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Viewpoint: Going to Bits

Ultimate AV is going completely to bits! But not to pieces.

As many of you know by now, the January 2005 issue of Stereophile Ultimate AV is the last print issue of the magazine. We are moving our entire operation to the Internet—equipment reviews, news, letters, features, DVD reviews, how-to information, columns, our new e-newsletter, show coverage (check out our daily on-the-scene CES reports from the imminent International Consumer Electronics Show, and our full report soon thereafter), and more.

We've been aware for some time that we had more visitors to our Web site than regular readers of UAV in print. Unlike many home theater sites, ultimateAVmag.com (also still accessible as guidetohometheater.com) is a completely unrestricted site. The full text of all of our reviews, many of our features, and up-to-the-minute audio/video news is available to anyone with a computer and access to the Internet.

And to judge by the hits on the site, a lot of AV enthusiasts have bookmarked our Internet address and visit regularly. Our unique visitor traffic in recent months has been over four times our total print circulation. That statistic alone should tell you why we've decided that our future is on the Web.

Sure, I'd be lying if I said I won't miss the monthly anticipation of waiting for those first copies of the latest issue of UAV hot off the press. In my nearly 20 years of contributing first to Stereophile, then to what we affectionately called "The Guide" (morphed recently into Stereophile Ultimate AV), the smell of those newly-minted pages won't be easy to forget. And there's a definite thrill in seeing a magazine to which you've contributed displayed on an newsstand—and a hidden delight in moving that stack of UAVs closer to the front of the rack when the bookstore staff isn't watching!

But technology marches on. When I first started with Stereophile, the Internet was but a gleam in Al Gore's eye. Today it's everywhere and offers sites for just about everything. Faster access to those sites, via DSL, satellite, and cable modem, is becoming more available and affordable, eliminating the fear of hearing the Final Jeopardy theme dance in your head as you wait for those pages to load.

As I've surfed the popular audio, video, and home theater Internet destinations over the past few years, it has become more and more apparent that the AV hobbyist's first choice for information is now the Web, not print. In a world where the largest expenses of producing a magazine are the Big Three (Printing, Paper, and Postage)—none of which add anything to the actual information conveyed—finding a way to eliminate those costs and still provide the same service, or better, is a no-brainer.

The new Web site will continue to bring you everything you've told us you value most about UAV, and more. Our focus has always been on bringing you in-depth equipment reports, and we'll continue to do so. All of our experienced writers remain in place, ready to carry on with the job of producing the best reviews in the business. From now to mid January, we'll be posting reviews from recent issues of the print magazine, as we have in the past. But beginning on January 17, as we all get settled back in from CES in Las Vegas, you'll start seeing "first-run" reviews, hot off our word processors.

And we'll get those reviews to you faster than ever, constrained only by the time our reviewers must spend with a product to perform a thorough evaluation. That takes time, but now we've eliminated the six weeks it took to actually print the magazine and get it to newsstands—and even longer for subscribers who had to wait while the Post Office did that thing they do to deliver your (hopefully not tattered) copy.

Though our main emphasis will remain on equipment reports, we'll also bring you reviews of major new DVD releases within days of their street date—or even sooner. In a sneak preview of this trend, we posted a review of the Special Extend Edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on December 13, the day before it appeared in stores. New Line, like many film studios consumed by pirating paranoia, often provides review samples a scant few days before the street date. In this case, the earliest that review would have appeared in print would have been our February issue—long after most fans had made their buying decision.

Of course, there will be occasions when we'll review a DVD that's been on the shelves for a while—classic films, analysis of the technical quality of earlier releases we hadn't previously reviewed, new discoveries that had escaped our notice when they first came out, multi-season box sets of television shows, and the occasional so-bad-it's-good major release that demands to be skewered.

And for those who may be concerned about the loss of graphic quality in the migration to the Web, check out the photo of the charging Oliphaunts that appears with our Extended Edition LOTR:ROTK review. Note how much better it looks on your computer screen than the print photo did when we used it in our September 2004 issue (page 94). The comparison isn't even close. A picture that just sits on the printed page simply jumps off the screen—even with the relatively limited resolution used for Internet transmission of photos.

In addition to timely news, equipment reports, and DVD reviews, two of your favorite columnists, Michael Fremer ("Utopia Theater") and Joel Brinkley ("Defining Visions") will continue to bring you their unique perspectives every month. And technical editor Scott Wilkinson will add his two cents in a new monthly column called "Don't Get Me Started," in which he provides pithy commentary on the crazy, confusing, irresistible home-entertainment scene.

You'll also continue to get our new monthly e-newsletter, with hot tips, additional industry news, DVD reports, and more. All you have to do is sign up, and it will appear in your inbox every month for free.

Finally, something brand new will be added as well: coverage of the best home theater installations we can find, from both custom installers and readers. Custom installers will show off their best work and how they overcame problems, while individuals who designed and installed their own systems will have a chance to show off what they can do. The goal is for both "civilian" readers and custom installers to profit from each other's experiences. For more on submitting installations for possible publication, see the related story on this week's site.

So stay with us. Check back early and often. You won't be disappointed as we post product reports, news, DVD reviews, and other timely material for you to enjoy each and every week, all brought to you as quickly as your Internet provider and computer can handle.

Calling Custom Installers
Do you have a custom installation you'd like to showcase on our site? If you have the photos, equipment lists, and information about the job that will interest both your fellow installers and our readers, contact us at ultimateAVmag.com to find our how to proceed.

Calling All Readers
Did you install your own home theater? Whether it's the Bijou or a modest but effective system, if you'd like to have it considered for publication, send photos, an equipment list, and a brief description of your goals and how you met them to ultimateAVmag.com.

Send your emails to tom.norton@primedia.com

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