EARS ON

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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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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 08, 2006 0 comments
Contrary to an earlier report, it looks as though France won't become the first nation to demand interoperability in music downloads and portable devices. A laudable copyright law revision has been not only watered down but totally negated. Among the key changes, the words translatable as "open standard" have been changed to "protected copy." If you're an attorney fluent in French, take a look at the proposed amendments from the Commission des Affaires culturelles. The committee's handiwork is already being cited as a victory for Apple, which had bitterly condemned the bill's original wording as "state-sponsored piracy" and a mortal threat to iTunes. The resistance is still resisting—see eucd.info and stopdrm.info—but the prospects for consumer-friendly legislation have deteriorated. The French senate is expected to vote by mid-month.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 19, 2006 0 comments
If you want to predict the future of the music industry, don't just talk like a pirate. Think like a billionaire. According to Mark Cuban, owner of HDNet and the Dallas Mavericks, the music download business may be in for a major consolidation. Forget about iTunes and the Zune Marketplace, he says. Instead look at what Google has just done in the video file sharing realm: Pay $1.65 billion for YouTube and offer the television networks an estimated $100 million for the right to use portions (as opposed to all) of their programming. Cuban likens it to the moment when Microsoft took over the desktop by selling Office as a $99 upgrade back when word processors, spreadsheets, etc. sold for $500 each. Then he crunches the numbers: If Apple sells a billion tracks a year for 99 cents each, and pays 70 cents per song to the music labels, the music industry gets $700 million, and the biggest labels get $575 million of it. But what if deep-pocketed Google offered that same $575 million to the major labels for the right to use just some of their content free--not their whole catalogues, just hot songs and clips? After all, music executives are already openly rebelling against Apple's rigid pricing. Cuban finishes with an intoxicating rush of speculative questions: "Would it be worth it to Google to pay $575 million and up per year to completely turn Apple upside down? To completely pre-empt their ability to sell iPods? To potentially introduce a new hardware device, or partner with someone who has one? To sell advertising around the music rather than the music itself? Is there a traditional Google arb here of 70 cents per song vs. 70 cents of advertising around the song? Could it sell that much advertising online to justify giving the music away?... Could [Microsoft] position the Zune as the de facto winner by spending $575 million per year with the music labels and giving the first billion songs away to Zune owners?"
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 02, 2007 0 comments
The third generation of HD DVD players is likely to break through the $399 list-price barrier, the second generation already having done so at the street-price level. List prices may even hit $299 a little farther down the road, according to a Toshiba executive quoted in PC World. Look for details at CES next week. Unless the Blu-ray camp matches the deal, HD DVD will continue to retain the advantage in price. Another breakthrough came last week in the first HD DVD hack. This could be bad news for HD DVD. While the format uses the same AACS content-security system as Blu-ray, Sony's format adds an additional layer of BD+.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 26, 2007 0 comments
Reading patent applications provides happy bloggers with ample fodder for blue-sky speculation. I rarely report these what-ifs for the same reason that I avoid Japanese new-product introductions: it may not happen, or it may not happen here. But the San Jose Mercury News uncovered an especially interesting what-if in an Apple patent application several months back, one that may affect the user interface of the iPod—revered by many as the Michelangelo's David of industrial design. Reporter Troy Wolverton explains: "The company had previously explored replacing the click wheel with a virtual one as part of a touch-sensitive display." As it has with the iPhone, touching off speculation. "But now," Wolverton continues, "Apple appears to be looking at a third option: a touch-sensitive frame surrounding the display. Rather than click a physical button or press a virtual one on the screen, users would touch an area on the frame to operate their iPod." Needless to say, Apple didn't return the reporter's calls, and this cataclysmic ergonomic shift may never happen.

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