Lost amid the year-end fuss was a long-expected development that will have profound effects for viewers on the west coast, in the midwest, and in the southeastern United States. The Federal Communications Commission quietly approved a merger between AT&T (as the combined company will be known) and Bell South. How will this affect nascent telco TV service? Just look at the Wiki map: Three companies now control the bulk of the traditional telecom business (not counting cable or VOIP, of course). See those two gigantic swatches in blue? That is AT&T's newly expanded territory. While Verizon's geographic territory is far smaller than that of Qwest, it includes many more subscribers. That leaves AT&T and Verizon as the most influential players. And they don't plan to compete in video services outside their defined territories. They will compete only with cable and satellite outfits within their territories. Despite rumors that the two Democratic commissioners would vote nay, the FCC vote was unanimous, 4-0, with one absention due to conflict of interest. That the surprise compromise will guarantee net neutrality is being cited as a victory for media watchdogs. Unfortunately, the promise comes with a two-year time limit, and does not apply to video-over-IP services.
Microsoft and the University of Washington are jointly working on a new video display technology that would more efficiently use the backlight in flat-panel displays, potentially cutting power consumption in these increasingly energy-conscious times.
The Integra DTR-80.3 nine-channel receiver ($3000) and DHC-80.3 pre-pro ($2600) and their Onkyo equivalents are the only receiver/pre-pro that upscale to 4K by 2K. That they can be ISF-calibrated for each source component is just as unusual and even more impressive. Pictured: Ten reasons why custom installers like to do business with Integra.
Hard times just got a little harder. Circuit City, the second largest consumer electronics retailer in the U.S., will close all stores and liquidate assets, according to a press release. This is the end for Circuit, which had already filed for bankruptcy in November 2008.
The wiggling-needle volume meters that are synonymous with McIntosh are now equally pleasing-to-look-at LEDs. The MC8207 seven-channel amp ($6000) on which they blink boasts 200 watts per channel into both eight and four ohms. McIntosh also showed two pre-pros, one of which was making its debut at CEDIA. That was the MX121 and it brings AirPlay and music streaming from Pandora and the like. Price is $6500. Both shipping now.
What did the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show tell us about the future of CES and our industry in general? That was the question on everyone's lips. When asked "how are you," I cheerfully answered: "employed." This never failed to bring a smile. CES 2009 was hardly a failure. While it did not draw the 147,000 people of 2008, it still mustered 110,000, according to a press release from the Consumer Electronics Association. That is not too shabby by any standard. On the magazine's audio beat, I found fewer audio exhibits in the South Hall, but more at the Venetian, so seeing stuff and blogging about it kept me busy.
What to our wondering eyes should appear on the floor of South Hall but the Grey Lady herself, The New York Times, touting her apps for computers, smartphones, e-readers, and of course this year's particular CES obsession, tablets. The paper's show coverage also refers to (other) media companies chasing partners at this year's CE extravaganza.
Noel Lee is always good for a quotable line or two. For instance: "We loooove 3D!" And, if your 3D experience isn't all you wished for, "don't blame the TV. Blame that cheap-ass HDMI cable you bought." Monster's four classifications of HDMI cable speed have now gone to six, topped by the 17Gbps Hyper Speed cable. HDMI wasn't the only thing on Lee's cable agenda, of course. He also discussed USB 3.0 cables for next-gen drives, players, cameras, etc.
Has concertgoing become a lost art? Observing behavior at concerts, I can't help wondering if some of my fellow audience members have lost the ability to listen in the moment. And the music suffers for it.
The U.S. is little more than a month away from the final deadline date for the transition from analog to digital television broadcasting, coming on June 12, 2009. So how are we doing? According to a new poll from the National Association of Broadcasters, we're doing OK, with 82 percent of broadcast-dependent TV households fully prepared for the DTV transition. This is a huge improvement over January.