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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 05, 2007 0 comments
To my eyes, no one makes better plasmas than Panasonic (though Pioneer is a peer). And certainly no company flies the plasma banner more zestily. At a press event in New York last week, Panasonic added three new sizes in 1080p to its plasma line: 42, 50, and 58 inches. The 42-inch TH-42PZ700, shipping in June for $2499, will be the first 1080p plasma of that size.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 04, 2007 1 comments
This is the 300th blog to be posted in this space. It won't be the last, but thanks to our spiffy redesign, my news stories will move from here to another part of the website. You'll find them under HT News, right below the Buyer's Guides, and you needn't even scroll down, because the section lies "above the fold," to borrow some old newspaper talk. I'll continue posting to HT News from Monday through Friday barring holidays, trade shows, and other predictable interruptions. And Darryl Wilkinson will continue to write news and product items in his always readable and enjoyable style. The two-voiced diablogs and reviews of small audio products will continue in this "From the Edge" blog and eventually I may find something equally self-indulgent to add to them. So please look for me in HT News on weekdays and check this space for non-news goodies every few weeks. Thanks for all your comments and encouragement.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 04, 2007 0 comments
Circuit City announced last week that it would fire 8.5 percent of its retail-floor staff and hire replacements at lower pay. Savor the insane panache of the press release: "The company has completed a wage management initiative that will result in the separation of approximately 3,400 store Associates. The separations...focused on Associates who were paid well above the market-based salary range for their role. New Associates will be hired for these positions and compensated at the current market range for the job." Said CEO Philip J. Schoonover: "We are taking a number of aggressive actions to improve our cost and expense structure, which will better position us for improved and sustainable returns in today's marketplace."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 02, 2007 0 comments
The news that EMI will sell no-DRM downloads through iTunes couldn't have come at a better time. Music downloads are growing but not fast enough to offset sinking CD sales. Electronic libertarians assert that digital rights management is a big part of the problem, because it balkanizes the music-player world, preventing iTunes purchases from playing on non-iPods. Steve Jobs flew to London especially to join EMI in announcing that the big label's entire catalogue will become available in AAC, the iPod's favored file format, without DRM, and at 256 kilobits per second, which should provide higher quality than either MP3 at the same data rate or standard iTunes downloads at 128kbps. You'll have to pay a premium price of $1.29 per track. And if your music player doesn't do AAC, you're out of luck. However, EMI will cover those bases by selling through other download services in MP3 and WMA. For law-abiding music lovers, this is great news. Note, however, that this move is more a breakthrough in marketing than in law. EMI and Apple aren't saying you can copy anything anywhere. But it would be fair to interpret this as tacit recognition of reality--the beginning of the end of the criminalizing of fair use. It has been at least several months in the making, following the anti-DRM manifesto of Jobs and small-scale experimentation by EMI. No word on when the Beatles catalogue will become legally downloadable. Yet.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 30, 2007 4 comments
A California superior court ruling saved Kaleidescape from extinction yesterday. The decision is good news for what is arguably the best-designed home networking system for movies and music. But it is bad news for similar products, and those who might want to market or buy them, because it spares Kaleidescape only on a technicality, and does not necessarily set a precedent that would protect similar devices. The plaintiff was the DVD Copy Control Association, which argued that Kaleidescape illegally de-encrypted its Content Scramble System in copying DVDs (including potentially rented or borrowed ones) to the system's hard drive. Kaleidescape argued that the material remained secure on the hard drive and was distributed throughout the home via protected interfaces such as HDMI. Judge Leslie C. Nichols ruled against CCA, saying that the CSS spec was not legally part of the licensing agreement, which he characterized as "a product of a committee of lawyers." You can't make this stuff up. He also faulted CCA for failing to provide guidance when Kaleidescape solicited it: "I saw this as a case where no one sat down to talk." Kaleidescape feels "vindicated"; CCA may appeal. CCA's lawsuit against Molino Networks, whose $2000 system cost far less than Kaleidescape's, killed that company in 2004 by starving it of venture capital. The Motion Picture Association of America has "warned" about 80 chip makers about CSS and obtained three out-of-court settlements. Your right to store DVD content on a home network remains ambiguous at best. See EETimes and ArsTechnica coverage.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 29, 2007 1 comments
Arguably one of the biggest tech stories of our lifetimes is the transformation of telephone companies into full-service providers of television, internet, and phone service. The latest news is that Verizon is making this transformation much faster than AT&T. Verizon has signed up 207,000 subscribers for its FiOS service while AT&T's U-verse lags behind at 10,000 (a figure the company is actually bragging about!). This isn't a direct competition because their service areas don't overlap. Verizon serves northeastern and mid-Atlantic states while AT&T dominates the south, the midwest, and part of the west coast. There is, however, a struggle between two visions: Verizon's, which brings fiber right to your doorstep, and AT&T's, a hybrid that uses old copper wiring for the last mile. Verizon is pressing its point with the announcement that FiOS network speeds will multiply by four to eight times with the implementation of GPON (gigabyte passive optical network) technology from Alcatel-Lucent. When I visited Verizon last year, I was told GPON would enable delivery of as many as three simultaneous HD signals by 2007-08.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 28, 2007 1 comments
Soon after announcing their hoped-for merger, Sirius and XM told an investor conference call they planned to raise rates. They're beaming a different tune now. If the merger goes through, they promise to allow subscribers to block adult channels, pay a la carte, and save an unspecified amount off the current minimum of $12.95/month. The climate surrounding the merger has been chillier than expected. FCC chair Kevin Martin has expressed the opinion that the satellite services' federal operational licenses prevent them from being combined into a single company. And Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), chair of the Senate Antitrust Committee, has referred to the proposed merger as "a real bad deal for consumers."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 27, 2007 0 comments
Looking for a new way to get TV onto your PC? If you already subscribe to AT&T's next-generation U-verse service, you can also sign up for a free 14-day trial of OnTheGo. If you keep it, you'll pay an extra $10 month (over and above the usual U-verse cost) to access 30 channels from your PC. Mac users will not be pleased to hear that the service requires Windows XP, Internet Explorer, and the Windows Media Player. And the initial lineup may provoke further gripes: Fox News and Bloomberg but no CNN, Comedy Time but no Comedy Central. However, AT&T promises to add more channels as well as video on demand. OnTheGo is a joint venture with MobiTV, whose other activities include routing TV and XM channels to cell phones.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 26, 2007 2 comments
When you record a program with your DVR, does it matter whether the hard drive lives in your set-top box or on your cable company's network? Yes it does matter, a federal district court has ruled, effectively killing Cablevision's Remote Storage DVR. Soon after Cablevision introduced the innovative device, it was sued by CNN, Fox, NBC, Paramount, and TBS, who claimed the RS-DVR was not merely recording programs, but rebroadcasting them--a violation of copyright law. Cablevision argued in vain that the device was not rebroadcasting because recording and playback were controlled by the consumer. The decision will affect not only Cablevision's three million New York-area subscribers, but also cable consumers nationwide, by preventing other cable operators from introducing their own network-based DVRs. Cable operators like network DVRs because they're less costly to operate than the conventional kind. Cablevision may appeal. If it drags out the fight long enough, and Congress passes the Fair Use Act, the RS-DVR may get a second chance. The proposed law protects devices "capable of substantial, commercially-significant non-infringing use."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 23, 2007 1 comments
What's the latest cinematic sensation? The New York Metropolitan Opera! The Met struck a deal with exhibitor chain National CineMedia for high-def theatrical telecasts of six operas. The first four--The Magic Flute, I Puritani, The First Emperor, and Eugene Onegin--sold out 48 of 60 houses, making Mozart, Tan Dun, Bellini, and Tchaikovsky more popular than Prince, Bon Jovi, and The Who. The fact that people are paying $18 per ticket, versus $10 for rock acts, brings even wider smiles to exhibitors. Next up are The Barber of Seville (Rossini) and Il Trittico (Puccini, set model by Douglas W. Schmidt pictured). While the telecasts have prospered in big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Miami, and Washington, they're also drawing crowds in smaller markets including Huntsville, Alabama; Pueblo, Colorado; Boise, Idaho; and Dayton, Ohio. The Met will continue its longstanding Saturday-afternoon FM radio and more recent Sirius broadcasts. Its public-TV exposure had dwindled in recent years due to union pressures, but thanks to a new profit-sharing plan with the unions, the same half-dozen productions listed above will air on public TV, in HD, with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. There is, however, a window between theater and television. So if you just cannot wait for Rossini--or just like the social ritual of enjoying opera in the presence of fellow music lovers--check your local theater listings.

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