Manhattan's Upper West Side is home to many world-class attractions—Lincoln Center, the Museum of Natural History, and the Fairway cheese department, to name just a few—but electronics-industry press events are relatively rare. Yet there I was, a 15-minute walk from my apartment, in a store full of reporters getting Toshiba's marketing message about HD DVD. The event at P.C. Richard & Sons was day one of a 40-city roadshow that will be repeated in stores throughout the country. The highlight of the presentation was a split-screen comparison of high- and standard-definition material, including a boat that glided from one side of the screen to the other, acquiring depth and detail along the way. Consumers had already placed orders that day for players to be delivered in the last week of March, we were told. Contrary to a rumor reported here, an interim agreement on encryption keys will allow hardware and software manufacturers to move forward in tandem. Still unanswered are the two big questions: (1) Can either HD DVD or Blu-ray prosper in a format war? And (2) what impact will the down-res of component video output have on owners of early-generation HDTVs? Toshiba has a new HD DVD website here and Darryl Wilkinson offers more details here. I, however, got the free long-sleeved HD DVD T-shirt, available in a choice of emerald, rose, and blue-grey. Word up, Blu-ray people—this is going to be a hard T-shirt to beat.
As soon as I added a subwoofer to my stereo desktop system, the illicit charms of 2.1-channel audio began to woo me like the moon pulling on the tide. So, I was primed and ready when Denon's S-301 HTIB system arrived with its two speakers, sub, and controller.
Would I stoop to running a news item just because it comes with a cool pic? If you thought otherwise, how little you know me. Congratulations to the Blu-ray family on the birth of the quad-layer disc, first shown in prototype at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show. Existing Blu-ray discs (inasmuch as they can be said to exist) use a single layer for capacity of 25 gigabytes or two layers for 50GB. Double the number of layers yet again and what do you get? A 100GB quad-layer disc that can store up to nine hours of high-definition video, at least in situations where digital rights management would so permit. As the picture shows, the disc actually has nine layers if you count the spacers, the second-from-top cover layer, and the Durabis layer—that's the name TDK has given the specially formulated top layer. Blu-ray players read data at a much shallower depth than regular DVD, so the top layer has to be both thin and hard. Otherwise it would need a protective caddy, like 2003-vintage Blu-ray in Japan. The quad-layer prototype is a write-once disc (not rewritable) and there's no word on when it will become available.
To hear the music industry talk, you'd think its sinking profits were entirely the result of little criminals downloading copyrighted material and going hee-hee-hee. A thousand adults beg to differ. Polled by Ipsos on behalf of Rolling Stone and the Associated Press, they attribute record-company woes to: illegal downloads (33 percent), competing forms of entertainment (29 percent), music getting worse (21 percent), and too-costly CDs (13 percent). In other words, fans say two-thirds of the industry's problems stem from market forces. At least three-quarters buy CDs at least occasionally, and the vast majority don't download anything, either legally or illegally. Among those who do download, 80 percent regard illicit peer-to-peer sharing as tantamount to stealing, though only 38 percent care. The most common way of hearing about new music is not the Internet (4 percent) but FM radio (55 percent). Click the external link for full poll results.
A problem with Blu-ray security technology will delay the launch of both Blu-ray and HD DVD by at least a few weeks, insiders have told a German security portal. The stumbling block is BD+, which allows updates of encryption schemes when they're hacked. While the BD+ component of the Advanced Access Content System is used only in Blu-ray, the delay in finalizing AACS will delay both formats. AACS LA, the standard-setting body, tried to resolve the problem last week but failed. The group will meet again next week and take another crack. In the meantime, HD DVD's slight product-debut lead over Blu-ray is dissipating. The HD DVD people must be fit to kill.
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.