LG will bring out a player that handles both Blu-ray and HD DVD later this year, according to a leaked memo to dealers. That would be an interesting change in strategy from the company's former Blu-ray only policy. In fact, LG is dropping a previously announced Blu-ray player. It will also drop two LCoS models from its lineup, 71 and 62 inches, due to a chip shortage and what executives see as a waning microdisplay market. New 60- and 50-inch plasmas will be delayed and their current equivalents carried over. Finally, say hello to the world's largest LCD panel, a 100-inch prototype shown by LG.Philips at this week's CeBIT show in Hannover, Germany.
A federal judge has ordered DirecTV to suspend TV ads claiming that its HDTV is of higher quality than that of cable. For years, videophiles have complained that DirecTV's signal--HD or otherwise--is overcompressed, pixellated, and full of video artifacts. But this is the first time the satellite operator has been rebuked in court. The triggering event was a lawsuit by Time Warner Cable in response to ads starring William Shatner and Jessica Simpson with the slogan: "For picture quality that beats cable, you've got to get DirecTV." Has Captain Kirk steered us wrong? How the mighty have fallen. TWC also objected to claims that its subscribers weren't able to receive certain NFL football games. While TWC (and Cablevision) don't carry the NFL Network, the eight specific games in question were aired by broadcast stations available on cable. In addition to the TWC suit, filed in December, DirecTV is also fighting a class-action suit filed in California three months earlier. That one alleges inferior HD picture quality on HBO HD, HDNet Movies, Bravo HD, Showtime HD and DirecTV HDTV pay-per-view. Attorney Philip K. Cohen claims DirecTV sends HD at a data rate of 6.6 megabits per second, versus the industry-standard 19.4mbps.
Live music broadcasts go all the way back to the golden age of radio—to the very first broadcast, in fact, when the first broadcaster played his fiddle. And concert halls are again becoming studios. Live Nation, the world's largest operator of concert venues, has already wired 36 major venues and festival sites and plans to bring the number up to 120 by year-end. The result, for viewers, will be sizzling live music delivered to your TV, PC, cellphone, FM or satellite radio—any program provider willing to do business with Live Nation, a new company spun off from Clear Channel. The project is already pretty busy, having broadcast 250 shows from 50 artists in 2005. Given that LN stages 29,000 events per year, there's plenty of room for growth. What I'm hoping is that LN will discover how dull stadium performances can be, visually and sonically, and concentrate instead on bringing home music from the sweaty little clubs, where the real excitement is. Like, say, the House of Blues, which LN recently acquired. Oh, and please, record in 5.1. (PS: Readers have the right to know that I am a Live Nation stockholder.)
"There are eight million stories in the naked city," says the voiceover from the 1958 film noir of that name, and there are also 3000 stories in the Made for iPod city. One of them is Logitech's AudioStation. It hasn't got a handle, so it isn't exactly a boombox, but it does have two speakers surrounding a central control unit. What makes it special are touch-sensitive controls and a jutting dock for the iPod's 30-pin receptacle.
What's in a name? Logitech bills this iPod accessory as a set of "portable speakers," not a "system." That makes it smaller than such other iPod-compatible notables as the Bose SoundDock, Klipsch iGroove, and Apple's own Hi-Fi. It also signals a reduction in pricing, features, and expectations. The mm50 doesn't try to blow you away. It just provides an intravenous feed of music to keep you from going bonkers. In that respect it should not be underestimated.
Can a company better known for computer peripherals than for audio products make a great pair of headphones? Don't underestimate Logitech. The company's PC speakers may not keep the high-end audio industry awake at night but some of them do provide surprisingly decent sound for their modest pricetags. With these headphones, however, Logitech courts comparison with serious audio brands. That's because these are full-sized headphones (with real bass response) that enclose the ear (like the audio world's highest-performing headphone models).
From Sonos to Apple's AirPort Express, there are lots of ways to get music from a PC hard drive to a home theater system. One of them is Logitech's Wireless DJ Music System. It does not have all the features of Logitech's recently acquired Slim Devices line, including the latter's versatile connectivity and support for lossless formats. But it is simpler and a little less costly. It's also more functional than Logitech's step-down move, the Wireless Music System for PC, and has a far more functional remote control.
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.
Doesn't the world sometimes seem unbearably noisy? The best advice I can give you is this: Stick it in your ear! I'm talking about Mack's Pillow Soft Earplugs. Made of silicon gel, they mold themselves to the shape of your outer ear canal and cut noise by 22 decibels. That's better than any model of noise-canceling headphones. With a few days of practice you'll get used to gently pushing them into the ear just enough to cover the opening. Getting used to the sound of your footsteps traveling up your spine (BONK, BONK, BONK) takes longer. And I must admit that eating while wearing plugs sounds like a horror movie. But I am no longer willing to walk out on the road-rage-possessed streets of New York City without them. I also find them comforting on buses, subways, planes, and even in airports—a siren at the Newark Airport security checkpoint once practically brought me to my knees. What will other people think when they see you with plugs in your ears? Who cares? Give up a little dignity and baby your ears. They're the most irreplacable components in your system.
China may be just starting to lose the momentum that has made it the world's biggest manufacturing economy. True, Chinese factories make tremendous quantities of stuff, and some of it is of very high quality. But as China's booming coastal factories move up the ladder, costs are rising too, including wages, office rents, and utilities. That leaves manufacturers looking to stay on the leading edge of cost-effectiveness with two options: either move deeper into the Chinese mainland, or move to other nations with seaport access. The Economist reports that Intel has raised a previously announced $350 million investment in a Vietnamese chip-making plant to a cool billion. Mark Schifter of Onix tells me he's moved some (though not all) of his company's loudspeaker production to Cali, Colombia, where labor costs more but MDF and veneers cost less. His Chinese factories have to import those things. Also contributing to corporate unrest: recurring concerns over China's wild-west attitude toward intellectual property.
Daniel Barenboim is using his baton as a stiletto. The outgoing musical director of the Chicago Symphony has lashed out against Muzak in a BBC lecture series. Starting in the 1920s, Muzak pioneered the piped-in music that follows you around like a talkative acquaintance with bad breath. Barenboim called it "absolutely offensive" and declared, "active listening is essential." In response, the Muzak people compared their product to the works of Erik Satie, describing it as an "aural background" and a "mood enhancer." But the conflict here isn't between foreground and background listening. It's between music voluntarily perceived as music and music involuntarily endured as noise.
Two things you need to know about Christoph Niemann. His artwork has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, and American Illustration. And he does not like cables. In this visual essay in the New York Times Opinion section, he explains why. Niemann is not so much Luddite as everyman: Is there anyone out there who cannot relate to the following statement?: "The true malice of headphones, however, is revealed when they are allowed to mingle with other cables."
Are you a fan of Norah Jones? If so, you may be looking to download "Thinking About You," her new single. Best place to go is Yahoo, where you can buy it in the latest, coolest codec ever: MP3! Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can buy the track from iTunes. But if you do, it will be wrapped in FairPlay, Apple's brand of digital rights management (yuck, tooey). Wouldn't you rather pay the same to Yahoo, and enjoy the following advantages of DRM-free downloads, so helpfully enumerated by Yahoo? Oooh, talk DRM-less to me:
Today Bob Dylan makes his debut as DJ on XM Satellite Radio. He will host Theme Time Radio Hour, each installment organized around a different theme—today's theme is the weather. The New York Times ran a set list for next week's show, devoted to Mother's Day. More than a mere list of novelty songs, it demonstrates the deep and encyclopedic knowledge of roots music that has always informed Dylan's songwriting: Tommy Duncan, Buck Owens, Bobby Peterson Quartet, Ruth Brown, Carl Smith, Ernie K-Doe, Little Junior Parker, Jimmy McCracklin, and LL Cool J. The Times arched an eyebrow at LL Cool J. Perhaps the greying composer of "Positively 4th Street" is more sophisticated than the Grey Lady of West 43rd. Dylan will record the one-hour weekly show at home and on the road.
Independent music labels are banding together to increase their marketing power in the dawning download era. Say hello to Merlin, a licensing authority that bills itself as a "virtual fifth major" label. It will serve as a single point of contact for download services like iTunes and Rhapsody, giving indies a better shot at getting into the most heavily trafficked online distribution channels. Under a deal with SNOCAP, Shawn Fanning's post-Napster venture, Merlin will also enable artists to sell no-DRM MP3s on MySpace or through their own virtual stores. Members include numerous indies from the United States, Latin America, United Kingdom, Europe, and the far east. Look out Universal, Sony BMG, EMI, and Warner. You've got some real competition now.