Pope Benedict XVI is now an iPod owner. According to the Catholic News Service, employees of Vatican Radio honored the pontiff's first visit to their premises by giving him a nano inscribed on the back, "To His Holiness, Benedict XVI." The pope accepted the gift saying, "computer technology is the future." The iPod—in white, appropriately enough—is loaded with Vatican Radio programming, including a documentary on the life of St. Thomas a Becket, and music, including the works of Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky. The iPod will allow the pope to enjoy Vatican Radio's daily podcasts, which are offered in eight languages.
During the first hour that the JVC RX-D702B surround receiver sat on my rack, it began to wirelessly suck MP3s out of my PC. Then it sensed the clapping of my hands and automatically set its channel levels. Unpredictable moves are typical of JVC, one of the most underrated companies in consumer electronics.
Initial Blu-ray titles from Sony-owned studios will not include a down-res flag that would cripple older HDTVs. For months videophiles have been complaining bitterly that the bizarrely named Image Constraint Token would give studios the option of reducing analog component video output from high- to standard-definition. Sony, at least, has decided not to use the ICT. Though the decision certainly is not binding on other studios, Sony deserves a pat on the back for showing leadership. And it's comforting to know that you can put Sony software into a Sony Blu-ray player and see a full 1920 by 1080 pixels on your first-generation Sony HDTV.
Annoyed because that Rhapsody purchase won't work on your iPod? You'd love the new copyright law about to be enacted in France. Legal downloads would be required to operate on all devices, and consumers would be allowed to defeat DRM while making file conversions. Unauthorized downloads would still be illegal, carrying a file of 38 euros, and the penalties for selling illegal file-sharing software would be really stiff, at 300,000 euros or three years in jail. Prompted by France's need to bring itself into compliance with new EU copyright regulations, the law is getting attention because it's more unabashedly pro-consumer than bills being mulled in other EU nations. An earlier bill that would have legalized file sharing for a flat monthly fee has been dropped.
A successful format needs both hardware and software. Unfortunately for HD DVD, the software expected for the format's official March 28 launch date has just turned to vaporware. Warner Home Video announced that titles won't make it to the church on time due to unnamed technical problems. The delay may be only a week or two—"we just don't know." One possible explanation would be a delay with the content security system used, in some form, by both HD DVD and Blu-ray. The rumor mill said it hadn't gotten completed on time. A subsequent report said an interim agreement would let both formats move forward. And now—well, who knows? Though Paramount and Universal have also announced HD DVD titles, they’ve never provided a hard date. How this will affect Blu-ray's May 23 software launch remains unclear. Oh, one more thing—Disney is hinting it may support both formats, which would be welcome news in the HD DVD camp.
Half of electronic product returns happen because the products are just too complex for the consumer. That's the conclusion of a thesis published at Eindhoven University in the Netherlands. The study by Elke van Ouden found that American consumers are willing to spend 20 minutes on how do you work this thing before giving up. Even professionals—product managers from Philips, no less—had trouble when confronted with unfamiliar products. The researcher found that the single biggest problem was "product definition." It appears many consumers don't even know what they're buying. Maybe they should spend more time reading Home Theater. Just a suggestion.
TiVo's struggle for survival continues to generate headlines. Two weeks ago I reported that the company may reduced rebated hardware prices to nothing, concentrating on software for survival. This week's big announcement, as Darryl reports, is that TiVo is axing its $299 lifetime service plan in favor of shorter-term plans for one to three years. Darryl's also got the details on the new TiVo Mobile plan which will allow remote scheduling of DVR recordings from the Verizon Wireless network. And there's more: In June TiVo Kidzone will make the DVR more family-friendly by permitting parents to ix-nay programs either individually or under built-in advice from groups like the Parents Television Council. The company is targeting doctors with what it describes as "physician-oriented programs." Finally, the future may be brightening for TiVo—last year's fourth-quarter loss was 24 cents per share, down from 42 cents the previous year.
Samsung is the object of a Hollywood feeding frenzy. Five studios are suing the manufacturer for selling the DVD-HD841 DVD, DVD-Audio, and SACD player, though it was available for only a few months in 2004. Apparently this universal player was a little too universal. Like many players still sold, it allowed the regional coding feature to be easily hacked with a few remote keystrokes. Worse, from Hollywood's point of view, was its content-security weakness. Hackers found ways to defeat HDCP, allowing upconverted DVD content to be copied from the DVI output. Of course, the new Blu-ray and HD DVD formats have state-of-the-art security features, but they're being rushed onto the market before the ink has dried on the security-tech agreements. Looks like the studios are ready to pounce if any little accidents give pirates an advantage.