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Mark Fleischmann

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 11, 2006 0 comments
In the span of my career, trade show coverage by consumer publications has gone from verboten to voluminous. Are you excited about this week's CEDIA and our coverage of it? Please tell me—I'd like to know!
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 08, 2006 1 comments
If I needed further proof of your insanity, it's on the side of that box you just deposited on the pile in our bedroom.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 07, 2006 0 comments
You know the folks at the Consumer Electronics Association are riled up when they send out a press release with a head like "Back to School with Baloney." The low-end luncheon meats in question are being packed into collegiate lunchboxes by the Recording Industry Antichrist of America (I have decided to make this a recurring reference) at campusdownloading.com. CEA, the media-activist group Public Knowledge, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association issued this joint communiqué laced with italic outrage: "The RIAA back to school message is 'Beware of anything free.' Ironically, it applies most aptly to the free 'educational' DVDs that RIAA is peddling to students and to the bogus legal advice on RIAA's 'Campus Downloading' website.... The 'FAQ' posted by the RIAA in support of its campaign dismisses the copyright law's Fair Use doctrine as applying only to productive or scholarly works. It suggests, contrary to explicit Supreme Court precedent, that Fair Use has no application to the home recording of entire works." The statement points out inconsistencies in the RIAA's stance on copying for personal use: "The RIAA's freeDVD...says that it is OK to make a CD copy for yourself, but is criminal to do so for a friend.... Where in the AHRA [Audio Home Recording Act of 1992], or in any court decision, does it say that purely personal recordings are legal, burning or emailing a single song for a friend or family member is criminal?"
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 06, 2006 0 comments
David D. Holmes, inventor of what are now known as the SMPTE color bars, died recently at age 80. Holmes got his masters at MIT, worked on the first car transistor radio, and taught at the University of Nebraska before moving on in 1950 to RCA Labs in Princeton, New Jersey. In those days, RCA was not just a Franco-Chinese TV brand but a technology powerhouse. On arriving at RCA Labs, Holmes found "the people were using test signals from scanned slides which were dreadful, full of noise and other junk. Having nothing to do, I went back to my new lab and built an electronic test signal generator, now known as the Color Bar Generator. This was easy for me to do since I had designed and built a complete TV studio at U. of Nebraska and a lot of the stuff in the color bar generator was similar to parts of that. Well, my new device was a great hit; everybody wanted one so when my boss got back from vacation we were having six built in the model shop. They were big things, having fifty tubes and a bunch of adjustments in them." Sharing the 1953 patent with David Larky of RCA, Holmes remained at the lab for 25 years. His son John relates: "The picture above shows the spinnaker he had made for his sailboat. He set me afloat in a dinghy when I was about 12 to take that shot of the spinnaker flying in Chesapeake Bay." See VideoUniversity.com for Hal Landen's color bar tutorial, obit of Holmes, and followup, with correspondence from both father and son.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 05, 2006 0 comments
If you wonder what the telcos will be like years from now, when they're raking in the cash from video services, get a load of the way they behaved last month. As soon as the Federal Communications Commission removed some regulatory charges from consumer DSL bills, BellSouth and Verizon quickly tried to add them back and pocket the cash. The deleted charges had gone into the Universal Service Fund, which was originally designed to subsidize phone service in rural areas, and later extended to nurture Internet access in schools. BellSouth DSL customers had paid $2.97 per month into the USF, while Verizon DSL customers had paid $1.25-2.83 (depending on speed of service), until the FCC reclassified DSL and eliminated the fees to give consumers a break. Thereupon BellSouth swiftly imposed a "regulatory cost recovery fee" of $2.97, while Verizon added a "supplier surcharge" of $1.20-2.70. This breathtakingly opportunistic pickpocketing of consumers, greasily interlarded with corporate doublespeak, so enraged FCC chair Kevin Martin that he instantly threatened to send official letters demanding an explanation. He didn't have to send them—BellSouth quickly backed off and Verizon followed a few days later. They've got a lot on their regulatory wish lists, with BellSouth awaiting approval for its absorption into AT&T, and all the telcos eagerly awaiting the replacement of municipal franchise agreements for video service with more relaxed federal and state regulation. If this is what they act like when they're on their best behavior, just imagine what they'll be like at their worst.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 01, 2006 0 comments
Some of my happiest childhood memories involve a supermarket shopping cart and my mother (who has just turned 80). When I was still small enough, she'd place me in the shopping cart, roll me around the aisles, and occasionally give in to my pleading for animal crackers, though her own cookies were the best. When I got too big to sit in the steel cart, I started pushing it for her. That early consumer experience is about to change with the advent of the TV Kart. It's a colorful object that resembles a car equipped with a color liquid crystal display showing Barney and the Wiggles. The TV Kart is already deployed in 17 supermarket chains in the manufacturer's native New Zealand as well as in Australia and the United States. Within the U.S. it's hit 175 Meijer stores in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan. And it's about to roll into Wal-Marts in three states, according to National Public Radio. There is an upside here. If kids are distracted by TV, they might be less likely to beg for snacks loaded with sugar and toxic oils. The downside, as a disturbingly ecstatic mother told NPR: "Now Mom shops alone."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 31, 2006 3 comments
"I love the sound of breaking glass," Nick Lowe once sang, and the Avdeco HR420 is just the TV stand for him. A member of the AV Science Forum relates: "I happened to be sitting in the next room, when I heard a tremendous crash. I thought that a plane had hit my house, and I ran into my bedroom to see what happened. The top shelf of the Avdeco stand EXPLODED sending shards of glass to every corner of my bedroom. Fortunately for me, I wasn't sleeping at the time, or I would have been hit by flying glass." The Panasonic 50PX500U plasma that had been sitting on the stand weighs 114 pounds, less than half of the stand's rated weight limit of 250. Neither Avdeco or the dealer that sold the stand, Threshold Concepts have responded to the consumer's complaints. The model is still listed on the Avdeco website. It's not on the Threshold Concepts site, though other Avdeco glass-rack models are, with the comment: "The simplistic lines are subdued, yet make a strong statement." Indeed. Other AVS members weighed in with useful pointers: (1) Tempered glass is designed to fragment into pebbles when broken, which is actually less scary than the angular shards of broken non-tempered glass. (2) It's been known to shatter in response to changes in temperature even when nothing is resting on it. (3) Manufacturers who make a quality product may disagree, but maybe glass of any type isn't the ideal material for a TV stand.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 30, 2006 0 comments
The lack of community-buildout requirements in a pending federal law has raised concerns that new TV services from AT&T and Verizon won't reach low-income households. Verizon defends its record: "We are already deploying our fiber-to-the-premises network and FiOS TV in many communities such as Irving, Texas, that have a mix of demographics or are simply not affluent," says spokesperson Sharon Cohen-Hagar. Shifting focus from income to ethnicity, figures from a variety of sources helpfully supplied by Verizon suggest that minorities are already lucrative customers for cable providers and are therefore equally attractive to nascent telco TV providers. One study cited is FOCUS: African-America from Horowitz Associates. It says African-American urban households buy $58.17 worth of cable services vs. the urban average of $54. Figures for digital cable and satellite services tell the same story. So if providers go where the money is, you just might see FiOS TV in the 'hood.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 29, 2006 0 comments
If you live in Naperville, Illinois and want telco TV as an alternative to cable and satellite providers, you're out of luck. AT&T has dropped the Chicago suburb like a bag of dirt. Naperville was willing to sign a franchise agreement that would have brought AT&T's Project Lightspeed—a combination of television, broadband, and telephone service—as long as all residents were eligible to subscribe to the service. AT&T walked away, an executive pouting: "Nowhere in this country has AT&T agreed to a build-out requirement." Then again: "We have an economic incentive to make the service as widely available as possible." But: "What we're not willing to do is make a commitment in 'x' number of months." However, AT&T actually did sign an agreement with nearby North Chicago to provide video service within 18 months. Confused? Here's the catch: that agreement doesn't specify next-generation Internet-based video. The folks in Naperville charged AT&T with making a scene in an attempt to strong-arm Congress into passing pending legislation providing telcos with a national franchise agreement that would end-run municipal governments. A Naperville council member commented: "We have some intellectual dishonesty taking place." See coverage in ArsTechnica and the Chicago Tribune. More tomorrow.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 28, 2006 0 comments
To speed the entry of the telephone companies into the video-delivery business, Congress is in the midst of rewriting the franchising rules, substituting national for local authority. Conspicuously absent from the national franchise legislation soon to hit the Senate floor is any mention of "buildout"—that is, an explicit requirement that new video providers serve all homes in a locale. Instead the bill would require the FCC to gather information on patterns of deployment and make an annual report to Congress, flagging any patterns of discrimination. Would that relatively relaxed regulatory approach make it easy for telcos to ignore poor folk? Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg flatly denies it: "We have never engaged in redlining or cherry-picking, and we never will. It is a violation of federal law, and it runs counter to our 100-year legacy of great service to customers. Our deployment strategy speaks for itself. We are serving diverse communities in every state where we are building our FTTP network, and the cable industry's claim is yet another red herring aimed at stifling choice and competition." Media activists will be watching closely. To be continued tomorrow.

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