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May 2008 Archives

May 1, 2008

Creating Music and Editing Audio

Even non-musicians and beginning enthusiasts can collect, organize, mix and mash up, and create new music using today's inexpensive and accessible software tools, such as the Sony Creative Software tools -- ACID Music Studio for music creation and mixing, and Sound Forge Audio Studio for audio recording, editing, and encoding.

    See full article: Sony Audio / Music Studio Software

Sony ACID Music Studio 7 spans music recording, mixing, loop-based creation, and MIDI processing. It's for people creating original music using loops or recording vocals, instruments, or using MIDI -- like DJs and remix artists, home recording studios and musicians, video and multimedia producers, podcast and streaming media creators, educators, trainers, and presenters.

Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio 9 is focused on the end-to-end audio editing -- recording, editing / restoration, encoding, and mastering. It includes interactive Show Me How tutorials to help step though leaning new tasks.

Or step up to a higher-end professional high-end audio production toolset like Adobe Audition 3, through the full workflow of recording, mixing, editing, and mastering audio. Audition includes waveform editing of single clips, multi-track mixing, looping, MIDI, with extensive effects and tools for audio restoration and enhancement.

    See full article: Adobe Audition 3 - Professional Audio Editing and Mixing

    Find Sony Music Studio 7 and Audio Studio 9
    and Adobe Audition 3 on Amazon.com

LaCie Portable Hard Drives

I love flash drives for carrying data files, saving photos, and quick backups when travelling. But for long trips, and especially when I'm shooting video, it's definitely worth bringing along a portable hard drive for the much greater storage and faster transfer rates.

For example, check out the LaCie product line for a nice selection of colorful and fun designs, to find your preferred capacity and size, using hard drives that are only 1.3" to 1.8" to 2.5" around. Each has built-in USB connectors with short cables that also power the drive.

Starting small, the LaCie USB Key Max is shaped like a credit card, and comes in black or day-glow orange. Two years ago, LaCie used this design to offer 4 and 8 GB of hard disk storage for $99 and $149. Today the same size and weight holds up to 40 GB. (LaCie prices are list, retail are lower.)

Credit card:
    LaCie USB Key Max

30 GB $109, 40 GB $139.
1.3" drive, 3.34 x 2.16 x 0.23 in., 2.1 oz.

The LaCie Little Disk, designed by Sam Hecht, has several models that share the same clean design, black with glossy finish, with a removable end cap to access the extractable USB connector.

The smallest Little Disk 30 / 40 GB uses a 1.3" drive to provide up to 40 GB of storage in a box that you can wrap in your fist.

Match box:
    Little Disk 30 / 40 GB

30 GB $119, 40GB $149
2.64 x 1.69 x .67 in., 3 oz.

Or double the size with the LaCie Little Disk 60 GB to move up to a 1.8" drive with 60 GB, still in the same price range.

Or double the size, and weight, again (but with about the same thickness) with the LaCie Little Disk, 80 - 320 to use a 2.5" drive, offering serious capacities of 80 up to an impressive 320 GB -- starting at $80 and up to only $159. This larger size is also available with dual USB / Firewire (1394) interfaces.

Cigarette case:
    Little Disk 60 GB

60 GB $129
3.15 x 2.52 x.71 in., 4.44 oz.

Shirt pocket:
    Little Disk, 80 - 320 GB

80 GB $79, 120 GB $89, 160 GB $99, 250 GB $139, 320 GB $159
5.08 x 3.19 x.71 in., 6.88 oz.

You still can't beat flash drives for their tiny size and ruggedness. But hard drives offer significantly more capacity at similar prices, and better performance. High-performance flash drives from companies like SanDisk offer read speeds around 15 - 25 MB/sec and write speeds around 10 - 18 MB/sec. In comparison, the Little Disk hard drives spin at 3600 to 5400 rpm, with burst transfer rates up to 30 - 35 MB/sec.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on flash memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

    Find the LaCie USB Key Max on Amazon.com
    and the LaCie Little Disk 30 / 40 GB, 60 GB, and 80 - 320 GB

May 2, 2008

SanDisk Sansa Video Players -- Fuze and View

SanDisk has made a nice business expanding from its roots in flash memory with its SanDisk Sansa line of MP3 music and now video players. With lower prices for larger capacity, it's quite feasible to use memory-based players for video clips -- like the Apple iPod nano, with 4 GB for $149 and 8 GB for $199, playing 340 x 240 videos on a 2-inch screen in an amazingly thin design.

Meanwhile, SanDisk has developed a common look across the Sansa line, with clean black designs with rounded edges and blue highlights -- including a thumbwheel controller framed by a glowing blue circle. The older Sansa e200 from way back in 2006 has been joined by the larger-capacity Sansa View and the new smaller Sansa Fuze. The new players are thinner, with a simpler thumbwheel and button, and support higher-capacity microSDHC cards.

SanDisk Sansa e200 - 2 GB $99, 4 $119, 8 GB $149
    1.8" screen, QCIF+
    3.50 x 1.70 x 0.52”, 2.6 oz / 20 hours music

SanDisk Sansa Fuze - 2 GB $79, 4 GB $99, 8 GB $129
    1.9" screen, 220 x 176
    3.1 x 1.9 x 0.3 in., 2.1 oz / 24 hours music, 5 hours video

SanDisk Sansa View - 8 GB $149, 16 GB $199, 32 GB, $349
    2.4" screen, 320 x 240
    4.29 x 1.95 x 0.35", 2.9 oz / 35 hours music, 7 hours video

The View's screen has a portrait layout, great for scrolling though long menus when you have a large library of clips or lots of photo thumbnails, and with plenty of room to show song information with the album art. But when you display photos and videos the screen flips to landscape orientation so you can hold the player on its side for wide-screen images -- and the backlit button icons cleverly switch orientation to match.

These players all include a built-in microphone, FM tuner, and voice/FM recorder. And they all include a card slot for additional removable storage --1 or 2 GB microSD cards ($19 and $29), plus the newer players add 4 to 8 GB with the new microSDHC cards ($49 and $139).

The newer players directly support JPEG photos; various forms of MPEG-4 video; and MP3, WMA, secure WMA, WAV, and Audible audio; plus subscription music from sources including Rhapsody. The Sansa View also plays H.264 and WMV videos. While the older e200 used the Sansa Media Converter application to transfer photos and videos, you can transfer media to the View by simple drag and drop (if already in supported formats), or through media management software including Windows Media Player (to include album art and convert formats as needed).

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more information on portable players, from music to video, flash memory to hard disk, tiny to widescreen.

    Find the Sansa Fuze and Sansa View on Amazon.com

May 4, 2008

Sneakernet PC Videos on TV: SanDisk Sansa TakeTV

   (with Josh Page)

It's a wired world -- or actually getting more wire-less. We're connected at broadband speeds, theoretically able to electronically access our data from the vast cloud of the Web, but yet we still need to physically carry our digital stuff around with us -- music and videos in the iPod, contacts on the cell phone, calendars and documents in the PDA.

Sneakernet is still very much alive, as we use USB flash drives to carry and share the vast digital debris of our lives. Having our personal materials right there at hand or in our pocket is often still a lot faster and more reliable than trying to set up a shared networking connection between two arbitrary devices.

In the same way, home networking was supposed to bring effortless convergence to sharing media within the house -- watching Internet video from the PC on the TV, live TV on PCs and portable devices, and accessing recorded programs from any device, from living room to bedroom to office. Yet the promise of acronyms like DLNA and UPnP is still being developed (see my Consumer Home Media Gallery), and many homeowners are not thrilled about becoming the IT and networking support staff for multiple PCs and multiple devices, much less consumer electronics devices.

Which brings us back to sneakernet, as the approach used with the SanDisk Sansa TakeTV (also www.take.tv) for transferring PC-based videos onto a TV screen. Yes, there are adapters for hooking up SanDisk and other media players for scaling up portable clips on a TV, but the TakeTV is designed specifically as a portable device for watching TV-res clips.

The TakeTV comes in three parts: a Player unit with a USB port that you plug in to your PC to copy video clips (like a USB flash drive), the TV Cradle that plugs into the TV with standard A/V connectors, and a small remote control that is stored as the cover of the Player unit.

To watch your PC clips on TV, then, just drag and drop to copy them to the Player unit, as you would with any USB flash storage device.

Then sneakernet the Player unit over to your TV and plug it in to the TV Cradle, and use the remote control to access the on-screen menu to select the clips to play.

The TakeTV works much like a media player, except that it has no manual controls or earphone jack (since you use the remote control), and is designed to store and play higher-res TV video, up to full standard-definition 720 x 480/576, NTSC and PAL.

Unlike most media players, however, it does not support a variety of common formats -- the videos must be MPEG-4, as AVI, DivX, or XVID. It's designed for watching full-screen programs or videos that you've edited, and not miscellaneous low-res Web clips.

The TakeTV components also are small and light enough to move from one TV to another as needed. The Player unit docked with the remote control is 4 5/8 x 1 1/2 x 1/2 inches, and the TV Cradle is a little longer at 5 3/8 inches -- plus the A/V cables (composite video, S-Video, stereo audio) and the power adapter. The set up time from first opening the package to watching a video on television was roughly ten minutes, making the TakeTV ideal for quick and convenient video sharing for sharing your PC videos as a big screen experience.

The SanDisk Sansa TakeTV is available with 4 GB of storage for $99, and 8 for GB $149 (for 5 to 10 hours video, based on 720 x 480 MPEG-4 video at 1.5 Mbps. with 128 Kbps audio).

See my Consumer Home Media Gallery for more on PC / TV media capture and transfer.

    Find the SanDisk Sansa TakeTV on Amazon.com

May 7, 2008

Microsoft Zune Update - TV Show Downloads

Microsoft has announced new software features and content for the Zune online store, music community, and Zune Pass monthly subscription service.

The Zune video store is expanding to include downloads of more than 800 episodes of popular television shows that can be downloaded and synced to a Zune device.

The TV shows, from sources including Comedy Central, MTV, NBC Universal, Nickelodeon, Starz, Turner, Ultimate Fighting Championship and VH1, are priced at launch at 160 Microsoft Points per episode (approximately $1.99).

The Zune online store now offers more than 3.5 million tracks, two-thirds of which are available in pure MP3 format, 800 television shows, 4,800 music videos and 3,500 audio and video podcasts. The “Zune Social” music community Web site has had more than two million users join in its first five months, so music fans can discover new music, browse each others’ playlists, and comment on their discoveries and tastes.

Members of the Zune online music community get a free, customizable Zune Card, a playlist which automatically reflects the songs played on a Zune player or Zune PC software. Previously, this only resided on the Web, but now has become portable. Consumers with the Zune Pass subscription now have the ability to take what their friends are listening to from the Zune music community on the go via Zune Card personal playlists. The Zune Pass subscription allows access to millions of tracks for $14.99 per month.

The new updates to the Zune online music community include drag and drop syncing of Zune Cards to a Zune device -- subscribers get the full tracks on their Zune, while nonsubscribers have full album information and artwork. There are also social networking updates for sharing and searching Zune music community profiles, posting artist and albums reviews, earning reputation badges, and connecting via Windows Live. Zune Pass subscribers can set up automatic, real-time feeds of the music their friends are listening to.

The Zune software also has been updated based on customer feedback. Users now can browse their video collection by genre and series, edit track or album information quickly via multi-select and drag-and-drop, sort by genre, sync to multiple Zune players simultaneously, and enjoy gapless playback both on their Zune device and in the Zune software.

Press releases:

May 5, 2008 - Zune Expands Beyond Music to Deliver Integrated All-in-One Entertainment Experience
    New software updates bring popular television shows to online store, enhancements to online music community and subscription service.

May 5, 2008 - Zune Community Brings New Shared Experience to Music
    Spring release adds features that inspire people to explore, discover and discuss their favorite music

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons to other players.

    Find the Microsoft Zune 80 GB and Zune 8 GB on Amazon.com

CyberLink PowerDVD 8: Enhanced Movie Experience

CyberLink has released the latest version of its well-known DVD player software, CyberLink PowerDVD 8.

As you might expect, this new release adds support for the latest buzzwords in high-def video and audio formats, including Blu-ray Disk playback -- with an online patch to support the full Blu-ray Disc Profile 2 (BD-Live), with picture-in-picture display, networking, and advanced interactivity.

Plus there's AVCHD and MPEG-2 HD video, and HD audio up to 7.1 channels with Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD.

However, the DVD player market is getting rather mature, as these applications are already well-refined for DVD and even general-purpose media playback. PowerDVD supports scads of media formats, provides fun options for video and audio enhancement, and offers helpful features including power-saving playback for notebooks, frame capture, and bookmarking for favorite scenes. What more could it do?

So the next step for CyberLink was to go beyond playback features, and instead augment PowerDVD to enhance the overall movie experience by taking advantage of your computer's storage and Internet connectivity. After all, when you pop in an audio CD on your computer, it automatically looks up the album and artist information, and helps you organize and manage your entire collection -- why not the same for movies?

So CyberLink developed the MoovieLive.com website to store and sync shared movie information with PowerDVD.

When you play a DVD, PowerDVD downloads and displays Movie Information, which you also can edit and update with your personal ratings and reviews.

As you watch DVDs, PowerDVD also updates the list of your personal Movie Collection. You can share your collection (like a playlist of favorite songs), and add other movies that you're interested in from MoovieLive.

You also can get creative with Movie Remix -- mash up scenes from a movie and then add your own creative animated graphics and subtitle text overlays, plus audio clips and voice-overs. And, of course, you can upload and share your remixes on MoovieLive, and download remixes that others have posted -- though since the remix references the movie, you can only play them for DVDs that you own.

MoovieLive is a great idea for the next step in watching DVDs -- taking advantage of the local computer and the wider Internet to enhance the movie-watching experience. However, this initial implementation in PowerDVD 8 is frustrating because the online movie database is only generated by PowerDVD users -- CyberLink did not link the site into a pre-existing DVD database to automatically load movie information. So until the population of users grows significantly, you can type in database fields yourself, or rely on partial uploads you may find from other users.

See my full article for more on these new features, and on how CyberLink has done a good job of refining the PowerDVD interface to make it very accessible for both quick playback and hands-on exploration of a disc:
    Enhanced DVD Movie Watching: CyberLink PowerDVD 8

May 9, 2008

Belkin Washable Mouse and Mouse Trap

I enjoy covering digital media -- software and home electronics and portable devices -- but it's also fun to take time out for more prosaic accessories and peripherals. So let's start with the humble computer mouse, now available in sexy and colorful designs, wired and wireless, and even airborne with gesture controls with the Logitech MX Air Cordless Laser Mouse (see previous post).

Then there's the extensive Belkin line of accessories and connectivity devices, for home theater and for more mobile devices from laptops to iPods.

For example, the Belkin Washable Mouse is water resistant, to battle the gunk that accumulates from long-term handling, especially on shared devices ($29). For the family room computer, for example, just hand-wash under a faucet to clean up the inevitable spills of sticky juice and icky peanut butter fingers.

The Washable Mouse fits smaller hands, and is tapered at the front and raised at the back. The top is enclosed with a smooth surface, with the left- and right-click buttons recessed underneath. You scroll by vertically stroking the middle scroll pad (and horizontally on Windows Vista) -- a blue light shines to acknowledge the movement. Click both buttons simultaneously for a center-click action.

Then use the Belkin Mouse Trap to carry your mouse around the house ($19). Zip it up into a half-circle to store and carry your mouse and other small items, and then unzip it into a handy circular mouse pad.

For example, use the Mouse Trap to stabilize your movements when you use your laptop on slippery or rough surfaces like a glass table or bedspread. It's also hand-washable, and comes in exotic colors -- chocolate/tourmaline, steel/burnt orange, dove/tarragon, dove/peony. Mmmm ...

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more fun devices, organized by company.

    Find the Belkin Washable Mouse and Mouse Trap on Amazon.com

May 11, 2008

Belkin USB Hub and Mini Surge Protector

USB is not just about data connections any more -- it's also becoming the standard way to power up your portable devices as well. When you plug in to your computer to sync with a MP3 player or PDA, you're also feeding power over the same cable to recharge your device. Some portable devices now even don't bother to include a wall charger in the box -- instead they include a USB cable and a USB wall adapter.

This trend makes it a lot easier to travel with multiple devices, since you don't need to bring a separate custom wall charger for each device. Instead, just pack up the USB data cables for your products that use custom interfaces (like the Apple iPod), and add a standard mini-USB cable for devices that just use the USB interface (or even micro USB for small devices like Bluetooth headsets).

Yet while you then can charge these devices from your laptop when you are on the road, this still can get clumsy when you are dealing with multiple devices -- for example, when you need to charge a mobile phone and Bluetooth headset while you are using a USB mouse and storage drive.

Again, Belkin comes to the rescue with two clever ideas to manage and power multiple USB devices (see previous post).

The Belkin Swivel USB Hub splits one USB connection into 4 ports (all high-speed USB 2.0) -- so you can access and power multiple devices at the same ($29 list, around $19 retail). It also includes a power adapter if needed for power-hungry devices.

Yes, you can find smaller hubs (but with an additional connecting cable), and larger hubs with more connectors -- but this Swivel Hub is travel sized, and has a handy two-way adjustable swivel connector. Rotate it sideways so you can still access additional USB connectors on your system, angle it up along the side of your system for easier access when you're inserting and removing devices, or fold it down to lie flat for storage.

And for powering multiple devices, the Belkin Mini Surge Protector / USB Charger provides three AC outlets, plus two powered USB outlets, all with surge protection ($25 list, around $19 retail).

The USB outlets are for power only -- they do not serve as a hub for transferring data. The product includes a mini-USB cable to charge many compatible devices, or else you can use the custom connector cable that came with other devices. The hub also has a rotating plug which locks at each 90 degree position.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for other power systems, battery packs, and universal chargers that offer adapter tips for a wide variety of portable devices -- including cell phones, music players, cameras, and game machines -- so you can charge them all from USB power.

Also see my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more fun devices, organized by company.

    Find the Belkin Swivel USB Hub and Mini Surge Protector on Amazon.com

May 12, 2008

Adesso Flexible Keyboard

Adesso specializes in input devices, including keyboards, mice, touchpads, and tablets. You don't typically think of a keyboard as a travel peripheral, but Adesso has an interesting option that allows you bring a full-size keyboard along on a trip, so you don't always need to be typing on your laptop's cramped keyboard.

The Adesso Flexible Keyboard is not just flexible -- It's made from a thin silicone material so you can literally fold or roll it up to pack on a trip. It's basically a mat with keys, plus an ellectronics pod with the USB connector so you can just plug it in and use it.

The Flexible Keyboard is available in three sizes, all for $34 -- Mini with 85 keys, Compact with 105 keys and numeric pad, and Full-Sized with 109 keys, including numeric and cursor pads. All even have LED lights for Num-Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock. The Full Sized is available in white or black, the smaller sizes in black.

The keys are spaced and sized to standard dimensions. And these are not tiny dimples -- the keys are raised, and need to be pressed down with a typing motion to make contract (although they are not firm, so there is some give to the side as you press).

The keyboards are sealed and water resistant and washable, useful in shared public places like libraries and schools, and more hostile environments like boating. They're also dust and contaminant proof, interesting for industrial or medical environments.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more fun devices, organized by company.

    Find the Adesso Flexible Keyboard on Amazon.com

May 16, 2008

PACS Talk -- Tech Trends and Toys

I'll be at the Philadelphia Area Computer Society this Saturday, May 17, for another presentation on Tech Trends and Toys. I'll have lots of fun gadgets to demo, especially portable consumer electronics devices, working from the trends and products showcased in my Digital Media Galleries.

Tech Trends and Toys for 2008
    Sat. May 17, 2008, 12 noon
    Philadelphia Area Computer Society, http://pacsnet.org
    Upper Moreland Middle School, Hatboro, PA


The Consumer Electronics Show in January displayed more than 20,000 new products - a lot of stuff! Doug Dixon will dig through the pile to highlight interesting new ideas, especially for home and personal entertainment. This will be an opportunity to understand developing trends in new technology, and to explore the latest options in fun new devices and gadgets.

May 13, 2008

Peter Shankman on Social Networking

Peter Shankman is Hyper ... And that's a good thing!

Peter Shankman describes himself as "living proof of what can happen when you harness the power of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and put it to work" -- with an emphasis on Hyper.

Shankman spoke (rapidly) on Social Networking last Monday at a meeting of the River Communications Group.

The site was Marsha Brown's restaurant in New Hope -- a great space for preaching, designed inside a 125-year-old church right on Main Street in the heart of New Hope. We were in the former choir loft above the main dining room, and Shankman was so dynamic that the wait staff below was cheering along with us.

Peter Shankman is a marketing pundit and consultant, and CEO of the marketing and PR strategy firm The Geek Factory. He has an astounding storehouse of stories, especially PR stunts that leverage viral marketing. This is a guy who turned his own 30th birthday party into a sponsored exclusive event, with over 30 corporate sponsors and 400 gift bags worth over $1000 each.

Shankman also is a big fan of social networking, saying that everyone should be on Facebook, even though your kids will be creeped out when their parents try to "friend" them. The kids are over MySpace, which is about the total number of friends, while Facebook is your important people. And LinkedIn is "your resume digitized" online, but a poll of the audience agreed that it does not result in much business.

But why establish an online presence? If nothing else, so you can "control your online reputation; the way other people see you." Do you own YournameSucks.com, or CompanynameSucks.com, to try to preempt negative hits in online searches? Even if not, you can establish a solid presence online, build links and reputation in the search engines, and at least be the first hit for your name.

Of course, social networking is more than just your static resume online. Shankman's Facebook page goes beyond "the business stuff" to "humanize" him -- not the gory details of his private life, but some sense of his personality, from skydiving to fat cats, so that people can make connections to him.

He warns that Facebook and other social networking are not magic solutions, especially "if you suck at [real-world] networking." Instead, you need to "live on the social grid." But this is not about business networking for profit -- Shakman is a big believer in Karma, in "random twists of fate," so that the more you do to help others, "to become a hero" to them, the more opportunities open up to you.

But, he says, "you've got to take the risk."

His book, Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work -- And Why Your Company Needs Them, preaches the same lessons of being creative and taking risks, starting by shaking yourself out of complacency and ruts.

So change your routine -- food, travel, reading, exercise, even people you talk to. Take a walk to break away, and then try something new.

it might be exciting and creative, and fun.


Steve Lubetkin has posted the audio podcast of Shankman's presentation on his Professional Podcasts site (MP3 file, 26 min.).

The audio and video podcasts of the meeting is now available on the River Communications Facebook group, and on the River Communications web site.

May 14, 2008

Market Share for MP3 / Media Players

The NPD Group has released new market share numbers for portable MP3 / media players. The Apple iPod line continues to dominate the market at over 70%, and the SanDisk Sansa line remains a clear second at around 10%. Meanwhile, the Microsoft Zune gained one percentage point to 4%, as Creative declined further to 2%.

Company Q1 08 Q1 07 (Q2 06)
Apple (iPods) 71% 70% 75%
SanDisk (Sansa) 11% 10% 10%
Microsoft (Zune) 4% 3%  
Creative 2% 4% 5%

See further analysis from Wired.

Microsoft recently reported that it has sold 2 million Zune players since its launch in November 2006.

In comparison, Apple reported that it has sold 10.6 million iPods in the first quarter of 2008, and iPhone sales were 1.7 million.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons of media players.

May 16, 2008

The Future of News(papers)

I'm back from a two-day Workshop on The Future of News, organized by the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University on May 14 and 15.

Ed Felten is the Director of CITP, in his dual role as Professor of Computer Science, researching computer security and privacy, and Professor of Public Affairs, interested in technology policy (see his Freedom To Tinker weblog). There aren't many places that combine this kind of hard-core technology engineering with considerations of social impacts, which makes for an exciting mix of interdisciplinary academics and students in the program, combined with speakers from the news business (mostly print), and other interested members of the public. (More on the founding of CITP from Princeton Weekly Bulletin.)

What was striking about hearing from these members of the news business is the similarity in their tales of woe to what we hear from the recording industry and the film industry. It's all bad news -- The physical media business is declining precipitously, sales are down, the customer base is getting older, the younger generation has moved on, kids today just snack at media and do not pay attention to longer forms, and, worst of all, the future promise of the digital side is not picking up the slack to close the gap... Sound familiar?

But even more, these industries also share a longing for the good old days -- when single-paper towns were the only outlet for classified ads, broadcast-only television meant you could choose only from one of three news shows during the dinner hour, and enthusiastic fans bought massive libraries of LPs and then replacement CDs. But the days of more than 20% profit margins on newspapers are long gone. (Paul Starr, the keynote speaker and Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton, quoted one old newspaper man as saying his fortune was built on the two great American values, monopoly and nepotism.)

The interesting difference between these industries seems to be the rate at which they are moving through the Five Stages of Grief as they lay the good times to rest:

The speakers at the workshop from the newspaper industry were moving beyond Depression to the final stage of Acceptance. They are biting the bullet to mask the pain as they cut deeply into operations, and are going forward and innovating to enhance their digital offerings.

In comparison, the recording industry clearly has moved beyond the first stage of Denial, but seems to be stuck cycling between Anger, Bargaining, and Depression -- as it still lashes out by suing its own customers, and grabs on to each next new copy protection scheme while simultaneously going DRM-free in other venues.

For more info:

Continue reading "The Future of News(papers)" »

May 21, 2008

Jan Ozer on Comparing Online Video Codecs at Streaming Media East

Now in its eleventh year, the Streaming Media East 2008 show is being held this week again at the Hilton New York.

It's a three-day event, with preconference workshops on Monday and two days of conference sessions and exhibits. The show fits well in the Hilton, feeling similar in size to the over 3,000 attendees last year, but up to some 65 exhibitors this year, requiring more space as some booths spilled out into the adjoining hallway. Dan Rayburn organized another great conference, with more than 100 speakers and 34 sessions (in three parallel tracks), with focus on major media companies and corporate users sharing their experiences with online media.

One clear focus at the show was on Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight, as streaming formats have become part of the overall interactive Web experience -- with On2 VP6 still in the mix as well, especially in mobile devices. (The old format battle between Windows Media and RealMedia and QuickTime that was so exciting just a few ago is now such old news, part of the murky past of the streaming industry.)

In particular, well-known author Jan Ozer presented a great session comparing streaming codecs. He started with the results of his ongoing "unscientific" analysis of the video formats used on major websites, concluding that Adobe Flash has grown dramatically in broadcast from the previous parity with Microsoft Windows Media Video, but that WMV still has a lead in corporate use.

Ozer first looked at implementations of H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC, concluding that the Main Concept codec (as used by Rhozet Carbon Coder, Sorenson Squeeze, and Adobe Premiere Pro and other Creative Suite applications) was best, followed by Dicas (Telestream Episode Pro), and again lagged by Apple (as in Final Cut Studio and Compressor), which seems to be standing still in H.264 quality.

Ozer then compared the H.264, Microsoft VC-1 (Windows Media Video), and On2 VP6 codecs under low data rates, for both HD and SD content, evaluating still and motion quality and frame rate. He concluded that H.264 did best, especially keeping more detail. On2 VP6 also did well, especially with quieter motion backgrounds. And WM/VC-1 continued to lag, even dropping frames.

Ozer also had a preview of the newly improved On2 VP6 codec, concluding that it provided better detail for HD and was quieter in terms of motion artifacts for SD -- though not the "as much as 40%" improvement promised by the press release.

Ozer illustrated his presentation with frame captures comparing the results from each codec. And he concluded with a sneak peek at the raw data behind his analysis of the major streaming sizes, including video resolutions and data rates used by what he categorized as conservative, mid-range, and aggressive users of video.

If you want to know more, including all the gory details on getting the best compression for streaming video, check out Ozer's new publication, Critical Skills for Streaming Producers -- a mixed-media DVD tutorial priced at $249. It includes a 340-page PDF book, plus 27 screencam tutorials demonstrating software tools, 9 tutorial videos, 75 sample videos demonstrating compression options, and 13 checklists. The book also includes the extensive market research data of video usage on major broadcast and corporate sites.

May 22, 2008

Cricket Laptop Stand

The Cricket Laptop Stand from Innovative Office Products is a clever portable and adjustable way to get your laptop (or tablet PC) up off the desk for a more comfortable viewing height.

It collapses and folds up to 8 x 2 x 1 inches. Press the hinge button to swing it open. Lay it almost flat to raise the level of the keyboard (and get some airflow underneath to cool your system). Or lift it up to tilt the base of the computer from 11 to 60 degrees to share the screen display.

The Cricket supports laptops up to 12 pounds, and pretty much any size. The front legs spread apart and extend from 6 to 9+ inches, with flip-down rubber feet to hold the base securely.

You also can add a mouse and a portable keyboard (like the Adesso Flexible Keyboard) for a much more comfortable setup for working on the road.

The Cricket Laptop Stand is available from Innovative Office Products for $39.95, in Charcoal black, Mac White, and Eco Green.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more fun devices, organized by company.

May 27, 2008

Streaming Media East -- More and More Video

My strongest take-away from the Streaming Media East 2008 show last week is that video is really taking off on the Internet.

I know ... that's a "D'oh!" kind of statement -- but bear with me.

Of course, it's obvious that sites like YouTube have become amazingly popular -- comScore reports as of March that YouTube was the top video site, with 84.8 million viewers watching 4.3 billion videos (that's 50.4 videos per viewer!):

"Google Sites once again ranked as the top U.S. video property with more than 4.3 billion videos viewed (38 percent share of all videos), gaining 2.6 share points versus the previous month. YouTube.com accounted for 98 percent of all videos viewed at Google Sites. Fox Interactive Media ranked second with 477 million videos (4.2 percent), followed by Yahoo! Sites with 328 million (2.9 percent) and Viacom Digital with 249 million (2.2 percent)."

And the numbers keep growing: comScore's March numbers show U.S. Internet users viewed 11.5 billion online videos during the month -- a 13 percent gain in one month and a 64 percent gain over the past year:

  • Nearly 139 million U.S. Internet users viewed online video in March
        or 73.7 percent of the total U.S. Internet audience
  • U.S. Internet users watched an average of 83 videos per viewer
  • The average online video duration was 2.8 minutes.
  • The average online video viewer watched 235 minutes of video

But this online video thing is not just about stupid viral videos and stolen clips on YouTube, this is a mass migration of entertainment content becoming available on the Web.

Content companies are opening their vaults to provide free (ad-supported) access to movies and TV shows online. According to Nielson, the recent Hulu joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp. has quickly grown to be the top network site. Hulu includes material from more than 50 top broadcast networks, cable networks, movie studios and web-centric content providers. And CBS.com is now offering a "couple hundred" shows, deep into its archives.

Social media sites are also exploding -- As of January, Akamai was delivering more than 1 million requests per second for social media sites. And comScore's March report saw 47.7 million viewers watching 400 million videos on MySpace alone (8.4 videos per viewer).

Finally, beyond all this consumer excitement, CDN (Content Delivery Network) companies I spoke to at the show also see expanding use of video in non-entertainment and corporate sites -- as an important part of a web presence. All of which will continue to drive growing demand for video bandwith.

And it's not just low-res "web" video -- A recent survey from Akamai and Broadband Directions reports that nearly 75 percent of leading broadcasters said they have plans to offer high-definition video content to their online audiences, half within the next 12 months.

Says Tim Napoleon, chief strategist, Media & Entertainment, at Akamai: "Even six months ago, a 500 or 700 kbps bitrate was pushing it. Now while 500-700 kbps is more of the norm, we're seeing companies really pushing the envelope with 1.5 to 2 Mbps and HD, in the ranges of up to 6 megabits per second bitrates."

Or as Homer would say, "Woohoo!"

See the StreamingMedia.com site for show coverage and podcasts.

May 29, 2008

Adobe Betas for New Soundbooth, Dreamweaver, Flash

Adobe has really opened up its development process by releasing public prereleases of its applications -- beta versions posted as free downloads for you to try out.

The Adobe Labs site provides early access to evaluate new and emerging Adobe technologies and products.

Adobe has now posted early looks at some of the new upgrades to its Create Suite 3 collection of professional for print, web, interactive, mobile, video, and film design.

  • For video editors, check out the new Adobe Soundbooth for intuitive audio creation and enhancement, with multitrack support and enhanced editing workflow.
  • For Web designers, there are betas of Adobe Dreamweaver for web design and Adobe Fireworks to prototype interactive designs. These integrate the common Adobe CS interface with tighter integration among the suite, provide deeper support for standards including CSS, and support Adobe AIR to author multiplatform desktop applications.
  • And for all of us, there's a prerelease of Adobe Flash Player 10, with 3D animation, deeper support from Adobe effects and text technology, and enhanced performance.

So go ahead and try these out -- for a limited time until they expire.

See my Video Editing Software Gallery for information and links to video editing tools.

    Find Adobe CS3 Production Premium on Amazon.com

    Find Adobe CS3 Master Collection on Amazon.com

Details on new features below

Continue reading "Adobe Betas for New Soundbooth, Dreamweaver, Flash" »

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About May 2008

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

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