EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 25, 2006 2 comments
Steve Jobs has finally found a situation he can't bluff or bully his way out of. He has, however, bought his way out of a longstanding tiff with Creative Labs, which holds valuable patents on the workings of music players—including the iPod. A $100 million settlement will end court battles and heal all wounds. Jobs' comment on the outcome is wry and brilliantly understated: "Creative is very fortunate to have been granted this early patent." And in case you were wondering, he adds: "This settlement resolves all of our differences with Creative, including the five lawsuits currently pending between the companies, and removes the uncertainty and distraction of prolonged litigation." The settlement will leave him freer to contemplate finer things, like warm batteries and cool Scandinavians. Folks at Creative, meanwhile, are looking forward to a harmonious future with Apple. Says victorious CEO Sim Wong Hoo: "Apple has built a huge ecosystem for its iPod and with our upcoming participation in the Made for iPod program we are very excited about this new market opportunity for our speaker systems, our just-introduced line of earphones and headphones, and our future family of X-Fi audio enhancement products." Unmentioned: Creative's Zen player, pictured. He's also pleased about the 85 cents per share Creative stockholders will reap from the settlement. Who wouldn't be?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 12, 2007 2 comments
Just in case you've been living in a cave for the past week--or perhaps just live a normal healthy life, in which case I envy you--then you've heard about the Steve Jobs DRM manifesto. Jobs wants to have his DRM and denounce it too. His adroit repositioning of himself in the public eye bodes well for the continued vigor of iPod sales. The first and most amusing reaction came from the Recording Industry Antichrist of America, which enthused: "Apple's offer to license FairPlay to other technology companies is a welcome breakthrough and would be a real victory for fans, artists and labels." It would also mollify various European regulators who object to the binding of iTunes downloads to iPods. Only problem is, Apple offered to do no such thing. The emailed missive has not appeared on the RIAA site. More relevant, perhaps, was EMI's announcement that a large percentage of its catalogue would become available via no-DRM MP3 downloads. Apparently the Norah Jones experiment was a success. Warning: While MP3 is immune to DRM, it is not immune to watermarking that would embed purchase information in the track metadata. If a download with your name on it ends up in the P2P moshpit, you could be in big trouble.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 19, 2007 0 comments
Coming soon to a computer monitor near you is Joost. Formerly known as the Venice Project, this new mode of video delivery was invented by the founders of Skype and Kazaa. No, it's not a video download service. Nor is it a file-sharing application. Instead, it delivers video in the form of P2P streaming. Among the components of the system are powerful data compression, a global index to coordinate the flow of data, and 40TB of server capacity to augment users' hard-drive cacheing, making this what the inventors describe as a "hybrid" system. Thousands of beta users in several countries are already having fun with it and the service will launch officially in June. The Joosties seem willing to make nice with content producers, with Warner Music in the fold, and you'll even see ads for T-Mobile and Wrigley chewing gum. Eventually the service may move from the Internet to set-top boxes. Official site, Wired feature.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 02, 2005 1 comments
Will better sound help a non-iPod product succeed in a iPod-centric world? JVC is betting on it with the Alneo XA-HD500. Now, I’m not saying the iPod sounds bad. The minis and nanos I’ve heard sound pretty good. But the Alneo has an edge in transparency that becomes immediately obvious with a high-end classical recording like Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (K622), as played by the Michelangelo Chamber Orchestra with soloist Antony Michaelson. Normally I don’t expect miracles from MP3 files, even when ripped at 192 kilobits per second, but I was amazed at the fragile beauty of the string sound and the air that surrounded the solo instrument. I was hooked.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 20, 2006 3 comments
Flying is brutal. And the cramped seat and substandard food aren't the only things that do you in. Noise is the unseen enemy. You may think you can merely adjust to it and ignore it—but that is physically impossible. Jet-turbine noise gives your eardrums and the other delicate parts of your inner ear a beating, and that messes up both your hearing and your sense of balance. That's why you often feel disoriented after a long flight. The wise traveler is therefore one who carries a good set of noise-canceling headphones or earbuds.
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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: Dec 20, 2005 3 comments
Let's face it, i-anything is pretty hot now that the iPod has become the fastest-growing product in consumer electronics. Sales of MP3 players shot up by 255 percent during the first eight months of 2005, and you can bet Apple's smallest and prettiest child was the driving force behind that dizzying growth. Enter Klipsch, one of the few good speaker brands you're likely to find in a national chain store. Now that the the company's iGroove is playing on my desk, I'd say Klipsch deserves its piece of the pie.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 03, 2008 1 comments
The description in the headline above is Klipsch's, not mine. I usually refer to this kind of product as earbuds. But Klipsch is allergic to that term for arcane technical reasons explained in this FAQ. So headphones these wispy transducers are.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 16, 2008 2 comments
Last Friday I had the privilege of watching Lang Lang perform a freshly commissioned piano concerto by Tan Dun (who composed the score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. The 25-year-old wunderkind brilliantly exploited the work's wide dynamic contrasts and powerful sonorities, often conjuring extraordinary tone color by hammering the lowest notes of the keyboard, and bewitching the audience with extravagant gestures. Lang Lang is to the piano what Leonard Bernstein was to conducting. Anyway, Sony slipped me a ticket to celebrate its three-year pact with what is arguably the world's greatest living pianist. "Sony is delighted to welcome Lang Lang as a 'brand ambassador' who can reach and connect with audiences around the world," said Sir Howard Stringer in a press release. Lang Lang describes himself as "a long-time Sony user." No doubt he'll boost Sony's popularity, not only in America but in classical-conscious Europe and his native China. It's great to see a major corporation hitching its wagon to a major pianist. Rumors of classical music's death have been greatly exaggerated.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 02, 2007 15 comments
A promising new video display technology suffered a potentially fatal setback last week. SED stands for Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display. Whether marketers would come up with a sexier name for the ultra-flat tube technology is something we won't find out in the near future because a federal judge has ruled that Nano-Proprietary, the licensor, can wiggle out of its agreement with Canon. The agreement dates from 1999. Subsequently Canon brought Toshiba into a joint venture that would have brought SED to market. That made sense--if you want to sell TVs, you work with a TV company. Meanwhile, with an eye on the burgeoning market for flat panels, N-P apparently became unhappy with the arrangement. So the company argued that by bringing in Toshiba, Canon had violated the licensing agreement. N-P refused to call off its legal pit bulls even after Toshiba sold its stake to Canon and cancelled plans to show an SED prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show two months ago. If N-P wins the appeals, Canon will have to negotiate a whole new licensing agreement with N-P, if it chooses, possibly in competition with Samsung. Fun facts:
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 25, 2006 0 comments
In the market battle between LCD and plasma displays, conventional wisdom holds that where they overlap, LCD will always cost more, and therefore plasma is the better value. But in July, the average street price of 40- to 44-inch LCDs fell below that of plasma for the first time, according to Pacific Media Associates. The market research firm's Flat Panel Display Tracking Service also found that LCD's market share went up four points, to 46 percent. Says VP Rosemary Abowd: "We've seen this repeatedly in the past. When the price of LCDs match or drop below the prices for plasma HDTVs of the same size, LCDs win. We expect that LCDs will account for the majority of unit sales in the 40- to 44-inch range soon." Plasma still has the advantage in black level and viewing angle, though it's more subject to the screen-door effect, and that big glass sandwich is heavier and thus a little harder to mount.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 05, 2007 2 comments
What was the number one item on holiday wish lists in the just-concluded 2006 holiday shopping rush? LCD TVs were the big winner, according to the NPD Group, with $925 million in sales. The flat wonders beat digital cameras ($825 million) and notebook PCs ($810 million). Surprisingly, iPods and other digital media players were relatively distant fourth-place finishers at just $720 million. So it's official: Americans prefer big screens to small ones. NPD declined to comment on how plasmas and other displays figure into their calculations.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 11, 2006 1 comments
Following are a few postcards from the now-concluded 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This is not a weighty wrapup or even a best-of-show story, just a few things that caught our fancy.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 30, 2007 4 comments
A California superior court ruling saved Kaleidescape from extinction yesterday. The decision is good news for what is arguably the best-designed home networking system for movies and music. But it is bad news for similar products, and those who might want to market or buy them, because it spares Kaleidescape only on a technicality, and does not necessarily set a precedent that would protect similar devices. The plaintiff was the DVD Copy Control Association, which argued that Kaleidescape illegally de-encrypted its Content Scramble System in copying DVDs (including potentially rented or borrowed ones) to the system's hard drive. Kaleidescape argued that the material remained secure on the hard drive and was distributed throughout the home via protected interfaces such as HDMI. Judge Leslie C. Nichols ruled against CCA, saying that the CSS spec was not legally part of the licensing agreement, which he characterized as "a product of a committee of lawyers." You can't make this stuff up. He also faulted CCA for failing to provide guidance when Kaleidescape solicited it: "I saw this as a case where no one sat down to talk." Kaleidescape feels "vindicated"; CCA may appeal. CCA's lawsuit against Molino Networks, whose $2000 system cost far less than Kaleidescape's, killed that company in 2004 by starving it of venture capital. The Motion Picture Association of America has "warned" about 80 chip makers about CSS and obtained three out-of-court settlements. Your right to store DVD content on a home network remains ambiguous at best. See EETimes and ArsTechnica coverage.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 24, 2011 0 comments
The most dressed-up flat-panel TV in the universe has to be the Trithon REYN, displayed in the Leon Speakers booth at this week's CEA Line Shows in New York City.

Take a close look at the edge of the set. That's python skin.

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