"Image Constraint Token." A piquant phrase, yes? Roll it around on your tongue a few times before I tell you what it is. OK, ready? It's the name of the flag that will down-res HDTV in the soon-to-debut Blu-ray and HD DVD formats under the rights management scheme known as AACS (Advanced Access Content System). The restriction will apply only to the player's component video outputs, because they're analog, and therefore give the studios security nightmares. If your HDTV has HDMI, you needn't worry. HDMI is digital, easier to protect, and will work at full resolution. But if you're an early HDTV adopter and component is the only HD input on your set—ouch. The Image Constraint Token will halve resolution from 1920 by 1080 pixels to 960 by 540. It is an option, not a requirement. Studios likely to use it reportedly include Disney, NBC Universal, Paramount, and Warner. Fox has argued against it and Sony hasn't taken a position. The logic behind the ICT is staggeringly faulty: Does anyone really believe that cutting resolution in half will stop pirates in their tracks?
Possibly the hottest story in home theater is the rollout of video-delivery services from the telcos. AT&T is just getting started while Verizon is going strong. Verizon has just announced that its bleeding-edge FiOS TV service will make its debut in Massapequa, New York and Woburn, Massachusetts. It's already available in parts of Texas, Florida, and Virginia. Eventually it will reach half the states in Verizon's service area with the addition of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington. FiOS TV is 100 percent fiber, piped right into your home, and it's just one facet of Verizon's longterm plan to upgrade all its copper lines (someday) to fiber optics. The cost is $34.95 per month for 180 channels. If you want to receive 20 HD channels, add $9.95 for the HD set-top box, bringing the total to $44.90. The triple-play package with TV, net access, and phone service comes to $104.85 (again, add $9.95 for HD). Keep a vigil at the external link below for availability in your area.
Let's fantasize a bit. Let's run wild. Let's say your hunger for music has genetically transmitted itself to your kids. Now let's postulate that every member of the family has different musical tastes. Fortunately, your McMansion is big enough to let everyone blast away with impunity. Now all you've got to do is serve up, say, four audio feeds. In your designer home, local systems would be a recurring eyesore—you want your multizone system to do the serving. All you've got to do is find an audio server that'll satisfy four mutually incompatible music lovers in four separate zones at once.
This is the final season for WB and UPN. In the fall their owners, Warner and CBS, will launch a new network as a joint venture. The name is CW and the programming blocks will resemble the current WB. Nighttime programming will run Monday-Friday 8-10 p.m., Saturday 7-10 p.m., and Sunday 5-7 p.m. Daytime programming will run Monday-Friday 3-5 p.m. and five hours on Saturday morning. Pooling current UPN and WB affiliate stations will reach 95 percent of the U.S. TV audience, while cutting costs, making this a logical move for CBS (close to breaking even with UPN) and especially for Warner (struggling with the WB). The fates of many current series remain in doubt but UPN's wrestling programs and WB's Smallville will probably be ported to the CW.
Guitarist Robert Fripp recently visited Microsoft HQ in Redmond, Washington to record sounds for Vista, formerly Longhorn, the next-generation PC operating system. The occasion is commemorated by a 25-minute video on a Microsoft website. Fripp was told to generate sounds for a "clean, connected, confident" operating system with emphasis on the colors blue and green (which he translated as the keys of D and E). The musician’s recent switch from an IBM ThinkPad to a Mac goes unmentioned during the session.
Flying is brutal. And the cramped seat and substandard food aren't the only things that do you in. Noise is the unseen enemy. You may think you can merely adjust to it and ignore it—but that is physically impossible. Jet-turbine noise gives your eardrums and the other delicate parts of your inner ear a beating, and that messes up both your hearing and your sense of balance. That's why you often feel disoriented after a long flight. The wise traveler is therefore one who carries a good set of noise-canceling headphones or earbuds.
Sony is arguably the most powerful brand name in television. The Trinitron is the premiere picture-tube technology known to two or three generations of TV buyers. But what has Sony done for us lately? In front and rear projection, the company has mustered SXRD, a visually credible version of silicon-based liquid-crystal technology. Only in flat panels, the subject of this review, has Sony yet to earn a commanding role.
A receiver that doesn't handle the latest video and surround formats is a doorstop. A similarly outmoded high-end receiver is a very expensive doorstop. And that's a problem for anyone who bought one during the 20th century. Most DVDs have Dolby Digital and/or DTS soundtracks—those are must-haves. Stereo material usually sounds much better to me in Dolby Pro Logic II than in DPLI or stereo. And, for the largest rooms, Surround EX and DTS ES have added the back channels some people deem necessary. HDMI is on its way in, component video is on its way out, XM and HD radio are knocking at AM/FM's door, and, in a few years, surround receivers will be called on to do things that we can barely begin to imagine today.
The beta version of the Google Video Store is now online. The surprise is that it offers an abundant amount of free material in the form of short, amusing, amateur video clips. (Pick hit: a video editor ranting on "Why Mac's Suck.") The pay-for-play material includes a motley assortment of movies, NBA games, music videos, and TV shows like The Brady Bunch, The Twilight Zone, and Star Trek in two flavors—Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Pricing varies according to the nature and length of the material. Movies cost from $12.99-24.99 while TV shows are $1.99 per episode. In some cases you can also pay $2.99 for a Day Pass that will allow you to download the video and view it within 24 hours on the Google Video Player. Google's software is required for paid material but the free stuff will work on any player that handles AVI files. Picture quality is standard-definition with heavy video compression artifacts, but this being Google, the user interface and search features are user-friendly. Even if you have no intention of paying for anything, the Google Video Store is a great way to while away idle hours. Click on the external link below. Or, from the Google homepage, click on More, Video.
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.