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Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 21, 2006  |  3 comments
The legislative silly season is barely underway but this year promises a bumper crop of whoppers. Arguably the biggest mistake about to be written into law is a national franchise agreement for telcos muscling their way into the video-delivery biz. Cable companies have to win municipal franchises that bring in money for local governments and give consumers at least an indirect stick with which to beat slovenly cable operators. They are also required to serve all paying households in their service areas. Now the telcos can compete with cable companies while remaining blissfully free of the local regulation that encourages your local cable op to serve every neighborhood and keep his nose clean. If you think your cable company is arrogant, wait till you've got one wire coming into your home from a company that doesn't have to play by the rules, be it AT&T or Verizon. The cable industry is crying foul, and let's face it, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Give due consideration to this heated position paper from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
Mark Fleischmann  |  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.
Mark Fleischmann  |  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  |  May 22, 2006  |  4 comments
Lost amid the hype surrounding the Blu-ray format is the story of its environmental impact. And guess what? Blu-ray wears a white hat. In the process of cutting the manufacturing steps down from twelve to five, the new "phase transition mastering" process also eliminates several toxic chemicals. Only one remains, a developing fluid, and it's recirculated back into the production process. Blu-ray also requires less utility use, both energy and water. What makes this especially interesting is that the HD DVD people make a big deal of the fact that their format uses the same manufacturing techniques as existing DVD—toxicity and all. Whether consumers would care is debatable, but if they don't, they should. These details emerged during a press tour of the Sony DADC plant in Terre Haute, Indiana, where we all donned clean-room smocks, shower caps, and booties (blue, of course) and saw copies of Hitch running down the production line. Oh, and the packaging (blue, of course) has a redesigned spindle that releases the disc with one easy touch, so you'll use less energy (swearing) and water (sweating) when getting the disc out of the box.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Dec 14, 2006  |  0 comments
Does your loved one own a Creative Labs Zen music player and look longingly at shop windows full of "Made for iPod" docking systems? Well, just in time for the holiday season, Cambridge SoundWorks comes to the rescue with the PlayDock Zen. It recharges the player and runs on AC or, gulp, eight C batteries (note to CSW: think rechargable next time). It's also got a line-input to accommodate any other kind of music player, 480 by 640 video output, telescoping antenna for radio-equipped players, and--miraculous!--a handle. If you're looking for an alternative, Creative Labs offers its own TravelDock Zen Micro and many other Zen accessories. Think differently! Oh, and the PlayDock will also support iPods starting in January with the PlayDock i. In either case, the price is $199.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 02, 2007  |  0 comments
Somewhere back in the dusty corridors of time, in a house in New Jersey, a child found an old radio in the basement. It was a Sears Silvertone with a dark brown plastic chassis. No FM, just AM, and therefore not of much interest to the increasingly music-aware child. But he--oh, all right, I--was fascinated by the tubes inside. Unlike all the other radios in the house, which immediately started blaring when turned on, this one took time to warm up. When ready to play, its single speaker emitted a rich tone. Not exactly a silver tone. More of a chocolate tone. But I did love it, and was sorry when it suddenly disappeared from the house, as so many artifacts of my childhood did in those days.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 05, 2007  |  1 comments
Which would you prefer: To buy a new PC with Windows Vista, or go on using your iPod? You can't have both unless you're extremely careful. Apple Computer--oops! sorry! Apple Inc.--has issued an advisory with a couple of warnings. First, when ejecting your iPod from a Vista-loaded PC, use the eject command in iTunes, not the one in the Vista system tray. Otherwise the PC "may corrupt your iPod," Apple says. Other potential problems: Songs purchased on iTunes may not play in the iTunes software, and since the DRM-wrapped tracks won't play in any other software, that means they won't play, period. Contacts and calendars won't sync. And adjustments can't be made to some settings. Apple explains and offers a patch, but you might want to wait for the next full version of iTunes ("available in the next few weeks") before letting iTunes and Vista butt heads.
Mark Fleischmann  |  May 25, 2006  |  1 comments
Interesting piece by Wired columnist Leander Kahney on the iPod's steady rise to acceptance as a hi-fi audio device. But I think he oversells his point when he says the iPod has audiophiles "spinning in their soundproof graves." He also oversimplifies, asserting that "to purists, only old-fashioned vinyl platters cut it." This stereotype (pun intended) ignores a whole universe of digital audio developments such as SACD and DVD-Audio, great concert videos in lossy surround formats, and the use of Dolby Pro Logic II to coax surround out of stereo source material (whether from CD, WAV, MP3, AAC, or none of the above). Speaking as an audiophile, I find these things just as interesting as my LP collection or, for that matter, my iPod. The biggest problem with high-performance audio, according to 56 percent of consumers in one survey, is that not enough of them have heard it.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 06, 2013  |  2 comments
It's official. The future of audio hardware and software now has an acronym. It's HRA, or high-resolution audio, trumpets a press release from the Consumer Electronics Association. HRA may well emerge as a key theme of CEA's 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show. So this would be a good time to discuss what is, and is not, high-resolution audio.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 01, 2017  |  2 comments
It started with Thelonious Monk. I was playing Thelonious Alone in San Francisco when a rhythmic swishing sound began to make itself heard. It was not present at the beginning of the disc, but it faded up slowly toward the middle and became an excruciating noise by the end. This was the first audible manifestation in my music library of something I'd been dreading for some time: CD rot.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 17, 2006  |  2 comments
Hard-copy music libraries are becoming passé, at least across the pond. eBay surveyed 1000 households in the U.K. and found that £17.2 billion, with a b, worth of CDs will have been ripped to MP3 by year-end. What's happening to them? The Guardian reports that charity shops are being "inundated with donated CDs, as more and more people trim their collections—or even get rid of them altogether to free up space." Of course, for those of us who like our music uncompressed, or just want to stay up to date with the latest codec, this avalanche of cheap CDs is a buying opportunity reminiscent of the days when faddish listeners dumped perfectly good LPs. Do you really want to eviscerate your music library? Go ahead, make my day!
Mark Fleischmann  |  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?"
Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 25, 2006  |  2 comments
Powered-subwoofer specifications have long been a minefield of inconsistency. How deep, how loud can they really play? Consumers may shop with greater confidence now that the Consumer Electronics Association has delivered its long-awaited sub specs. Given the catchy name CEA-2010, the document commands that subs be tested "in a calibrated anechoic [non-echoing] chamber, in a suitable ground plane environment, or in a large calibrated room." Test tones, with one-third octave spacing, are at these frequencies: 20, 25, 31.5, 40, 50, and 63 Hertz. The specs don't cover power ratings, but it will be great for consumers to get standardized information on the acoustic output of powered subs. The end result on spec sheets should look like this:
Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 28, 2006  |  1 comments
Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association—who often looks like he needs a shave but is otherwise a perfectly respectable individual—is making a renewed push for HR1201. The Digital Media Consumers' Right Act of 2005 was introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) more than a year ago. The bill would directly write into law the Supreme Court's 1984 landmark Betamax Decision, which sanctioned recording for personal use. "For innovation and for consumer freedom, the doctrine originally announced in the Betamax case is the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence rolled into one," Shapiro declared in a press release from the Home Recording Rights Coalition. In a CEA press release based on Shapiro's remarks to a Cato Institute meeting, he also took some interesting shots at the presumed sacredness of copyright: "The content community has undertaken a slick public relations and positioning campaign to distort the law of copyright to make it seem as if it is a subset of the law of real property. What they totally ignore is that the United States Constitution accorded patents and copyrights a different treatment allowing Congress to grant patent and copyright terms for limited times.... It is not only intellectually disingenuous to treat copyright as a real property, it distorts the debate so that fair use becomes less relevant and consumer rights...become marginalized to the point of vanishing." If you'd like to put your oar in the water, please do.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 24, 2010  |  3 comments
The Consumer Electronics Association hosted a Line Show in midtown Manhattan for the second consecutive year. Our colleagues at TWICE covered the economic forecast while we did a walk-through. Anthem, long known for its pre-pros and multichannel amps, unveiled four receivers. They range from the MRX 300 ($1000) to the MRX 900 ($4000). All have Anthem's own room correction.