The rap against the video iPod is that the screen is too small for movie immersion or even music-video amusement. Well, it was only a matter of time until someone came up with a video docking station, and Viewsonic has done it. The Apple-authorized "made for iPod" ViewDock comes in sizes of 23 and 19 inches, suitable for desktop, dorm, or space-starved studio apartment. Viewsonic's press release does not disclose resolution, though iTunes video downloads max out at standard-def 640 by 480, so a livingroom-worthy high-def ViewDock remains just an aspiration. The ViewDock will hit Europe, Taiwan, and—yesss!—the United States in November (otherwise I wouldn't have bothered to report it). Price is yet to be determined.
The engineers at Warner have been busy lately. Their latest quest: Why can't Blu-ray and HD DVD just get along? According to the NewScientist news service, Alan Bell and Lewis Ostrover have filed a patent for a disc that plays both of the nascent high-def formats as well as standard-def DVD. Getting the existing DVD format onto the disc was a cinch—it's simply the second side of a dual-sided disc. But how did they manage to get Blu-ray and HD DVD together onto the other layer? Two things worked in their favor. First, Blu-ray reads the disc at a relatively shallow 0.1mm, while HD DVD (like regular DVD) reads at a deeper 0.6mm. Second, they found a way to make the shallower Blu-ray layer act as a two-way mirror. It reflects enough light back to the laser to make the Blu-ray layer's data readable, but at the same time, lets through enough light to penetrate to the deeper HD DVD layer. Yet to be determined: How much will this three-format disc cost to manufacture? Will the hardware makers go for it, even assuming that the Blu-ray and HD DVD licensing powers allow them? And finally, and most crucial, will the studios and video retailers go for it? For the latter in particular, this could be the solution to the triple-inventory nightmare that threatens to strangle both Blu-ray and HD DVD.
In the market battle between LCD and plasma displays, conventional wisdom holds that where they overlap, LCD will always cost more, and therefore plasma is the better value. But in July, the average street price of 40- to 44-inch LCDs fell below that of plasma for the first time, according to Pacific Media Associates. The market research firm's Flat Panel Display Tracking Service also found that LCD's market share went up four points, to 46 percent. Says VP Rosemary Abowd: "We've seen this repeatedly in the past. When the price of LCDs match or drop below the prices for plasma HDTVs of the same size, LCDs win. We expect that LCDs will account for the majority of unit sales in the 40- to 44-inch range soon." Plasma still has the advantage in black level and viewing angle, though it's more subject to the screen-door effect, and that big glass sandwich is heavier and thus a little harder to mount.
Last week's announcement of Apple's new iPod line was a historic one. It was the first time a rival maker of music players has made Steve Jobs sweat in public. It was no accident that Jobs introduced a second-generation iPod nano with a capacity of 8GB and a price of $249, essentially doubling the capacity of the old 4GB nano for the same price. SanDisk, number two in the music-player market, has been selling an 8GB, $249.99 nano-killer for months. The Sansa e280 is not nearly as thin as the nano, though it does have a color LCD that's a half-inch taller, and it sounds equally good. I'd love to tell you more, but the blog-review that was slated to appear in this space today has been spirited off to the print magazine where it will appear in the December issue. Say, big spender, isn't it about time for you to finally subscribe? Come on, it's $12.97 a year, just over a buck an issue. It won't kill you.
Polk Audio's acquisition by Directed Electronics is the latest in a series of shifts among the audio industry's rich assortment of stars. Directed—a power in mobile tech products, judging from its website—had already acquired Definitive Technology. In another noteworthy deal, Klipsch bought API, the Canadian giant whose brand names include Mirage, Energy, Athena, and Spherex. Klipsch is also the proud new owner of Jamo, the cool Danish brand. And all this comes on top of last year's sale of Boston Acoustics to D&M Holdings—a stable that already included Denon, Marantz, McIntosh, Snell, Escient, and RePlayTV—and NHT's move from the Rockford Corp. to the Vinci Group. Why are so many potent and prestigious brands changing hands? It feels as though some invisible hand were rearranging the constellations, and declining audio-component sales are the obvious suspect. But historically, major speaker brands (with the notable exception of Bose) have been sold and resold regularly, and all the brand names involved here are valuable ones that deserve fresh and vigorous marketing.
To say the Geneva Lab Model XL is merely the largest of the one-piece iPod-compatible speaker systems would be unjust. It is the wildest flight of fancy the iPod has inspired. Plugging your iPod into one is like boarding a 747—you get a distinct feeling that something more powerful than yourself is about to lift you into the air. I must note, however, that the XL looks, sounds, and smells better than any commercial aircraft I've been on.
There's something unusual, novel, even peculiar about this compact system. But I'm not going to tell you what it is yet. Instead, I'll tell you what I think is most significant. The JVC EX-A10 takes me back in time, back to when I was a kid, before everything went digital. I used to carefully clean my records, put them on the turntable, flip sides every 20 minutes, and play music for hours upon hours. This JVC system has that old-time analog feel.
The best thing I heard at the show was the JL Audio demo. Partnered gear included a SIMS2 projector, Screen Research screen, HALCRO Logic disc player, Dynamat acoustic treatment, and Tributaries cable plus JL's speakers, subs, and electronics. The demo had everything that matters including big bass, non-abrasive midrange, and wide dynamics. Subs are extremely adjustable, using either an automatic setup routine or manual controls.
Approximately 87 percent of all speaker models introduced at the show were from Paradigm. Bill VanderMarel shows off the new Signature line with beryllium tweeter. Even more significant, to me, is the fourth-gen revision of the Studio line--the second-gen Studio/20 happens to be my longtime reference speaker--with the aluminum tweeter upgraded to a better one and the polymer woofer giving way to satin-anodyzed aluminum. Highlight of the revised Monitor series is a new and larger version of Paradigm's classic budget bookshelf model, the Titan. Millenia is the new "lifestyle" line, and there are in-walls galore.
Top-flight DVDO deinterlacing is the highlight of Arcam's DV139 DVD-Video/-Audio/SACD universal player. It acknowledges the latest fad in video specsmanship by upscaling images to 1080p though it is not a Blu-ray or HD DVD player. Still, given the fact that the first-gen Blu-ray and HD DVD players don't play SACD or DVD-Audio, the DV139 may deserve a place as the second (or first) of two players on your rack. (Feeling artsy, I forbade removal of the water bottle.)