Mark Fleischmann

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 18, 2006 5 comments
HD DVD has adopted a Thomson-developed technology that would insert simulated film grain into high-def movie releases. The problem: Digital video compression codecs tend to lose the natural grain in film-based cinematography. The, um, uh, solution: "Thomson has come up with a way that allows the film grain to be put back, or at least simulated, into the movie after it's been compressed and decompressed," says Gavin Shutz of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Film Grain Technology™ will appear in two HD DVD players from Toshiba and one from RCA. It has also found its way into Sonic Solutions HD DVD production tools. So even if you shun the fakery in players, it will still find its way into at least some movie titles. OK, I haven't seen it yet, but isn't fake film grain the aesthetic equivalent of artificial edge enhancement? What ever happened to the idea of reproducing the source as accurately as possible?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 17, 2006 1 comments
CableLabs is working up a new version of the OpenCable Application Platform, according to Cable Digital News. OCAP is the R&D program that gave birth to the CableCARD. The new Version 1.1 would support IP-based video and multimedia streams. That would give the cable ops a leg up in their coming struggle against the telcos, especially AT&T, which is rolling out IP video delivery. OCAP 1.1 would also mesh with mobile applications to be launched this fall by Sprint, Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, and Advance/Newhouse. It would support home networking, switched broadcast, advanced graphics, and other goodies. And it would allow cable companies to more easily insert commercials into VOD programming (yippee). The technology would likely take the form of a new set-top box. Whether it would migrate directly into television sets is up to the TV makers, but for the moment, they're not thrilled with the outcome of the existing CableCARD agreement.
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 14, 2006 0 comments
Is pure digital architecture the future of audio?

This month's Meridian Spotlight System consists of four DSP3100 monitors, a DSP3100HC center speaker, an SW1600 sub, and a G91A DVD-Audio/video player, controller, and tuner. If you want to know what happened to the amps, you'll just have to read on.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 14, 2006 0 comments
One tuner to free them all.

Back when our ancestors lived in caves, when storytelling was the main form of entertainment around the evening fire, the biggest alpha male would designate the storyteller and club to death anyone who interrupted. This social arrangement has survived well into the age of the remote control.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 13, 2006 3 comments
CableLabs, the cable industry's development arm, has certified the first multi-streaming CableCARD. The hip new Motorola M-Card "enables consumers of retail set-top boxes and integrated digital television sets to watch and/or record their programming from multiple simultaneous tuners using a single CableCARD (e.g., handling picture-in-picture or simultaneous watch-and-record of multiple digital video channels)," according to a CableLabs press release. The M-Card is backward-compatible with existing unidirectional CableCARD sets and boxes, and will support only a single stream when used that way—but when paired with an M-Card compatible product, it will do all its new multi-streaming tricks. How far the M-Card will get in TVs (as opposed to set-top boxes) is debatable given the sorry state of the existing CableCard standard. Major cable operators will deploy it within a few months, says CableLabs. Talk to yours for details.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 12, 2006 0 comments
Were you hoping that the CableCARD standard would enable you to ditch your cable box? Four years after cable operators and TV makers signed the historic CableCARD agreement, many consumers are still running into problems, according to FCC filings from the warring cable operators and TV makers. Each side blames the other for the snafus. And they're both worsening the problem: The initial standard is unidirectional, meaning no video-on-demand without the box, so some cable operators are obstructing CableCARD adoption by failing to support it at the head end. But the ever price-conscious TV makers aren't helping by eliminating CableCARD compatibility from their lines and walking away from the problem. For years the conventional wisdom has been that a VOD-capable bidirectional standard would someday heal all wounds. But the video-delivery landscape is changing and now CableLabs, the industry's R&D arm, is approaching digital cable readiness from some new angles. I'll report on them over the next few days.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 11, 2006 1 comments
On-demand movie viewers are happy to pay an extra dollar to avoid ads. And they prefer conventional to convergent delivery media. Those are the conclusions of a DIGDIA survey. It grappled with two questions at once. Given a tradeoff between advertising and price, how would viewers prefer their movies: with ads for a buck less, or without ads for a buck more? Also, what on-demand (or on-demand-ish) delivery medium would they prefer: TV, PC, or DVD? Here are the results:
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 10, 2006 0 comments
Freedb, a key player in open-source CD databases, has succumbed to tensions among its founders. The site is still up but its future is uncertain. If you didn't already know, CD databases provide metadata lookup services to the likes of iTunes and the Windows Media Player, enabling them to display artist, song, album, genre, etc. Without them your iPod would not be nearly as versatile at organizing music. The grandpappy of them all was CDDB, founded in 1993 as a volunteer-driven project. When CDDB went commercial in 2000 as Gracenote, Freedb and other groups split off to maintain their own open-source databases on a nonprofit basis. The open-source services appear most often in PC-based software including rippers, taggers, and players other than iTunes and WMP. Freedb is also used by AudioReQuest, a consumer-level high-end server product. Freedb is survived by Musicbrainz, another open-source database. The biggest commercial databases are All Music Guide's LASSO (used by Windows Media Player and MusicMatch) and the category-leading Gracenote (used by iTunes).
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 07, 2006 3 comments
The other day Federal Express summoned me to the front of my building. What delight awaited? It was Onkyo's HT-S990THX. Some would call it the first THX-certified home theater in a box though the Onkyo and THX people prefer the term "integrated THX HT system." HTIB or not, all 143 pounds of it were literally in a box, one box, only 14 inches shorter (and five inches wider) than my refrigerator. My building has elevators, but there are five steps between the ground floor and the sidewalk. The FedEx guy and I stood on the curb staring at one another in dawning horror.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 06, 2006 4 comments
A major label will soon offer European customers three different tiers of CD releases, each with its own distinctive type of packaging. Universal Music Group announced that top releases will get a deluxe box (über-jewelbox? treasure chest?) potentially featuring bonus DVD, extra tracks, expanded notes, and other attractions. Mid-tier releases will get "super jewelboxes," a with round corners, stronger hinges, and heavier build quality. They sound a lot like the boxes already used for SACDs. Bottom-tier releases will get cardboard sleeves, though I'm not sure if that means a Digipak-like package (paper gatefold enclosing plastic spindle) or an all-cardboard "wallet" type. A competing budget label, Brilliant Classics, has had great success with wallets, marketing cheaply packaged but delightful boxed sets up to and including the now legendary 160-CD Bach Edition. Pricing for the Universal tiers will be €19.99, €14.99, and €9.99 respectively. As of this morning, a euro costs $1.28, so none of the tiers is cheap by American standards, though there's no telling what will happen if Universal brings the scheme across the Atlantic. Why this, why now? "We can grow the CD market," said a Universal executive—or at least, "slow its decline."

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