Mark Fleischmann

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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
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.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 22, 2007 2 comments
Should the Motion Picture Association of America add a sixth rating? The current set of five includes G, for general audiences: PG, parental guidance suggested; PG-13, parents strongly cautioned; R, restricted; and NC-17, no one 17 and under admitted. Pressure is building to subdivide R into two new ratings, one for fleetingly racy material, and another (already informally known as hard-R) for extremely graphic horror pics. There are precedents for subdivision and name changing. After all, before there were PG and PG-13, there was a single M rating, for mature audiences. And X changed its name to NC-17 when the terms obscene and pornographic became "legal terms for courts to decide," as the MPAA notes in its explanation of ratings (a comic masterpiece of hairsplitting and equivocation). Now pressure is building from parent groups who feel, as Variety explains, that the current R "is too broad, encompassing everything from a few swear words or brief flashes of nudity to repeated scenes of stomach-churning mutilation and disembowelments." Hollywood is listening, but doesn't want to shove hard-R titles into NC-17 because exhibitors shun films in that ultimate category almost completely and Blockbuster won't stock them at all. My suggestion: Rather than complicate the system with a sixth rating, keep the hard-R material within R, and move soft-R material down into a broadened PG-13. The MPAA's rating guide already uses 306 words to describe PG-13 versus a mere 65 words to describe R. I say add another hundred words of fork-tongued bureaucratese to PG-13 and call it a day. (The illustration is facetious, not a serious proposal.)
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 21, 2007 2 comments
A watermarking technology used to trace pirated movies back to the source will soon be built into set-top boxes. Thomson developed NexGuard to trace pirate masters back to the theaters where they were stolen with camcorders or to DVDs distributed to reviewers and awards juries. Soon chips will be built into STBs to read watermarks in MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC, and VC-1 formats. The technology might be applicable to cable, satellite, or any other kind of STB. So if a piece of copyrighted material enters your home through the box, and ends up being pirated or file-shared, it will bear an individual watermark leading the copyright holder back to you. Should you worry? Said a Thomson executive: "The idea is to slow down piracy without limiting the use of the consumer. They should not be upset about this unless they are widely redistributing content." Of course, if you loan an archival video to someone who does file sharing, the copyright holder might become upset, and the copyright holder's attorney might make you very upset.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 20, 2007 5 comments
The fight over new Internet-radio royalties heated up Friday when National Public Radio took a stand against against them. In advance of a petition for reconsideration, filed with the federal Copyright Royalty Board, came this statement from NPR's Andi Sporkin: "This is a stunning, damaging decision.... Public radio's agreements on royalties with all such organizations, including the RIAA, have always taken into account our public service mission and non-profit status. These new rates, at least 20 times more than what stations have paid in the past, treat us as if we were commercial radio--although by its nature, public radio cannot increase revenue from more listeners or more content, the factors that set this new rate. Also, we are being required to pay an internet royalty fee that is vastly more expensive than what we pay for over-the-air use of music, although for a fraction of the over-the-air audience. This decision penalizes public radio stations for fulfilling their mandate, it penalizes emerging and non-mainstream musical artists who have always relied on public radio for visibility and ultimately it penalizes the American public...." Like NPR itself, many local public radio stations now have active websites with audio feeds, podcasts, and other content that doesn't make it on the air. NPR's audience hit an all-time high of 26.5 million in fall 2006 and has been adding a million listeners a year for the past five years.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 19, 2007 7 comments
Like Poe's purloined letter, some stories lay in plain sight, unnoticed. On rooftops, no less. I'm talking about the return of the humble TV antenna in the age of HDTV. As Newsweek's Johnnie L. Roberts says so eloquently: "The irony is marvelous. Pushed into obsolescence by the technological advances of cable and satellite, antennas are re-emerging thanks to one of the most promising high-tech services of the digital age. High-def channels can be plucked out of thin air by antennas just like regular broadcast signals--no cable, no satellite dish, no monthly bill, no waiting for the cable man." OK, if you've got a Jon Stewart addiction, the dear old antenna will do nothing to help. But how many such addictions do you really have? If the answer is just one or two, try this exercise: Get your cable or satellite bill. Multiply what you're paying for television by 12. That's what you're spending every year for Jon Stewart. Still think it's worth it? Then multiply the figure by 10--that's the amount of cash you could have put in your retirement fund over a decade. And what with cable's constant rate hikes, the final figure will be considerably larger than this simple calculation. If free TV seems like a good idea after all, the Consumer Electronics Association maintains an antennaweb site expressly to help people like you save money every month. Consumer hints: All HDTV channels live in the UHF band, so make sure your antenna works well at those frequencies (like the Terk indoor model shown here). You'll need a TV, set-top box, or DVR with an ATSC (meaning digital) tuner. But the results are worth it. Broadcast HDTV operates at a higher data rate than cable or (especially) satellite. So over-the-air HD picture quality is more than competitive. Salut!
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 19, 2007 1 comments
Who is this pianist? What is he playing? It's pretty soulful.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 15, 2007 0 comments
Will Slacker do for Internet radio what Napster did for file sharing? Check out the beta version. At the heart of the multifaceted scheme is an Internet radio service that will build out to 10,000 streaming channels. There are Slacker-programmed channels, but you can skip songs you don't like, program your own channels, and even publish them on your website. Ads support the free version; or you can pay $7.50/month to ditch the ads and expand your skipping privilege beyond the free six-song maximum. Slacker works with any web browser. Then there's the Slacker Jukebox software, which integrates the music on your hard drive into the Slacker experience. The plot thickens this summer with the Slacker Portable Player, with capacity between 2-120 gigs and pricing from $150-350. A touch-sensitive side strip navigates what's happening on the four-inch color screen. The player syncs with the Slacker site via USB or wi-fi. Also on the way is the Slacker Satellite Car Kit. Slacker is shrewdly leasing unused satellite capacity rather than launching its own birds. I haven't tried Slacker yet but Gizmodo has. Since Internet radio is likely an endangered species, it's reasonable to question Slacker's prospects for survival. Best-case scenario: Slacker will dazzle users with its multifarious approach, build a large base of free users, and slowly turn them into paying customers as a lower-cost alternative to the potentially monopolistic Sirius and XM.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 14, 2007 0 comments
Philips has decided to say goodbye to the initial version of its Aptura TV-backlighting technology. As Philips explained, it used "high-output fluorescent lamps, operated in scanning mode." In effect, the backlight blinked rapidly. This, Philips said, would "cancel out the sample-and-hold effect, which is characteristic of LCD technology," thus reducing motion smear. Better contrast was another benefit, as the backlight dimmed for dark scenes, and worked in tandem with video processing to reduce light leakage. The "deep dynamic dimming" also increased viewing angle. Philips has long been selling non-switching backlit TVs in its Ambilight line, and plans to explore a new and little-used backlighting scheme using LED technology. Philips already markets LED products through its lighting division. (Thanks to Geoff for spotting this one.)
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 13, 2007 4 comments
Just arrived is a long-awaited plan to subsidize digital-to-analog convertors for old TVs to be affected by the final switchover to digital television on February 17, 2009. Each household may request up to two $40 coupons from the National Telecommunications and Information Association. Congress allocated nearly a billion dollars for the program, though critics claim that's not enough, and another half-billion eventually may follow. That should take care of the 15.4 million households wholly dependent on broadcast TV. Also potentially affected would be cable subscribers plugging analog signals directly into their sets. They may have to get convertors from their operators. Affected households may request coupons starting on January 1, 2008 and no later than March 31, 2009 via mail, web, or toll-free number. While the coupons can be used only to buy convertors, there are other ways to make the transition to DTV. You might buy a recording device with an ATSC tuner. Or, of course, a new TV. See NTIA's consumer fact sheet and final ruling.

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