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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 02, 2007 15 comments
A promising new video display technology suffered a potentially fatal setback last week. SED stands for Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display. Whether marketers would come up with a sexier name for the ultra-flat tube technology is something we won't find out in the near future because a federal judge has ruled that Nano-Proprietary, the licensor, can wiggle out of its agreement with Canon. The agreement dates from 1999. Subsequently Canon brought Toshiba into a joint venture that would have brought SED to market. That made sense--if you want to sell TVs, you work with a TV company. Meanwhile, with an eye on the burgeoning market for flat panels, N-P apparently became unhappy with the arrangement. So the company argued that by bringing in Toshiba, Canon had violated the licensing agreement. N-P refused to call off its legal pit bulls even after Toshiba sold its stake to Canon and cancelled plans to show an SED prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show two months ago. If N-P wins the appeals, Canon will have to negotiate a whole new licensing agreement with N-P, if it chooses, possibly in competition with Samsung. Fun facts:
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 01, 2007 0 comments
A bipartisan group is pushing new federal legislation that would chip away at the worst abuses of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act--the law often cited by the Recording Industry Antichrist of America in its "legal" campaign against consumers. The Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act, also known as the Fair Use Act, is sponsored by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and John Doolittle (R-CA). It would allow audiovisual compilations for classroom use, commercial skipping, home networking, library archiving, and access to works in the public domain or those "of substantial public interest solely for purposes of criticism, comment, news, reporting, scholarship, or research." It would also give manufacturers some wiggle room, eliminating statutory damages for those who unwittingly aid others who commit copyright infringement, and shoring up the 1984 Betamax Decision by sanctioning devices "capable of substantial, commercially-significant non-infringing use." Critics say the bill does not go as far as Boucher's attempts in previous legislative seasons. They point out that while the acts listed above are sanctioned, the tools that perform them are not. The RIAA condemned the bill claiming it would "repeal the DMCA and legalize hacking." And the Consumer Electronics Association praised it, saying it would "reinforce the historical fair use protections" of existing law.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 28, 2007 0 comments
An unexpected legal snafu may have makers of music players and ripping software shelling out bigtime for MP3 or possibly even abandoning the popular audio codec. At the heart of the storm is Alcatel-Lucent, a networking-equipment company and heir to the legacy of Bell Labs. Alcatel claims that Bell brought two key patents to the table when Bell joined the Fraunhofer Institute of Germany and Thomson of France in developing the MP3 format as the audio soundtrack of the now-forgotten MPEG-1 video standard. This claim is a surefire money maker. Alcatel has already persuaded the federal district court of San Diego to hit Microsoft with $1.52 billion in damages for the use of MP3 in the Windows Media Player. That's half a percentage point of the value of all Windows PCs sold. Ironically, WMP didn't begin supporting MP3 till 2004 with Version 10; before that MP3 ripping was a third-party plug-in. Microsoft will appeal, arguing that one of the two disputed patents does not apply to WMP and the other was covered when Gates & Co. paid Fraunhofer $16 million to license MP3. Before you get all giggly and anti-Redmondian, consider the fact that iTunes also offers MP3 ripping, and that iTunes purchases in AAC account for only a tiny percentage of all iPod-stored content. If Steve Jobs wants to keep his gravy train rolling, he'll have to fork over too. As will every purchaser of every MP3-compatible product. Pray for Microsoft.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 27, 2007 0 comments
A major advantage of HD DVD over Blu-ray has diminished with Sony's announcement yesterday of the BDP-S300 at $599. True, it's still not quite as good a deal as the Toshiba HD-XA2 at $499. Moreover, the lowered price is not unprecedented. Sony has already been offering Blu-ray via the PS3 consoles for $499 and $599. But for non-gamers with an achingly empty space in the component rack, the new Blu-ray player costs significantly less than the BDP-S1 at $999. And, unlike the pricier player, the BDP-S300 plays CDs. Sony's latest move puts Blu-ray in a better position, building on the title-releasing momentum that may enable Blu-ray to surpass HD DVD's software sales this year.
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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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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 23, 2007 0 comments
My birthday's coming!
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 22, 2007 Published: Feb 22, 2007 0 comments
Listen to the violinist.

Reviewing the PSB Alpha B1 speaker system is a bit like coming home. I reviewed the original PSB Alpha for Rolling Stone back in the 1990s. Its little sister, the PSB Alpha Mini, anchored my surround system during a time when I was struggling to launch an online business, barely making ends meet, and dissipating my savings. I needed new speakers, wasn't then in a position to freeload, and didn't have much to spend. The Alpha Minis gave me what I needed—a big soundstage in a small package with no off-putting aggressiveness. The bass was just good enough to make a sub unnecessary. Let the record show that a borrowed Yamaha receiver ran the system.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 22, 2007 Published: Feb 22, 2007 0 comments
Multinational speakers meet American amps.

On the battlefield of speaker design, I am the triage nurse. I walk into speaker demo rooms at trade shows, my badge sometimes inadvertently turned inward, listen for a moment, and quietly mutter to myself, "This one's a keeper," or, "He's dead, Jim." Or occasionally just, "Hmmm," because good speakers may sound iffy under bad conditions, and I respect the potential buried within an ambiguous first take. But, if my instincts tell me to pursue a review, I whip out a business card and start making arrangements on the spot.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 22, 2007 Published: Feb 22, 2007 0 comments
Tubular chic meets comforting conformism.

KEF's KHT5005.2 speaker system and Onkyo's TX-SR674 surround receiver are an odd couple. The KEF speakers are slim, tubular, and chic, the latest thing in décor-friendly sub/sat sets. And the Onkyo receiver? It couldn't be more conventional, conservative, even conformist. It's a plain black box with a very good features set for the price. But could it be that the two complement one another? Could this, in fact, turn into a long-term relationship?

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 22, 2007 0 comments
Sawbones who play video games regularly are 37 percent less likely to make a mistake when doing something in your gut with a pointed object, according to a survey of surgeons at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Of 33 surgeons who participated in the study, nine had played video games for at least three hours in the preceding week, and 15 had never played them at all. Those nine were golden: Not only did they make fewer errors, they also performed 27 percent faster, and scored 42 percent higher in a surgical-skills test. The technique in question is laparoscopic surgery, in which a video camera on a stick is inserted into the patient's body, allowing for smaller incisions for the other sharp objects and less invasive procedures overall. "It's like tying your shoelaces with three-foot-long chopsticks," says the author of the study, Dr. James "Butch" Rosser. Yup, he's a gamer: "I use the same hand-eye coordination to play video games as I use for surgery." Maybe we shouldn't worry so much about video-game violence. This guy's itchy trigger finger is saving lives.


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