EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 27, 2006 1 comments
Or "tattles," as The New York Times put it. In an effort to mend fences with frazzled advertisers, TiVo's new research division will sell data on its 4.4 million users and their ad-viewing habits or lack thereof. Ad skipping is a hot issue—ABC's ad-sales chief is actually trying to convince cable operators to "disable the fast-forward" on their DVRs! Half of TiVo use is time shifting and 70 percent of that group has a finger on the fast-forward button. But TiVo hopes data on specific commercials will help advertisers design better ones. The researchers will sample 20,000 TiVo users per night, reporting back what was watched and when. More specific details on viewer demographics won't be revealed due to TiVo's privacy policy though the company told the Times that may change by year-end. With the feds demanding logs from the major search engines, TiVo's data mining may be the least of our problems.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 11, 2008 6 comments
Tivoli Audio has steadily expanded beyond its original retro-style Model One radio into a variety of related products. All of them have killer radio tuners and some, like the iYiYi, have iPod docks. This revision of the briefcase-friendly SongBook radio adds an extension speaker and iPod dock along with some interesting twists.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 26, 2006 0 comments
Radio pioneer Reginald Aubrey Fessenden should be more widely celebrated for his place in media history, argue the folks at Tivoli Audio in their "100 Years of Broadcast" campaign (complete with free shirt and emblazoned SongBook radio for freeloading members of the press like myself). On Christmas Eve 1906, nearly a century ago, the Canadian became first person to broadcast music and speech over the airwaves. Marconi is often celebrated as the father of radio but telegraphy was his actual innovation. He was not the first to transmit music or even speech—he transmitted the letter S in Morse code. Fessenden's idea was to transmit music and speech as continuous waves. Edison listened to the idea and laughed it off so Fessenden pursued it alone. Since there were no radio receivers then except for ships at sea, the first-ever music broadcast went out from the coast of Massachusetts to ships in the Atlantic, as Fessenden played a Haydn recording and his own violin. Tivoli and a handful of tech historians assert that this broadcast became the basis for radio, television soundtracks and (if one overlooks the later leap from analog to digital) even music downloading. After all, Fessenden was the first guy to move music and speech from point A to point B without using a disc, a cable, or some other physical object. Tivoli's latest new product is the iYiYi, another iPod-docking compact system, and I hope to get one in for review when it becomes available in the fall for $299.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 07, 2016 4 comments
To buy or not to buy? That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to pay an Ebay seller several hundred bucks for an ancient Luxman L-80 or take arms against a sea of regrets—that is what has been troubling me for years as I've ogled this stereo integrated amp from 1975. I don't need it; yet I want it. I'm suffering from non-buyer's remorse.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 14, 2006 4 comments
Half of electronic product returns happen because the products are just too complex for the consumer. That's the conclusion of a thesis published at Eindhoven University in the Netherlands. The study by Elke van Ouden found that American consumers are willing to spend 20 minutes on how do you work this thing before giving up. Even professionals—product managers from Philips, no less—had trouble when confronted with unfamiliar products. The researcher found that the single biggest problem was "product definition." It appears many consumers don't even know what they're buying. Maybe they should spend more time reading Home Theater. Just a suggestion.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 16, 2007 0 comments
One of the cool things about digital television is the potential for creativity on the subchannels. Case in point: The Tube. It's carried in many markets by DTV stations owned by Raycom, Sinclair, Tribune, and others; and by Comcast, Time Warner, and other cable systems. The independently owned channel delivers nonstop rock and pop music videos with minimal channel IDs and no commercials. Programming races back and forth in time, from the 1960s to the present, mixing raw live footage with conventional promo music videos. Some items in heavy rotation are surprising--I would never have gone out of my way to add Queen concerts to my DVD stash, but wow, Freddie rocks! My only complaint is that heavy audio compression results in harsh, grainy sound with virtually no dynamic range. Even so, it's a great place to surf during commercial breaks on other channels, and repays longer spells of attention with a wide and ever-changing array of music. Check the Wiki to see if The Tube is available in your area. The channel also has an official site, an unofficial site, and a myspace presence.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 19, 2007 7 comments
Like Poe's purloined letter, some stories lay in plain sight, unnoticed. On rooftops, no less. I'm talking about the return of the humble TV antenna in the age of HDTV. As Newsweek's Johnnie L. Roberts says so eloquently: "The irony is marvelous. Pushed into obsolescence by the technological advances of cable and satellite, antennas are re-emerging thanks to one of the most promising high-tech services of the digital age. High-def channels can be plucked out of thin air by antennas just like regular broadcast signals--no cable, no satellite dish, no monthly bill, no waiting for the cable man." OK, if you've got a Jon Stewart addiction, the dear old antenna will do nothing to help. But how many such addictions do you really have? If the answer is just one or two, try this exercise: Get your cable or satellite bill. Multiply what you're paying for television by 12. That's what you're spending every year for Jon Stewart. Still think it's worth it? Then multiply the figure by 10--that's the amount of cash you could have put in your retirement fund over a decade. And what with cable's constant rate hikes, the final figure will be considerably larger than this simple calculation. If free TV seems like a good idea after all, the Consumer Electronics Association maintains an antennaweb site expressly to help people like you save money every month. Consumer hints: All HDTV channels live in the UHF band, so make sure your antenna works well at those frequencies (like the Terk indoor model shown here). You'll need a TV, set-top box, or DVR with an ATSC (meaning digital) tuner. But the results are worth it. Broadcast HDTV operates at a higher data rate than cable or (especially) satellite. So over-the-air HD picture quality is more than competitive. Salut!
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 31, 2006 3 comments
"I love the sound of breaking glass," Nick Lowe once sang, and the Avdeco HR420 is just the TV stand for him. A member of the AV Science Forum relates: "I happened to be sitting in the next room, when I heard a tremendous crash. I thought that a plane had hit my house, and I ran into my bedroom to see what happened. The top shelf of the Avdeco stand EXPLODED sending shards of glass to every corner of my bedroom. Fortunately for me, I wasn't sleeping at the time, or I would have been hit by flying glass." The Panasonic 50PX500U plasma that had been sitting on the stand weighs 114 pounds, less than half of the stand's rated weight limit of 250. Neither Avdeco or the dealer that sold the stand, Threshold Concepts have responded to the consumer's complaints. The model is still listed on the Avdeco website. It's not on the Threshold Concepts site, though other Avdeco glass-rack models are, with the comment: "The simplistic lines are subdued, yet make a strong statement." Indeed. Other AVS members weighed in with useful pointers: (1) Tempered glass is designed to fragment into pebbles when broken, which is actually less scary than the angular shards of broken non-tempered glass. (2) It's been known to shatter in response to changes in temperature even when nothing is resting on it. (3) Manufacturers who make a quality product may disagree, but maybe glass of any type isn't the ideal material for a TV stand.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 04, 2006 0 comments
Time Warner Cable of Raleigh, North Carolina will not supply CableCARDs for the forthcoming TiVo Series 3 HD DVR, according to ConsumerFury.com. A consumer emailed the company asking about the card and received this response: "Time Warner Cable of Raleigh does not provide support for or allow TIVO devices on our cable network. Time Warner Cable provides DVR service and equipment for customers that would like to record programs and watch them later. Cable Cards will only be installed on Cable ready, Cable Card slot available television sets. This policy is subject to change at the discretion of Time Warner Cable of Raleigh." Of course, as the response points out, TWC would rather have you rent TWC's DVR, no matter how bad it is. Presumably that's why the 1394 output of my own TWC-NYC cable box is disabled, preventing me from hooking up any form of HD-capable recorder. Nice logo.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 28, 2008 1 comments
Most headphones beam sound directly into the ear canal. Ultrasone takes a different approach with the HFI-2200. With these German-made headphones, sound enters the ear just as it does in real life--bouncing off the complex fleshy surfaces of the outer ear, or pinna. This S-Logic technology has two desirable outcomes. One, according to the manufacturer, is more natural sound with better perception of distance, depth, and imaging. Another benefit is a 40 percent drop in sound pressure level for the same volume. The headphones are also shielded against electromagnetic radiation. See two different videos on the Ultrasone site and Amazon.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 18, 2006 0 comments
Brigitte Bardot's performance of "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus" was a Top 5 hit when it was released in the 1960s, but until recently, the only way to add it to your music library was to rummage through secondhand shops. But it's back in circulation—not as a CD, but as a download, one of 3000 out-of-print tracks sold by the Universal Music Group over iTunes during the last seven months. More than 250,000 people downloaded a 2000 Christmas compilation by Nana Mouskouri, Les Plus Beaux Noels du Monde, during a period that didn't even include the holiday. Universal plans to follow up in November with 100,000 more albums, many previously released only on vinyl. Record companies have good reason to rediscover their back catalogue: Part of Amazon's success with the "earth's biggest selection" lies in brisk sales of o/p material by third-party merchants. "We are now able to respond to and quantify the appetite for more eclectic, diverse recordings from the past," Universal's Olivier Robert-Murphy told Reuters. The unanswered question: What, if anything, will artists or their estates get paid?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 06, 2006 4 comments
A major label will soon offer European customers three different tiers of CD releases, each with its own distinctive type of packaging. Universal Music Group announced that top releases will get a deluxe box (über-jewelbox? treasure chest?) potentially featuring bonus DVD, extra tracks, expanded notes, and other attractions. Mid-tier releases will get "super jewelboxes," a with round corners, stronger hinges, and heavier build quality. They sound a lot like the boxes already used for SACDs. Bottom-tier releases will get cardboard sleeves, though I'm not sure if that means a Digipak-like package (paper gatefold enclosing plastic spindle) or an all-cardboard "wallet" type. A competing budget label, Brilliant Classics, has had great success with wallets, marketing cheaply packaged but delightful boxed sets up to and including the now legendary 160-CD Bach Edition. Pricing for the Universal tiers will be €19.99, €14.99, and €9.99 respectively. As of this morning, a euro costs $1.28, so none of the tiers is cheap by American standards, though there's no telling what will happen if Universal brings the scheme across the Atlantic. Why this, why now? "We can grow the CD market," said a Universal executive—or at least, "slow its decline."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 07, 2014 4 comments
My moment of immortality in the Pazz & Jop Poll, the annual music critic's poll that runs in The Village Voice, came when I confessed my craving for classical music, not a popular genre at the Voice. I mentioned how much I loved gorging on $2 used LPs at the now-gone Tower Annex in Lower Manhattan, buying "as much dead white boy music as I can carry to the bus." My ballot comment ran in the paper, which was a great honor. That was sometime in the early 1990s, during the golden age of cheap vinyl, before the current vinyl resurgence. Folks were dumping LPs for CDs and even an impecunious collector could make out like a bandit. Today vinyl isn't as cheap as it once was; those 180-gram virgin-vinyl reissues cost a bundle, as do vintage pressings of Beatles and Pink Floyd albums. Yet even today I continue to collect loads of used classical vinyl. Most of it is still cheap and it's one of the few forms of high-res audio an inkstained wretch can afford to buy in large quantities.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 02, 2007 0 comments
Recent press reports that Jack Valenti passed away last week were not quite complete. This blog has learned that the man who likened the VCR to the Boston Strangler was, in fact, strangled by a VCR. Police say the videocassette recorder snuck into the bedroom of the former head of the Motion Picture Association of America as he slept. Spitting out a cassette, the VCR uncoiled the tape and wrapped it around the neck of the veteran lobbyist who once told Congress: "I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone." The murder was captured by a security camera connected to, ironically, another VCR. Valenti began his career as a publicist and served in the administrations of presidents Kennedy and Johnson. At the MPAA he pioneered the rating system and cried wolf insistently enough to secure passage of the unbelievably fascistic Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which criminalizes anything and everything to do with home recording devices, including just looking at one. According to police, forensic evidence in the form of Super Avilyn particles may eventually tie the murder weapon to the rogue VCR. They also say the getaway car was driven by a TiVo.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 29, 2007 1 comments
Arguably one of the biggest tech stories of our lifetimes is the transformation of telephone companies into full-service providers of television, internet, and phone service. The latest news is that Verizon is making this transformation much faster than AT&T. Verizon has signed up 207,000 subscribers for its FiOS service while AT&T's U-verse lags behind at 10,000 (a figure the company is actually bragging about!). This isn't a direct competition because their service areas don't overlap. Verizon serves northeastern and mid-Atlantic states while AT&T dominates the south, the midwest, and part of the west coast. There is, however, a struggle between two visions: Verizon's, which brings fiber right to your doorstep, and AT&T's, a hybrid that uses old copper wiring for the last mile. Verizon is pressing its point with the announcement that FiOS network speeds will multiply by four to eight times with the implementation of GPON (gigabyte passive optical network) technology from Alcatel-Lucent. When I visited Verizon last year, I was told GPON would enable delivery of as many as three simultaneous HD signals by 2007-08.

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