Monthly Archives: March 2009

Sony Corp. reduces global dividend payment by 15%

JCNNetwork: Sony Corp. reduced its planned dividend payment by 15 percent in order to conserve cash after the global recession forced the company to forecast a record operating loss.

Sony is eliminating 16,000 jobs worldwide and slashing its number of manufacturing sites after projecting a record 260 billion yen (US$2.7 billion) operating loss for this fiscal year.

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GE quietly delays premium HDTV line

Engadget: General Electric came clean with its intentions to delve into the wide world of HDTVs last September… and then the economy, as well as GE itself, fell apart.

Earlier this year, we were actually clued in on some of the details surrounding the Tatung-built sets, but now we’re hearing that the company is pushing everything back by around three months.

GE maintains that the setback is due to “marketing rather than operational or manufacturing issues,” though we all know right about now isn’t the greatest time to introduce new high-end televisions.

We also get the idea that GE may use the time to better implement connected HDTV features given just how prevalent those were at CES, but again, we’re really just shooting in the dark here. Oh, we forgot to even ask — does anyone care that GE’s getting back into the TV biz, let alone that its forthcoming sets are delayed?

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Pioneer has last hurrah with 4 new KUROs

Ubergizmo: Pioneer says its goodbye to the world of TVs today by presenting its final launch of four Kuro models in Japan.

No idea on who would actually purchase these TVs if they know the company will already cease production of TVs due to the unprofitable venture though.

Two of the models from the latest Kuro range, the KRP-500A and KRP-600A, come equipped with an external tuner. As for both of those alongside the all-in-one equivalents, the KRP-500M and KRP-600M, are able to churn out 1080p images at 50″ and 60″ inches respectively.

Pioneer KRP-500M

There is no word on contrast ratios, but you will find a quartet of HDMI inputs, VGA, component and a USB port for connectivity options.

Don’t worry about your warranty though – Pioneer will continue to provide repairs on sets for up to 8 years, and keep your fingers crossed that there are enough replacement parts to go round till then.

Note: it would seem that all 4 models are already availabe in Europe.

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Tag Heuer’s first mobile phone on the way

DotGizmo: You might have been waiting impatiently for TAG Heuer’s first cell phone, the Meridiist, and while it hasn’t been officially launched yet, the official site is up.

At least now you’ll be able to go through some official information regarding the phone, and actually place a pre-order on the device.

The launching of the site seems to be just in time as the watch show Baselworld starts this week. We’d much prefer they launch the device already, but an official site is better than no official site, right?

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mp3HD: New lossless MP3 format explained

CNet: French media behemoth Thomson has announced mp3HD, a new lossless ‘hybrid’ MP3 format, which not only offers the sound detail lost in a normal MP3, but remains compatible with your existing MP3 player or iPod.

It’s called mp3HD and still uses the traditional .mp3 file extension. Simply put, it works by storing a conventional lossy MP3 track that standard players can play, alongside a ‘lossless’ version — both audio streams are contained in one single MP3 file.

It’s similar to how hybrid SACDs work. Ideally this would appeal to users who want to enjoy lossless audio at home, and universally compatible MP3s on the commute, without having to rip two versions of the same song.

We’ve tested the format, ripping our own CDs using Exact Audio Copy and Thomson’s mp3HD command line encoder. A 6 minute 22 second mp3HD file (Pink Floyd’s Money), using default settings, gave us a 48MB file — just 5MB larger than a file ripped in FLAC, level 8. On a PC with Thomson’s mp3HD decoder plug-in installed, WinAmp played the 800Kbps (on average) lossless audio track, but when dragged into iTunes the same file played as a normal old 320Kbps MP3 file. It transferred without issue to an iPhone 3G and to a Cowon iAudio D2 MP3 player, and played without any problems. This is it: a lossless audio file, theoretically backwards compatible with all existing MP3 players!

Why wouldn’t everyone adopt this? Well, for a whole bunch of reasons, frankly.

At face value it’s remarkably convenient, like a car that doubles up as a plane. But like your aeromobile, there are problems for the average consumer.

Firstly, file size. A normal 320Kbps MP3 of the same Pink Floyd song was just 14.6MB, and 320Kbps is all you’ll hear if you listen to an mp3HD track on your iPod. But the lossless audio stored in the file will be stored on your iPod nevertheless, taking up precious storage space. (Although we should point out to audiophiles that the hybrid files are smaller than the combined size of a FLAC and 320Kbps MP3, although are less efficient to encode than FLAC.)

The second problem concerns compatibility. The joy of MP3 files, and the reason for their ubiquity in the marketplace, is their small size and compatibility with almost anything you throw at them. With mp3HD, not only are file sizes massive (making them impractical for small flash players), but you need to install plug-ins on your computer. True backwards compatibility would mean no additional software or updates were required.

Ideally you’d be able to transfer only the small, lossy part of the mp3HD to a portable player, leaving the lossless part (stored as what’s known as ‘correction data’) behind. But this would require additional software, and that means Average Joe won’t want to know about it.

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What’s wrong with Blu-ray, and how to fix it

Crave: It’s been a couple of years now since Blu-ray launched and it’s been over a year since it beat HD DVD to become the high-definition format of choice. So with the format rushing into puberty, we thought we’d examine its puss-filled pimples and try not to laugh at its erratic voice.

First of all, if you’re a fanboy, don’t take this the wrong way. Blu-ray is a terrific format, with plenty going for it. We’re just sure it could be good deal better, and we’d appreciate it if those involved could have a little think, and make some tweaks to make it more accessible and consumer-friendly.

As always, you should feel free to let us know via the comments section or our forums if you have a point to make on this subject.

Price
This is a simple one, and the least controversial. Blu-ray discs are very expensive, and even with the rapid price reductions we’ve seen in the last six months, the players are still far too costly.

While we agree Blu-ray is a premium format, that doesn’t excuse costs of more than twice that of DVD.

Solution: Reduce the cost of films, and if that means removing some bonus features or extras such as a digital copy or DVD version, so be it.

Load times
In tests, we’ve found that Blu-ray players can load an interactive, Java-enabled Blu-ray in between 45 seconds and 1 minute 30 seconds.

Even the cheapest DVD player loads a standard DVD in no time at all, and plays it straight away. The problem with Blu-ray is there’s an awful lot happening during the disc load. When you turn your player on, it needs to load its operating system.

After that, when you insert the disc, it has to load Java interactivity and do boring things such as encryption-key exchange. The reasons don’t matter. It’s a bad user experience, and something needs to be done about it.

Solution: As hardware gets faster, load times will naturally decrease. We’re now at the point where the quickest standalone player can load a disc and begin playback in around 45 seconds. But that’s still not quick enough. Because a decent percentage of this load time is tied up in the interactive menu loading, we propose that a button is added to new players. When the user presses this button, the player will ignore the interactive features and simply start playing the movie. Obviously, movie studios will hate the idea of their expensively designed interactivity not being loaded — but Blu-ray is a premium movie experience. Users should not have to load features they aren’t interested in. We’re sure people will still use the interactivity — but giving them a choice means they can just watch the film.

There’s another possible solution here too. AACS allows for ‘managed copy’. This process allows a copy of the movie to be stored on a computer, with DRM. If movie studios used this, load times wouldn’t be such an issue. The presence of DRM is a fail, but even so there are solutions — such as Windows Media Centre — that can make use of these copies.

Physical media might not be dead — but it should be
Buying a piece of plastic, taking it home and putting it in a Blu-ray player is fine for some people, but it’s an outdated way of doing things. It suits movie studios because they believe — incorrectly — that they can better protect their movies from copyright theft if they stop electronic distribution.

The truth is, they couldn’t be more wrong. Take a look through any torrent site or newsgroup and you won’t find any shortage of illegally downloadable Blu-ray rips in exceptionally high quality (sometimes even bit-for-bit copies of the original). Locking down the hardware with AACS and BD+ doesn’t stop illegal downloading. DRM doesn’t stop illegal downloading. So why not stop worrying, and learn to love online distribution?

Solution: Allow people access to legal downloads. The main movie studios should get together and set up a torrent site that offers HD movies for £10 or so. No DRM, no usage restrictions and no extras. People who want added value can buy the Blu-ray.

The convenience of being able to decide to watch a movie one minute and be downloading it the next shouldn’t be underestimated. It took the music industry ten years to realise that trying to stop piracy with DRM was futile. The process cost the music studios dearly, and there’s no need for movie companies to fall foul of the same problem.

Oh — one more idea. Why not offer an honesty pot for people who downloaded a movie, enjoyed it, and would like to legitimise their ownership of it with a payment? We’re sure movie studios think this would legitimise copyright theft, but the fact is, illegal downloading is happening, and they might as well make some money out of it.

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Call to ‘shut down’ Google Street View

BBC: A formal complaint about Google’s Street View has been sent to the UK’s Information Commissioner (ICO).

Drawn up by privacy campaigners, it cites more than 200 reports from members of the public identifiable via the service.

Privacy International wants the ICO to look again at how Street View works. “The ICO has repeatedly made clear that it believes that in Street View the necessary safeguards are in place to protect people’s privacy,” said Google.

Privacy International (PI) director Simon Davies said his organisation had filed the complaint given the “clear embarrassment and damage” Street View had caused to many Britons.

He said Street View fell short of the assurances given to the ICO that enabled the system to launch.

“We’re asking for the system to be switched off while an investigation is completed,” said Mr Davies. “The Information Commissioner never grasped the gravity of how a benign piece of legislation could affect ordinary lives,” he added.

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Samsung wins countersuit over LCD dispute with Sharp

Electronista: The long-standing legal battle over a patent related to liquid crystal displays between Samsung and Sharp has been settled, as a Tokyo court upheld Samsung’s countersuit, filed back in 2007.

Samsung noted on Friday that allegations in a June countersuit were upheld in a Japanese courtroom. Sharp initially sued Samsung, the world’s largest display panel maker, over similar though unspecified alleged infringements in August of 2007.

Samsung filed two countersuits, one in a Tokyo courtroom, the other in a Delaware house of justice, and has also requested an investigation by the US International Trade Commission.

The outcome of either the Delaware lawsuit nor the investigation request were not made public. Such lawsuits are fairly common in the display panel manufacturing industry, as competitors try and gain an advantage over one another by forcing licensing or settlements.

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Primare SPA22 Amplifier – the world’s first upgradable hi-fi component?

Red Ferret: This Primare SPA22 Amplifier is the first one we’ve seen that offers PC type upgrade functionality.

The object is to let you upgrade the components as more, different, better, sweeter technologies come on to the market.

The Swedish designers have come up with a clever plugin board option, which means you should be able to keep the amp much longer before consigning it to that great big scrap heap in the sky.

Such flexibility costs, of course (but you knew that right?) so prepare to shell out £3000.00 (€3,200) for the privilege of saving the planet.

The SPA22’s innovative open architecture looks beyond the latest fad or next format war by providing an easy way to upgrade entire audio, video and control sections as new technologies arrive. As with PC upgrades proprietary video, DSP and communications boards, incorporating optimised versions of the latest digital processing, are simply plugged-in to replace the previous ones.

In a single step, Primare has ‘built-out’ waste and obsolescence and secured long- lasting satisfaction for lovers of film and music…

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Blu-ray disc added to UK shopping basket

Register: HD has officially entered mainstream consumer conscience, because the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) has added Blu-ray Discs to its list of everyday purchases.

The ONS maintains a list of 650-odd products and services, and updates the selection annually.

The list is intended to reflect public spending habits and is used to calculate the Retail Prices Index inflation measure.

Several other tech goodies, including Freeview boxes and “portable video players” – iPod Touches and their ilk – have also been added.

Blu-ray’s addition has come at the expense of some former tech favourites, with High Street DVD rentals taken off of the list.

Internet-based DVD rental services are still considered representative of British spending habits.

MP3 players are also removed, to make way for MP4 devices.

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A vision of the future: Cell TV

CNet: Here at Crave, we often wonder what the future of TVs is — mainly because if there isn’t one, some of us are going to have to find new jobs. Ever helpful, Toshiba thinks it can tell us what the generation after the next generation will look like –- it’s called Cell TV.

The idea behind Cell TV is Toshiba using its significant stake in the Cell processor group — which it co-owns with IBM and Sony — to improve the processing power of televisions.

Toshiba CellTV

Because Cell is essentially a supercomputer on a single chip, it can do a whole heap of video processing at once. Such power means that one Cell processor could feed multiple TVs across your house, making your TV little more than a ‘dumb’ screen, fed from a central ‘brain’.

The demo we saw — which, we might add, we took with a coronary-inducing spadeful of salt — showed a beautiful user interface (pictured) through which one could find recorded TV shows, or browse live TV channels with a wonderful flowing ‘strip’ design.

Although the on-screen text was Japanese, we got the idea. The whole thing was visually stunning, but without sitting down and using it, it’s impossible to say if the UI would actually be practical for day-to-day use.

Cell TV has an unusual form-factor too. Instead of having a TV with everything built in, you’ll probably have something like a monitor, with no built-in tuner or even picture-processing circuitry. The standalone box will take care of all the tricky processing and video recording.

Indeed, its credentials in this regard are impressive. Toshiba claims Cell can handle eight HD video streams at once. You would get the choice of where they go too, so you can record four and watch four, or watch one and record seven. This sort of media receiver might be a brilliant idea, but it comes utterly unstuck in the UK.

The problem is, we don’t have open TV platforms, because there’s a total lack of competition on both cable TV and satellite. Add to that Ofcom’s preference for kowtowing to Rupert Murdoch and allowing Sky to carry on with its proprietary set-top boxes, rather than putting the consumer first. Sky’s refusal to consider producing a conditional access module means no third-party solution will ever be able to record Sky in either SD or HD. freesat and Freeview HD could offer some hope, but neither of those services has much HD content yet — again, Sky has a financial grip on Channel 4 that’s preventing its HD service from being available on freesat.

Problems aside, Cell TV should start arriving next year. It’s entirely possible the TV part will be LED backlit and the Cell part will be housed inside a funky little case of some sort. We won’t know the full details for some time.

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New Blu-ray, SACD player from Marantz

Engadget: We can definitely see where this is headed. Hot on the heels of Denon’s DVD-A1UD and OPPO’s BDP-83 comes yet another Blu-ray player that does just a pinch more than handle audio CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray Discs.

Unveiled as a prototype over in Munich, the Marantz UD9004 is just one format shy (it’s lacking DVD-Audio support) of being a complete “universal” Blu-ray player.

Said device, which is slated to get official sometime in 2009, is built upon the $6,500 (€4,700) SA-7S1 SACD player (pictured) and features a 10-bit Silicon Optix chipset, 14-bit video DAC, an SD card reader, RS-232 control interface, support for BD-Live and an Ethernet port. Outside of that, details are nonexistent, but we’ll definitely be keeping an ear to the ground for more.

Marantz UD9004

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