Do you want your home fed with the highest bandwidth for HDTV, Internet service, and telephone? Then you want this. It's an optical network terminal, it goes with Verizon's fiber-optic FiOS service, and the company has begun installing them in 14 states (seven with video delivery service) as part of a nationwide rollout that will take many years. Not that I'm their publicist or anything—as a matter of fact, I'm a former Verizon customer—but no other company has set itself such an ambitious task. AT&T is Verizon's leading competitor, but that system is a hybrid of copper and fiber, while Verizon brings fiber right up to the wall of your house. Of all the digital pipes that might feed your home, a pure fiber-optic system is the most capacious. This particular wall belongs to a demo house at Verizon's R&D and network facility in Waltham Massachusetts. For more details and plenty of pictures see the Gallery.
Oh so carefully selected reporters swarmed the Samsung Experience store at New York's Time Warner Center to get a first hands-on experience with the BD-P100. The player took one minute to warm up by my pocket watch (vs. a reported three for Toshiba's HD DVD player). Picture quality on a Samsung 61-inch DLP projector was stunning, showing every hair and pore on Guy Pearce's stubbly face in Memento, and maintaining that degree of detail when accompanied by moderate subject or camera motion. Resolution softened when I turned off the projector's DNIe video processing though rapid motion also became smoother. On the whole I found it jolly convincing. Once you've seen 1080p at a high data rate, you'll never want to go back, at least on those releases that are true 1080p (as opposed to line-doubled fakes). Incidentally, there is no truth to the widely blogged (though not here!) rumor that the Samsung player will be delayed to late summer in the U.S.—the delay will be in the U.K.Delays have been confirmed for Sony and Pioneer players but Samsung expects to hit the scheduled June 25 release date.
Crime in New York gets more and more bizarre. The other day, someone broke into my apartment and redesigned my speakers. I'm not sure if our local burglars are capable of this. No, the KEF KHT 3005 is clearly the product of an extraterrestrial mind. Who else would reimagine a loudspeaker as a glossy-black egg? Indeed, who else would reimagine a subwoofer as a giant, staring eye?
Why pay $1,300 for a DVD player when you can get one for $100? You might as well ask, why fly first class when you can fly coach? Membership in the club of videophiles has its privileges. There will always be people who can afford to pay extra for tangible benefits, like top picture and sound quality, and intangible ones, like pride of ownership.
Bose product demos always come with a dash of entertainment. At last week's New York press demo for the QuietComfort 3 headphones, hapless reporters entered the room to find a mannequin wearing a pair of large Bose headphones, only to see the earpieces whipped off to reveal the newer, smaller model. The QuietComfort 3 is the third generation of Bose noise-canceling headphones. They cover the ear without enclosing it. They're the first noise-canceling headphones to use a rechargable battery, a 20-hour lithium ion type, and the charger is a cute earcup-shaped object with flip-down prongs that plug into the wall without a cable. A $39 accessory cable allows users to switch between cell phone and music. Check bose.com to see if your phone is compatible. The demo in New York actually used a Nokia cell phone with MP3 files at 192kbps. The headphones were accurate enough to reveal smeary compression artifacts—no surprise to me, since I already use the original QuietComfort 1, as well as the non-NC TriPort, and thought highly enough of the former to have the earpads renovated when they wore out. If you want full-sized cans, the QuietComfort 2 remains in the line for $299, but the new QuietComfort 3 sells for $349 and is available from the Bose site as of today.
Today MusicGremlin started selling the first player to download without a PC and The Wall Street Journal has got hold of it. (We all can't be Walter Mossberg and Katherine Boehret.) The Gremlin downloads via wi-fi for 99 cents per song. You can also use a PC but it must be a Windows PC. For music sharing, it can even beam music from player to player, as long as both parties subscribe to MusicGremlin Direct for $14.99/month. The WSJ does describe a few DRM limitations: "you can't share certain kinds of songs, including legally obtained MP3 files that you transfer to the Gremlin from your computer." Also, while the player downloads from T-Mobile hotpots, it can't do some forms of PC-enabled wi-fi-ing. The player has a two-inch LCD, 8GB capacity, and sells for $299 from musicgremlin.com.
The Pioneer Blu-ray player won't be arriving in June after all. In fact, it won't be out till autumn, according to a vague report in Reuters. Blu-ray's official software launch had already been delayed from May 23 to June 20 to coordinate with a delay in the launch of Samsung's player. If Samsung comes up with the goods on time, that probably won't change again. Pioneer's Blu-ray internal hard drive made its debut more or less on time last month, so presumably the player hitch is software—DRM?—as opposed to hardware related.
Red! Red! Red! Apple no longer sees the world in black & white. Aside from the newly reddened click wheel, the new iPod U2 Special Edition is business as usual. It is based on the 30GB iPod, fifth generation, and is the first iPod not to be offered in white. Clearly U2 will remain part of the iPod marketing program for some time to come and Bono can feed even more starving millions. Battery life is still 14 hours and the price is $329. In other news, 73 percent of college students surveyed by research firm Student Monitor said the iPod is "in," up from 59 percent last year, and surpassing beer at a mere 71 percent. Yes, the iPod is more popular than beer. Meanwhile, Apple has not only countersued Creative Labs but filed a second countersuit for good measure. Both companies allege patent infringements. And three more nations have taken up the aborted French proposal to make iTunes downloads interoperable with non-Apple devices: Norway, Sweden, and via the British Phonographic Institute, the United Kingdom. Apple is also feeling the heat from an anti-DRM group, Defective by Design.
The Home Entertainment Show—affectionately known among old-timers as the Stereophile Show—blossomed near LAX last week from June 1-4. This was the first year at a new location, the Sheraton Gateway. Far from the madding crowds of CES and CEDIA, HES does a great job of bringing manufacturers together with dealers, press, and public in a friendly context. That includes live music, reminding everyone present why we got into this business in the first place. The show has been extensively covered by our sister publications Ultimate AV and of course Stereophile. Their reporting skills and, in particular, their monopod-steadied photo prowess shame me. But then, I see this show differently than they do, with an eye for monitor-sized speakers that can be multiplied by five in a surround system, and a more jocular view of the show's historic two-channel orientation and some of the oddities that entails. Following are a few impressions. I'll post the least awful of these pictures to the Gallery plus a few extras.
The show was full of fridge-sized speakers but none of them sounded as good as the Totem Acoustics Dreamcatcher ($450/pair), driven by much pricier Plinius electronics. This was the most immediately appealing, and possibly the most accurate, sound at the show. It was utterly free of the grotesque coloration that marred dozens of larger speakers on display elsewhere. This picture looks good because I did not take it.