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August 2008 Archives

August 1, 2008

Plantronics Discovery 925 - Designer Bluetooth Headset

Plantronics may not have a particularly sexy company name, but it has been producing innovative headsets for mobile phones, cordless phones, and computer audio. And its acquisition of Altec Lansing in 2005 added strength in portable and powered audio systems.

The new Plantronics Discovery 925 Bluetooth headset, introduced in April during the Spring 2008 New York Fashion Week, combines technology and design into "signature line of designer headsets for both men and women." Plus, there's some nice design touches and cool technology.

The "VFrame" design extends the microphone on a boom closer to the mouth, tilted diagonally down to follows the contours of the face.

And the design is clean, without an additional earloop or other attachment hardware. The earpiece rests in the outer ear (not shoved into the cavity), and is stabilized with a soft flexible eartip flange (included in 3 sizes). As a result, the Discovery 925 is very easy to insert and remove for occasional use, and still is surprisingly secure in the ear -- It hangs in even if you shake your heard vigorously, although I would not recommend heading a soccer ball.

On the technology side, the Plantronics AudioIQ automatic noise control works both ways, removing background noise from your voice, and adjusting the incoming volume. As a result, I was able to talk and hear clearly, and in a conversational tone, while walking the streets of New York City and waiting for a train in Penn Station.

The headset supports Bluetooth v2.0 + EDR, with volume control, call answer/end, last number redial, and voice activated dialing. And it has a multipoint option for an active connection with two Bluetooth phones.

The Discovery 925 includes one more clever feature -- the carrying case is also a recharger, and provides one full charge to the earpiece. The product includes both a USB cable and an AC adapter to charge the headset or case, for a full charge in 3 hours. The headset provides up to 5 hours talk time or 7 days standby.

The Discovery 925 weighs 8 grams, and is available in metallic and jewel tone colors -- traditional Onyx Black, and now also Alchemy Gold and Cerise Pink. List price is $149, with street prices more around $79.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Plantronics Discovery 925 Headset on Amazon.com

August 2, 2008

CyberLink Steps Up PowerDirector 7

CyberLink, best known for its PowerDVD player software, has really stepped up the latest version of its consumer video editing application -- CyberLink PowerDirector 7 is a convenient and powerful tool that combines a friendly and straightforward interface, "Magic" tools that apply smart technology to assist with common editing tasks, plus the power to edit high-definition video formats and author to Blu-ray disc. For a consumer-priced tool, it's easy and quick, even when working with HD material.

The PowerDirector 7 interface makes video editing straightforward and simple, especially for home users who want good results quickly and with a minimum of fuss, including the "magic" automated tools, and sharing through portable devices (Sony PSP) and the Web (YouTube).

The Ultra version adds end-to-end support for high definition / widescreen video, from importing to editing and output, with advanced authoring features for burning to DVD and Blu-ray Disc. As with similar applications like Pinnacle Studio 12, you also can edit high-def video from the new HD camcorders and burn HD productions to regular DVD discs -- and play them in beautiful widescreen HD on the Sony PlayStation 3 and other Blu-ray players (see previous post).

PowerDirector is available in two versions: Deluxe for $69, and Ultra for $199, with AVCHD disc support and Blu-ray disc authoring. Released in May 2008, it's available as a boxed retail product or as a download.

You can try out CyberLink PowerDirector by downloading the trial version from the CyberLink website -- it's a 30-day trial with some other limitations.

See my full article: Summary: CyberLink PowerDirector 7 for a summary of the editing workflow, highlighting the new features.

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

    Find CyberLink PowerDirector 7 on Amazon.com

New Features ...

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August 3, 2008

Delivering Video with Sorenson Squeeze 5

So you've shot and edited your video. Now what? There are just so may different ways that you'll want to deliver video these days -- over the Web, burned to disc, played toyour PC -- from high-res on a widescreen TV to low-res on a mobile phone.

Which means you'll need to understand how to best deliver your productions to your indented audiences, in the appropriate video file format, and compressed to fit the constraints of the different delivery mediums.

But, each video format can support a variety of compression algorithms, resolutions, data rates, and other attributes. And each delivery medium supports only some of these formats, with additional constraints for the compression settings. Yeesh, what a mess!

Today's video editing applications typically support exporting a production in most of these formats, and provide packaged presets to set the appropriate options for common delivery options.

But if you're finding yourself repeatedly exporting videos using a variety of formats, and need a more efficient way to package up compression options and then apply them as a batch to a group of files, then check out Sorenson Squeeze 5, the latest version of this convenient and powerful compression and encoding software, for both Windows and Macintosh.

Squeeze has a simple three-step interface, with deeper options: Import (or capture) one or more video clips, apply compression format presets, then press "Squeeze It" to export them. Even better, build a list of clips, apply enhancement filters, select and customize the output compression formats, and then sit back while Squeeze batch-processes the whole job.

Sorenson Squeeze version 5 was released in March 2008. It includes faster multi-file encoding, improved MPEG1-2 and H.264 codecs plus Microsoft VC-1 codec for Blu-ray, new video filters (watermark, hue and saturation, sharpen), improved audio with VST audio plugins, AC-3 compatible surround sound encoding, and new duration and volume filters.

Sorenson Squeeze 5 is available packaged or as a download for $499. Squeeze 5 Pro is $599 with the On2 VP6 Pro Encoder and Bias Soundoap plugins, plus the Complete Squeeze 5 Training DVD. Squeeze 5 Pro with the WMV Component for Mac is $779.

If you're creating Flash video for the Web, Squeeze 5 for Flash also is available for $119, and Squeeze 5 for Flash Pro is $299.

You can try out Sorenson Squeeze by downloading the trial version from the CyberLink website -- it's a 14-day free trial.

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

Formats and Options ...

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August 7, 2008

Samsung Pebble - Mini MP3 Player

MP3 players have expanded way beyond music -- with photos and video, FM radio and voice recording, plus huge capacity to store your entire music library, podcasts, and videos.

But there's still a place for simple music players -- small music-only players that are easy to carry, with 1 or 2 GB of storage, enough for 100's of songs to play for 10+ hours. The Apple iPod shuffle is the minimalist example -- reduced to a clip-on rectangle with basic controls and no display, 1.62 x 1.07 x 0.41 inches, 0.55 ounce, available with 1 GB for $49, 2 GB for $69.

Samsung has been developing an interesting line of media players, featuring distinctive designs and advanced features, including the high-end Samsung YP-P2 with widescreen touch screen and Bluetooth connectivity (see previous post).

At the minimalist end, the Samsung Pebble (YP-S2) is a simple MP3 player like the iPod shuffle, but with a smooth rounded "pebble" look, designed to hang around your neck with the included lanyard earphones.

The back side of the Pebble is flat, with the playback controls embedded flush the surface.

But it's sometimes hard to tell what's happening with a player that has no display. So Samsung added a concealed LED light that flashes different colors and patterns to indicate playback, sound effect, and charging status. Besides the usual controls for Play/Pause, Left/Right, Up/Down, there's also a Smart button on the side (again since there's no display for a menu), to select the play mode (random, repeat), Samsung DSNe audio enhancement, and LED on/off.

The product includes Samsung Media Studio software, which upgrades to the newer EmoDio software. You can organize media files, create playlists, sync music to the device, and burn CDs. The software also takes care of finding and installing firmware updates, and includes options to download datacasts (blogs), and Text To Speech. However, this software is new, and the prompts and help are clumsily translated to English. (You also can drag and drop files directly as a removable disk.)

The Samsung S2 Pebble supports MP3, WMA, and OGG formats. It is 1.66 x 1.62 x 0.65 inches, and around 0.6 ounces. It's available in glossy colors: black, white, red, green and purple, with 1 GB for $39/$46, and 2 GB coming.

See the Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons.

    Find the Samsung S2 Pebble on Amazon.com

August 10, 2008

NBC Olympics On Internet Video

NBC is piling on the online programming from the Beijing 2008 Olympics, August 8-24 -- planning to offer over 3600 hours on its NBCOlympics.com site, and free (with 30-second pre-roll commercials). NBC reports that the site had 70 million page views last Friday, 10 times more than the 7 million views on the opening day of the Athens Games.

The NBCOlympics.com site offers news, photos, and videos from the 34 medal sports, searchable by sport, country, athlete name, type (live, highlights, etc.), and relevance (see the Site Map for a complete listing). The NBC Olympics Video section includes live feeds, replays of broadcast shows, highlights, special features and interviews, and local interest. And there's lots of ways to see the videos -- watch a streaming video, watch higher res video or even four events at a time, watch low-res video on a mobile phone, or download a highlight clip or entire event to watch later.

To display the videos, NBC is using the Microsoft Silverlight video technology -- Microsoft's answer to Adobe Flash for platform-independent Web (and desktop) video playback. Silverlight runs on Windows and Macintosh (Intel only), under recent versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and/or Safari. It does require installing the latest update -- Silverlight 2 beta 2.

Actually, Windows users can watch individual clips even without installing Silverlight, using the Windows Media Player (at ~ 600 x 300 resolution). But the full enhanced Silverlight player experience provides larger-size video (~ 850 x 480 res), plus the ability to watch up to four simultaneous live events at once. (For more on watching videos, see the NBC Video FAQ.)

Although the Olympics is an international event, NBC has the rights to broadcast on the Internet only for the U.S. & Territories (excluding Puerto Rico). So when you click to play an event video, the site prompts you for your zip code and TV provider / local broadcaster. As a result, the site can nicely display event information using local times (and dates), and offers video from your local station, including local athletes and related blogs.

The official site of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games also provides information and results in multiple languages, and photo galleries.

More on NBC Olympics Video Options ...

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August 15, 2008

JVC Gumy Air Earbuds

JVC has updated its line of popular and inexpensive Gumy earbuds. The original Gumy (HA-F130) is available in fun colors for only $9.95 -- a tasty snack impulse buy to pick up at the checkout counter.

The new JVC Gumy Air (HA-F240) adds an earpiece covered with a soft silicon rubber air cushion, which flexes to gently conform to the contours of your ear.

It's available for $14.94, in seven fashionable colors (over the body and the cord), matching the 3rd-generation iPods (nano and shuffle).

The Gumy Air also has a 3.3-foot friction noise reduction cord to reduce noise from rubbing, and a gold-plated iPhone-compatible plug.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the JVC Gumy Earbuds on Amazon.com

August 19, 2008

Blu-ray Movies on Your PC: CyberLink BD Advisor

Blu-ray Disc format (BD) is the next-generation DVD, so that once you move up to a beautiful widescreen HD television you can also enjoy high-definition movies on Blu-ray discs -- as long as you upgrade your set-top DVD player to a Blu-ray player (or have a Sony Playstation 3).

The upgrade from DVD works similarly for playing Blu-ray movies on your PC as well -- you need a Blu-ray disc drive and compatible player software. But unlike with DVDs, Blu-ray imposes further constraints on PC playback, both technical and business.

Even if you buy a Blu-ray driver and compatible player software, you still can't play Blu-ray movies on your PC unless you have both a relatively high-end system and a compatible digital display. And there's another wrinkle -- Blu-ray discs and players come in three "Profiles" of advanced features, so you'll need a newer player to take full advantage of the new discs that will be released (see below).

You need the system performance because the high-def video formats used with Blu-ray are just big -- at least 4 times the resolution -- resulting in massive amounts of digital data to move around a PC (from disc to memory), and then to decompress.

And you need a compatible digital display because, when the Blu-ray format was created, the content owners (e.g., Hollywood studios and TV networks) required it to use significant additional content protection technologies, including special digital cabling to protect the video between the computer and the display (e.g., HDMI, as also used with HDTVs).

The best way to enjoy Blu-ray on a PC, then, is to buy a new system designed with built-in Blu-ray movie playback, especially a laptop with an integrated display, from companies including Dell and Sony.

But if you want to upgrade your existing system, it can be tricky to determine whether you've got enough performance for the job. CyberLink, creators of the PowerDVD disc player software (see previous post), is trying to help with its CyberLink BD Advisor software, just upgraded to version 2 and available as a free download.

Designed as a "good faith" reference tool (and not a guarantee of performance), BD Advisor reports on your system configuration, including processor, memory, and graphics card, to check for basic movie playback capability. It also examines support for advanced Blu-ray features, including picture-in-picture and networked interactivity (see Blu-ray Profiles below).

On the other hand, these same video player applications typically can play high-def video clips just fine on reasonably recent systems, including the new HDV (MPEG-2) and AVCHD (MPEG-4) formats. So what's so special about Blu-ray? It's just that trying to be conservative in ensuring reliable continuous playback of a two-hour movie raises the bar a bit in setting system requirements.

So regard a tool like BD Advisor as a useful way to profile your system and provide helpful feedback in deciding whether to upgrade components of your system for Blu-ray playback.

See my High-Def / DVD Gallery for more on the Blu-ray format.

Blu-ray Profiles ...

Continue reading "Blu-ray Movies on Your PC: CyberLink BD Advisor" »

August 25, 2008

Aliph New Jawbone Bluetooth Headset

The Aliph Jawbone Bluetooth headset, introduced way back in December 2006, set a new standard in noise reduction with its adaptive "Noise Shield" technology (see previous post). For example, I tested the Jawbone while standing between cars on a train barreling into New York, and it just cut away the background train noise to let my voice come through clearly (see previous post).

The special feature of the Jawbone is a small nub on the back that rests against your cheek, so the device can sense the vibrations when you are talking to help separate your voice from the background noise. As a result, the headset is larger (and thicker) than others, but it has a clean and elegant design.

The (now "Original") Jawbone stood up well for over a year an a half, but now Aliph is back with the New Jawbone, about 50% smaller than the original (half as wide) -- and still with a clean design and great noise reduction. Both use "invisible touch" controls -- there are no visible buttons, just press on the outside shield to activate the two controls.

The New Jawbone, introduced in May, now features "military-grade Noise Assassin technology," that blows away background noise while still keeping voices sounding natural and not computer-enhanced. I've tested it on New York streets, in the suburbs with a lawnmower, and in the car driving with the radio on and with windows wide open. The Jawbone does a great job, though you can overload it in situations like wind noise in the car at over 40 to 50 MPH, or with the radio blasting.

See video demos of the New Jawbone in action.

Because of its design, getting a good fit is especially important with the Jawbone. Not only does the earpiece need to be snug in the ear canal for you to best hear the caller, but the unit itself needs to be resting snugly against the cheek for the voice sensor. The Original Jawbone included a choice of 6 ear buds and 4 ear loops of different sizes, and the earloops had a distinctive suspension design. The New Jawbone comes with 3 earbud sizes and two sets of simpler earloops, one pair in soft leather and the other plain slim metal (especially for use with eyewear). You then should experiment with the fit, bending the earloops as needed for the correct spacing to the earpiece, and choosing the best fitting earpiece to keep the unit snug but not too tight.

The New Jawbone is available for $129, in snazzy black, silver, and rose gold. It also has a new fast-charge battery for an 80% charge in 35 minutes, and full charge in 50 minutes. However, it does require a special cable with a custom charging adapter, that can be charged though a USB port, or with the included USB wall-charger adapter. It's speced for talk time over 4 hours, standby over 8 days.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products

    Find the Aliph New Jawbone headset on Amazon.com

August 28, 2008

Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9

Sony Creative Software features a well-respected line of higher-end professional video and audio tools, including Vegas Pro for video editing, Sound Forge for audio editing, and ACID for music creation, plus the newer Cinescore for professional soundtrack creation. Sony also has developed the corresponding Studio family of consumer applications for digital video, DVD, audio, and music production.

The latest update to the Studio line is Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9, released this month with expanded support ranging from YouTube uploads to high-def editing. It's available in three versions -- the base Vegas Movie Studio 9 lists for $69.95, the higher-end Platinum Edition for $99.95 adds expanded HD video support, and the Pro Pack bundle for $129.95 includes Sound Forge Audio Studio 9 plus additional libraries of sounds and effects.

The Movie Studio 9 product still includes the separate DVD Architect Studio 4.5 for DVD authoring (not updated), and adds the new Cinescore Studio for automated music soundtrack creation.

Version 9 also adds integrated upload to YouTube, and improves support and performance for native HDV and AVCHD high-def formats. You also can burn menuless Blu-ray Disc directly from the timeline. The Pro Pack also adds more Cinescore themes, 1001 Sound Effects, New Blue Transitions and effects plug-in, and even a free 2 GB Sony flash drive (while supplies last).

The Movie Studio interface is based on Sony's professional Vegas Pro editor, simplified to remove complexity, and enhanced with consumer-friendly Show Me How interactive tutorials and new New Project and Make Movie wizards. But the higher-end product design still shows through -- this is not a basic step-by-step interface to walk you though the editing process, but instead provides the tools and elements for enthusiasts who want to dive in to editing.

Visit the Sony site for Trial Downloads to try out the Studio (or pro) products for yourself.

See full article -- Summary: Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9 -- for more on the product versions and features.

See my Video Editing Software Gallery for details on this and related products.

    Find Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9 on Amazon.com

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About August 2008

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

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