Do you want your HD video-on-demand and want it now? Meet MovieBeam. The system sends data through the PBS broadcast network to a special MovieBeam antenna and set-top box. Load up on bits, in either high- or standard-def, and then you have 24 hours to watch the movie. Disney has talked the rest of the studios (except Sony) into supporting the venture, four years in the making. You'll need an HDTV with HDMI input to receive movies in HD, and as an added bonus, the HDMI output upconverts SD to 720p. However, the box outputs component video only at 480p. Pricing per movie is $4.99 for new HD titles, $3.99 for new SD titles, $2.99 for old HD titles, and $1.99 for old SD titles. Box and activation fee cost a total of $230 after rebate. MovieBeam is now available in 29 cities.
The New York Philharmonic will soon offer newly recorded live material for downloading. A three-year deal with Deutsche Grammophon will bring four concerts per year to download services including iTunes (probably) and others (possibly). To see the significance of this, go to iTunes now and search New York Philharmonic. Nearly everything that comes up is an old CD title with Leonard Bernstein. Classical music has always had a modest slice of the market for recorded music, but it's tougher today, even for major orchestras, when they have to compete with their own recorded past. So they're off in search of new business models. The move into online distribution is a logical next step for the New York Philharmonic, already selling CDs under its own label. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra launched its own MSO Classics label last year to sell downloads through iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, and other services. At least one orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, is also releasing its own multichannel SACDs.
The file format that turned music distribution into free-for-all has acquired a watermark. Actually, a method of embedding digital rights management into MP3 is nearly two years old. But this latest wrinkle is not a thou-shalt-not anti-copying flag. It's more a method of identifying who has been doing what with downloads. A combination of psychoacoustic manipulation and spread-spectrum modulation makes the watermark inaudible to human ears, but it can be picked up by a watermark detector, and can survive both encode/decode processes and analog transmission. According to the Fraunhofer Institute, developer of both MP3 and the new watermark, "watermarking can provide a useful mechanism to track illicit copies or to attach property rights information to the multimedia content." Don't say I didn't warn you.
Unique is not a word to throw around lightly. To be unique, a product has to be like nothing else out there. Even by the strictest standard, however, the Boomtube from Think Outside can wrap itself in the mantle of uniqueness. This little emperor is well clothed.
The maker of the world's coolest LCD TVs is now offering high-def-capable versions in screen sizes up to 42 inches. My favorite of the eight new design series is the 32-inch HANNSvibe ($1299), pictured here with its detachable speakers. HANNspree is also moving into plasma with the 50-inch HANNSskate ($4199). All big-screen models have ATSC and QAM tuners for reception of over-the-air and unencrypted cable channels. Also new from HANNspree are the G IT line of computer monitors from 15 to 23 inches, the seven-inch car-mount HANNSMobi with built-in DVD player, and the HANNSvidilink, a wireless 802.11a video transmitter and receiver that works at distances up to 300 feet. And the company is adding four Warner Bros. cartoon designs (including Bugs) to its Disney, NBA, and MLB series. The only thing the company isn't marketing is a TV based on my image and I expect to see that any day now.
What major U.S. retailer is offering free streaming music videos recorded in its own studios? Nope, I'm not going to make it easy for you by running the company logo as artwork of the day. Hint: It's the same company that's forced the music industry to market censored versions of hit CDs. Still in the dark? It's also the same retailer that accounts for two percent of the U.S. economy, according to NPR Marketplace. I'm talking about Wal-Mart, of course. Check out Soundcheck on the company's homepage. The young and photogenic artist currently featured is Yellowcard (yup, that's them in the pic). Switchfoot has already been featured and Miranda Lambert is coming up. It's all a come-on for Wal-Mart's download service which offers WMA files at 128kbps (with DRM, of course) at a competitive 88 cents per track. iPod owners should note that while iTunes will convert WMA files to AAC, it will not convert WMA-DRM. Oh, and you Firefox and Safari users will have to swallow your pride for a few minutes and use Internet Explorer. That's what you get for making deals with the devil.
I love Leo Kottke's virtuoso guitar playing. Still, I hesitated to buy his album Sixty Six Steps, with bassist Mike Gordon, when Amazon specifically warned: "This Sony CD includes SunnComm MediaMax Version 5 content protection software that may expose security vulnerability when played on PCs." I don't love anyone quite enough to put a MediaMax-tainted CD into my PC. And when I rip a new CD for use in my iPod, I prefer a nice clean MP3 to the WMA-DRM format dictated by MediaMax. The iPod doesn't accept WMA files with DRM.
Worried about taking your iPod out in the rain? You needn't if you're wearing the BlackCoat Work from Ohio-based Koyono. The "Made for iPod" jacket's five pockets include one for your iPod. You can manipulate the player through the Elektex five-button fabric interface, sourced from Eleksen, a five-layer laminate of conductive materials. It's light, flexible, durable, washable, and (the company says) superior to the hard touchpads, flexi-circuits, and polymer switches used in other products. The BlackCoat Work will be available in March or April and can be ordered direct for $179.