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March 2008 Archives

March 4, 2008

Maxell NC-IV Noise Cancellation Headphones

Tired of the background noise in your life -- the whine of computer fans, the hum of the air conditioning, the roar of the train or plane, or just the clatter of all the people around you?

Today's noise reduction headphones fight back with active noise cancellation -- digital signal processing that uses a microphone to listen to the outside sound and generate an inverse signal to cancel it.

While this kind of processing can't totally eliminate the environmental noise, it can move you away, into a quieter place. You can wear the headphones even without listening to music to feel calmer, or plug in to your media player to enjoy the music in relative peace.

There are a lot of options for noise-reduction headphones available these days for around $50 to $150, including from familiar names like JVC, Maxell, Panasonic, and Sony.

For example, I've covered the lighter JVC HA-NC80 Headphones which fold into the headpiece for travel, the top-of-the-line JVC HA-NC250 Headphones which offer up to 85% noise reduction, and the JVC HA-NCX77 Earphones with an in-line box with noise cancellation electronics.

The Maxell line of noise cancellation headphones also includes light-weight headphones and new noise reduction earbuds, ranging from around $49 to $129 list.

The Maxell NC-IV Headphones are the current top of the Maxell line ($129 list, $70 street).

Besides the advanced noise reduction, these feature full-size ear cups, leather-lined for comfort, that also swivel to pack flat.

The earpieces are particularly comfortable since they are large and well-padded, enclosing the entire ear, and resting on the head.


The cord is textured braded nylon to limit tangling, instead of smooth (like those knot-free shoelaces).

And to protect your hearing, the headphones have an in-line attenuator to limit ear-damaging volumes with low, medium, and high settings.

See my full article on noise-reduction headphone options -- Quieting Down: Noise-Reduction Headphones.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on headphones.

    Find the Maxell NC-IV Headphones on Amazon.com

March 9, 2008

Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 Portable Speakers

With today's portable media players, you can store and organize all your favorite music and videos in a handheld device. And while headphones and earphones are great for enjoying your music collection on the go, sometimes also you want to share the fun.

Portable speakers like the Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 let you share your personal music beyond your ears to friends and family.


The Orbit is designed to lay flat and generate a 360-degree sound field, though it also can sit on its edge for directed, more personal listening.

The speaker is relatively small and light -- some 3 1/2 inches diameter, 1 3/8 inch deep, and 8 ounces. The 8 inch cord wraps around the speaker and tucks away.

It's powered by 3 AAA batteries, rated to play up to 25 hours. There's a power switch, but no volume control -- just crank up your music player and enjoy the sound -- certainly enough to fill the room.

The Orbit-MP3 is designed to be durable and shock-resistant for travel, with a metal speaker grill. It also includes a 3.5mm-to-2.5mm adapter for listening to music phones.

The Orbit-MP3 iM207 is available for $29.95.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on headphones.

    Find the Altec Lansing Orbit Speakers on Amazon.com

March 11, 2008

Altec Lansing SoundBlade Bluetooth Speakers

Wired speakers like the Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 (see previous post) work great for plugging in to MP3 players and music phones to share the fun. But these devices are going wireless with Bluetooth, so why bother with plugging in?

I've covered larger wireless Bluetooth stereo speakers like the Sony SRS-BTM30 and PARROT Party, and smaller more portable versions like the Samsung BS300.

The Altec Lansing SoundBlade Stereo Bluetooth Speakers have 2" high output speakers in a smart thin “blade-like” design -- 6 x 11 inches and only 1 inch thick, with a pop-out stand. It's a wireless stereo speaker with remote control, plus a wireless speakerphone with built-in microphone.


The two-way remote control functions, using small buttons along the top of the unit, include volume, mute, and track forward/back. And the wireless speakerphone uses an echo-canceling microphone and supports voice-activated dialing.

As a speaker, the SoundBlade includes SRS Trubass technology and has a shielded design to prevent speaker buzz from cellular frequencies.

You can run it on 6 AA batteries, with up to 24 hours playback, 3 days standby, or use the included AC adapter. And it also has an auxiliary audio input for wired playback.

The Altec Lansing inMotion SoundBlade iMT525 is available for $129.


See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on headphones.

    Find the Altec Lansing SoundBlade Speaker on Amazon.com

March 13, 2008

Acer Aspire Multimedia Notebooks

Yesterday in New York, Acer introduced its new generation of multimedia notebooks -- the desktop replacement 18.4" Aspire 8920G (press release) and more portable 16" Aspire 6920G (press release).

Both feature 16:9 widescreen displays, with the option of Full HD 1920x1080 resolution.


With the acquisition of Gateway last year (joining its eMachines and Packard-Bell brands), Acer is now the world’s third largest PC company.These new notebooks continue Acer's focus on the consumer market, building on its "Gemstone blue" design for image-conscious consumers. For looks, the case features a sexy Holographic 3D cover with a starlit backlight. And for convenient control, the CineDash media console to the left of the keyboard provides a touch-sensitive interface for navigation and media playback.

The blue theme carries through to the integrated Blu-ray disc drives (Super Multi Blu-ray/DVD/CD double-layer), for playback of high-definition widescreen movies. For the full audio experience, the 16" 6920 has stereo speakers plus the Acer Tuba CineBass booster, and the 18.4" 8920 actually has 5 surround speakers plus the bass. There's also an integrated HDMI interface for playback on external HDTVs.

For more media fun, use the available TV Tuner to watch digital television, or the integrated Acer CrystalEye camera and stereo microphones for videoconferencing.

Acer suggested pricing from $900 / $1,700, and said these should ship around April.

More specs below ...



Continue reading "Acer Aspire Multimedia Notebooks" »


March 17, 2008

Paragon Partition Manager 9

I've been retrofitting some older PCs, and facing the once-common problem of partitioning the hard drives. The issue now is to remove the old partitions in order to consolidate the space back to one large C: drive -- but without destroying the installed Windows and application software.

Partitioning was once a recommended practice for performance and organizational reasons to help out poor Windows 98 and its successors. These days, we need all the available disk space to make room for ever-larger applications and their associated data.

At the time, PowerQuest Partition Magic was the popular solution for messing with partitions, since it -- unlike Windows -- could resize and reorganize partitions without destroying the data stored on them. But Partition Magic was bought by Symantec, and what is now Norton PartitionMagic 8 apparently has not been updated since 2004.

Which is why I'm glad to have discovered Paragon Partition Manager, which I've now used successfully to consolidate the partitions on two older machines.

Partition Manager 9.0 Personal was released in January 2008 for $39.95


Partition Manager can perform both basic and advanced operations, from creating and deleting partitions to resizing, merging, and copying. Plus, you can explore your disk volumes and change partition properties.

Version 9 adds improved Windows Vista compatibility, boot manager support for running multiple operating systems, the Recovery CD, and backup of critical partitioning information in the event of a power failure or other catastrophic system failure.

Partition Manager has a nice clean interface with wizards for task-based options. You don't even need to install it -- you can run it directly from the CD (but not for some advanced operations) -- plus the product CD is bootable, so it can serve as a Recovery CD in the event of a catastrophic failure.

The Paragon Software Group is based in Russia, Germany, Japan, and San Jose, and sells disk tools including Hard Disk Manager, Drive Backup, and Partition Manager, with Personal, Professional, and Enterprise versions.

See my full article on Paragon Partition Manager 9

March 21, 2008

Adobe Premiere Elements 4 and Photoshop Elements 6

       
Adobe continues to pull off a difficult trick with its Elements applications: providing an accessible interface for novice editors (at under $100) that still provides access to the underlying power and flexibility of its high-end Premiere and Photoshop CS3 tools (at $799 and $649).


The idea with these applications is to provide a growth path as you get more experienced -- so you can start simply, but then not hit a dead end in the application as your editing gets more sophisticated:

- In Premiere Elements 4, you can start with simple drag-and-drop sceneline (storyboard) editing of clips using Movie Themes to automatically apply transitions, music, layouts for titles, credits, and disc menus. Then grow into the multi-track Timeline, synchronizing multiple events with overlays, keyframed animation, and audio mixing.

- In Photoshop Elements 6, you can start in the Organizer browsing your photos and using the one-click Fix tools to automatically clean up and enhance your images. Then use the Guided Editing mode to walk though the steps of improving a photo, and grow into the full Edit mode to make more sophisticated adjustments, including selectively enhancing, retouching flaws, and even removing unwanted elements.

The pricing is the same as the previous version: the individual applications are $99.99 each, or are available together as a bundle for $149.99 (U.S. estimated street price). A version of Photoshop Elements for the Macintosh is expected in early 2008.

Compare video tools in my Video Editing Software Gallery

See my full article: Editing in Adobe Premiere Elements 4 and Photoshop Elements 6

(See also Summary - Premiere Elements 4)
(See also Summary - Photoshop Elements 6)

    Find Adobe Premiere Elements 4 and
    Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 on Amazon.com

March 25, 2008

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for Mac

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 is now available for the Macintosh. The clean, uncluttered interface offers three edit modes for beginner to expert photographers -- Guided, Quick, and Full edit -- with step-by-step assistance in the new Guided Edit mode.


Other new features include a new Quick Selection tool that snaps to edges, and an amazing Photomerge technology that combines elements from multiple shots to create a perfect group shot by choosing the best facial expressions and body language from the shots.

Elements also adds new options for sharing your photos. You can design layouts for photo books, scrapbook pages, greeting cards and CD/DVDs. Or create a personal online album, order prints or hardbound photo books, and printing photos into U.S. postage stamps.

Photoshop Elements 6 runs on Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5.2), and previous versions of Mac OS X starting with 10.4.8. The software is a Universal Binary application that will run natively on PowerPC and new Intel-based Macintosh systems.

It's available for an estimated street price of $89.99, or $69.99 to upgrade from previous versions.

See my full article: Editing in Adobe Premiere Elements 4 and Photoshop Elements 6

See also Summary - Photoshop Elements 6

    Find Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for Mac on Amazon.com

March 30, 2008

Adobe Photoshop Express Beta

Adobe has released a beta of Photoshop Express (www.photoshop.com/express), its free Web-based photo editing and sharing application that brings Photoshop tools to the browser. You can upload your images to store online, edit them in the browser, and then share them online (Adobe product info).

Express provides a gentle introduction to the Photoshop line for potential future customers, to then step up to the Photoshop Elements 6 desktop application for Windows and Mac (see previous post). And it serves as a demonstration of Adobe's Flex open source framework for building highly interactive Rich Internet Applications (RIA) based on Flash Player 9.

However, this is a beta version. It only supports images in JPEG format, and no larger than 10 MB and 4000 pixels in height and width. While free, Adobe offers only 2 GB of online storage, probably smaller than the card in your digital camera. It's currently available to US residents, only in English.

And as noted in the CNET review, make sure you understand the Terms of use (as you should with any site where you upload your personal work) -- In particular, you grant Adobe unlimited worldwide rights to use your content in any way it sees fit, including licensing and selling your work.
(Adobe has updated these terms of use -- see following entry.)

See my full article on the Photoshop Elements applications: Editing in Adobe Premiere Elements 4 and Photoshop Elements 6

See also Summary - Photoshop Elements 6

More on Using Photoshop Express ...



Continue reading "Adobe Photoshop Express Beta" »


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About March 2008

Entries posted to Manifest Tech Blog in March 2008, listed from oldest to newest.

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