Looking for a way to get free music without being attacked by the Recording Industry Antichrist of America? Napster will keep you out of court with its "Free Download of the Day," which began last week. Each day will feature a different track, with initial sponsorship from Intel, which will push its Viiv technology for the next three months. Today's featured artists: Airpushers, with MoZella. The codec is good old DRM-free MP3 and tracks posted to the Napster Free Downloads page—gosh, how I love the sound of that—will remain up for a week. So plan at least one day a week to visit Napster and check out the free goodies. Oh, there's one catch: You'll have to register to get your free downloads and provide an email addresss. But you can opt out of emailings and needn't supply a credit-card number. Napster, for those who were literally born yesterday, was once the nexus of P2P file sharing on the net but has been reborn as a music-industry-sanctioned paid download service.
No one writes iPod reviews like ArsTechnica's questing Jacqui Cheng. Already notorious for putting two generations of iPod nanos through a washing machine, she upped the ante by dipping the second-generation iPod shuffle in beer, then running over it with a car. Did it survive? I won't deprive you of the pleasure of finding out for yourself. She also literally took the unit apart, as you can see from the pic. One of many things I learned from her review is that Apple has eliminated the "universal" 30-pin docking connector. Instead, the new shuffle's mini-jack handles power and transfer as well as audio output.
Microsoft's Zune goes on sale tomorrow. It may already be getting the attention of consumers, according a survey by ABI Research. Of 1725 teens and adults queried, most of those planning to buy a new music player in the next year would consider Zune. That includes 59 percent of non-iPod player owners and--shock!--58 percent of iPod owners. Only 15 percent of iPod owners said they were "not very likely" or "not at all likely" to choose Zune. "Our conclusion is that iPod users don't display the same passionate loyalty to iPods that Macintosh users have historically shown for their Apple products," says analyst Steve Wilson. The press release does not mention Microsoft sponsorship though it admits that respondents were shown a photo and description of Zune before answering. In other Zune news, Microsoft is discontinuing its MSN Music Store in favor of the new Zune Marketplace (full-sized screen shot here. And in a surprise announcement, Microsoft announced it would pay a hardware royalty of more than a buck per player to the Universal Music Group—home of U2 and Jay-Z—in addition to a software royalty for every download. Zune has attracted mixed reviews in The New York Times (a free read if you register), The Wall Street Journal and a brief hands-on assessment in Wired News.
Sales of CDs will drop to half of current levels within three years, according to a grim forecast from a British record executive. (The very phrase "record executive" seems woefully out of date.) Here's what Jed Doherty, head of Sony BMG in the U.K., had to say: "We figure the value of CD sales will be 50% less in three years than it is now. We predict digital growth of 25% per year, but it is not enough to replace the loss from falling CD sales. By 2010 we will be 30% behind in terms of revenues. We have to reinvent. We are running our businesses like it is 1982." The industry conference Doherty was addressing in Manchester also saw calls for the end of DRM that prevents iPods from playing non-iTunes downloads and iTunes purchases from being played on non-iPod players, according to The Guardian: "Mr. Doherty said the current situation was 'stupid' while Mike Smith, managing director of Columbia Records UK, predicted that the rights management regime would be gone within a year."
Commuters in New York's Grand Central Terminal got an eyeful of huge TVs and the people who love them last week—see full-sized shot in the Galleries. It was the first stop in a Panasonic plasma tour that will also reach Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, and possible additional places. Says here: "The Panasonic Plasma Tour will be staffed by Panasonic Plasma Concierge experts who will be able to answer consumers' questions and give advice... Featured in the display will be Panasonic's full line of industry-leading Plasma TVs including the 37-inch, 42-inch, 50-inch, 58-inch, the recently debuted 1080p 65-inch, and the 103-inch model, the world's largest Plasma TV.... We know that consumers are looking for bigger screens and, when it comes to large screens, there is no better option than high definition plasma." All righty then. Did you know all Panasonic plasmas are covered by the Concierge program? And that you can call a toll-free number (888-972-6276) so a trained specialist can help you "get on with the experience of enjoying HDTV's benefits"? Well, I should hope so, since Darryl told you last June. Check out the Plasma Concierge website too.
You may not realize it, but space on your rack is valuable, and having gotten a slot, certain parties are determined to multi-task as much as possible. One of them is Microsoft. Starting on November 22 the behemoth of Redmond will start bringing TV and movies—including high-def material—to the Xbox 360 gaming console with content from CBS, MTV, Paramount, Turner, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and Warner. Some content will be download-to-own, some download-to-rent. Prices were not announced. TV stuff will include condensed NASCAR races, UFC's "most intense fights," and from CBS: episodes of CSI, Jericho, Numb3rs, and remastered Star Trek. Not many movie titles were announced except for Warner's The Matrix, Superman Returns, and Batman Forever. More content listed here, press release here.
Windows Vista launches November 30 to corporate customers and January 30 to consumers. Will the next version of Windows become the next big thing in high-end audio circles? There certainly are some interesting features listed in this tutorial from the Windows Vista Team Blog. For instance, bass management applies in both forward (LFE sent from main to sub channels) and reverse ("mapped back into the main channels"). There's "loudness equalization" to maintain even volume levels among different sources. "Speaker fill" seems to be the Microsofting of Dolby Pro Logic II though whether it will work equally as well remains to be seen (in my experience, nothing works as well as DPLII). Perhaps most ambitious, Vista will have its own "room correction" circuit, using microphone input to tweak delay, frequency response, and gain. "This technology works differently than similar features in high-end receivers since it better accounts for the way the human ear processes sound," says product manager Nick White. We'll see about that! While we're puckering up for Microsoft, check out Gizmodo's Happy Birthday, Windows XP. Five years old and still faithfully serving 400 million users.
For my money, the first-generation shuffle was the most boring iPod ever. Somehow, though, the absence of a screen seems more forgivable when the player shrinks to the size of a slightly obese postage stamp. That's the second-generation iPod shuffle and it shipped today after having been announced in September. It runs its one gigabyte of flash memory for 12 hours per charge. The one available color is silver and the price is $79. Even those of us who already have an iPod (I'm trying to hold the line at one) may be sorely tempted to add another one. You might want to keep one in your other suit. Or your second-favorite handbag. Or in all dozen pairs of faded, ripped, stained Levis. Or something.
Would you like to fling HDTV around your living room without wires? Seven major names in consumer electronics have banded together to do just that with the forthcoming WirelessHD standard, according to TWICE. They want to transmit high-def signals up to 32 feet using the 60GHz frequency band, also used by the military, universities, and offices. Up to 7GHz of that band would support simultaneous streaming of three 1080p signals. There would be no compression—at least, none in addition to the usual MPEG-2 and other HD codecs—so there would be no compromise in picture quality, in contrast to current low-bandwidth wireless video schemes. Look for WirelessHD in HDTVs, of course, but also in DVD players and adapters for set-top boxes. The WirelessHD Consortium includes LG, Matsushita, NEC, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba plus newcomer SiBEAM, the startup providing the underlying technology. The spec will be finalized in 2007 with products to follow in 2008. For updates, hit the official site.