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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 15, 2007 0 comments
Are you a fan of Norah Jones? If so, you may be looking to download "Thinking About You," her new single. Best place to go is Yahoo, where you can buy it in the latest, coolest codec ever: MP3! Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can buy the track from iTunes. But if you do, it will be wrapped in FairPlay, Apple's brand of digital rights management (yuck, tooey). Wouldn't you rather pay the same to Yahoo, and enjoy the following advantages of DRM-free downloads, so helpfully enumerated by Yahoo? Oooh, talk DRM-less to me:
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 03, 2006 2 comments
Today Bob Dylan makes his debut as DJ on XM Satellite Radio. He will host Theme Time Radio Hour, each installment organized around a different theme—today's theme is the weather. The New York Times ran a set list for next week's show, devoted to Mother's Day. More than a mere list of novelty songs, it demonstrates the deep and encyclopedic knowledge of roots music that has always informed Dylan's songwriting: Tommy Duncan, Buck Owens, Bobby Peterson Quartet, Ruth Brown, Carl Smith, Ernie K-Doe, Little Junior Parker, Jimmy McCracklin, and LL Cool J. The Times arched an eyebrow at LL Cool J. Perhaps the greying composer of "Positively 4th Street" is more sophisticated than the Grey Lady of West 43rd. Dylan will record the one-hour weekly show at home and on the road.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 07, 2014 0 comments
Dolby Atmos is hitting surround audiophiles like a succession of giant waves crashing on the beach. The first wave is Dolby Atmos in movie theaters. The second wave is Atmos in Atmos-enabled speakers and surround receivers. But what about that third wave, the one nobody's discussing? That's the quiet incorporation of another totally new technology into the Atmos technology bundle. I'm talking about Dolby Surround.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 29, 2007 0 comments
Independent music labels are banding together to increase their marketing power in the dawning download era. Say hello to Merlin, a licensing authority that bills itself as a "virtual fifth major" label. It will serve as a single point of contact for download services like iTunes and Rhapsody, giving indies a better shot at getting into the most heavily trafficked online distribution channels. Under a deal with SNOCAP, Shawn Fanning's post-Napster venture, Merlin will also enable artists to sell no-DRM MP3s on MySpace or through their own virtual stores. Members include numerous indies from the United States, Latin America, United Kingdom, Europe, and the far east. Look out Universal, Sony BMG, EMI, and Warner. You've got some real competition now.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 18, 2012 0 comments
Readers may already have noticed that my speaker and receiver reviews have begun name-checking a new reference signal source. It is a Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable. And it's a jewel. There isn't a single component in my rack that I don't respect and depend on. But the Micro Seiki I love-love-love. Let me tell you how and why I acquired it.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 26, 2006 2 comments
The weeks of carefully orchestrated of leaks and rumors surrounding Microsoft's iPod-like Zune have approached the viral intensity of an Apple product launch. Confirmation finally came in Billboard with the announcement of "a family of hardware and software products" by Chris Stephenson, general manager of marketing for MSN Entertainment Business. As rumored, the product will ape Apple by integrating a music player with software downloads. But it will also one-up the iPod by offering wi-fi for functions that will include downloading, purchasing, and exchanging songs with a limited number of other users. Not an original idea, but maybe a powerful one. Stephenson raised several other possibilities without confirming any of them: "The ability to connect the different devices is a key part of the strategy. Whether it's a portable media device, or a phone, or the Xbox or Media Center PC, the idea is you can access your entertainment from anywhere." The music industry, eager for "flexible" pricing, will be happy to release its foie-gras-engorged gut from the 99-cent corset imposed by Steve Jobs and iTunes. Not so pleased are the manufacturers and download services who have licensed Microsoft's PlaysForSure DRM. They are effectively frozen out of the new integrated Zune hardware/software environment. Prospects for Zune's survival? Send me one and I'll get back to you.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 17, 2006 0 comments
A Tokyo racetrack has become home to the world's largest large-screen video display. The screen is 218 feet wide (by 66 by 37). Judging from the picture, its ratio of width to height is way more than the standard 16:9 of DTV in general. Behind the display is Mitsubishi's Aurora Vision LED technology. Here LEDs are being used to produce the picture directly, though they're also creeping into consumer DLP displays as a substitute for the color wheel. The screen was installed in 35 pieces and cost $28 million. Apologies for the headline. Couldn't resist. A larger edit of the picture, and three others, are in the Galleries.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 07, 2006 3 comments
The other day Federal Express summoned me to the front of my building. What delight awaited? It was Onkyo's HT-S990THX. Some would call it the first THX-certified home theater in a box though the Onkyo and THX people prefer the term "integrated THX HT system." HTIB or not, all 143 pounds of it were literally in a box, one box, only 14 inches shorter (and five inches wider) than my refrigerator. My building has elevators, but there are five steps between the ground floor and the sidewalk. The FedEx guy and I stood on the curb staring at one another in dawning horror.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 03, 2009 1 comments
After extensive testing, I have finally found the ultimate power cable. It's from Mothra Research Unlimited. Their motto: "At Mothra, you won't get snake oil; you'll get the entire snake." While the Mothra Power Cord may be a bit pricey at $8899.95 per meter (one meter shown), doesn't this description excite the two-channel purist in you?: "Designed and engineered for proper frequency handling from the wall tap to your equipment, the Mothra Power Cord uses 0.0001 mm palladium wire in a helium atmosphere to carry high frequencies, 0.001 mm platinum wire in a xenon atmosphere to carry the upper midranges, 0.01 mm gold wire in an argon atmosphere to carry the lower mids, and 0.1 mm silver wire in highly reactive sulphur hexafluoride to carry the low frequencies. This is then shielded with over 700 Kg of 99.9999% copper, packed into a special neodymium-bismuth damping material, encapsulated in our specially bioengineered case, and irradiated with high intensity gamma rays from Three Mile Island reactor #2." No system would be complete without Ghidorah or Rhodan interconnects, not to mention Mothra's speaker cable. Here's the price list. Mothra's corporate philosophy is simple: "Our goal is to wrap the listener in an intense, passionate and lifelike embrace of sound at a price comparable to the US Navy's Trident Missile Program. The enormous soundstage and precise, realistic imaging of our products will bring out the beast in you and secure our comfortable retirement."
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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: 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: Feb 13, 2006 2 comments
The file format that turned music distribution into free-for-all has acquired a watermark. Actually, a method of embedding digital rights management into MP3 is nearly two years old. But this latest wrinkle is not a thou-shalt-not anti-copying flag. It's more a method of identifying who has been doing what with downloads. A combination of psychoacoustic manipulation and spread-spectrum modulation makes the watermark inaudible to human ears, but it can be picked up by a watermark detector, and can survive both encode/decode processes and analog transmission. According to the Fraunhofer Institute, developer of both MP3 and the new watermark, "watermarking can provide a useful mechanism to track illicit copies or to attach property rights information to the multimedia content." Don't say I didn't warn you.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 23, 2006 0 comments
Which is more likely to corrupt America's youth: The temptation to steal copyrighted works? Or the temptation to shill for a trade association that fights consumer fair-use rights as fervently as it does overt piracy? Fifty-two thousand Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in Southern California are about to face that moral dilemma. The Motion Picture Association of America has teamed with their leadership to offer "a curriculum designed to educate kids about copyright protection and change attitudes toward intellectual property theft." There will be five ways to earn the "respect copyrights" patch shown, to include grabbing dad's camcorder to make a public service announcement, or visiting a local studio to see people at work and their local economy in operation. The reward is an activity patch, not a merit badge, and therefore not a requirement for advancement.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 22, 2007 2 comments
Should the Motion Picture Association of America add a sixth rating? The current set of five includes G, for general audiences: PG, parental guidance suggested; PG-13, parents strongly cautioned; R, restricted; and NC-17, no one 17 and under admitted. Pressure is building to subdivide R into two new ratings, one for fleetingly racy material, and another (already informally known as hard-R) for extremely graphic horror pics. There are precedents for subdivision and name changing. After all, before there were PG and PG-13, there was a single M rating, for mature audiences. And X changed its name to NC-17 when the terms obscene and pornographic became "legal terms for courts to decide," as the MPAA notes in its explanation of ratings (a comic masterpiece of hairsplitting and equivocation). Now pressure is building from parent groups who feel, as Variety explains, that the current R "is too broad, encompassing everything from a few swear words or brief flashes of nudity to repeated scenes of stomach-churning mutilation and disembowelments." Hollywood is listening, but doesn't want to shove hard-R titles into NC-17 because exhibitors shun films in that ultimate category almost completely and Blockbuster won't stock them at all. My suggestion: Rather than complicate the system with a sixth rating, keep the hard-R material within R, and move soft-R material down into a broadened PG-13. The MPAA's rating guide already uses 306 words to describe PG-13 versus a mere 65 words to describe R. I say add another hundred words of fork-tongued bureaucratese to PG-13 and call it a day. (The illustration is facetious, not a serious proposal.)
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 06, 2006 0 comments
Will the pink Zune become the next collector's item? Apparently Microsoft gave 100 of them as gifts to the development team and sent another 100 into the holiday shopping mêlée to titillate consumers. Inevitably, one of the latter has ended up on Ebay. The pink Zune has inspired curiously heated commentary from folks who seem to have, um, issues with the color. Then again, Apple didn't catch hell for the pink iPod nano so maybe the real bias is merely garden-variety anti-Microsoftianism. I think the worst Microsoft can be accused of is me-too-ing. After all, in addition to the pink nano, there are many pink cell phones from LG, Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung. Pink just might be the new black.


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