EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 22, 2006 1 comments
Netflix is eyeing the movie-download market, according to Variety. Eric Besner, VP for original programming, told a movie- and TV-production conference in LA that a new service would download movies overnight into a proprietary set-top box. Pricing may be the same as existing subscription fees for hard copies by post. Though scrapping with Blockbuster to shore up its existing business, Netflix sees the writing on the wall (and the profits in the rack). Various services are already bidding to replace videodisc rental. One of them, Movielink, is reportedly up for sale. The 800-pound gorillas are Verizon and AT&T, whose set-top boxes may ultimately become ubiquitous for movie downloads and dozens of other uses—but only if they cut the right deals with Hollywood. If Netflix wants a piece of the movie-download pie, it'll have to move fast. Besner said the service may begin before year-end.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 23, 2006 2 comments
Implementation of the CableCARD may have taken another babystep forward with a court ruling last week. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit upheld the FCC's long-delayed "integration ban." By prying encryption apart from the cable box, as required by a 1996 act of Congress, the FCC wants to speed adoption of CableCARD technology, which enables consumers to plug their cable feeds directly into sets with a card slot. However, although the major TV makers and the major cable operators put their John Hancocks on an FCC-brokered CableCARD adoption agreement as long ago as December 2002, the integration-ban deadline has slipped from January 2005 to July 2006 to July 2007. And the many consumers who have already bought CableCARD-compatible sets have been frustrated to find the standard not supported by their local cable ops. Enough already, said the appeals court. Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association hailed the ruling: "Consumers are entitled to a broad array of products that can connect to cable systems featuring innovative new features for competitive prices. In the wake of the court's decision, we are hopeful that cable will stop its foot-dragging and comply with the law for the benefit of consumers." In their defense, cable operators say they've got their eye on a new technology that supplants the card with a chip, not to mention new multi-streaming and IP-based solutions. And they hate the existing CableCARD because it's unidirectional, meaning one-way, meaning no video-on-demand, meaning less lucre. But consumers might wait years for implementation of these new technologies, whereas the CableCARD is here now and waitin' at the church.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 28, 2007 1 comments
Soon after announcing their hoped-for merger, Sirius and XM told an investor conference call they planned to raise rates. They're beaming a different tune now. If the merger goes through, they promise to allow subscribers to block adult channels, pay a la carte, and save an unspecified amount off the current minimum of $12.95/month. The climate surrounding the merger has been chillier than expected. FCC chair Kevin Martin has expressed the opinion that the satellite services' federal operational licenses prevent them from being combined into a single company. And Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), chair of the Senate Antitrust Committee, has referred to the proposed merger as "a real bad deal for consumers."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 30, 2006 0 comments
The lack of community-buildout requirements in a pending federal law has raised concerns that new TV services from AT&T and Verizon won't reach low-income households. Verizon defends its record: "We are already deploying our fiber-to-the-premises network and FiOS TV in many communities such as Irving, Texas, that have a mix of demographics or are simply not affluent," says spokesperson Sharon Cohen-Hagar. Shifting focus from income to ethnicity, figures from a variety of sources helpfully supplied by Verizon suggest that minorities are already lucrative customers for cable providers and are therefore equally attractive to nascent telco TV providers. One study cited is FOCUS: African-America from Horowitz Associates. It says African-American urban households buy $58.17 worth of cable services vs. the urban average of $54. Figures for digital cable and satellite services tell the same story. So if providers go where the money is, you just might see FiOS TV in the 'hood.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 28, 2006 0 comments
To speed the entry of the telephone companies into the video-delivery business, Congress is in the midst of rewriting the franchising rules, substituting national for local authority. Conspicuously absent from the national franchise legislation soon to hit the Senate floor is any mention of "buildout"—that is, an explicit requirement that new video providers serve all homes in a locale. Instead the bill would require the FCC to gather information on patterns of deployment and make an annual report to Congress, flagging any patterns of discrimination. Would that relatively relaxed regulatory approach make it easy for telcos to ignore poor folk? Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg flatly denies it: "We have never engaged in redlining or cherry-picking, and we never will. It is a violation of federal law, and it runs counter to our 100-year legacy of great service to customers. Our deployment strategy speaks for itself. We are serving diverse communities in every state where we are building our FTTP network, and the cable industry's claim is yet another red herring aimed at stifling choice and competition." Media activists will be watching closely. To be continued tomorrow.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 23, 2006 1 comments
Seeking to lure back declining audiences, theater owners may be about to silence blabbering cell phone users by jamming their phones. "I don't know what's going on with consumers that they have to talk on phones in the middle of theaters," the president of the National Association of Theater Owners told a conference, and really, don't desperate times call for desperate measures? Churches in Mexico already jam phones, albeit in defiance of Mexican law. Our own feckless feds also forbid it, and if the subject came up, regulators would probably cock an ear for valuable advice from the wireless industry. But cutting the inane chatter just might increase the quality of the moviegoing experience—along with digitizing projection, easing off on abusive volume levels, and banning Tom Cruise from the screen forever.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 13, 2008 1 comments
I was dozing through a commercial break in the 10 o'clock news when I heard something that woke me right up. It was the "Prelude No. 1 in C Major" from Book I of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, the Rosetta Stone of western music. The experience was akin to finding a fifty dollar bill in the street, which incidentally also happened to me recently. What advertiser would be brilliant enough to feed Johann Sebastian Bach to an unsuspecting TV audience? None other than McDonald's, promoting its Angus Third-Pounder. This über-burger can be purchased in three varieties: with lettuce and tomato, with bacon and cheese, or with Swiss and mushrooms. The ad--which I swear I've seen before, but with a less elevating soundtrack--shows an average guy who takes his first bite of a Third-Pounder and is so transported that he tries to push his chair back from the table, to savor the golden (-arched) moment, only to find the chair's bolted to the floor, so he settles for a sip from his giant drink. I'd have run out into the street and bought an Angus Third-Pounder immediately, just this once, were it not for the seeded bun. I don't eat whole sesame seeds. Anyway, there you have it, an odd alliance between the nation's most notorious gristle pusher and a composer who had a direct line to God. And I have no complaints about this. Far from it. Will wonders never cease.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 06, 2006 0 comments
Windows Vista launches November 30 to corporate customers and January 30 to consumers. Will the next version of Windows become the next big thing in high-end audio circles? There certainly are some interesting features listed in this tutorial from the Windows Vista Team Blog. For instance, bass management applies in both forward (LFE sent from main to sub channels) and reverse ("mapped back into the main channels"). There's "loudness equalization" to maintain even volume levels among different sources. "Speaker fill" seems to be the Microsofting of Dolby Pro Logic II though whether it will work equally as well remains to be seen (in my experience, nothing works as well as DPLII). Perhaps most ambitious, Vista will have its own "room correction" circuit, using microphone input to tweak delay, frequency response, and gain. "This technology works differently than similar features in high-end receivers since it better accounts for the way the human ear processes sound," says product manager Nick White. We'll see about that! While we're puckering up for Microsoft, check out Gizmodo's Happy Birthday, Windows XP. Five years old and still faithfully serving 400 million users.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 02, 2006 0 comments
Would you like to fling HDTV around your living room without wires? Seven major names in consumer electronics have banded together to do just that with the forthcoming WirelessHD standard, according to TWICE. They want to transmit high-def signals up to 32 feet using the 60GHz frequency band, also used by the military, universities, and offices. Up to 7GHz of that band would support simultaneous streaming of three 1080p signals. There would be no compression—at least, none in addition to the usual MPEG-2 and other HD codecs—so there would be no compromise in picture quality, in contrast to current low-bandwidth wireless video schemes. Look for WirelessHD in HDTVs, of course, but also in DVD players and adapters for set-top boxes. The WirelessHD Consortium includes LG, Matsushita, NEC, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba plus newcomer SiBEAM, the startup providing the underlying technology. The spec will be finalized in 2007 with products to follow in 2008. For updates, hit the official site.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 21, 2006 0 comments
Meet AVCHD, the latest disc format from Sony and Panasonic. No, they're not throwing another body into the moshpit that currently includes Blu-ray, HD DVD, and a few others. AVCHD will be a camcorder format that records 1080i or 720p images using existing DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, and DVD-RAM media. Panasonic will also use it to record onto SD memory cards. The AVC in AVCHD is the MPEG-4 AVC video compression standard, also known as H.264. This highly efficient codec is the presumed heir to MPEG-2. It's already being used by DirecTV to transmit high-def signals and will also be supported in Blu-ray and HD DVD. No word yet on availability of AVCHD products.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 18, 2006 0 comments
A music store dating from the age of the wax cylinder is threatened with closure in Cardiff, the capitol of Wales. Spillers was founded in 1894 and has survived the 78, the LP, the 45, and the CD (and still sells all but one of those formats). In fact, even in the new era of downloads, the beloved shop has been holding its own. What's threatening to engulf it is not technological, but economic, change. Efforts to attract investment to the city have succeeded a little too well, with two giant shopping developments opening up near Spillers. If the landlord follows through on his threat to raise the rent, owner Nick Todd--who left his secure bank job 31 years ago for a job at the shop--will have to close. Petitions are flying around. One has attracted signatures from half of the Welsh National Assembly (would that our own Congress were so hip) and another has garnered 2000 other signers. Says Todd: "If it all goes belly-up we've had a great time. I'd still rather own Spillers than Virgin." (Click here and scroll halfway down for Wes Phillips' tribute to Tower Records. I had no idea that the hundreds of $2 classical LPs I'd bought at the Tower Annex were stocked by "Analog George" Stanwick.)
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 07, 2006 1 comments
You may not realize it, but space on your rack is valuable, and having gotten a slot, certain parties are determined to multi-task as much as possible. One of them is Microsoft. Starting on November 22 the behemoth of Redmond will start bringing TV and movies—including high-def material—to the Xbox 360 gaming console with content from CBS, MTV, Paramount, Turner, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and Warner. Some content will be download-to-own, some download-to-rent. Prices were not announced. TV stuff will include condensed NASCAR races, UFC's "most intense fights," and from CBS: episodes of CSI, Jericho, Numb3rs, and remastered Star Trek. Not many movie titles were announced except for Warner's The Matrix, Superman Returns, and Batman Forever. More content listed here, press release here.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 05, 2014 12 comments
Would you like to feed your audio system with signals equivalent to what the artist, producer, and mixing engineer heard in the studio? For most people, this is a no-brainer. Why would you not want to hear what the pros heard? And on that basis, a new generation of music players, USB DACs, and other high-resolution audio products is now on the market, seeking open ears and open minds. You'd think this would be cause for celebration. But a small cadre of rigid ideologues are not celebrating. They're insisting that there is no audible difference between CD-quality audio and high-res audio. They bought Perfect Sound Forever, the ancient Compact Disc marketing slogan, hook, line and sinker. Infinitely condescending, the Perfect Sound Foreverists claim to have science on their side and dismiss any other point of view. But the latest science flatly contradicts their long-held dogma.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 04, 2006 1 comments
Downloads for movie collectors—as opposed to renters—are finally happening in a big way. Warner-owned Movielink, until now just a download-rental service, now offers 300 titles for download-ownership from six major studios. CinemaNow offers another 75 titles worth of ownable bits from three studios. Pricing, unfortunately, is actually higher than Amazon disc purchases, but hey, it's a start. The coolest permutation—alas, for Brits only—is Download to Own from Universal Pictures and Lovefilm. For one price you get two downloads, one for a PC and one for a portable media player—plus a hard-copy disc—all for one admittedly stratospheric price. Even if none of these schemes appeals to you now, it's clear that movie downloads are now a viable option for library builders, and it's only a matter of time before they go high-def. Blu-what?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 19, 2006 3 comments
Do you want your home fed with the highest bandwidth for HDTV, Internet service, and telephone? Then you want this. It's an optical network terminal, it goes with Verizon's fiber-optic FiOS service, and the company has begun installing them in 14 states (seven with video delivery service) as part of a nationwide rollout that will take many years. Not that I'm their publicist or anything—as a matter of fact, I'm a former Verizon customer—but no other company has set itself such an ambitious task. AT&T is Verizon's leading competitor, but that system is a hybrid of copper and fiber, while Verizon brings fiber right up to the wall of your house. Of all the digital pipes that might feed your home, a pure fiber-optic system is the most capacious. This particular wall belongs to a demo house at Verizon's R&D and network facility in Waltham Massachusetts. For more details and plenty of pictures see the Gallery.

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