied from the DVI output. Of course, the new Blu-ray and HD DVD formats have state-of-the-art security features, but they're being rushed onto the market before the ink has dried on the security-tech agreements. Looks like the studios are ready to pounce if any little accidents give pirates an advantage.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 08, 2006 3 comments
LG will bring out a player that handles both Blu-ray and HD DVD later this year, according to a leaked memo to dealers. That would be an interesting change in strategy from the company's former Blu-ray only policy. In fact, LG is dropping a previously announced Blu-ray player. It will also drop two LCoS models from its lineup, 71 and 62 inches, due to a chip shortage and what executives see as a waning microdisplay market. New 60- and 50-inch plasmas will be delayed and their current equivalents carried over. Finally, say hello to the world's largest LCD panel, a 100-inch prototype shown by LG.Philips at this week's CeBIT show in Hannover, Germany.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 07, 2006 0 comments
For a band that steadfastly denies its existence, Pink Floyd sure manages to keep the product coming. I've been spending time with Nick Mason's 2004 book Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, now updated to include a postscript about last year's miraculous reunion gig. Although he acknowledges having had a good editor, Mason really knows how to tell a story and does so with enormous wit and candor. Pink Floyd's rise from London's psychedelic underground to international megastardom would be great material for any writer—I couldn't put it down and ended up killing a whole weekend. A three-CD audio book read by the author is also available albeit hard to find. The 1994 concert video Pulse will be reissued in September as a double DVD extravaganza. The reunion is already available on the five-disc Live 8 DVD set. David Gilmour's 2002 In Concert DVD is extraordinarily beautiful. His third solo album On an Island came out yesterday and he's touring this year to support it. Roger Waters now has a whole opera, a Ira, to his credit. He has two albums in the works and is also touring this year.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 06, 2006 1 comments
Did you know that David Gilmour's third solo album is out on LP as well as CD? Amazon.co.uk is listing a vinyl version of On an Island for 15.99 British pounds—a little under 28 U.S. dollars—and it's even coming out today, same date as the CD release. The "voice and guitar of Pink Floyd," as he's billed on his upcoming tour, has been busy lately. Last year he reunited with three other former members of Pink Floyd in the G8 concert series, sold his house in London for 3.6 million pounds (6.3 million dollars), and gave the proceeds to an organization for the homeless, while putting finishing touches on the new album. Judging from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of his three-year-old In Concert DVD, Gilmour is still in his prime. Hey Dave, got a couple of extra tickets for the sold-out April dates at Radio City Music Hall? Well, I had to try. More on Pink Floyd tomorrow.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 03, 2006 1 comments
Why would anyone pay the price of an iPod nano for a pair of headphones? Better sound is one reason—Apple's earbuds are wretchedly tinny. Sennheiser provides another good reason with the PXC 300 headphones. These midsized cans have noise cancellation, resulting in both better sound and greater safety for those most precious and irreplacable audio components, your ears.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 02, 2006 3 comments
Cinematic cognoscenti who want to catch the latest indie films without driving to an art house are in luck—at least if they're Comcast subscribers. The cable giant has inked an agreement with IFC Entertainment to offer IFC in Theaters. IFC is a division of Cablevision-owned Rainbow Media. The arrangement will bring four to five independent titles per month, including two with same-date VOD and theatrical release. The price is $5.99 each and all titles will be in standard definition (though Comcast's non-IFC VOD operation does offer other titles in high-def). Coming attractions include:
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 01, 2006 1 comments
Yesterday's new product announcements from Apple were sensible but anticlimactic. As expected, there are two new Intel-driven Mac minis, $599 with single processor and $799 with dual processor, that can share video, music, and photos over a wireless network. Then there's the iPod Hi-Fi ($349). Aside from the iPod dock, it looks a lot like a horizontal center speaker from a surround system, but with handles. Dual three-inch full-range drivers flank a five-inch woofer in a ported double-walled plastic shell. The remote-controllable device runs on six D cells or AC. With the power supply built into the enclosure, there's no pesky wall wart. So there you have it, or haven't it—Apple has not taken the home theater or the listening room by storm. Yet.

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