EARS ON

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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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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 28, 2006 2 comments
TiVo may soon lower its hardware pricing to every consumer's favorite number: zero. The news came when CEO Tom Rogers addressed a Reuters technology summit on Monday. The free hardware would begin as a test. In exchange, service plans may extend longer and cost more. Why this, why now? TiVo is a publicly traded company under constant pressure from Wall Street. Once its main competition was RePlayTV but now it's up against proprietary offerings from cable and satellite companies as well as mainstream manufacturers. An especially hard blow was DirecTV's announcement last year that it would de-emphasize TiVo in favor of its own product. Smooth-talking Rogers is determined to defend and increase his subscriber base of four million: "We feel that the notion that TiVo has hit some kind of distribution wall and is no longer a growth animal is not the case." Coincidentally, he is the former CEO of Primedia, publisher of Home Theater.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 27, 2006 0 comments
Digital camera pooping out on you? Duracell says its new PowerPix can power twice as many pictures as an ordinary alkaline battery. The PowerPix uses a new NiOx technology—that's nickel-oxy-hydroxide for those of you majoring in chemistry. Meanwhile, Panasonic makes the same claim for its new Oxyride batteries, compared to its own Alkaline Plus, adding that a new version will deliver three times as many pictures around the time the swallows return to Capistrano. Finally, Energizer says its e2 Lithium lasts seven times as long as competing alkalines and that e2s have replaced all the alkaline batteries aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Any of them should keep your remotes under control for years.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 24, 2006 1 comments
Cool headline, eh? You probably assumed that some online or satellite service is offering a cornucopia of freebies. And these 264 new digital audio channels are indeed both free and ad-free—but they're available over the air. You've heard of HD Radio, the digital terrestrial broadcast format sneaking onto the airwaves alongside analog signals of 700 stations nationwide, but perhaps you hadn't heard that the HD Digital Radio Alliance is also rolling out hundreds of totally new HD-2 Multicast channels in 29 markets. There's a variety of music and talk formats with names like Extreme Hip Hop, Future Country, Classical Alternative, and Chick Rock. And you can hear 'em with a variety of HD Radio products including the HD Radio version of the Boston Acoustics Receptor Radio (pictured) and other products from ADA, Alpine, Day Sequerra, Eclipse, JVC, Kenwood, Panasonic, Polk, Rotel, and Yamaha. HD Radio can be a table radio, a car radio, a surround-receiver feature, or a multi-zone multi-tuner. Someone please send me one.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 23, 2006 0 comments
At least two German-language DVDs have a DRM-related security flaw reminiscent of the XCP CD rootkits that have recently shaken U.S. consumers. According to Heise Security, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Edison contain Alpha-DVD, developed by Settec, a Korean company spun off from LG. The rootkit program announces itself in a user agreement. When installed, it redirects DVD-burning functions to itself to prevent illegal copying. However, it also "manages to affect the operation of CD/DVD burning applications with some DVD writers, regardless of whether the copy-protected disc was present or not," says Heise. Settec now offers both an update and an uninstaller. Alpha-DVD is not quite as insidious as the infamous XCP rootkit—it hides from the Task Manager but not from the OS. Even so, it still poses a hazard to consumers. "Our message to software companies producing any software (not just copy protection products) is clear," says Finnish security firm F-Secure, whose rootkit sniffer is pic of the day. "You should always avoid hiding anything from the user, especially the administrator. It rarely serves the needs of the user, and in many cases it's very easy to create a security vulnerability this way."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 22, 2006 2 comments
Manhattan's Upper West Side is home to many world-class attractions—Lincoln Center, the Museum of Natural History, and the Fairway cheese department, to name just a few—but electronics-industry press events are relatively rare. Yet there I was, a 15-minute walk from my apartment, in a store full of reporters getting Toshiba's marketing message about HD DVD. The event at P.C. Richard & Sons was day one of a 40-city roadshow that will be repeated in stores throughout the country. The highlight of the presentation was a split-screen comparison of high- and standard-definition material, including a boat that glided from one side of the screen to the other, acquiring depth and detail along the way. Consumers had already placed orders that day for players to be delivered in the last week of March, we were told. Contrary to a rumor reported here, an interim agreement on encryption keys will allow hardware and software manufacturers to move forward in tandem. Still unanswered are the two big questions: (1) Can either HD DVD or Blu-ray prosper in a format war? And (2) what impact will the down-res of component video output have on owners of early-generation HDTVs? Toshiba has a new HD DVD website here and Darryl Wilkinson offers more details here. I, however, got the free long-sleeved HD DVD T-shirt, available in a choice of emerald, rose, and blue-grey. Word up, Blu-ray people—this is going to be a hard T-shirt to beat.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 21, 2006 1 comments
Would I stoop to running a news item just because it comes with a cool pic? If you thought otherwise, how little you know me. Congratulations to the Blu-ray family on the birth of the quad-layer disc, first shown in prototype at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show. Existing Blu-ray discs (inasmuch as they can be said to exist) use a single layer for capacity of 25 gigabytes or two layers for 50GB. Double the number of layers yet again and what do you get? A 100GB quad-layer disc that can store up to nine hours of high-definition video, at least in situations where digital rights management would so permit. As the picture shows, the disc actually has nine layers if you count the spacers, the second-from-top cover layer, and the Durabis layer—that's the name TDK has given the specially formulated top layer. Blu-ray players read data at a much shallower depth than regular DVD, so the top layer has to be both thin and hard. Otherwise it would need a protective caddy, like 2003-vintage Blu-ray in Japan. The quad-layer prototype is a write-once disc (not rewritable) and there's no word on when it will become available.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 17, 2006 1 comments
To hear the music industry talk, you'd think its sinking profits were entirely the result of little criminals downloading copyrighted material and going hee-hee-hee. A thousand adults beg to differ. Polled by Ipsos on behalf of Rolling Stone and the Associated Press, they attribute record-company woes to: illegal downloads (33 percent), competing forms of entertainment (29 percent), music getting worse (21 percent), and too-costly CDs (13 percent). In other words, fans say two-thirds of the industry's problems stem from market forces. At least three-quarters buy CDs at least occasionally, and the vast majority don't download anything, either legally or illegally. Among those who do download, 80 percent regard illicit peer-to-peer sharing as tantamount to stealing, though only 38 percent care. The most common way of hearing about new music is not the Internet (4 percent) but FM radio (55 percent). Click the external link for full poll results.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 16, 2006 1 comments
A problem with Blu-ray security technology will delay the launch of both Blu-ray and HD DVD by at least a few weeks, insiders have told a German security portal. The stumbling block is BD+, which allows updates of encryption schemes when they're hacked. While the BD+ component of the Advanced Access Content System is used only in Blu-ray, the delay in finalizing AACS will delay both formats. AACS LA, the standard-setting body, tried to resolve the problem last week but failed. The group will meet again next week and take another crack. In the meantime, HD DVD's slight product-debut lead over Blu-ray is dissipating. The HD DVD people must be fit to kill.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 15, 2006 3 comments
Do you want your HD video-on-demand and want it now? Meet MovieBeam. The system sends data through the PBS broadcast network to a special MovieBeam antenna and set-top box. Load up on bits, in either high- or standard-def, and then you have 24 hours to watch the movie. Disney has talked the rest of the studios (except Sony) into supporting the venture, four years in the making. You'll need an HDTV with HDMI input to receive movies in HD, and as an added bonus, the HDMI output upconverts SD to 720p. However, the box outputs component video only at 480p. Pricing per movie is $4.99 for new HD titles, $3.99 for new SD titles, $2.99 for old HD titles, and $1.99 for old SD titles. Box and activation fee cost a total of $230 after rebate. MovieBeam is now available in 29 cities.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 14, 2006 0 comments
The New York Philharmonic will soon offer newly recorded live material for downloading. A three-year deal with Deutsche Grammophon will bring four concerts per year to download services including iTunes (probably) and others (possibly). To see the significance of this, go to iTunes now and search New York Philharmonic. Nearly everything that comes up is an old CD title with Leonard Bernstein. Classical music has always had a modest slice of the market for recorded music, but it's tougher today, even for major orchestras, when they have to compete with their own recorded past. So they're off in search of new business models. The move into online distribution is a logical next step for the New York Philharmonic, already selling CDs under its own label. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra launched its own MSO Classics label last year to sell downloads through iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, and other services. At least one orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, is also releasing its own multichannel SACDs.

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