Digital Nerd

Saturday, January 28, 2006

CyberLink PowerCinema 4 Provides Easy Entry to the Home Entertainment Experience











Taipei, Taiwan --- CyberLink Corp. (5203.TW), a world leader and pioneer in providing integrated solutions for the Digital Home, today launched TV solution PowerCinema 4, offering an easy means of converting the home PC into a feature-rich entertainment center.
The new PowerCinema package includes a TV-tuner card for receiving TV and radio programming and capturing analog video. A stylish 3D interface and operation by remote control ensure easy navigation of features, including games, DVD movies, music, pictures, and video modules.
New features allow CD ripping and auto photo fixing via remote control. Users can also record and schedule TV and radio programs and save them on their hard disks. DVD playback is supported by technology developed for industry-leading PowerDVD, delivering unsurpassed video quality and rich audio playback.
“CyberLink has been in the business of TV recording on the PC for years, with technologies that now let mom and dad transform their home computer into a complete entertainment center,” said Alice H. Chang, CEO of CyberLink Corp. “In fact, CyberLink PowerCinema 4 offers a deceptively simple solution, providing a bundled TV + Radio tuner card, support for remote control operation and 5.1 channel home-theater systems, exceptional DVD playback, and a range of options for expanding functionality.”

CyberLink PowerCinema 4 highlights:

TV Module
– Analog and Analog-Digital TV tuner card support provides reception of TV and radio, and allows capturing of analog video. (TV card support differs according to regional requirements)
– Internet and Teletext Electronic Program Guide support enables access to program information (where supported by region) and an easy way to schedule TV recording.

Movie Module
– Second-generation video-enhancing technology CyberLink Eagle Vision (CLEV-2) brightens images and makes colors more natural while compensating for dark DVD playback on LCD monitors.
– Dolby Digital audio 5.1-channel support lets users maximize their enjoyment of Hollywood DVDs with playback through their 5.1-channel audio equipment.
– Second-generation audio-expansion technology CyberLink Multi-channel Environment Impression (CLMEI-2) takes up to 5.1-channel audio and expands it into 8-channel audio for playback on the latest digital home-theater systems.
– CyberLink Headphone (CLHP) and CyberLink Virtual Speaker (CLVS) deliver a richer audio experience with virtual surround via headphones or two speakers.

Videos
– Support for High-Definition Video enables the playback of higher quality WMV-HD and HD DVD video files.
– DivX support now enables playback of DivX 5 and DivX Pro video files.
– Recent Videos allows users to quickly return to their recently opened video files.

Pictures
– Auto Red-Eye Removal and Image Fixing provide a quick one-click method of enhancing digital photos.
– Recent Photos allows users to quickly return to their recently opened image files.

Music
– Rip CD enables quick creation of WMA audio files from CDs.
– Recent Music allows users to quickly return to their recently opened audio files.

Radio Module
– Live Recording enables the recording of live radio programs directly to a user’s hard drive.
– Schedule Recording lets users program PowerCinema to record programs at a set time and date.

Extras
– Downloads features CyberLink trial software that can be downloaded for free.
– Support Center provides Q&As and easy access to CyberLink’s online support.
– Store lets users browse and buy products available in the CyberLink online store.

Wild Tangent Games
– Crystal Maze and Slyder are two full version games accessible from within PowerCinema. Each is designed for operation via remote control.
– 3 Trial Games let users play a wide variety of keyboard-based games before buying online.
– Games will be released soon as free update patches to users.


Enhancement Options
– CyberLink Remote Control rounds off the home entertainment experience with easy navigation of features.
– Magic Director supports the editing of videos into home movies via remote control, featuring background music, movie styles, and technology for enhancing image and audio quality.
– MakeDVD 2 enables the easy authoring and burning of video, music and photo files to DVD – also via remote control.
– The DTS plug-in lets users experience 5.1-channel audio on DVDs featuring Digital Theater Surround audio.
– The Audio Pack plug-in lets users upgrade their Dolby support to the latest 8-channel home theater audio, expand from 2 to 8-channel audio, and experience virtual surround sound technology, with Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Headphone and Dolby Virtual Speaker.

Product Photos and Information:

Detailed product information can be found at:
http://www.gocyberlink.com/multi/products/product_main.jsp?ProdId=12

Priced around US$99.00

Friday, January 27, 2006

50% off KMS Media Centre Software

To celebrate the start of 2006 KMS Software are pleased to announce the launch of their Massive Winter Sale. Claim 50% off all software products until 10th February 2006. Visit http://www.mediacenterware.com/products/ today!

Order any product and simply enter the code KMSWINTER2006 when you go to the checkout.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Quartz Gyrosensor Putter displays feedback on LCD

Via Engadget:

quartz gyrosensor putter

Here is one of those gadgets that, even though it may not do anything to improve your skills, will draw so much attention from your golfing buddies that it might be worth the purchase. Seiko Epson and Toyo Communication Equipment have teamed up to create the Quartz Gyrosensor Putter, which tracks your swing with a built-in crystal device, and displays the results in real-time via the embedded LCD monitor. Frankly, since our game is pretty much beyond saving, we kinda wish we could mod the screen to loop Caddyshack instead of the useless motion-feedback, so we’d have something to distract ourselves while the rest of our foursome taunt yet another terrible green read on our part.



[Via I4U, technology filter, and RealTechNews]

MPEG4: Coming Soon to your HDTV Living Room

Via HDblog:

LG Electronics has signed an agreement to build next generation MPEG4 set top boxes for satelite player DIRECTV.

Cable and satelite providers are racing to transition from MPEG2 based devices to ones that use the MPEG4 in order to satisfy consumer demand for HD content. I say it’s about time!

According to the release…

By 2007, DIRECTV plans to offer more than 1,500 local broadcast channels and more than 150 national channels in HD.

PRNewswire - LG Electronics Launches Production of HDTV Set-Top Boxes for DIRECTV

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Sony launches living room PC + DVD changer

Via Matt Goyer:

Big news tonight from the Sony Store at 550 Madison Ave, New York City. Sony and Microsoft teamed up to release the Sony VAIO XL1, a living room Media Center PC and 1394 200 disc DVD changer/jukebox.

PR News Wire, Sony's Digital Living System Re-Defines the Digital Living Room:

Two sleek components comprise Sony's Digital Living System: a high-end multimedia PC and a 200-disc media changer/recorder. Both are designed to fit into a home entertainment rack and the elegant silver and black casings are sure to complement the rest of your home entertainment system.

Sony living room PC + 200 disc DVD changer for $2300.

PC Mag Review, 4 out of 5 stars, Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living System:

Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living System won't replace your notebook or desktop PC, but it fast approaches Media Center nirvana.

I was just at the launch party and am now on my way out to celebrate. A lot of work went into this collaborative effort between Sony and Microsoft and I think the result is amazing. Not only do they have a living room PC and a changer, they also wrote plugins to view all your music CDs in the changer (and rip them all), archive content to blank DVDs in the changer, and surf the Internet with your remote control.

I took lots of photos and will post them soon.

In the meantime, you can find out more at Sony.com, The VAIO XL1, Digital Living System. And also there's a Q&A on Microsoft.com, Microsoft and Sony Team on Digital Entertainment Content Management System.


3D Immersive Viewing System

Via Gadget Madness:

3d immersive screen.JPG

Now this is what I call a 3d Screen. The Visionstation is a 3D Immersive Viewing System that can be used for many applications. Sure it can be used for business and stuff but what I think we're all reallly interested in is using it for gaming. This screen has a 160 degree display that uses the depth of it to give off the illusion of 3D minus the goofy glasses. It is 1.5 meters tall and the price....well it isn't posted on their site. So....it is probably a couple thousand dollars.

The Visionstation

Via GadgetryBlog


Trinity 7″ Widescreen LCD Portable Television with USB Input

Via Ohgizmo


Story by Brian Donaldson

I know you’ve always wanted to be able to watch television on the go. Who wouldn’t? Well, this 7 inch widescreen LCD portable television from Trinity might just be what you’re looking for. You’ll be able to bring your favorite shows with you, no matter where you go. It will come in handy for those long vacation trips to the beach or the mountains because it has video game jacks so you can play your favorite consoles like Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube.

This television provides a sharp picture, a built-in rechargable battery, a car adapter, and a built-in RF jack and antenna, which allows execution of local channels or cable channel viewing. All in all, this is a great gadget and you can get it for a decent price at $170.

Buy it at your local Best Buy

Friday, October 14, 2005

Microsoft Has New Mission for Media Center

Via Thomas Hawk:

Microsoft Has New Mission for Media Center Chris Lanier links to an eWeek article on the Media Center roll out. Although I'd love to beat the drum on this one I think the key ingredient still missing is premium HDTV (no surprise here from those that read this blog).

"Price has played a major role in the increase in shipments of Media Center PCs seen of late. Manufacturers began offering the operating system in under-$1,000 desktops earlier this year, leading to huge year-over-year leaps in Media Center sales at retail in the United States, analysts said."

Ummm... yes and no. Certainly opening up the operating system to any OEM on any PC vs. the previous method of only allowing approved PCs has been more responsible than anything. This is not new news with the rollout. Add to the fact that Dell and Gateway now configure all desktop PCs with Media Center by default and you get the numbers.

The more meaningful number in my perspective is how many people are actually using the new Media Center to watch TV. I don't have the sales data on MCE units sold with TV tuners but I'd say factoring this in is a more relevant measure of the product's success. It's a cheap add on otherwise. The point of Media Center is to centralize and control all your media. If someone is watching TV on another device I don't consider that particular sale to be mission accomplished. The power of controlling your eyeballs is huge and TV plays a big roll in that.

"Based on what Microsoft has said thus far, Rollup Update 2 is expected to be available as a free download and to include support for the Media Center Extender technologies that are being built into Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming consoles." Good news. I can't imagine the backlash if they tried to charge for it and it's in Microsoft's interest to give us extender functionality for free to try and get us all to buy XBoxes. Just smart marketing on their part is all.

"The update will support 200-disc DVD changers that will come to market this fall, and will add a provision for a second high-definition tuner card for handling high-definition video and HDTV signals." 200-disc DVD changers? I could care less. I don't want to consume my movies on DVD, I want to consume downloads. Give me HDTV video on demand. And if I do watch a DVD I'm going to rent it from someone like Netflix not buy it. The exception would be kids movies and those are more for the car anyways. Two HD Tuners? Nice. Better than one. But people are not interested in consuming their television OTA. They want cable, satellite or IPTV. Perhaps this will change though.

"It will also add a new "Away Mode," that will allow Media Center PCs to be shut down and started back up immediately, whereas it takes a few seconds to awake from sleep or hibernate modes at the touch of a button, the sources said." Irrelevant.

"Microsoft also is expected to unveil a pack of new partners at this week's Update Rollup 2 launch. Among them, according to Microsoft partners who asked not to be named, will be Akimbo Systems Inc., America Online Inc., Comedy Central and MTV Networks. America Online is expected to support the platform with photo and on-demand music service, for example. Akimbo and MTV can provide video content to Media Centers." Interesting. How much of it will be high def? None? Photo service? AOL? Ugh. Come on give us Flickr. How hard can a Flickr plug in possibly be. They have an open API. You'll spend the time pushing AOL photo sharing but not Flickr? Music on-demand service? I won't pay for it.

Akimbo is interesting as is Brightcove if they are going to be rolled out in this rollout. Long tail content is good. Again, probably not high def though. I've been meaning to write something up on Akimbo. Perhaps the most promising content yet.

"Microsoft also is expected to add this week a new subsite to its Windows Marketplace shopping portal that will be dedicated to Windows Media Center plug-ins, including one for shopping on eBay Inc.'s online auction site. Windows Marketplace is Microsoft's one-stop shop for software and services from both Microsoft and third-party providers that support the Windows platform." Good for Microsoft and good for eBay. I could care less about it. I'd prefer they spend time developing things that will delight me rather than things that will make them money. Get the eyeballs and the money will follow later. I will not use shopping on my MCE machine and it will be yet one more thing I'll need to disable.

"My guess is Microsoft's trying to save as much splash as it can for Vista," Kay said.

Additions such as instant wake-up might "make sense as maintenance release elements. But to create a lot of new features, particularly when [Microsoft] has to come up with another splash for a year from now, doesn't seem like the thing to do," he said, adding that Microsoft should "save as much juice as possible for its long awaited premier operating system."

Probably very, very true.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Microsoft and RealNetworks Resolve Antitrust Case

Via Thomas Hawk:

Microsoft and RealNetworks Resolve Antitrust Case Damn. Real Networks sucks so bad. It has been the pariah that I never can seem to truly be rid of. It pains me to hear that seem to be getting a leg up here. NO. I don't want pop ups thank you. NO. keep your crazy software that wants to reinstall itself all the time to yourself. Get out of my systray. No I don't want "free" aol or internet. And god no. I do not want you as my primary media player. I don't want the Real OneSearch Internet Explorer toolbar or any of your other spyware. I don't want to have to "register" my product with you and I don't want to be kept updated with your product news and updates. I hate you.

Perhaps they're different now and perhaps I'm not giving them a fair shake as my only feelings about them are based on about six years of them trying to sell me things, making my toolbars flash with "update" requests and being told that whatever it is I wanted to play couldn't play because I need yet another download from them. Quite frankly I wish they could be driven out of business.

Whether valid or not I have pretty strong feelings that they suck at present. I'll stick with Windows Media Player thank you very much. Maybe they are trying to reinvent themselves as a consumer media company but here's a hint. Change your name. People hate you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cuban to Launch DVD Label?

Via Wired:

Mark Cuban is hiring staff that could form the nucleus of a new DVD label, Wired News has learned, a move that comes as the dot-com billionaire attempts to shatter Hollywood's release window system by making first-run films available simultaneously in theaters, on cable TV, online and on DVD.

The label is expected to launch in January with the release of Bubble, the first in a six-part deal between Cuban's 2929 Entertainment and director Stephen Soderbergh, according to a source familiar with the plan. As yet, Cuban and partner Todd Wagner have not announced a DVD publisher for those pictures.

Find local technology jobs. In an interview, Wagner would neither confirm nor deny a pending launch. But he said 2929 will pay theatrical exhibitors 1 percent of revenues generated from DVD sales of films they offer in the same window at their theaters.

By launching a DVD imprint of their own, Cuban and Wagner would round out a set of assets that covers most but not all of the bases in film distribution. The pair owns holdings that include Landmark Theaters, HDNet Films, the HDNet Movies channel, Rysher Entertainment, Magnolia Films Distribution, 2929 Entertainment and a piece of Lions Gate Films. Online, they have a deal to offer HDNet Films titles on Cinemanow.

According to an online job posting, Magnolia Pictures is hiring a DVD accountant whose responsibilities include monitoring inventory levels, working with DVD replicators "to ensure sufficient supplies are available for replenishment," and setting up electronic data interchanges, or EDIs, with vendors and customers. An EDI is a secure electronic transaction and auditing channel between suppliers and vendors, without which it is nearly impossible to do business with big box retailers.

The only film known to have debuted on TV, DVD and in theaters the same day so far is Noel, a holiday movie starring Susan Sarandon, Penelope Cruz and Robin Williams in an uncredited role. The film was released last November on cable's TNT, in a handful of theaters and on disc the same day. But the disc was a Flexplay disc that expired in 48 hours, and it was only available on Amazon.com. Neither side will comment but sales were reportedly low, some in the industry say a mere 1,500 copies. The title eventually found distribution under the Screen Media imprint. Screen Media has a distribution deal with Universal Studios Home Entertainment that will put the title in stores on standard DVD for the first time Oct. 25.

Soderbergh's murder mystery Bubble is the first 2929 film slated for release across all channels.

Some news outlets have erroneously reported that Magnolia's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room was released simultaneously on TV, DVD and in theaters. In fact, the film has yet to be released on DVD.

Hollywood has shunned simultaneous releases, preferring to milk as much cash from each "release window," as the time blocs are known in the industry, before it moves to the next. The traditional model has movies hopping like tiddlywinks from theaters to home video/DVD, pay-per-view, premium cable, broadcast cable and then broadcast television.

But as box office proceeds fell and DVD sales began to level off over the summer, even Robert Iger, who has since taken the reins as CEO of The Walt Disney Co., suggested that the theatrical "window" should be snapped shut and DVDs released at the same time.

"We can't stand in the way and can't allow tradition to stand in the way of where the consumer can go or wants to go," Iger told analysts. "Windows in general need to change. I don't think it's out of the question that DVDs could be released in the same window as the theatrical release. All the old rules should be called into question because the rules of consumption have changed so dramatically."

Exhibitors have cried foul, saying, among other things, that DVDs only sell because theatrical exhibition heightens their profile.

"Mr. Iger knows better than to tell consumers -- or Wall Street analysts -- that they can have it all, everywhere, at the same time," said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners. "He knows there would be no viable movie theater industry in that new world -- at least not a theater industry devoted to the products of Hollywood. And he should know that Hollywood studios would be just one shriveled vendor among many in that world of movies as commodities only."

Is Xbox 360 having production issues?

Via geekBlue.net



Analyst Gary Cooper from Bank of America believes that Microsoft will not be able to ship as many Xbox 360 consoles as expected (by Wall Street). To make a long story short, the console might be difficult to get as only 350000 units would be available for the USA when Xbox 360 launches worldwide. If Cooper’s prediction is verified, expect cuts in every market. via


Playing Media Center Recordings on Palm PDA & others

Via eHomeupgrade:

I've been looking for a way to convert my Media Center TV Recordings to play on my Palm Tungsten T, allowing me to use my Palm as a Portable Media Center. With the help of a bunch of free and Open Source apps (AutoDVRconvert, VirtualDub-MPEG2, and TCPMP) I have a fairly easy way to achive it.

Full details can be found at: http://scross.no-ip.org/convert_media_center_to_palm.html

The same process should work for other Palm or Pocket PC PDAs, or just for compressing recordings to XviD/DivX to free up some disk space.

Steve.


Japan's Music Industry Wants Fee on Sales of Latest Digital Players

Via NYT:

Japan's music industry has asked the government to charge a royalty, to be added to the retail price of portable digital music players.

More here.

Yeh Right!

Windows Freak!

Via BinkNu:

What kind of HDTVs have Burn-In ?

Good advice from HDBlog:

Simple question, but one that you want to consider before buying an HDTV. Can the screen burn in? Well, here are the major display types and the answer to that question for each.

CRT - YES
SED - YES
plasma - YES
DLP - NO
LCD - NO
LCOS/DILA/SXRD - NO

ultimate AV - Picture This

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Microsoft and Intel to Support HD-DVD

Via: BetaNews
Microsoft and Intel on Tuesday pledged their support for HD-DVD, the next-generation DVD format created by Toshiba. Microsoft had previously remained neutral in the standards war between HD-DVD and Sony-backed Blu-ray, as the company's VC-1 Windows Media Video codec will be included with both formats.

The announcement isn't that surprising, however. Microsoft's Xbox will soon begin a fierce battle with Sony's Blu-ray capable PlayStation 3 for living room dominance, and the company inked a deal in April for Warner Home Video to use VC-1 in its HD-DVD discs.

Friday, September 23, 2005

XBox 360 To Be Region Locked

Via: ForeverGeek


At the pre-TGS press briefing, Microsoft confirmed that the Xbox 360 will be region locked for both games and DVD movie playback, meaning that you can't play games or watch DVD movies from another region other than the one your Xbox 360 is locked to.

Athens Monitors, Redefining Beauty


Via: OhGizmo!

By David Ponce

I’ve never seen anything quite like this and I’m still under shock.

The Athens Display Series, from company Lieberman Inc. are very slick, very unique multi-paneled LCDs. The one pictured is a 118lbs, 5-panel model featuring Ultra-Speed™ Technology. You get resolutions of up to 19200 x 2400 pixels. It’s a mere 2.5″ thin. It’s… Heavens… it’s beyond words.

Go inside for a full list of features, but don’t expect price. I didn’t see any, and didn’t look very hard because it probably would have broken my heart.

Update: Yes, it’s beginning to look quite likely that this thing is a hairy offspring of Mother Hoax. Yeah. It really did look too good to be true. How sad.


110″to 200″ Screen Sizes.
Resolutions of up to 19200 x 2400 Pixels.
All-aluminum custom-built construction.
Ultra-widescreen format for simultaneous display of
multiple pages, windows, applications, graphics, full-
screen video and games.
Ultra-Speed™ Display Technology for breathtaking
image quality
Support for 16.7 million saturated colors, for use in all
graphics-intensive applications
Enhanced Active-matrix liquid crystal display Technology
delivering ultra-sharp text and graphics
Hardware anti-aliasing double-depth filtering
Dynamic Phase-Timing Circuitry (DPTC)
ContrastPlus UV-668 filtering
Double anti-glare hard coat
FFR-type CR-Lamps.
Bluetooth connectivity expansion.
R-G-B auto-geometry sensing color correction.
Super-wide viewing angles for maximum visibility and
color fidelity.
Lightning-fast pixel response that supports full-motion
digital video playback.
Versatile connectivity; one computer for all 3 display
panels, or one panel for up to 3 individual computers.
Gigantic workspace, minimal physical footprint
Single or multi-panel compatible operation
Optional TouchScreen functionality
Ultra-high performance air duct and FreeFlow™ cooling
architecture.
Exceptional low-power consumption design.
Out-of-the-box setup with optionally bundled Professional
Graphics Adapters
Absolutely stunning, sleek design, under 2.5″ thin

Visit the site and see for yourselves. There is so much information there, I can’t even wrap my head around it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

First Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Phone in US

Via Bink.nu

Sprint Saturday announced the launch of the Sprint PCS Vision Smart Device (PPC-6700), the first PDA/phone-combination handset in the country to offer the new Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 software. The PPC-6700 sports a 416 MHz Intel processor, a 1.3-megapixel megapixel camera and camcorder, a sliding QWERTY keyboard, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi data capabilities. This CMDA device also has EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) built in, ready to support Sprint Wireless High Speed Data capabilities where available.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Revolution Controller Revealed

Via: Forever Geek
Geeks and Geekettes I present to you, the Revolution Controller:

revolutioncontroller1.jpg

I know what you're thinking, and yes it does look like a remote control.

Where's the analogue? Well... it doesn't have one in it's "simple" form... you have to turn it into Nunchaku form to get it (courtesy of 1up):

revolutioncontroller2.jpg

It does have those gyroscope functions everyone was talking about. They showed a few demos in which you could use it, such as fishing in which your controller would be like an actual rod and you'd pull it like one and they also showed how it would work for a shoot-em-up (in this case Metroid Prime), in which you used the Nunchaku form analog stick for movement and aimed with the controller itself pointing at the screen.

Could this be the answer for consoles for the lack of a mouse? Well, frankly, I've had a controller with gyroscope technology before (Microsoft's Sidewinder) and I know years have passed and technology has evolved but I am bit skeptic about this one because I don't remember having any fun at all with my old controller in "gyroscope mode". Though if the console can keep track of the distance of the controller in a room for example, you could perhaps have a virtual paintball (but I'm not sure if it does).

How the heck you play all the classic games on it? Easy, just turn it sidewards... and now it looks like a normal Snes controller.

My bottom-line opinion: It's innovative as Nintendo promised it would be however I'm not sure of how functional it really will be until I have my hands on one. I can think of many games which could take advantage of this new technology, however, I can also think of many games in which this technology doesn't fit at all, only time will tell. You can always use it as a normal controller, but, it's lack of buttons in that position (since it seems to become harder to press the back trigger) might make some complex control games even a bit more complex to play.

The really question is: Does innovation have a place between a graphic obsessed gaming community? And once again the answer is: Only time will tell.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Memory Wall matches what you're wearing

Memory Wall

Via pasta and vinegar

If there’s one thing we can’t stand, it’s not matching perfectly our surrounds. Seems like if we’re wearing stripes, we always happen to be in a plaid room—it’s enough to drive you crazy. Thankfully Jason Bruges’s Memory Wall, installed in Madrid’s new Hotel Puerta América, watches what its room’s inhabitants are wearing, and colors the interior to match. Which makes it remarkably easy to know the party’s on; just wait for the walls to get skin-toned.

Playing Media Center Recordings on Palm PDA

Via: eHomeUpgrade
I've been looking for a way to convert my Media Center TV Recordings to play on my Palm Tungsten T, allowing me to use my Palm as a Portable Media Center. With the help of a bunch of free and Open Source apps (AutoDVRconvert, VirtualDub-MPEG2, and TCPMP) I have a fairly easy way to achive it.

Full details can be found at: http://scross.no-ip.org/convert_media_center_to_palm.html

The same process should work for other Palm or Pocket PC PDAs, or just for compressing recordings to XviD/DivX to free up some disk space.

Blu-ray Recording Speeds

Via: HDBlog.net


The Blu-ray camp plans to release BD-ROM, BD-R, and BD-RE simultaneously to the market. They are the pre-recorded, recordable, and rewritable versions of the format, respectively.

The Blu-ray specs say that the 1x speed is 36Mbps. Several manufacturers have already announced support for 2x speed. Note that 4x speed is already faster than 12x speed for DVDs, and Philips R&D labs have already achieved 7x recording speed.

Good things are coming for Blu-ray.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

TV that doubles as a Mirror

Via: GeekBlue











Philips got the bright idea to develope the MiraVision television which is designed to look and reflect like a mirror when it's not in use. It works like any TV except that when you've turned it off you can fix your hair. It will blend more into the scene of certain rooms and it comes with different frames to help change the look. You can get this TV in a 30inch size for about £2700.

Xbox 360 launch date is November 22

Via: Engadget

Xbox 360 real, no watermark
Well, it’s finally official. Mark your calendars for November 22 here in the U.S., December 2 in Europe, and December 10 in Japan for the hat trick release of the Xbox 360. The console’s price in Japan will be ¥37,900, which is the equivalent of about $342 USD, and will net gamers the core system as well as a detachable 20GB hard drive and these bundled extras: Xbox 360 Wireless Controller, an Xbox 360 Media Remote control, an Xbox 360 Headset, a Component HD-AV Cable for connecting to component and composite television inputs, an Ethernet cable, and batteries. Let the speculation… end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Windows Vista Product Editions Revealed

Via ForeverGeek:
It looks like there will be upwards of seven editions of Windows Vista, including versions that are not 64-bit. Odd move in my opinion. I thought when they brought out Windows XP, they were attempting to reduce the amount of versions of Windows in the wild.

There will be two general categories of Windows Vista editions, which map closely to the two that exist today for XP ("Home," which comprises Starter, Home, and Media Center Editions, Pro, which includes Professional, Professional x64, and Tablet PC Editions). In Windows Vista, the two categories are Home and Business. In the Home category, Microsoft will create four product editions: Windows Vista Starter Edition, Windows Vista Home Basic Edition, Windows Vista Home Premium Edition, and Windows Vista Ultimate Edition (previously known as "Uber" Edition). In the Business category, there will are three editions: Windows Vista Small Business Edition, Windows Vista Professional Edition, and Windows Vista Enterprise Edition. In all, there are 7 product editions planned for Windows Vista

Monday, September 12, 2005

Rollercoaster gets woman pregnant

Via The Register:

Here's an interesting concept for anyone trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant - rumpy-pumpy followed by white-knuckle rollercoaster action might just do the trick.

Cuban-born Nayade Elbing, 28, and her hubby had been hoping for children for several years, but their lack of offspring led Nayade to believe she was sterile, Ananova reports.

A week later, Nayade was confirmed pregnant. Gynaecologist Dr Thomas Gent said: "We believe that she conceived due to the G force of the rollercoaster ride."

The end result of this happy tale is Leandro Elias, now the proud owner of a free lifelong ticket for all the theme park's rollercoasters.


Xbox 360: The most hack-proof console ever... pffft

Via Engadget:

Going out of your way to boast about how hack-proof your next product is going to be is probably the only surefire way to get an army of hackers on your ass, but Xbox engineer Chris Satchell declared in an interview with BBC News that the Xbox 360 is going to have levels of security, “that the hacker community has never seen before.” He does concede that “sooner or later someone will work out how to circumvent security,” but he also says that even if someone does crack the Xbox 360 that it “doesn’t mean that it will work on somebody else’s machine” because of the way it’s been designed. Fair enough, but do you really want to inspire someone out there to prove you wrong?

Media Center Roundup by Sean Alexander

"Sales of Media Center PCs have skyrocketed since July 9, according to a recent study by Current Analysis. For the week ending August 20, 2005, Media Center PCs accounted for 43% of all desktop personal computers sold in the U.S. retail market, based on data from a sampling of U.S. retailers."

71% of the Media Centers sold in the week ending August 20 did not have a TV tuner. Maybe they're all with Thomas Hawk waiting for Digital Cable support ;)

Charlie Owen will demonstrating XBox360 + Media Center Extender at his PDC presentation on September 15. The Meet Me At Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005 and Win A Media Center Keyboard has more details on place and time.

Donate to Katrina via American Red Cross and win Media Center 2005

Media Center Show #25 is up. To me, Ian is the "Most Valuable Podcaster". This is a guy who deserves MVP status- they're working on it Ian! :)

Embedded Automation made a bunch of Media Center app-announcments at CEDIA (that's the big pro AV/home installer show):

The products being showcased are part of tihe mHome product line and include a home automation software application, mControl; a media center PC solution, mTheater; a home automation controller, mServer; and a secondary display for media center PC's, mDisplay. For mControl, Embedded Automation will be demonstrating their upcoming release, v1.2, which offers new functionality. More here.

1080p DLP Chips for Front Projectors

Via HDBlog:

Texas Instruments has already released 1080p DLP products for use in rear-projection HDTVs. The product was not available for front projectors, however, which is something I thought odd. But they’re allowed to do that if they want, it’s a free world, right?

Well, that free world wants 1080p front projectors, so Texas Instruments decided to do them a favour and announce just that. TI’s 1080p chips do not contain a full 1920 x 1080 array of mirrors. Rather, it has half that number, and uses a technique HP termed “wobulation” to shift those mirrors to produce one half the image, and then the other half.

Manufacturers who will be announcing front projection products based on DLP 1080p technology in the near future include: Barco, Christie Digital, Digital Projection International, InFocus, Marantz, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, projectiondesign, Optoma, Runco Samsung, Sharp, SIM2 and Yamaha.

This news comes shortly after the TI announcement of increased color performance available for DLP front projection single-chip products with BrilliantColor(TM) technology. With up to 6-color processing, which moves significantly beyond other technologies’ limitations of 1-color-per-chip processing, BrilliantColor(TM) technology will enable a greater than 50% brightness increase in mid tone images, common in video and natural scenes, translating into truer, more vibrant colors.

PR Newswire - Highly Anticipated DLP(R) 1080p Chips for Projectors Arrive

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LG LRM-519 Digital Media Recorder

Via Gadget Madness:

lglrm519.jpg
The LG Digial Media Recorder is one pretty slick device, but its basically a Media Center wanabee. It sports a 160GB hard drive, an impressive DVD burner (with support for a host of different formats), and 802.11 a/b/g. Pretty sweet eh? Well it is, except for the fact that you have to pay for the Microsoft Programming Guide ($10 monthly, $100 yearly, or $250 for lifetime). A normal Media Center doesn't require for this payment. This is of course, on top of the $600 price tag for the device. I think I will pass on this one, mainly because of the price.

I just bought a Humax Tivo Recorder (Includeds Tivo, DVD drive and burner) for only $39.99 after rebate (Though I do have to pay the Tivo monthly or lifetime fee), so I'll tell you what I think of it when it arrives.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Do you have a spare microwave and your bored? Read Disclaimer first!!

Then check out this site of microwave experiments!

Not for kids though!

http://amasci.com/weird/microexp.html#magma

Sony's new Walkman

Via Engadget:

Sony new Walkman

Well, well, well — Sony is officially rebirthing the WALKMAN in this device, which’ll be rolling out in Q4 in sizes of 6GB (NW-A1000) and 20GB (NW-A3000). It features an organic EL display that makes the readout appear fairly seamless with the rest of the player. On the software side it’s got a bunch of bells and whistles to help automagically DJ for you: ‘My Favorite Shuffle’ will randomly play the 100 most listened to songs, ‘Time Machine Shuffle’ picks a year at random and plays all the songs from that timeframe, and other functions are available to search and play songs by a number of parameters such as rating, genre, artist, recently transferred, etc. The 20GB version will be available in violet and silver, with the 6GB coming in pink and blue, and all with matching headphones. As far as codec support goes, don’t expect anything revolutionary — just MP3 and of course, ever-lovin’ ATRAC3plus. Still and all, we must profess excitement at the prospect of this thing.

[Thanks, jedda]

Sony Walkman docked
Sony Walkman 4 colors
Sony Walkman in cradle

Flaming can get you in trouble :)

Via Slashdot:

"Two legal secretaries in Sydney have been sacked after a flamewar over a ham sandwich got circulated throughout the cities financial district. The insults about figures, boyfriends and jobs flew thick and fast and ultimately resulted in the dismissal of both of them for mis-use of the email system."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Another Wristwatch Digital Camera

Digital-Eye-Wristwatch-Camera.jpg

This little nifty device is a camera watch with a color display that can take up to 36 "high resolution" (or so the site says) pictures and store them till they can be transferred to a computer. The Digital Eye Wristwatch-Camera is only $99.95. In my opinion this would make an excellent spy gadget but for other uses it just doesn't seem practical when a camera phone can do the same. Oh and by the way, no word on whether or not it actually tells time...but I'm sure it does.

Digital Eye Wristwatch-Camera

Via Travelizmo

Microsoft's doing an Xbox 360 controller for the PC

Via Engadget:

Well wouldn’t you know it? Microsoft’ peripheral announcement earlier today also broke a bit of ground by them offering their new console’s controller not only, you know, for the console itself, but also in a version compatible for the PC. We’re not sure if it’s corner-cutting on continuing to make new PC peripherals or if it’s really because they want “a consistent gaming entertainment experience across Microsoft’s gaming platforms,” but what we want to know is what’s up with the $10 MSRP difference on the PC version (slated for $50) from the $39.99 console version? They’re both just going to be the same freaking USB controller, aren’t they? Well, aren’t they?

More from Boeing

We're not exactly fashion photographers, but we spend an awful lot of time taking pictures of "super models" doing some pretty amazing runway work.

The two of us make up Boeing's Flight Test Photography department, and we think we have the best jobs in the company - most of the time. Some doubt creeps into our minds on those occasions when we have to be on the runway at Edwards Air Force Base at 4 a.m., or when we have to climb inside a fuel tank or an engine.

While many of you have seen examples of our work - in the form of press-release photos, first-flight videos or if you have been reading this journal on a regular basis - the vast majority of our work is seen by a very limited number of people, or no one at all.

That's because a lot of our work deals with the technical side of Flight Test, and the images we take would be of little interest to anyone except those who request it.

Sometimes, the images we produce would seem downright boring to most people. For example, we might be asked to video tape the reaction of a certain part under specific flight conditions. Well, if the desired reaction is no reaction at all, and if the test is successful, the video will show this certain part doing nothing. Pretty boring to most people, but the engineers who designed the part will do cartwheels in the aisles when they see the video.

We also get to do our share of exciting stuff, especially during test programs like the one going on now with the 777-200LR Worldliner. We accompany planes to places like Edwards, where they test things like minimum flying velocity, abusive takeoffs and engine failures. Those are very dramatic. On occasion, our jobs have taken us to some exotic locations - including New Zealand and South America - but that doesn't happen very often.

777-200LR photo

As you can see, this was a great location for testing - no mountains, clear sky and early morning cool air.

For the most part, the videos and photos we capture are used for data analysis and serve as visual records so if the FAA or anyone else wants to know how a certain test was instrumented, we can pull out a photo and show them. Visual data is considered backup data to the digital data, but on those rare occasions when digital data fails, the visual data becomes primary.

Between the two of us, we have 43 years of Boeing experience, 38 of those in Flight Test. That is a real benefit because of the technical aspects of our job. We've gained a lot of intricate knowledge about airplane systems, and when a lot of technical jargon is being tossed around in pre-flight meetings, we understand most of it. If there is something we don't understand, we always ask. We get only one chance during these tests. They are very expensive and if the test is a success, they won't do it again just because we didn't get our photo.

We're referred to as Flight Test photographers, but that only tells part of the story. We're really a full-service organization when it comes to photo and video, including printing and editing. For instance, if someone wants a DVD with video highlights from tests being conducted at Edwards, we can put it together. We can even provide full darkroom and motion picture services, although the evolution of digital photography and video has made that more or less obsolete.

We also take a lot of pride in our response times. When we're asked to be on the runway in 13 minutes to capture something, we try to be there in 12 - because we have the best jobs in the company.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Kazaa Deemed Illegal Down Under

Guess all the illegal downloads will now stop - pfffft!

Via CBS news:

(AP) A court ruled Monday that popular file-swapping network Kazaa breaches copyright in Australia and gave the service's owners two months to modify their Web site to prevent further piracy by its millions of users.

Although the ruling is only enforceable in Australia, the record industry hailed it as a victory that would resonate around the world.

"The court has ruled the current Kazaa system illegal. If they want to continue, they are going to have to stop the trade in illegal music on that system," record industry spokesman Michael Speck said outside the court. "It's a great day for artists. It's a great day for anyone who wants to make a living from music."

The Federal Court ruling culminated a long-running court battle between Australia's record industry and Kazaa.

The 10 defendants in the case include Kazaa's owners, Sharman Networks Ltd., and Sharman's Sydney-based chief executive officer, Nikki Hemming, as well as Altnet, a company that provided some of the software for the Kazaa Web site.

Federal Court Judge Murray Wilcox found six of them, including Hemming, Sharman Networks Ltd. and Altnet, infringed copyright and ordered them to pay 90 percent of the record industry's costs in the case. A hearing will be held at a later date to establish damages.

"These people have crowed for years about the downloads, 270 million downloads of somebody else's work each month," said Speck. "We will ask the court when it comes to damages to reflect the value of the music these people ripped off."

Lawyers for Kazaa said they would appeal but made no immediate detailed response to the ruling.

More here.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Pimp Your Hard Drive

Via Gizmodo:

Finished harddrive.gifMan, I don't even want to think about this "mod." I've lost 5 hard drives in the past month but if you feel like going nutty with your 80GB, go for it.

Grynx, which is the sound your computer will make when you install this plexiglassed HD, shows us how to lift off the top plate of a standard drive and replace it with a slide of plexiglass. Foolhardy? Sure. Dumb? Absolutely. Possible? I guess so.

Plexiglas hard drive window [Grynx]

More Details Emerge About the Xbox 360

Via Gadget Festish:

Interface/Functionality

  • The console can be switched on and off wirelessly using the Media Remote control or the wireless game controller.
  • You will definitely need a hard disk to play Xbox 1 games.
  • Wherever you are - whether it's a game, film or piece of music - you can pull up the Guide (remember it from GDC?), which is a bit like a universal Start Menu, that allows you to look for friends, adjust playback and options, and even sort through people you've played against recently - listing them by reputation or what-have-you.
  • The pages of the Xbox 360 user interface are called "blades".
  • The Live blade is the default if you have a Live account, and shows you your gamer-card including a selected image (or photograph), your gamertag, the number of games you've played, your Gamerscore (more on that in a second), your achievements and your reputation.
  • More on Gamerscore - each Xbox 360 game gives out certain points based on accomplishments, and as well as being able to view a list of your individual achievements ("Finished level 10," etc) you are also given a total based on this. Xbox 1 games will not contribute to these stats.
  • The Game blade allows you to manage stuff like save-games, as well as accessing demos and trailers (standard and high-definition versions).
  • The System blade offers greater control over your individual settings. You can specify, for example, that you prefer to invert the right analogue stick camera control and this will then be picked up on in any game you play.
  • Likewise, the System blade allows greater control over family settings. Microsoft thinks this is very important, Satchell said, and will therefore allow all manner of controls at a system or individual profile level. You can choose to allow specific people or the whole system access to certain games, DVDs (based on ratings - apparently "99 per cent" of DVDs now supply that information direct to the console), and areas of Live. Online, you can opt to ban certain friends, voice messaging, video messaging (if the camera is available), downloadables or just control online play.
  • f you yank the hard disk off the top of the Xbox 360 when it's in the middle of doing something, it will not corrupt it beyond repair or damage the File Allocation Table or anything like that - the hard disk uses a "transaction model" so that if you interrupt a transfer the data simply isn't present and the space is presumably reallocated when you next save data to it.
  • The "ring of light" around the power button highlights which wireless controller is being used, highlighting player one's activity in the top-left quadrant. When the console is laid on its side, it senses this and starts using the top-left quadrant as you see it with the console laid flat. What's more, the ring of light motif is spread throughout the Xbox 360 interface, so you can see which player pulled up the "Guide" page as you're watching a film or playing a game and, in the words of Satchell, "slap him".
  • Cross-platform development between Windows and Xbox is being actively pursued - in the future, Microsoft hopes that people will be able to play games against each other using either platform.
  • On the issue of cooling - Satchell said he thought the system had three fans (he said he wasn't sure but thought it was three, so we'd open to correction on that one), and we couldn't hear them at all as he spoke. When you play a DVD, it powers down to just one fan. It's "a lot" better than the "wind tunnel" alpha kits, he said.

Xbox Live

  • Transferring your Xbox Live account to Xbox 360 will be part of the initial set-up procedure when you first plug in your console, and existing users have "Gold" membership.
  • People buying the Xbox 360 GBP 279.99 package - the higher-end one - get a 30-day free trial of Gold membership on Xbox Live. Actual pricing has yet to be announced - although some would beg to differ.
  • Your "reputation" stat is based on your activities online. Rather like an eBay rating, people who have encountered you can rate you positively or negatively, and this is reflected in your reputation.
  • Xbox Live will allow you to play in various Zones - there will be causal, pro, family, and underground (where "anything goes") and perhaps more - and these will allow you to go for whatever kind of experience you like.
  • Marketplace is also accessible through the Live blade. As you know, this is where you can download premium content and, in the future, content created by users and sold to other users via a micro-payment system. Marketplace does not require you to insert individual game discs to see content available for those games.

Multimedia

  • DVDs can be played even if you don't have the remote control, unlike Xbox 1.
  • DVDs will play back in progressive-scan, with the Xbox 360 up-sampling to prog-scan in the case of DVDs that don't support it.
  • When ripping music to the hard drive, album information is now stored on the HDD, with a huge amount there by default and more available from an online source - presumably something like CDDB, which will be familiar to people who rip their own CDs already.
  • The Jeff Minter-created visualisation tool for music accepts input from all control pads and the video camera, allowing you to create various effects on-screen.
  • iPods are detected by default, as are PSPs, and by our watch it took about 2 or 3 seconds for the Xbox 360 to notice they were there. With an iPod plugged in you can play music direct through the Dashboard software, with visualisations, or you can play a slideshow of photographs.
  • For now, you can play music and access photographs on the PSP, but you can't do video yet. That may happen, but Satchell joked that Sony wasn't exactly giving them a helping hand there.
  • Interestingly, you can actually have that slideshow draw photographs from another external device, so - as in our demo - you could play music from an iPod while using a slideshow of photos from a PlayStation Portable simultaneously.
  • All of these devices will be supported by default, and any firmware updates that are necessary - Microsoft is hoping for very few - can be made available via Live.
  • You can also plug in a laptop or PC (or not plug it in - if you're using wireless networking) and play content direct from that. This is through Windows Media Player Extender, the software for which is pre-installed on the Xbox 360. In our example, Satchell first streamed a high-definition Project Gotham Racing 3 trailer, and then drew upon a high-definition recording of Star Wars: Episode II apparently captured on his home TV.

Official Peripherals

  • RGB video output will only be possible if you purchase the GBP 17.99 cable separately - regardless of whether you paid GBP 209.99 or GBP 279.99 for your Xbox 360 console.
  • Video cables from Xbox 1 will not work with Xbox 360.
  • The wireless networking adapter plugs into the USB 2.0 port on the back of the console and is "like a small pack of cigarettes" in terms of size.
  • The camera is a separate peripheral that will plug into one of the USB 2.0 slots and will be released next year - date TBC.
  • While the Media Remote will be bundled with Xbox 360's GBP 279.99 offering, this will apparently only be for a limited time based on available units. We'll get more details on that when we can.
  • You can plug in a keyboard but this is for text input only - including in massively-multiplayer games. You can't use it to play games and that was a design choice.
  • If a third-party peripheral manufacturer or publisher wanted to let more than four players play on one game, Microsoft would be happy to help them create a peripheral to do that.

Offline Content

  • Microsoft also plans to have kiosks available - presumably in game stores and other public locations - where you can download content. Whether this will be to the detachable hard disk itself or a memory card is a detail that wasn't clarified.
[via GamesIndustry.biz]

Sean Alexander reports Start.com live

www.start.com

Burn Your Own HD Home Movies

Via HDBlog.net:
So you have an HDV camcorder, but you don’t know what to do with all that footage? It would be nice if all that HD footage of your children prancing in the wind could be transferable to an optical disc format. HD-DVD and Blu-ray aren’t here yet, so what do you do? Well, if you have a DivX HD DVD player, you can play back HD content on it. And now you can burn HD content to normal DVDs with Roxio Toast 7.

DivX, Inc., the company that created the revolutionary, patent-pending DivX video compression technology, today announced that Roxio Toast 7 from Sonic breaks new ground by becoming the first third-party software to include comprehensive support for DivX 6 and enable users to encode, decode and playback content using the latest in innovative video compression technology. Support for DivX 6 also provides Mac users with the ability for the first time to turn iMovie HD and Final Cut HD projects into true High Definition DVDs that they can enjoy in the comfort of their living room on their DivX HD-enabled DVD player. Toast 7 is the latest product from Roxio to support DivX technologies, which are also integrated into Roxio’s award-winning Easy Media Creator 7.5.

eHomeUpgrade - DivX Enables Powerful Video Compression and HD Features in Roxio Toast 7

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NIVEUS MEDIA CENTER – K2 LIMITED EDITION WITH HDTV & PROFESSIONAL AUDIO

Via Hometoys:

Niveus Media Center – K2 Limited Edition with HDTV & Professional Audio is Now Available through Authorized Niveus Dealers

Professional Audio comes to the Niveus Media Center via the K2 Limited Edition, resulting in the ultimate audio & video fidelity.

Santa Clara, CA, September 1, 2005 – Niveus Media, Inc., manufacturer of media entertainment devices for the high-end audio/video market, has announced the availability of the award-winning K2 Limited Edition media center. The K2 was recognized as an Innovations Honoree at the 2005 Consumer Electronic Show and is now available through Authorized Niveus Dealers.

The K2 offers a reference/mastering quality audio subsystem including 6 channel balanced, single-ended analog audio outputs and 2-channel balanced, single-ended analog inputs and boasts a signal to noise ratio of 117db, resulting in a high-fidelity audio experience previous unavailable from a Windows Media Center system.

The K2 will be unveiled to custom installers and dealers from across the world at next week’s CEDIA Expo in Indianapolis. “The K2 Limited Edition was designed as the 'cost is no object' product at the top of the Niveus Portfolio.”, said Tim Cutting, CEO of Niveus Media. “Niveus Engineers were given carte blanche to design a media center that would earn the respect of the most elite and discerning customers... I believe they have accomplished that with the K2.”

In addition to the high fidelity audio performance, the K2 offers the same ISF caliber video subsystem as the recently ISF-certified Denali Edition, offering K2 customers the best in both audio and video performance. Also included is the Intel 3.6Ghz processor, 925 chipset and a full Terabyte of storage.

The K2 Limited Edition also takes advantage of the Niveus ConvergencePanel™, allowing for easy connections to additional components and future upgrades. And, like all Niveus Media Centers, the K2 is passively-cooled, making these fanless systems the quietest Windows XP Media Center Edition systems on the market.

The K2 will be demonstrated at the CEDIA EXPO 2005 (Niveus Media Booth #2092, Sagamore Ballroom) from September 9-11 in Indianapolis.

Niveus Media Center Availability
The Niveus Media Center – K2 Limited Edition is now available through select dealers nationwide. For further details, visit the company website at www.niveusmedia.com.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Media Center PC Sales Skyrocket in U.S. Retail Market

Via Thomas Hawk:

From Chris Lanier:

"Sales of Media Center PCs have skyrocketed since July 9, according to a recent study by Current Analysis. For the week ending August 20, 2005, Media Center PCs accounted for 43% of all desktop personal computers sold in the U.S. retail market, based on data from a sampling of U.S. retailers."

71% of the Media Centers sold in the week ending August 20 did not have a TV tuner.

53% of the Media Centers sold in the week ending August 20 utilized AMD’s Athlon 64 processor.

67% of the Media Centers sold in the week ending August 20 used a 250-GB hard drive.

A Baby Step Toward Wi-Fi Photos

Via NYT:
EVERY now and then, someone combines two technologies into a single new product, and the result is a triumphant new category that changes the industry. Clock + radio. Cellphone + camera. Music player + hard drive.

PHOTOS ON THE FLY - Nikon's Wi-Fi-enabled P2, top, is a 5.1-megapixel version; the P1 is eight megapixels.

But of all possible combinations these days, few are more screamingly obvious than wireless + camera. Already, millions of people snap photos with their cellphones, then gleefully e-mail them or post them on Web sites. But why should you be satisfied with the crummy, low-resolution, bleached-out photos from cellphones? Why shouldn't you be able to have the same kind of fun with really good photos, from really good cameras?

The time has finally come. Kodak announced its wireless EasyShare-One camera way back in January, but its release has been repeatedly delayed. What would have been the second wireless camera to hit the market, then, is now the first: the new Nikon P1, due in stores on Sept. 15. It's an iPod-size, eight-megapixel camera dressed in brushed-metal black, with a list price of $550. (A sister model, the P2, is a silver, 5.1-megapixel version that lists for $400. Online prices will be much lower once the cameras actually arrive in stores.)

The P1 is so small, you wouldn't guess that it contains a Wi-Fi transmitter for wireless networking, also known as AirPort or 802.11; only a small plastic window on one side (which permits the signals to exit the metal case) gives away the secret. Of course, Wi-Fi is useful only when you're within range of a wireless hot spot in, for example, a hotel lobby, coffee shop or airport lounge. A Wi-Fi camera doesn't let you roam nearly as freely as those cellphone cameras do.

BUT adding Wi-Fi to a digital camera ought to offer some juicy possibilities anyway. You could shoot pictures without even having a memory card; the camera would shunt them wirelessly to your waiting laptop as you worked. You could post pictures to your own Web site or a photo gallery site like Flickr.com while they're still hot off the sensor. Photojournalists could e-mail their prize-winners to their editors directly from the battlefield (assuming, of course, a wireless Starbucks is near the battlefield).

All this and more awaits the consumers who embrace the first fully functional wireless digital camera. Unfortunately, the Nikon P1 is not it.

Incredibly, the P1 can't connect to the Internet at all, even when its Wi-Fi signal-strength indicator has more bars than a federal prison. You can't e-mail your photos or post them to a Web site. You can't send photos from the camera to a cellphone or palmtop, or even to another P1.

So what good is it?

It turns out that the P1's wireless feature is good for a single trick only: sending pictures through the air to a wireless Mac or Windows computer that's under 100 feet away and running Nikon's photo management software. (That same setup lets you send photos straight to the printer. And if you buy Nikon's $50 wireless printer adapter, expected to arrive at the end of October, you can even send photos directly to the printer without the computer's involvement.)

Now, sending a photo wirelessly to a computer across the room is an O.K. trick. But honestly - is it such an improvement over plugging in the camera's U.S.B. cable the traditional way?

In one situation, yes. The P1 offers several wireless transfer modes. One transmits the most recent photos, another sends only photos you haven't already transferred, and so on. But one mode, called Shoot & Transfer, does something truly new: When you take a picture, the camera flings it through the air to your laptop, where it's safely stashed on the hard drive. Depending on the photo quality and resolution you've dialed up, this transfer can take from 15 seconds (best and biggest photos) to about one second (one megapixel or smaller).

Shoot & Transfer mode can be useful in a number of ways. It bypasses the camera's memory card completely, so it works if your card is full or even missing. In effect, your wireless laptop becomes the memory card - yes, the world's biggest and heaviest, but also the most capacious. With the laptop propped open in your backpack, you can trudge through the jungle - Amazon, urban or otherwise - freely snapping away, without ever worrying about running out of storage or damaging a flimsy memory card.

Shoot & Transfer also works well with the P1's time-lapse mode. You don't have to worry that you'll miss the butterfly's emergence from the cocoon because the memory card filled up.

But the best Shoot & Transfer feature of all is a true parlor trick. At a party, conference or any other social gathering, you can start up a slide show on your Mac or PC, complete with music. You can then walk around the room, snapping pictures of the guests or attendees. These photos join the slide show already in progress, automatically, in real time. It's digital-camera performance art. The best part is taking pictures of people's amazed faces as they catch on to what you're doing - and then those pictures become part of the show. Very meta.

As a compact camera, the P1 is loaded; Nikon correctly assumed that the kind of geek who'd be interested in a Wi-Fi camera probably would also appreciate manual control over ISO (light sensitivity), aperture size, shutter speed, exposure and other photographic controls. Yet the P1 also offers a lot of consumer-friendly features like scene presets, superb movies with sound (30 frames a second, the size of a TV screen) and Nikon's celebrated macro mode, which lets you take pictures only 1.6 inches away from the subject. The screen is clear, bright and huge - 2.5 inches diagonally - which Nikon hopes will soften the blow when you realize there's no optical eyepiece viewfinder.

The photos are very good. You wouldn't mistake them for magazine photos, but for a pocket-size consumer camera, they're above average. (You can see samples at nytimes.com/circuits.)

Nikon has a lot of work to do, though, with the wireless element. The camera can't connect to a computer or printer until you first install the software on your computer, connect the camera through its U.S.B. cable, walk through a series of setup screens, and name your connection (or, as Nikon calls it, your profile; the camera can memorize nine of them). This process is far more technical and jargon-laden than it needs to be; in fact, the whole ritual should be unnecessary. Why can't the P1 auto-detect and auto-join wireless networks the way palmtops and laptops can?

This setup business rules out yet another potential Wi-Fi high: fielding a request for your photos from somebody in an airport waiting lounge or business meeting. Instead of saying, "Heck, yeah, I'll just beam them over to you," you have to say: "Sure, I've got the Nikon CD right here. Let me just install this 230-megabyte software package onto your hard drive, connect the U.S.B. cable, create a profile, and hey, come back here!"

The P1 has a lot to recommend it as a digital camera. It's compact, it's loaded with features and the pictures are fine. Of course, you could say the same of several nearly identical Nikon models that lack wireless features but cost about $150 less.

But without the ability to connect to the Internet or to establish casual, on-the-fly connections to wireless networks, the P1 is a missed opportunity the size of Nova Scotia. The P1 may be a breakthrough in engineering, but for the moment, it only thumps the earth instead of shaking it.


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Compression's back in a Blaze of glory

Via The Age:

The history of digital video compression is littered with companies that promise investors miracles but instead deliver pain.

Former computer games maker Blaze claims it has found the holy grail of video compression - broadcast-quality video down a low-bandwidth link, such as to a GPRS mobile phone. The promise is file sizes can be reduced by up to 90 per cent with a standard-definition broadcast video-quality metric - a standardised performance test for digital video quality.

To put that into perspective, a standard 42-minute TV show occupies up to about 1GB on a DVD, and compresses to about 350MB using Xvid compression. The newer H.264 video compression format reduces this to about 150MB with little noticeable deterioration in quality. Coupled to Blaze's compression method would typically reduce the file size by up to nearly a half - 80-150MB - and its inventors are hopeful that will improve.

Most video compression compares frames and deletes information that does not change, although quality degrades as more information is deleted. Blaze's PIXe (PIXel grid oscillation) technology claims to take advantage of an optical principal called "short-range apparent motion", eliminating image data while fooling the eye into believing it sees information not there.

The technology's developer, Perth-based graphic artist Peter Bevan, says he discovered the concept while considering how the eye eliminates random imperfections, known as "grain", that naturally occur when blowing up film. While a single frame might have so much grain as to be unusable as a still image, its random positioning renders it invisible when projected in sequence.

Mr Bevan, a Blaze non-executive director, says the PIXe process subsamples a video motion picture down to a lower resolution, compressing nine pixels into one, and then uses an algorithm to move the pixel grid around within a frame. The eye averages three or four consecutive frames into one, giving the image definition. Mr Bevan calls this the "grid oscillation process". "We can run film at a lower resolution and reach fidelity levels which are similar to high-resolution film," he says.

"You don't lose much in the look of it - it stays within the broadcast quality ranges - but it is actually quite lower in resolution. Your eye averages it all out and gives you the definition. But if you stopped the film and looked at it, you would have quite a low-resolution frame. The definition doesn't come out until you see it in motion."

A similar technique, "jiggling", avoids pixellation when digital images are blown up for use in billboards. A special camera with an oscillating lens takes 50 images in quick succession and produces an average, effectively replacing the area of one pixel with a greater amount of data.

"We're doing the same thing, except instead of combining (the images in post-production), we're using the eye to combine it," he says.

The output then runs through a standard MPEG video encoder - although MPEG attempts to adjust some of PIXe's oscillations.

Blaze CEO Peter Jon Hartshorne says the decrease in effectiveness of the secondary encoder such as MPEG2 or H.264 reduces the compression efficiency.

Mr Hartshorne pitches PIXe at mobile-phone companies because he says it shows video at 15 frames a second over GPRS-based networks.

"The value proposition of the product will never be in the high-end DVD and motion picture quality," Mr Hartshorne says. "I see this product in lower-bandwidth-constrained applications where you just can't get video to run to an acceptable level. And the most evident market is the low-bandwidth mobile phone."

He says the technology got a positive response from companies with stakes in digital video, such as Microsoft, Qualcomm, NEC and Motorola - but he would not give referees. PIXe was evaluated by Perth consulting group Atrico but its report is unavailable.

Mr Bevan says that not only is the video file size reduced by 90 per cent, so is the computational requirement - meaning cheaper, cooler-running chips and longer battery life in wireless mobile devices such as phones and PDAs.

Blaze engaged US consulting group Gramercy Venture Advisors to organise introductions to clients. Gramercy CEO Michael Gale says scepticism is understandable.

"The problem with compression is there are more kooks per square inch than in anything else," he says. "So far nobody has found any reason why this shouldn't result in a big improvement. Most people are worried that it won't work properly with MPEG, or that it will work, but you will only get a 50 per cent improvement in the end."

Mr Gale says Gramercy is not claiming the technology works but says the early indications are good, while issues remain as to how well it will work with other encoders and how that is built into a service. "We did our own due diligence and we think that it is a very interesting theory," he says. "The way I describe it is there is a lot of circumstantial evidence but no murder weapon."

Mr Hartshorne hopes to have a demonstration version of PIXe ready by January, and is raising a development team in New Delhi to tune PIXe to run on handset operating systems. Blaze will focus on producing a version that works under H.264 MPEG, but has demonstrated its software working with MPEG2 and Motion JPEG encoders, he says.

The Blaze CEO says PIXe needs a proprietary 38Kbps decoder to be downloaded to the handset but the goal is to compress and decode the signal before it is MPEG-decoded.

Blaze has invested $1 million in PIXe, and will invest a further $1 million to get the technology to a demonstrable stage, he says. Two years and a further $5 million-$10 million will be required for a fully commercial product.