Mark Fleischmann

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 23, 2006 2 comments
Implementation of the CableCARD may have taken another babystep forward with a court ruling last week. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit upheld the FCC's long-delayed "integration ban." By prying encryption apart from the cable box, as required by a 1996 act of Congress, the FCC wants to speed adoption of CableCARD technology, which enables consumers to plug their cable feeds directly into sets with a card slot. However, although the major TV makers and the major cable operators put their John Hancocks on an FCC-brokered CableCARD adoption agreement as long ago as December 2002, the integration-ban deadline has slipped from January 2005 to July 2006 to July 2007. And the many consumers who have already bought CableCARD-compatible sets have been frustrated to find the standard not supported by their local cable ops. Enough already, said the appeals court. Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association hailed the ruling: "Consumers are entitled to a broad array of products that can connect to cable systems featuring innovative new features for competitive prices. In the wake of the court's decision, we are hopeful that cable will stop its foot-dragging and comply with the law for the benefit of consumers." In their defense, cable operators say they've got their eye on a new technology that supplants the card with a chip, not to mention new multi-streaming and IP-based solutions. And they hate the existing CableCARD because it's unidirectional, meaning one-way, meaning no video-on-demand, meaning less lucre. But consumers might wait years for implementation of these new technologies, whereas the CableCARD is here now and waitin' at the church.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 22, 2006 0 comments
Here's to the mating of the ampersand and the asterisk. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to attend tomorrow's grand opening of J&R Express at Macy*s in Manhattan. Founded in 1858, Macy*s has been the city's leading department store for generations. It's a major tourist attraction and its advertising props up the city's newspapers. But Federated Department Stores, owner of Macy*s, has never found a way to make electronics retailing work in NYC. J&R's story is totally different. It started as a great little record shop back in the pre-CD days, then successfully branched out into electronics, but until recently never aspired to move beyond its peculiar cluster of far-downtown spaces near City Hall. Locals love it, but most people reading this probably know the Internet operation better than the stores. So now Macy*s will have the ideal partner for selling electronics, and J&R will expand into midtown, with its flocks of tourists and shoppers, just down West 34th from the Empire State Building. BTW, the weeping statuary pictured is a memorial for Isidor and Ida Strauss in tiny Strauss Park at Broadway and West 107th Street. Isidor acquired Macy's (then with no asterisk) in 1896 and moved it to the current iconic location in Herald Square. In 1912, he and his wife Ida went down with the Titanic.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 21, 2006 0 comments
In the latest act of a long-running drama, Dish Network PVRs will not be judicially disabled—at least, not yet. A federal appeals court has blocked an injunction from a Texas district court that would have shut down Dish video recorders. Dish's adversary is TiVo and the issue is patent infringement. TiVo has successfully argued that Dish PVRs violate TiVo's patents, winning $74.9 million in penalties. That matter was decided months ago, but what to do about it has not, so millions of Dish PVRs have the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. The Dish people say they expect to reverse the Texas district court decision and will "continue to work on modifications" to the allegedly infringing machines. Even if TiVo gets a short-term win in this situation, its real challenge is competition from not only satellite DVRs but those marketed by cable and emerging telco-video services. No judge or lawyer is going to make that problem go away.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 18, 2006 1 comments
Cynical Steve Jobs is marketing one of the worst-sounding audio products ever. As an audiophile, I can view this only with alarm and outrage. No, I'm not talking about the iPod, you foolish thing. I enjoy my nano as much as the next person. I'm talking about the earbuds that come with the iPod. They don't even come close to taking advantage of the sound quality that the deliriously popular music player is capable of delivering.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 17, 2006 0 comments
Set me up, and let me fly.

Back when Jimmy Carter was president (or was it Ford?), my first audio system featured a Pioneer SX-434 receiver. Even then, manufacturers had figured out that SX sells. My old receiver was rated at 15 watts per channel and weighed 18 pounds. Today, I'm reviewing a Pioneer VSX-816 A/V receiver (SX still sells) with 110 watts times seven. At 20.3 pounds, it's put on some weight, but what a difference a couple of pounds can make.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 17, 2006 0 comments
Two products, one look.

It wasn't until I uncrated both the Paradigm Cinema 330 speakers and the Harman/Kardon AVR 340 receiver that I realized I'd found something rare in the home theater realm—a visual match between speakers and receiver. Did some invisible hand simultaneously guide Paradigm's whizzes in Toronto and Harman/Kardon's design squad in Northridge, California? These two large companies have no connection that I know of. Yet, this month's Spotlight System is a genuine fusion of Canadian and Californian design sensibilities.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 17, 2006 0 comments
A Tokyo racetrack has become home to the world's largest large-screen video display. The screen is 218 feet wide (by 66 by 37). Judging from the picture, its ratio of width to height is way more than the standard 16:9 of DTV in general. Behind the display is Mitsubishi's Aurora Vision LED technology. Here LEDs are being used to produce the picture directly, though they're also creeping into consumer DLP displays as a substitute for the color wheel. The screen was installed in 35 pieces and cost $28 million. Apologies for the headline. Couldn't resist. A larger edit of the picture, and three others, are in the Galleries.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 16, 2006 2 comments
More information has emerged about Microsoft's forthcoming Zune music player, thanks to my colleagues at This Week In Consumer Electronics, who always have their ears to the ground on the retail scene. The company has been briefing retailers and TWICE have been prying out morsels of information about Redmond's supposed iPod-killer. Here are the details (I would rather slit my wrists than say deets):
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 15, 2006 3 comments
We control the horizontal. We control the vertical. And we control the DVR, says Verizon. If you're a multi-zone kind of consumer, and interested in Verizon's FiOS TV service, check out the Verizon Home Media DVR. In a multi-zone DVR configuration, the Motorola QIP6416—shown here—acts as the media hub, recording and streaming video. It has a 160GB hard drive and dual QAM tuners. Operating as remote terminal is the Motorola QIP2500 set-top box. The remote terminal operates in standard-def only, though you can watch high-def on the hub DVR. Media Manager software pulls photos and music from a PC and routes them to connected TVs. The Home Media DVR costs $19.95 per month ($7 more than a regular Verizon DVR) plus $3.95 for each remote-terminal STB. The relatively new concept of place-shifting has not come without controversy among content producers. Cablevision's network DVR has become the first casualty and the Slingbox may follow.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 14, 2006 0 comments
"My editor recently queried me about my TV set," wrote Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe. Shock, horror: This professional TV critic does his work with a 20-inch screen! And judging from the size, probably analog. Now, before you all pile on, be advised that Gilbert's decision to use a small screen is carefully considered: "Without a lot of sophisticated sensory overload, I think, a show's writing, acting, and editing stand out more clearly. I can stay in touch with the true marks of good storytelling, without having to parse them out from a dazzling barrage." More shock, more horror: I downsize a lot of my own viewing, though for different reasons. I watch movies on a 72-inch-wide Stewart Firehawk, but when I watch TV, I retreat to a less intense 32-inch LCD. Why? The reduction in scale eases both the headache-inducing quick cuts of advertising and the sorrows of real-life suicide bombings. Still, I think "the marks of good storytelling" are as perceptible on a big screen as on a small one—more, in fact, if you consider camerawork and other aspects of visual style as storytelling tools—and now that shows are being produced in (1) widescreen (2) HDTV and (3) surround, the Boston Globe's TV critic may be missing the boat.

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