EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 01, 2006 0 comments
To whet consumer interest in music downloads, and celebrate the release of the LG chocolate phone, Verizon has eliminated the monthly fee previously levied for its Vcast Music store. When the service made its debut last year, users had to pay a $15/month charge in addition to per-track charges. Now you can buy the hip chocolate phone and pay for songs by the track, period. The chocolate phone costs $150 and another $100 will buy you a 2GB mini-SD memory card to store music and photos. Music costs $1.99 per track, but you're allowed to download each one twice, once on the phone and once on your PC. The $1.99 may seem a little steep compared to iTunes, but Sprint Nextel charges an even stiffer $2.50 per track. Vcast downloads come in the Windows Media Player format, with DRM, of course. Bumping unfettered MP3 files from PC to phone was impossible when V Cast made its debut in January, but Verizon insisted that this was purely a software hurdle, and you're now free to load the phone with MP3s.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 15, 2006 3 comments
We control the horizontal. We control the vertical. And we control the DVR, says Verizon. If you're a multi-zone kind of consumer, and interested in Verizon's FiOS TV service, check out the Verizon Home Media DVR. In a multi-zone DVR configuration, the Motorola QIP6416—shown here—acts as the media hub, recording and streaming video. It has a 160GB hard drive and dual QAM tuners. Operating as remote terminal is the Motorola QIP2500 set-top box. The remote terminal operates in standard-def only, though you can watch high-def on the hub DVR. Media Manager software pulls photos and music from a PC and routes them to connected TVs. The Home Media DVR costs $19.95 per month ($7 more than a regular Verizon DVR) plus $3.95 for each remote-terminal STB. The relatively new concept of place-shifting has not come without controversy among content producers. Cablevision's network DVR has become the first casualty and the Slingbox may follow.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 22, 2007 0 comments
Sawbones who play video games regularly are 37 percent less likely to make a mistake when doing something in your gut with a pointed object, according to a survey of surgeons at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Of 33 surgeons who participated in the study, nine had played video games for at least three hours in the preceding week, and 15 had never played them at all. Those nine were golden: Not only did they make fewer errors, they also performed 27 percent faster, and scored 42 percent higher in a surgical-skills test. The technique in question is laparoscopic surgery, in which a video camera on a stick is inserted into the patient's body, allowing for smaller incisions for the other sharp objects and less invasive procedures overall. "It's like tying your shoelaces with three-foot-long chopsticks," says the author of the study, Dr. James "Butch" Rosser. Yup, he's a gamer: "I use the same hand-eye coordination to play video games as I use for surgery." Maybe we shouldn't worry so much about video-game violence. This guy's itchy trigger finger is saving lives.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 27, 2006 0 comments
The rap against the video iPod is that the screen is too small for movie immersion or even music-video amusement. Well, it was only a matter of time until someone came up with a video docking station, and Viewsonic has done it. The Apple-authorized "made for iPod" ViewDock comes in sizes of 23 and 19 inches, suitable for desktop, dorm, or space-starved studio apartment. Viewsonic's press release does not disclose resolution, though iTunes video downloads max out at standard-def 640 by 480, so a livingroom-worthy high-def ViewDock remains just an aspiration. The ViewDock will hit Europe, Taiwan, and—yesss!—the United States in November (otherwise I wouldn't have bothered to report it). Price is yet to be determined.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 07, 2006 0 comments
Have the big telcos brought next-generation IPTV to your household yet? They haven't? Well, don't worry. Market research firm iSuppli says IPTV will increase from 2.4 million subscribers in 2005 to 63 million in 2010. But if you can't wait till 2010, move to Monroe, Oregon, where the Monroe Telephone Co. is delivering Internet-protocol television to 50 homes in its 950-home service area. A planned marketing push may raise the total to 200. The price is about the same as a satellite subscription. "The rural areas have surpassed the cities largely because of nimbler local telecom companies that have taken matters into their own hands," says a story in The Wall Street Journal. Among other advantages, they can get loans from the Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Division. Monroe Telephone was founded in 1912 and acquired by John Dillard in 1956 for $5000. When growing up, John Jr. dug holes for telephone poles and manually punched through calls on a patch bay. His words of consolation for you IPTV-less folks in the big cities: "It won't be too long before the bigger markets follow."
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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: Sep 26, 2006 2 comments
The engineers at Warner have been busy lately. Their latest quest: Why can't Blu-ray and HD DVD just get along? According to the NewScientist news service, Alan Bell and Lewis Ostrover have filed a patent for a disc that plays both of the nascent high-def formats as well as standard-def DVD. Getting the existing DVD format onto the disc was a cinch—it's simply the second side of a dual-sided disc. But how did they manage to get Blu-ray and HD DVD together onto the other layer? Two things worked in their favor. First, Blu-ray reads the disc at a relatively shallow 0.1mm, while HD DVD (like regular DVD) reads at a deeper 0.6mm. Second, they found a way to make the shallower Blu-ray layer act as a two-way mirror. It reflects enough light back to the laser to make the Blu-ray layer's data readable, but at the same time, lets through enough light to penetrate to the deeper HD DVD layer. Yet to be determined: How much will this three-format disc cost to manufacture? Will the hardware makers go for it, even assuming that the Blu-ray and HD DVD licensing powers allow them? And finally, and most crucial, will the studios and video retailers go for it? For the latter in particular, this could be the solution to the triple-inventory nightmare that threatens to strangle both Blu-ray and HD DVD.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 09, 2006 0 comments
"DVD album" is what Warner is calling a new DVD-based music format that will be sold alongside CDs, according to The Wall Street Journal. Though it is neither a DVD-Audio nor a DualDisc, the five-inch disc will include both surround and stereo soundtracks as well as video footage. What form these soundtracks will take remains undisclosed. However, if the disc is to play on a standard DVD player as advertised, then the surround track might be Dolby Digital or DTS. It would not be the DSD signal format used in SACDs. The stereo track will be some form of compressed file that can be copied to a PC or converted for burning to CD-R. Rumor has it that the file format may be AAC with Apple FairPlay DRM, and that negotiations are ongoing between Warner and Apple. If they don't come to an agreement, Microsoft's WMA would be the obvious second choice. There will be no CD audio on the disc, so it will not play on standard CD players. The format will shortly become available to Warner subsidiaries for product-planning purposes and may hit the shelves next year. Warner is the world's fourth-largest record company.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 24, 2007 0 comments
I've talked a bit recently about my reference surround speakers and receiver and signal sources. That may leave a few droolers (you know who you are) wondering what cables I use.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 08, 2013 4 comments
Here's what this blog is not going to be: a diatribe about how much I hate CES and, more specifically, the city of Las Vegas. Oh, I'll give that desert hellhole one or two well-deserved kicks, but you're probably not interested in my self-indulgent whining, so I'll keep that part brief. A reader who has never attended CES, but has heard about it for years, would be more interested in what it's like to actually go, to be there, to have the experience. So I'll give you a taste of that instead. CES veterans will want to skip this blog entirely. This is for the newbies, OK?

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 10, 2015 6 comments
Freak that I am, I still pay for most of the music I listen to. Not that I didn't have a fling with Napster and its successors—but I've removed torrenting software from my PCs and no longer seek out illegal downloads. Nowadays, if I want to check out new-to-me music without investing, I try the public library, YouTube, borrow from a friend, or—being a journalist has its privileges—ask for a review sample of the disc or download. But I also explore the vast realm of classical music via $2 LPs and pay full price for CDs and LPs by greying artists I've supported for decades. The one thing I refuse to do now is settle for a lousy stolen MP3. I'm done with that. If you're not, here are a few things to think about. Please don't get the impression that I'm acting all high and mighty about illegal downloading. What I'm arguing is that it's in your best interest to give it up. Here's why.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 31, 2006 0 comments
With so many new brandnames entering the flat-panel TV business, it's hard to keep track of them all. Would you know a Proton from a Protron? That's what seems to be worrying the Proton Electrical Industrial Co. of Taiwan, which has just filed a trademark-infringement suit against the Prosonic Consumer Group for marketing sets under the similar-sounding Protron brand. Proton has a 23-year pedigree as a high-end TV maker, is just re-entering the North American market with a line of LCD DTVs, and wants to avoid "confusion in the marketplace," says a press release. The name Proton is also used by numerous other companies, though not to sell TVs. The name Protron is also used by a computer-software company.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 16, 2011 0 comments
As someone whose job involves filtering massive amounts of hype to isolate the tiny tidbits of information readers may care about, I must admit that at times my filter gets clogged. So I got a kick out of reading Mark Schubin's essay "Headphones, History, & Hysteria" as he doggedly pursued a seemingly simple question: Who invented headphones?

Well, one website says it was John C. Koss in 1958. And if it's on the internet, you know it must be true. But wait! The Beyer website says it was that company in 1937. And if it's on the internet.... But wait!

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 27, 2006 2 comments
Do these Sharp MP3/WMA/FM players look ugly to you? That's what the good folks at Engadget said when they picked up this new product announcement from Akihabara News. For my own part, I think the Sharps look pretty spiffy. And where can you find an iPod all in shiny red, huh, huh, huh? Well, all right then. It's clear the Sharp folks were determined to avoid looking like another iPod-wannabe and I'd say they succeeded handsomely. The player is available in three colors and two capacities (512 for the MP-B200 and 1GB for the MP-B300) but only in Japan. Come on, Sharp, let us have 'em.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 29, 2006 3 comments
"Unlike pressed original CDs, burned CDs have a relatively short life span of between two to five years, depending on the quality of the CD," said Kurt Gerecke, a storage expert at IBM's German outpost, in an interview with Computerworld. Closer to two for off-brand cheapies, he added. Other estimates vary. I regularly use a CD-R of test tracks burned in 1999. Whatever their validity may be, these warnings apply only to dye-based recordable CDs. Prerecorded CDs are more durable (if they weren't there'd be riots) though no one really knows how long they will last. More bad news: Hard drives are also vulnerable. Their Achilles heel is the disc bearing, a mechanical part that wears out over time. Magnetic tape can last 30 to 100 years, according to Gerecke, though I recall some audiocassettes that didn't last a decade. Fortunately there's a hot new medium that freezes music forever in unchanging grooves of black plastic. The disc is read with a diamond stylus suspended in a web of magnets and can last a lifetime (or more) if treated carefully. It plays on all devices in the format, completely free of DRM. This format of the future is called VINYL. See tomorrow's blog for more details!

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