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April 2009 Archives

April 1, 2009

Content Protection Technologies -- and Glossary

This digital age is understandably frightening to content owners, with our uninhibited enthusiasm for sharing our passions for music and videos, and the ease of uncontrolled sharing of exact digital copies around the globe. As a result, the content industry has worked with the consumer electronics and computer industries to develop a variety of content protection mechanisms to restrict copying of licensed content. These technologies are implemented in CE devices (from DVD players to HDTVs) and in computers (from disc drives to operating systems to player software).

However, the introduction of these technologies in new CE and computer devices can lead to collateral damage, as some material can inexplicitly become uncopyable or even inaccessible. There can be unpleasant surprises as digital content flows between new products and legacy devices, and when computer-based DRM systems interface with consumer electronics equipment. For example, a DVD recorder may mark a consumer-recorded disc as protected, so that it cannot be copied further. Or upgraded player software may require a protected connection to the display screen, and refuse to play on older equipment.

To help you understand the range of these content protection technologies, I've prepared an article and bonus glossary summarizing the different copy protection technologies that are designed to protect broadcast and recorded video content (e.g., TV and DVD) on consumer electronics devices. There's even links to the various specification documents, if you are so inclined. (Of course, this is only a part of a much larger universe of content / copy protection, including music and CDs, Web streaming and downloads, and other media formats.)

But how do all these different technologies for different media and devices fit together? This is described in terms of an overall framework for content protection called the Content Protection System Architecture (PDF), developed by these industries in 2000. The CPSA defines the core philosophy for protecting entertainment content -- as it is stored, transmitted, and copied.

But even with these mechanisms, the content industry recognizes that they cannot stop all copying. Instead, the goal is to serve at least as a "speed bump" -- to inhibit mass consumer copying, so that casual consumers don't find it easy to make copies for friends.

After all, unauthorized copies of new releases are often first available from screener and review units leaked from within the industry (as with the leak of the new Wolverine film today), and from unauthorized recordings at music concerts and movie theatres -- often well before any consumer can buy the same material on CD or DVD. And once one digital copy gets on the Internet, it becomes available to all. These measures also will not stop pirates manufacturing unauthorized content, and hacker enthusiasts will continue to enjoy the challenge of breaking new copy protection technology.

It's also clear that consumers demand the flexibility to enjoy their entertainment when and where and how they want it. Interestingly, the CPSA specifically supports moving and sharing protected content between devices, as within a home network. So we can see how the industry has developed a variety of approaches to time-shift and place-shift content, across multiple devices -- for example within the home with networked cable set-top recorders and Internet TV services, on PCs and the road with Internet radio and video, bridging computers and portable players with Apple iTunes, and even from DVD to computers and portable players with approaches like Digital Copy.

The result is a proliferation of different technologies for content protection, supported (or not) by different devices and companies, each with different rules about how content can be accessed and shared. Even worse, it's not easy for consumers to understand how their content may be protected, and what restrictions apply to specific clips.

So if you're building a library of music or TV shows or movies or other content, do pay attention to how the files may be protected, and be aware that the terms of your access to your files may change in the future. (And do enjoy all the acronyms for these technologies and their licensing organizations -- These groups have given up trying to create meaningful names, and have just used names like 3C, 4C, and 6C, for the number of founding companies.)

See full article and glossary - Content Protection Technology for Consumer Electronics

April 3, 2009

Slacker Internet Radio Adds Song Lyrics

Internet radio services like Slacker and Pandora extend traditional broadcast radio in two ways: with customized channels and with enhanced playback (see previous post). You not only can choose from a wide range of pre-programmed "channels" with a wide variety of genres, but you also can customize your own personal channels with specific artists, as well as have these services help you discover new music that fits the style of your favorites.

Playback on a computer also provides the ability to better enjoy the music. You have more control -- you can pause and continue later, and skip forward to the next track. And you have more information -- including the playlist and upcoming track, artist and album reviews, and lists of related artists.

Slacker has just taken this idea further by adding song lyrics, so you can read (and even sing) along with the music. The free add-supported Slacker Basic Radio service displays a few lines of lyrics, but this is designed as an incentive to upgrade to the Slacker Radio Plus service ($47.88 annual subscription, or $3.99 per month). The Plus service adds the full song lyrics from LyricFind, unlimited skips, unlimited song requests, and ad-free listening.

And Internet radio has gone mobile -- Slacker and the Plus service with lyrics also is available on laptops, BlackBerry and iPhone, Sony BRAVIA TV, and the Slacker G2 portable player (see previous post).

As the record labels struggle with the digital revolution, these kinds of services offer an easy way to extend broadcast radio to explore and discover a wide range of music, and enjoy learning more about the artists and the music.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on music and media players.

    Find the Slacker G2 on Amazon.com

April 5, 2009

Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drive - 8 GB in Half a SD Card

Just when you thought USB drives couldn't get any smaller, new technology comes to the rescue with the Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drives, which offer up to 8 GB of storage in literally half the size of a SD memory card -- or the length and width of two microSD cards (1.22" long, 0.5" wide, 0.08" thick, 0.05 ounce). These drives are only a tiny bit thicker than a SD card as well. Yeesh!

The new development here is System in Package (SIP) technology, which integrates all the electronic components into a single sealed unit. The resulting drive is resistant to everyday handling, dust, moisture and static discharges, so you don't give up ruggedness for the small size.

The Store 'n’ Go Micro is also Enhanced for Windows ReadyBoost, and includes V-Safe 100 security software for Windows to create a password-protected private zone on the drive.

The Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drive is available with 2 GB for around $19 (in orange), 4 GB for $22 (green), and 8 GB for $32 (purple).

But how do you use a device that literally half the width of a USB port? Just insert the drive with the contacts facing the USB logo, or to the center of the connector. Or just try to shove it in -- you'll notice that it does not fit right if you have it backwards.

And while the Store 'n’ Go Micro is not quite as small and easy to lose as a microSD card (the bright colors help too), you still may want to use the included lanyard to attach it to your key ring or cell phone. The idea is that it's rugged enough to just carry along -- the plastic case is solid, and does not flex or threaten to break.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on memory cards and USB drives.

Find the Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drive on Amazon.com

April 11, 2009

More Bond in Blu-ray -- Quantum of Solace

More James Bond (see 007.com) in high-definition Blu-ray Disc (BD) format, with the release of Quantum of Solace, plus more additions to your collection of Bond classics in high-def Blu-ray (see previous post).

According to Home Media Magazine, Quantum of Solace continues as the top-selling Blu-ray title for the week of April 5, even in competition with the teen vampire romance Twilight. For the previous week ended March 29, the Blu-ray edition accounted for 28% of the title’s total sales, on the top of both the Nielsen VideoScan Blu-ray Disc chart and Home Media Magazine’s video rental chart.

The high-def versions are also popular as digital downloads (see previous post). While Twilight continues on the top of the Apple iTunes chart, Quantum debuted at No. 2, and MGM reports that half the purchases were in HD.

Meanwhile, on Amazon.com, Casino Royale and Goldfinger remain the top-selling previous Bond titles on Blu-ray. These prices do move around: Goldfinger and other Bond titles are currently around $22.99, and Casino Royale is $19.99. There are also other collector's editions, including three- and six-pack collections.

For more information on upcoming Blu-ray releases, see Fox's FoxBD.com.

Find Quantum of Solace on Amazon.com
Find the James Bond Blu-ray Collection Three-Packs Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and the complete Six-Pack on Amazon.com

April 12, 2009

PakSeat Backpack with Built-In Seat

The Deltess PakSeat Backpack is a clever design from a local company that solves the problem of finding a good place to rest when you're out traveling. -- It provides both a clean and dry place to sit, and support for you aching back.

The entire back panel of the PakSeat folds down into a seat -- with adjustable straps to set the right angle. The internal panel has a frame on each side to help support your back, as does the outside seat panel to provide further support (and ventilation) when hiking

The backpack itself has a large capacity (18 x 15 x 7 in., 1900 cu..in., and 3 pounds), with a small outer zippered stash and a pair of pouches for bottles on the front, another front pouch with multiple pockets for small items, and even a small pocket on the shoulder strap. There's also an inner universal elastic sleeve against the back that holds either a laptop or a hydration reservoir -- with a small exit slot for either a water line or iPod headphones.

The PakSeat Backpack is available for $69 in back & gray or blue & gray. There's also a PakSeat Messenger Bag coming, also with adjustable seat.

Find the PakSeat Backpack on Amazon.com

April 14, 2009

The Flash Storage Revolution - Talk at Princeton

I'll be speaking again at the Princeton University IT Seminar series this Wednesday, April 15, on The Flash Storage Revolution, tracing the march of flash memory though the consumer electronics and now computer industries -- and with some hot new devices to demo, working from the trends and products showcased in my Digital Media Galleries.

Flash Forward: The Rise of Small Tech Gadgets
    Wed., April 15, 2009, 12 noon

       Princeton University Lunch 'n Learn Information Technology Seminars
             Frist Campus Center, Princeton, NJ

This seminar series is free and open to the public -- Bring your lunch, but come early for cookies.

Update 3: Princeton has posted its blog report on the talk, and the audio podcast (also available on iTunes under Princeton University).

Update 2: My talk notes are posted, highlighting the market trends and chronology of a variety of flash-based products --
The Flash Storage Revolution:
    Part 1: The Growth of Flash
    Part 2: What's Next for Flash

Update: In addition to products that I've already been showing at previous talks, additional products kindly provided by companies to demo at this event include:

  • LaCie iamaKey / itsaKey thin USB flash drives
  • Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro flash drive with 8 GB in half a SD card
  • Verizon Wireless Samsung Flipshot 3 MP camera phone
  • Verizon Wireless Samsung Omnia smartphone
  • Verizon Wireless HTC Touch Pro smartphone
  • Sony PSP-3000 handheld gaming / entertainment system
  • DXG-580V 1080p HD camcorder
  • DXG-579V 720p HD camcorder
  • Samsung HMX-H106 full-HD camcorder with 64GB SSD drive
  • Samsung HMX-R10 full-HD camcorder with angled ergonomic design
  • Samsung TL320 digital camera with OLED screen
  • Imation M-Series Solid State Drive Upgrade Kit
  • ASUS Eee PC 1000HE 10" netbook runs for 9.5 hours
  • Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook
  • WildCharge wire-free power pad

Abstract and Bio below ...

Continue reading "The Flash Storage Revolution - Talk at Princeton" »

April 16, 2009

Upgrade to a Solid-State Drive

As I was preparing my recent presentation on The Flash Storage Revolution (see previous post), there were a couple interesting business announcements that point the way to developing trends in personal storage -- from the very tangible and always-there flash memory to the much more ephemeral but wide open vistas of the network cloud.

The first news was from Western Digital, a clear leader in magnetic storage, with hard disk drive systems from portable consumer peripherals to high-performance PCs to enterprise servers. Last month, Western Digital announced the acquisition of SiliconSystems, a leading supplier of solid-state drives for the embedded systems market, for $65 million in cash.

Clearly, Western Digital is recognizing the importance of Solid-State Drives (SDD) as a challenger to hard disk drives (HDD), saying in the announcement that the acquisition will help "address emerging opportunities in WD's existing markets" -- and across the product line, to "significantly accelerate WD's solid-state drive development programs for the netbook, client and enterprise markets."

The key advantages of SSD are its ruggedness (no spinning or even moving parts), and the performance -- computers boot up and launch applications visibly quicker, 2 to 5 times faster then HDD. (See Joel on Software for a testimonial on huge differences from rejuvenating old systems.)

SSD also is more shock and heat resistant, lighter and permits more compact designs (1/2 the weight), uses less power (1/2 the power in a PC, and 1/8 the power in Samsung camcorders), runs cooler and quieter (for longer battery life), and is more reliable (up to 6X longer mean time to failure).

SSD already is an option for some new notebooks, albeit still at a price premium, but companies like Intel, Samsung, and SanDisk are working hard to bring SSD prices down even faster and further. SSD is also a cost-effective option for upgrading older systems. Instead of replacing an older laptop, you can swap in a SDD drive to make the system feel young again, with a clearly visible performance boost for disk-intensive operations.

Companies like SanDisk and Imation now offer both consumer and enterprise lines of SSD replacement drives, in both 2.5-inch and 3.5- inch form factors. The Imation SSD Upgrade Kits (shown here) bundle the SSD drive with a power cable, USB-to-SATA or SATA connector cable, and Acronis True Image HD software for migrating from your existing hard drive -- including the data, applications, and operating system.

See the SanDisk Drive Your Laptop site for more information on SSD

See my article on The Flash Storage Revolution for more on flash, SSD, and its use also in new netbook computers.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

April 19, 2009

Storage in the Cloud

The second theme from recent business announcements that suggest future directions for personal storage (see previous post) extends consumer storage from local disks to the network cloud.

Both of the netbooks that I looked at for my recent presentation on The Flash Storage Revolution (see previous post), are speced with "hybrid" storage -- combining both the built-in disk drive plus an additional allocation of online storage.

For example, the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE comes with a 160 GB hard disk drive (HDD), plus 10 GB of online Eee storage, which is free for the first 18 months.

And the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 ships with a relatively small 8 to 32 GB solid state drive (SSD), plus 2 GB of free online storage from Box.net. You then can upgrade to 25 GB for $100 a year, with relaxed limitations on uploads, folders, and transfer speed.

Meanwhile, LaCie also has reached to the clouds with its recent acquisition of Caleido AG, the creators of the Wuala social online storage service. You store and backup files in the cloud, and then access and share them from anywhere over the Web. LaCie sees this as morphing the company from a pure hardware manufacturer to a solution provider with a combined solution for storage -- Local storage on devices for fast access, plus secured remote storage on the cloud, for easy sharing and data versatility.

Wuala really is a diffuse cloud -- It encrypts your shared files, splits them into fragments, and then stores them redundantly on servers and in its grid network. There's a desktop client for Windows, Mac, and Linux to drag-and-drop files to upload in the background, with fast download though parallel peer-to-peer connections.

Wuala starts with 1 GB of online storage, and can expand in two ways. You can trade your own idle disk space to become part of the cloud (i.e., 50 GB on your computer for 50 GB online), or buy additional storage (10 GB for $25 a year, 100 GB for $100, of 1 TB for $1000).

Online storage does solve a lot of problems for backup and sharing -- your files flow gently into the cloud where they can be easily accessed (with proper permission). Of course, there is an element of trust involved -- you're relying that the software is working correctly, the files are encrypted and protected safely, and the company managing the big farm of servers in the sky is not only reliable, but will still be around later when you really need those files.

Then Wuala's P2P storage mechanism adds another set of issues, both from the additional complexity of chopping up your files, and from the totally ad-hoc nature of where your files may happen to be stored. It's one thing to look for public files in the wilds of a P2P network, and another to store your own stuff out there, hoping that the redundancy algorithm can accommodate changes over time as consumer's computers with slices of your files go offline.

Still, anything that can get people backing up their files is a good start!

See my article on The Flash Storage Revolution for more on storage applications and developments.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on netbooks.

Find the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE
and Dell Inspiron Mini 9 on Amazon.com

April 23, 2009

Samsung Flipshot - Camera Phone Transformer

You probably have a digital camera for taking pictures at official events -- family gatherings, vacation trips -- but more and more we're using the camera in our mobile phones to shoot whenever the whim or the situation catches us. After all, there are some 2 1/2 billion (with a "B") mobile phones worldwide, and over a billion more being sold each year, so that's a lot of opportunities for camera phones.

But camera phones are a compromise for picture taking, typically with limited resolution, lower-quality fixed lenses (no focus, no zoom), no flash, and without all those great automatic features to help take better shots, for example face recognition to adjust focus and exposure.

There's only so much photo features that you can squeeze into a tiny cell phone, but each new product manages to cram more in. The Samsung Omnia smartphone from Verizon Wireless, for example, has a 5 megapixel camera, which is a step up from the 2 to 3 MP found on other devices, including the iPhone.

However, phones still are designed for their primary function, and are clumsy to use for taking photos, which is why the Samsung Flipshot from Verizon Wireless (SCH-u900) is such an interesting design.

The phone starts as a standard clamshell design, closed up with a smaller display on the one side and a substantial lens with 3 PM camera on the other. It flips open to access the keypad and larger 2.2 inch inside display. But then you can twist the display around 180 degrees and close up the phone again -- So now you have something much closer to a digital camera, with the large display on the back, the lens on the front, and controls along the top.

The Flipshot also supports camera modes including scenes (landscape, night, macro), multi-shot (panoramas), color effects, and self timer. And it has video out though a separate accessory to display on a TV or monitor.

It has has stereo Bluetooth wireless, expansion microSD memory card slot, and
It's not too tiny at 3.76 x 1.83 x .73 inches and 3.88 ounces. The Flipshot is available from Verizon for $99 with service plan and online discount.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on mobile phones.

    Find the Samsung Flipshot on Amazon.com

April 24, 2009

Windows Mobile Touch Smartphones -- Verizon Wireless Samsung Omnia and HTC Touch Pro

There are clear differences in the basic philosophy behind the different smartphones on the market. All now are multi-purpose communications devices, PDAs, and media players -- with phone and e-mail connectivity, contacts and calendar synching, and music and video entertainment. But the differences are also sharp: to greatly simplify, the Apple iPhone is about synching with your desktop iTunes library, the Google Android phone is about synching with the online cloud, the Blackberry is about enterprise communications, and Palm bridges the gap between personal and business.

In each of these cases, the form of the phone follows its function, both in its physical design and in the software interface that runs on the phone. The Apple iPhone is an integrated whole, and the Google Android phone and the Blackberry really are defined by the interface, no matter what hardware it happens to run on.

But what about Windows Mobile phones? These are amorphous -- How do you summarize the key user benefit when "a phone what runs Microsoft Windows" is the defining characteristic? Especially when these other phones work fine with Windows PCs, to interchange e-mail and Microsoft document formats.

So Windows Mobile phones from different manufacturers and carriers end up competing among themselves as well, seeking to differentiate not only in terms of the hardware design, but also by layering a custom user friendly interface on top of Windows Mobile.

Two new smartphones from Verizon Wireless show this design approach at work with a touch screen and custom enhanced interface. Both are built on Windows Mobile 6.1, with the Office Mobile Suite (i.e., Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (for viewing only) Mobile), plus Adobe Reader LE PDF viewer, and ZIP file viewing/create.

They have cameras for photo/video capture, and media playback for music and video. Both also include the Opera Mobile Browser for HTML Web browsing, and built-in Wi-Fi for fast Internet access for e-mail and surfing at wireless hotspots. And they have a microSD card slot to add up to 16 GB of external memory.

The Verizon Wireless Samsung Omnia (SCH-i910) has a large 3.2 inch touchscreen display that fills most of the font of the unit, at 240 x 480 resolution.

As a multimedia device, the Omnia features a higher-res 5.0 megapixel camera, has FM radio, and support video out to a TV display.

The home screen uses the Samsung TouchWiz interface, with customizable widgets along the left column that you can drag-and-drop as favorites on the virtual desktop. These display information and status, and then you can tap to launch the main Windows Mobile applications. It also has haptic feedback -- vibration to confirm user inputs.

The Samsung Omnia is 4.41 x 2.24 x 0.52 inches and 4.34 ounces. It's available from Verizon Wireless for $269, or $199 with service plan.

The Verizon Wireless HTC Touch Pro (XV6850) is the next generation of the HTC Touch (XV6900), which used a vertical design like the Omnia, and the iPhone. The Touch Pro has a significantly different design, with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard (like the T-Mobile G1 / Google Android phone, also from HTC, and the upcoming next-generation Palm Pre). It's clearly aimed to people who are going to be doing more texting and e-mail.

The Touch Pro 2.8 inch display is full 480 x 640 VGA resolution, and works in portrait and landscape orientation, for working though menus, browsing the Web, or viewing videos. The main screen works with the HTC TouchFLO "3D" interface -- drag your finger or stylus across the icons at the bottom of the screen, or switch between functions by swiping across the face of the device or pressing left or right on the navigation pad.

It also includes a 3.2 MP camera, with flash and auto-focus.

The HTC Touch Pro is 4.17 x 2.04 x 0.71 inches (with the smaller screen but thicker keyboard), and weighs 4.94 ounces. It's available from Verizon Wireless for $419, or $349 with service plan.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on mobile phones and smartphones.

Find the Verizon Wireless Samsung Omnia
and HTC Touch Pro on Amazon.com

April 30, 2009

Shoot Longer with New Flip Ultra Pocket Camcorder

Flip Video has just introduced its second generation Flip Ultra pocket camcorder, now available in both standard-definition and high-def versions.

Flip has two pocket-sized camcorder models: the extra-tiny Mino (3.3 ounces, see previous posts), and the larger Ultra with removable battery (6 ounces). In addition to the HD version, the new Ultras have a larger screen (2 vs. 1.5 inches), with more memory to shoot twice as long (up to two hours), and the HD version has HDMI output for displaying directly on a HDTV display.

The Mino is a minimalist design that's easy to carry. The Ultra lets you shoot longer for longer trips with more memory and swappable batteries.

As with the other Flips, the Ultras turn on instantly so you can quickly begin shooting with one press of the big red button. You can off-load the video with minimum fuss with the built-in pop-out USB connector, and it even includes built-in FlipShare software for Windows and Mac to save, organize, and edit video and upload directly to MySpace and YouTube.

The new Flip Ultra fits in your front pocket at 4.25 x 2.19 x 1.17 (compared to the Mino at 3.94 x 1.97 x 0.63 inches). The HD Ultra shoots 720p widescreen video (1280 x 720). Both record video in standard H.264 video format, which works with Apple iTunes, QuickTime Player, and Microsoft Windows Media Player.

The standard-def Flip Ultra is available in black, white, pink, and yellow for $149, and the HD version in black and white is $199.

Check the Flip site to compare the Flip products

See my Digital Camcorders Gallery for more on the Flip line and digital camcoders.

    Find the 2nd-gen Flip Ultra and UltraHD on Amazon.com

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About April 2009

Entries posted to Manifest Tech Blog in April 2009, listed from oldest to newest.

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