That's the slogan of IPac, a pro-consumer group. They want the folks in Congress to know exactly what they're doing when they limit fair use of popular products. The impetus for the campaign was a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the latest version of the broadcast flag bill. Eighty-year-old Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) announced that his daughters had given him an iPod and he was having great fun listening to his favorite albums on it. This changed the tone of the hearing as Stevens and Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) grilled lobbyists on both sides of the issue, including Mitch Bainwol of the RIAA and Gary Shapiro of CEA. To date the campaign has raised enough to buy 12 iPods. They'll come preloaded with a commentary, for senatorial edification, by legal heavyweight Lawrence Lessig on "balanced copyright." Come on, people, there are still 88 senators left!
By now it should be no surprise that HDTV unit sales doubled in the fourth quarter of 2006 compared to 4Q 2005. What might lift an eyebrow is that a third of those bright shiny new HDTVs were 1080p models, according to Pacific Media Associates. Just six months earlier, 1080p had accounted for only five percent of HDTV sales. What a change half a year of hype can make. For the alphanumerically disinclined, "1080p" refers to displays that show 1920 by 1080 pixels with the entire picture drawn one full frame at a time. Back when guys delivered chunks of ice to cool cordless refrigerators, analog television began using an interlacing process that scanned each frame in two passes, and this process still survives, sort of like the coccyx. However, some experts point out that paying a premium for 1080p may not be a wise decision. Notes our video editor Geoff Morrison: "From where most people sit, you don't need 1080p in a 37-42 inch TV. It's arguable that you do in a 50-inch set." Deal of the month: Buy one Pioneer Elite PRO-FHD1 50-inch plasma, get one free. Next big thing: the 120Hz refresh rate.
Cool headline, eh? You probably assumed that some online or satellite service is offering a cornucopia of freebies. And these 264 new digital audio channels are indeed both free and ad-free—but they're available over the air. You've heard of HD Radio, the digital terrestrial broadcast format sneaking onto the airwaves alongside analog signals of 700 stations nationwide, but perhaps you hadn't heard that the HD Digital Radio Alliance is also rolling out hundreds of totally new HD-2 Multicast channels in 29 markets. There's a variety of music and talk formats with names like Extreme Hip Hop, Future Country, Classical Alternative, and Chick Rock. And you can hear 'em with a variety of HD Radio products including the HD Radio version of the Boston Acoustics Receptor Radio (pictured) and other products from ADA, Alpine, Day Sequerra, Eclipse, JVC, Kenwood, Panasonic, Polk, Rotel, and Yamaha. HD Radio can be a table radio, a car radio, a surround-receiver feature, or a multi-zone multi-tuner. Someone please send me one.
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.
Can mediocre audio gear hinder your relationship with music? The guys in 3 Doors Down say yes. Not that they aren't doing well--their CDs sell in the multi-platinum range. But they agree with the audiophile community that lack of exposure to good audio equipment hurts listeners and musicians alike. Three members of 3 Doors Down were kind enough to take questions from Home Theater, including lead singer Brad Arnold, guitarist Matt Roberts, and guitarist Chris Henderson.
It had to happen eventually. Paramount announced today that Mission Impossible III will be the first title to receive simultaneous release in three disc formats: high-definition Blu-ray and HD DVD, and standard-definition DVD-Video. Each release will be a two-disc collector's edition with five deleted scenes, four documentaries, theatrical trailers, and other features. Blu-ray and HD DVD releases will have soundtracks in next-generation Dolby Digital Plus. The special-edition sets will have commentaries by Tom Cruise and director J.J. Abrams—but only the HD DVD release will show them talking in a corner of the screen during the movie. A single-disc DVD-Video release will include the deleted scenes, commentary, and the "Making of the Mission" documentary but will omit the other documentaries and features.
How often does The New York Times print something clueless about home theater technology? About as often as you go to the bathroom. The latest outrage comes in a story debunking various tech underachievers with the headline The Hat Trick That Didn't Happen. Reporter Richard Siklos cites a Frank N. Magid Associates survey saying that the number of HDTV buyers who are looking forward to watching high-def has declined from 63 percent two years ago to 47 percent now. He goes on to say: "The reason for this lack of enthusiasm is pretty clear in my own home. For one thing, plenty of shows on the high-definition channels I receive with my digital cable package appear with big black borders--because of the aspect ratio or somesuch--and I can't figure out whether this is my doing or the cable company's or the broadcaster's." Actually, aspect ratio is the program producer's decision, and those black borders are usually a superior alternative to stretching. Note to Siklos' editor: Tell your reporter to find his remote and learn to use the aspect ratio control or somesuch. He can learn more about aspect ratio in any number of places, including the Wiki. And while he's at it, RTFM. If fewer HDTV buyers are interested than HDTV today versus two years ago, the most likely explanation is that plummeting flat-panel prices have lured less knowledgable viewers into the market. And the solution is to assign knowledgable writers to cover the subject.
"A Full-Blooded Approach, with Surround Sound," promised the New York Times headline of a piano-recital review. I knew I wouldn't be able to resist quoting it when the concert venue, the Frick Collection, was described as "perfect for the iPod generation, offering intense surround sound, minus the hearing damage." I thereupon combed the Apple website for hours looking in vain for the new surround-capable iPod before realizing that critic Vivien Schweitzer was, quite reasonably, designating surround sound as a virtue lacking in earbud-tethered devices. She praised British pianist Leon McCawley for his performances of the Mozart "Sonata in D," Rachmaninoff's "Études-Tableaux," and the "Suite for Piano" by Hans Gál, with its "Debussy-like harmonies, Schubertian lyricism, echoes of Brahms and Prokofiev and a hint of atonality.... The listener, meanwhile, was enveloped in an acoustical cocoon of bright, passionate sound." If you think the sole purpose of this blog is mockery, think again. Chamber and symphonic concertgoing offers an all too rare chance to build an acoustically pure frame of reference, unmediated by electronics, that can be applied to gauge the quality of equipment. I treasure my experiences in the Vienna Musikverein and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. You'll never hear better surround sound than in the right seat of a first-class concert hall.
We interrupt this blog to bring you a commercial message about Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems (2007 Edition). Now moving into its sixth edition, it is the only annually updated book on home theater. This year the looong chapters on digital television and surround sound have been compassionately subdivided and reorganized. There are 40 more pages of content than in the first edition, including 16 new pages for this edition alone. Digital, or "on demand," printing technology lets me refresh the book every October, pulling the old edition and activating the new one. However, there are still old editions in the pipeline, and if you search the title on retailer sites, the new edition may not be the first to come up. Further complicating this year's switchover is the transition from the 10-digit International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to the new 13-digit variety on January 1, 2007. To ensure that you order the latest edition, look for the following identifiers...
An annual source of delight for readers everywhere is the updating of my book Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems (2011 Edition) from Quiet River Press. The latest edition is the 10th. Look out for the one with the spiffy green cover (yellow is so last year). In this year's edition you'll find a brand-new chapter on 3DTV with my own admittedly skeptical take on the subject. I've also consolidated the DVR and audio-server chapters into a new chapter on DVRs, streamers, and servers. It makes a lot more organizational sense. For the ISBN-minded, the ISBN-13 number is 9781932732122, and ISBN-10 is 1932732128. To ensure you order the right edition, click the links above and below. They'll take you to my website and that will take you to Amazon. You're also welcome to shop other online booksellers by searching the title on AddAll. Or, if you're the old-fashioned kind, walk through the door of your local bookstore and special-order the book. Just be sure to give the correct ISBN. This year's edition will be the first to be distributed in Europe, Canada, and Australia as well as U.S. and U.K. retail channels. The price remains $19.95 in the U.S., same as the first edition in 2002, a nice value in these hard times. Please buy my book so I won't have to beg in the street.
It's that time of year again. My book Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems has been reborn in what has become an annual tradition. You can distinguish the new edition by its yellow cover or its ISBN number: 9781932732115. This edition is number nine and its cover date (printed on the spine) is 2010. As always, I've gone over it obsessively, rooting out stale information and freshening up as much as possible. On the video side, LED-backlit LCD HDTV and the conclusion of the DTV transition. On the audio side, this is the first edition to discuss the new height-enhanced surround modes, Audyssey DSX and Dolby Pro Logic IIz. It goes into detail about the latest version of HDMI, 1.4, and separates HDMI-cable fact from hype. And it delves into the exotic amplifier topologies that are finding their way into receivers, including the new Class D, Class G, and Class H. I remain committed to the annual update and have already stripped the book's giant text file so I can begin work on the next edition. It never ends. Finally, please note that the book is sold mainly online via Amazon and other booksellers in the U.S., U.K., and Europe. But you can special-order it from a brick-and-mortar bookstore.
In a global economy convulsing with change, middle-level journalists in my dusty corner of the technology sector don't get many invitations to board a plane for Tokyo. Especially when the ticket is business class. But that's where I found myself a few weeks ago, in a luxurious seat with four different points of adjustment, on my way to visit one of the world's great audio companies: Sony. True, Sony isn't the first company most American audiophiles would think of in connection with high-end audio, or even the second or third. Yet I've been consistently knocked flat by demos of its two new loudspeaker lines in recent years. And it looks as if Sony is also looking to improve its game as a maker of surround receivers. Following is a brief summation of what you need to know about Sony's rebirth as an audio brand.
Smaller iPod-compatible speaker systems like this one are usually described as "speakers" (as opposed to "systems"). The Altec Lansing inMotion gets points for not calling itself an i-something. What's seductive about it, though, is its shape-shifting ability.
I'm nothing if not loyal to my reference gear. Google "fleischmann rotel rsx-1065" or "fleischmann paradigm studio 20" and you'll see what I mean--the latter alone brings up more than 900 links on this site and elsewhere. I continue to use, and implicitly recommend, these products because they sound great, combine the best traits of both real-world and high-end audio, and give my ears a stable and reliable benchmark against which to judge other things. When I tell speaker makers I use the Rotel, they breathe a sigh of relief. So do receiver makers, when I tell them I'm using the Paradigms. The reference pieces also like one another. Hearing them together recalibrates my ears between reviews. I wish I could listen to them more often.
You order a DVD, then it's custom-made and shipped. That's the beauty of the new DVD on Demand service from Amazon, partnering with CustomFlix. Producers send DVD or tape masters, which are then placed on a secure server for ordering from the Amazon or CustomFlix sites. "Customers receive professional-quality DVDs in overwrapped, Amaray-style cases with full-color covers and lacquer-coated disc faces," says CustomFlix. There are two levels of distribution service: Independent Media Gateway for indies with fewer than 50 titles, and Enterprise Media Gateway for the big guns. The latter include NBC, PBS, A&E, the History Channel, and the Biography Channel. You'll be able to order Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from NBC and Nova from PBS, among other announced titles. Current releases are standard-def but in the future CustomFlix will support HD DVD, Blu-ray, and WMV-HD DVD. On-demand distribution systems generally trade a greater manufacturing cost per copy for the flexibility of replicating one unit at a time, so they're most suitable for small projects, like DWL Video's lovely epic on the 17 Year Cicada. A parallel cottage industry has grown up around on-demand book printing, including both my home theater guide and my restaurant guide.