Alfred Hitchcock in a Box
The matured DVD format enables library builders to enjoy the full sweep of a great career in cinema for minimal investment. A perfect example is Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense. Most of his major works are collectible in huge boxed sets that cost less, per title, than a movie ticket. True, the HD DVD and Blu-ray formats may eventually bring high-def reissues. But that would take years, and in the meantime, the standard-def boxes are bargains. Grab them before they slip away.
The McIntosh MX150 pre-pro ($12,000) can reassign its XLR and RCA ins, a boon to those into triamplification. Its Room Perfect room correction uses 121 test tones to massage your room with 112 octaves of wonderfulness. While the USB input cannot accept 122 source components at once, it can recognize that many one by one. Let us gloss over the MVP 881BR, an $8000 Blu-ray player with non-3D-savvy HDMI 1.3. That brings us to the binding posts that made our eyes pop out of their sockets. They were on the back of an MC302 power amp. The top hex piece unscrews as you'd expect, while the bottom round piece floats. Details? You want more details? It uses electricity.
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.
This company makes some of the best PC speakers and compact systems. In the former category is the Expressionist BASS ($129), a cone-shaped wonder with sub firing out of the bottom. For the bedroom, Altec offers the Moondance GLOW ($179), a clock/radio with pyramid-shaped snooze remote. Finally, inMotion MAX ($199) is the successor to my all-time favorite portable system, the im600, which I own, use daily, and gave my Mom for Christmas. It's iPhone hip -- in other words, shielded from microwave radiation -- so you can keep your iPhone on and take calls while it plays music through the system.
In development at Altec Lansing is Rex, a compact system that establishes its own network, "moving music from anywhere to anywhere," says my former boss Robert Heiblum. It can "see" your PC or another Rex and performs this miracle every time you turn it on. Plug in your iPod or USB device. Enjoy Internet radio, AM, or FM radio. I predict this one will indeed be a monster. Look it for later in the year.
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.
Though its Cloud Drive and Cloud Player have just launched this week, allowing customers to store and access content from remote servers, Amazon is already contemplating the next steps. One imperative is to patch things up with the music industry. Another is to make the technology more convenient, replacing the unwieldy upload process with a slicker content-ownership recognition system.
First the record company politics: Amazon rushed the Cloud Drive and Player introduction to steal a march on Apple and Google, which are planning similar moves. In doing so it unnerved the major labels. One of them, Sony Music, has aired its complaint in public, commenting ominously through a spokesperson: "We are keeping our legal options open."
Discs are better for collecting, streaming for instant gratification. Wouldn't it be great to get both in one purchase? That's exactly what Amazon is doing with its Disc+ On Demand. The slogan is "Buy Now, Watch Now."
In the wake of the second-generation Apple TV's introduction, Amazon has one-upped Steve Jobs with a new TV-streaming scheme. Your 99 cents per show will buy not just limited-time streaming rights, but permanent ones. Apple charges 99 cents to rent, Amazon 99 cents to own (for both HD and SD). Amazon's previous price was $2.99.