EARS ON

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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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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 26, 2006 12 comments
Possibly the hottest story in home theater is the rollout of video-delivery services from the telcos. AT&T is just getting started while Verizon is going strong. Verizon has just announced that its bleeding-edge FiOS TV service will make its debut in Massapequa, New York and Woburn, Massachusetts. It's already available in parts of Texas, Florida, and Virginia. Eventually it will reach half the states in Verizon's service area with the addition of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington. FiOS TV is 100 percent fiber, piped right into your home, and it's just one facet of Verizon's longterm plan to upgrade all its copper lines (someday) to fiber optics. The cost is $34.95 per month for 180 channels. If you want to receive 20 HD channels, add $9.95 for the HD set-top box, bringing the total to $44.90. The triple-play package with TV, net access, and phone service comes to $104.85 (again, add $9.95 for HD). Keep a vigil at the external link below for availability in your area.
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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: Jun 03, 2016 2 comments
The audiocassette killed the LP. The Compact Disc killed the audiocassette. Downloads have all but killed the CD. And it looks increasingly as if streaming is killing downloads. Yet vinyl resurges, confounding the wing of audio punditry that has long asserted its flaws ought to make it stay dead. Me, I love good analog as much as I love good digital, and I also love the tactile experience of handling LPs. Once in a while I pick one off the shelf and marvel at what a beautiful artifact it is. Following are some of my favorite LP artifacts, with emphasis on unusual design and manufacturing gimmicks that make them especially pleasing as physical art objects.

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