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EARS ON

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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: 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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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 14, 2007 2 comments
I keep up with new surround-receiver features the way a CIA analyst monitors intel from dangerous nations. A lot of these things are just distractions from the fundamentals: dynamics, noise, etc. But I'm in love with the latest wrinkle in connectivity, the front-panel USB jack. At first I thought, yawn, a way to plug in your Windows PlaysForSure music player, as if you had such a thing. But you can also plug in a plain old USB drive. Think of this: You bump your 10 newest favorite songs to a flash drive, plug that sucker into the front panel, and use the remote to get the show rolling. If you have a whole drawer full of those things, each one can become a playlist. Better yet, why not get some use out of the external hard drive you use to protect your download collection from a deadly crash? Or better still, why not buy another external hard drive just for use with the receiver? I just paid $120 for a 500GB Iomega external drive to back up my backups (I'm careful that way). That's much less than the cost of a fancy hard-drive-based audio server. It's also just about what you'd pay for an add-on iPod dock. Kudos to Pioneer, which introduced me to the feature with the VSX-94TXH ($1600), and Integra, maker of the DTR-8.8 ($2400) I'm reviewing at the moment. Let's hope USB trickles down to less costly models.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 11, 2006 1 comments
Teens love vinyl, says a Canadian researcher. A Ph.D. candidate who interviewed them for his dissertation found they love analog sound, respond to the visuals of big LP jackets, get a kick out of older music, and like all collectors, enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Surface noise? ¡No problemo! Their "active involvement in negotiating the pops, skips and crackles endemic to most second-hand records" was cited as part of the experience. And then there's rebellion, of course, something that every generation of kids is good at: "Through their retrogressive tastes and practices, these youth effectively disrupt the music industry's efforts to define and regulate their consumer identities," said the researcher, David Hayes. His findings were published in the Feb. 2006 issue of Popular Music and Society (though the text is not online).
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 24, 2006 0 comments
I told you so. Google's acquisition of YouTube has gotten a lot of attention for its $1.65 billion pricetag. But that's not the end of the story. Chapter two of the YouTube saga will be an elaborate dance with copyright laws—and holders. Stephen Colbert's comic diatribe ("the way I see it, you owe me $700 million") is only the tip of the iceberg. There will be purges, of course, including 30,000 items deleted at the demand of the the Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers. YouTube had quietly started changing its business model a month before the acquisition by signing a deal with Warner Music that will allow revenue sharing for music clips, even those, um, unofficially uploaded by fans. There's a new concept: file sharing retroactively made legal! The rapprochement may be traced back to February when Saturday Night Live aired a rap parody featuring Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell called "Lazy Sunday: Chronicles of Narnia." Reports Business Week: "NBC asked YouTube to pull the video down, and YouTube complied. However, after the clip showed up on YouTube, Saturday Night Live's ratings ballooned, says Gerry Kaufhold, an analyst with consultancy In-Stat. In the end, NBC decided to make even more programming available to the site." YouTube's graceful transition from copyright outlaw to media darling may become an influential model—but only for as long as it can ride on the magic carpet of net neutrality. That rug may get pulled from under us at any moment. Will chapter three of the YouTube story be about its death on the information superhighway?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 18, 2006 1 comments
Creative Labs has sued Apple Computer alleging that the iPod violates a patent granted for the Creative Zen player. Patent number 6,928,433 describes itself as "a method, performed by software executing on the processor of a portable music playback device, that automatically files tracks according to hierarchical structure of categories to organize tracks in a logical order. A user interface is utilized to change the hierarchy, view track names, and select tracks for playback or other operations." To iPod fans, that is tantamount to patenting the human body. You've got two arms and two legs? Busted! The patent was filed on January 5, 2001 but not granted until August 9, 2005. The first-generation iPod made its debut on October 23, 2001, a few months after the filing. "We will pursue all manufacturers that use the same navigation system," vows Creative's CEO Sim Wong Hoo.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 16, 2006 2 comments
More information has emerged about Microsoft's forthcoming Zune music player, thanks to my colleagues at This Week In Consumer Electronics, who always have their ears to the ground on the retail scene. The company has been briefing retailers and TWICE have been prying out morsels of information about Redmond's supposed iPod-killer. Here are the details (I would rather slit my wrists than say deets):
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 02, 2006 0 comments
When we last discussed Zune, plucky little Microsoft was getting ready to take on mean monolithic Apple with an iPod-really-wannabe but details were scarce. They got less scarce last week with the announcement that the 30GB player, at $249.99, would cost almost exactly the same as the new 30GB iPod video, at $249. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the 80GB iPod video may better serve a large library at just a hundred bucks more. But the iPod doesn't let you wirelessly share tracks with another user. The DRM catch? Three plays for three days, then the play privilege expires unless you pay. Another thing you won't get in the iPod/iTunes ecosystem is an all-you-can-eat monthly subscription like the Zune Pass, $14.99/month. Like some wacky city-state, Microsoft even has its own currency—Microsoft Points—described as "a stored value system that can be redeemed at a growing number of online stores, including the Xbox Live Marketplace." A track costs 79 Microsoft Points, at 80 to the dollar. Zune accessories include home, car, and travel packs at $79-99 with various cables, adapters, and things. Among many single-packaged accessories are the Zune Premium Earphones ($39.99) which, the 'softie site assures us, "produce superior sound." Finally, if you've had your heart set on a brown player, Zune's got one, along with black and white. Actually, it doesn't look bad. For more details, see the press release. Zune's D-Day is November 14. Wish it luck. Or not. Really, it's up to you.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 13, 2006 0 comments
Microsoft's Zune goes on sale tomorrow. It may already be getting the attention of consumers, according a survey by ABI Research. Of 1725 teens and adults queried, most of those planning to buy a new music player in the next year would consider Zune. That includes 59 percent of non-iPod player owners and--shock!--58 percent of iPod owners. Only 15 percent of iPod owners said they were "not very likely" or "not at all likely" to choose Zune. "Our conclusion is that iPod users don't display the same passionate loyalty to iPods that Macintosh users have historically shown for their Apple products," says analyst Steve Wilson. The press release does not mention Microsoft sponsorship though it admits that respondents were shown a photo and description of Zune before answering. In other Zune news, Microsoft is discontinuing its MSN Music Store in favor of the new Zune Marketplace (full-sized screen shot here. And in a surprise announcement, Microsoft announced it would pay a hardware royalty of more than a buck per player to the Universal Music Group—home of U2 and Jay-Z—in addition to a software royalty for every download. Zune has attracted mixed reviews in The New York Times (a free read if you register), The Wall Street Journal and a brief hands-on assessment in Wired News.

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