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EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 27, 2006 0 comments
A friend who is moving to a new apartment asked me to take delivery on his second-generation iPod nano. The (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition, no less. What was I going to say, no?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 26, 2006 0 comments
The new TiVo Series3 is HD-capable, CableCARD-savvy, and limited to "35 hours of HD goodness," note the folks at Engadget HD. And so a tutorial on the new Engadget offshoot walks you through the process of upgrading the drive with lots of pictures (and some assistance from DealDataBase and TiVoCommunity). The proccess is part physical, part typing into a character-based BIOS interface. Be warned that you'll need a TORX 10 screwdriver and there's some real danger from opening up any product with a power supply (so don't do it, our lawyers would no doubt advise). If you're not suicidal, or mechanically inclined, or the memory of DOS gives you nightmares, WeakKnees will do the upgrade for you, replacing the 250GB TiVo drive with 750GB. But it doesn't hurt to watch, does it? Engadget HD has been running for a few months and worth regular visits.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 25, 2006 1 comments
Eighty percent of home theater buffs value sound quality. Even more, 84 percent, value video quality. And when asked whether they value both, 83 percent say yes—proving that the traditional definition of home theater as the marriage of big-screen television and surround sound is still valid. Those are a few of the highlights of Home Theater Opportunities, a study from the Consumer Electronics Association's CEA Market Research. The study also finds that a third of existing home theater system owners plan to buy at least one component in the coming year, at an average cost of $1700, while home theater newbies plan to spend $1400. More than half of these planned purchases will be video displays; CEA defines an HT-worthy screen as 34 inches or more. Comments Sean Wargo, CEA's director of industry analysis: "The high interest in displays leads many to wonder if there is opportunity left for the other components of a home theater system, such as audio. But the survey results show, when it comes to home theaters, sound and video quality are almost equally important to the majority of consumers. As a result, investments in displays may just be the first round in a larger investment in the home entertainment system." Especially, I think, if display prices continue to drop, leaving more budgetary room for audio purchases. The full study sells for $499 but you can read the press release for nothing.
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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: Oct 23, 2006 0 comments
Which is more likely to corrupt America's youth: The temptation to steal copyrighted works? Or the temptation to shill for a trade association that fights consumer fair-use rights as fervently as it does overt piracy? Fifty-two thousand Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in Southern California are about to face that moral dilemma. The Motion Picture Association of America has teamed with their leadership to offer "a curriculum designed to educate kids about copyright protection and change attitudes toward intellectual property theft." There will be five ways to earn the "respect copyrights" patch shown, to include grabbing dad's camcorder to make a public service announcement, or visiting a local studio to see people at work and their local economy in operation. The reward is an activity patch, not a merit badge, and therefore not a requirement for advancement.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 20, 2006 0 comments
Buying a fancy CD rack may seem counterintuitive in the iPod era. After, even a drop-dead-gorgeous piece of industrial design like the Boltz CD600X2 still takes up space. Isn't it more elegant to rip everything and dump your discs?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 19, 2006 0 comments
Lawsuits from the RIAA are not the only hazards for the intrepid file sharer. Simply downloading P2P software can pollute your PC with nuisance software. The most notorious example remains Kazaa, which paid more than $100 million to settle music-industry lawsuits, but is still listed as badware by stopbadware.org. That report is a few months old, but according to the McAfee SiteAdvisor, the Kazaa site still exposes PC users to what "some people consider adware, spyware, or other unwanted programs." In addition, it links to firstadsolution.com, "which our analysis found to be deceptive or fraudulent." SiteAdvisor gives similar warnings about BearShare. Limewire and Morpheus get a clean bill of health, but beware of other sites that offer free downloads of Limewire and Morpheus software—and that includes most of those listed as Google-sponsored links! By the way, the SiteAdvisor is a free plug-in for Internet Explorer or Firefox that festoons Google, Yahoo, or MSN search results with green- or red-light bugs to warn you of PC health hazards. Click on the bugs and they'll give you information like that quoted above. SiteAdvisor is totally goodware—it costs nothing to install and may keep you out of loads of trouble.
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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: Oct 17, 2006 0 comments
Having reported the world's biggest TV, I might as well tell you about the smallest one operating at full 1080 by 1920 resolution. This Sanyo Epson prototype LCD is 7.1 inches and is designed for low power consumption. Who knows, you might see it on some enlarged iPod someday, though this is just irresponsible speculation on my part. The press release says Sanyo Epson has its eye on DTV broadcasting and mobile devices, especially One Seg, a just-debuted Japanese service that lets DTV be viewed on the move. The LCD has resolution of 310 pixels per inch, 180-degree viewing angle, and covers more than 100 percent of the NTSC color gamut (ATSC is not mentioned).
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 16, 2006 0 comments
What makes the iPod nano (PRODUCT) RED Special Edition so special? Besides the odd use of caps and parentheses? Well, it's red, and though we've seen that before, it's nice to see it again. That brings the nano color roster up to six along with "silver" (formerly white), black, lime, sky blue, and pink. The price is $199, the capacity 4GB (if you want 8GB, you'll have to settle for black). And all second-generation nanos have battery life of 24 hours, an improvement that should please even the most jaded observer. But the headline-grabber is that for every iPn(P)RSE purchased, Apple will donate $10 to the Global Fund, sending much needed medication to AIDS victims in Africa. Guilty conscience? You can also support the Join Red campaign by purchasing a Motorola cell phone, American Express red card, Gap T-shirt, or Emporio Armani watch. Holiday shoppers: Don't forget to load up on iPod accessories.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 13, 2006 1 comments
A company that stamps out half a billion DVDs a month has developed a way for movie studios and other software makers to track discs from factory to store to your home. The strategy is yet to be tested but the underlying technology is nothing fancy. It's RFID, or radio-frequency identification, the same chip-based system increasingly used in driver's licenses, U.S. passports, stores like Wal-Mart, and the EZ-Pass booth on toll roads. RFID can operate in a range from two inches, like the new credit/debit-card readers, to 69 feet. In this case the range for "chipped" discs will be six meters, or just under 20 feet. The RFID reader can be built into players, which would shut down when fed discs with the wrong regional coding. The AACS system built into the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats already allows copyright holders to shut down players in the home, but thanks to RFID, it will soon be possible to do the same in existing DVD as well. Developers of the new technology are iPico, an RFID specialist, and Ritek, whose U-Tech subsidiary manufactures discs for Disney, Fox, Warner, and other studios in factories all over the world. The first RFID-enriched discs will be made in Taiwan and tested in Australia.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 12, 2006 0 comments
The future of HD DVD and Blu-ray is neither boom or bust, according to The State of Home Video (11th Edition) from Kagan Data Services. Kagan sees the two new formats together grabbing 13.9 percent of the market by 2009, 53.7 by 2012, and 68.7 by 2015: "The first wave of high-definition DVD homes will consist primarily of those homes with non-dedicated players, such as PS3, Xbox 360 and PCs.... We estimate the balance will shift in 2009 as dedicated player prices drop and the dust from the format war has settled." However, revenue growth in hard-copy software will be slowed by downloads, Kagan said, citing CinemaNow. Meanwhile, obstacles to the long-awaited combi player have continued to fall, most recently with NEC's announcement of a video processing chip that handles both formats at no extra cost. Ricoh had already announced a pickup lens that reads the disc at two depths, to accommodate the differing demands of each format. With NEC shipping the new part in 2007, we might see a combi by the end of that year. Maybe. But don't hold your breath waiting for a recorder.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 11, 2006 2 comments
"A Full-Blooded Approach, with Surround Sound," promised the New York Times headline of a piano-recital review. I knew I wouldn't be able to resist quoting it when the concert venue, the Frick Collection, was described as "perfect for the iPod generation, offering intense surround sound, minus the hearing damage." I thereupon combed the Apple website for hours looking in vain for the new surround-capable iPod before realizing that critic Vivien Schweitzer was, quite reasonably, designating surround sound as a virtue lacking in earbud-tethered devices. She praised British pianist Leon McCawley for his performances of the Mozart "Sonata in D," Rachmaninoff's "Études-Tableaux," and the "Suite for Piano" by Hans Gál, with its "Debussy-like harmonies, Schubertian lyricism, echoes of Brahms and Prokofiev and a hint of atonality.... The listener, meanwhile, was enveloped in an acoustical cocoon of bright, passionate sound." If you think the sole purpose of this blog is mockery, think again. Chamber and symphonic concertgoing offers an all too rare chance to build an acoustically pure frame of reference, unmediated by electronics, that can be applied to gauge the quality of equipment. I treasure my experiences in the Vienna Musikverein and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. You'll never hear better surround sound than in the right seat of a first-class concert hall.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 10, 2006 2 comments
We interrupt this blog to bring you a commercial message about Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems (2007 Edition). Now moving into its sixth edition, it is the only annually updated book on home theater. This year the looong chapters on digital television and surround sound have been compassionately subdivided and reorganized. There are 40 more pages of content than in the first edition, including 16 new pages for this edition alone. Digital, or "on demand," printing technology lets me refresh the book every October, pulling the old edition and activating the new one. However, there are still old editions in the pipeline, and if you search the title on retailer sites, the new edition may not be the first to come up. Further complicating this year's switchover is the transition from the 10-digit International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to the new 13-digit variety on January 1, 2007. To ensure that you order the latest edition, look for the following identifiers...
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 09, 2006 2 comments
Starting last week, I've been trying to explain the new Dolby and DTS surround codecs little by little. The reason each camp is hawking two new codecs for HD DVD and Blu-ray is that one is lossless (Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio) and the other is lossy (Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio). Lossless codecs reconstruct the original signal without discarding data; lossy ones use perceptual coding to discard the least important data, achieving greater efficiency in a limited bit bucket. Together these formats represent the first qualitative step forward for surround sound since the ill-fated debuts of DVD-Audio and SACD. High-res surround is baaack! Here are the basics on Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and how they're supported in BD and HD DVD. DTS devotes a whole new website to the two new DTS-HD codecs including heaven-sent wiring diagrams. Has anyone mentioned to you that DTS Encore is simply a rebranding of DTS 5.1 and DTS-ES 6.1? You'll find it only on software packaging. There, I'm glad we've had this little talk.

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