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July 2009 Archives

July 1, 2009

SanDisk Ultra Backup USB Drive

SanDisk continues to develop interesting ideas in USB "thumb" drives, building on the U3 smart technology that lets you run a variety of Windows software applications directly from a flash drive. The idea with U3 is that you can not only carry your files and data with you on a flash drive, but bring along your favorite applications as well, so you can plug in to any computer and continue on with your work.

The SanDisk Ultra Backup USB Drive (see press release) is a USB drive that comes preloaded with backup software, plus a Backup button on the drive to launch the application and start saving your files, with no other fuss or software installation required.

The Ultra Backup Drive also protects your data with password-protected access control and AES hardware-based encryption.

The drive has a slide-out USB connector (so there's no cap to lose), with the Backup button above the connector.

The SanDisk Ultra Backup USB Drive is available with 8 to 64 GB of storage, priced from around $39 to $179 (street).

Also check out the SanDisk Extreme Contour (see previous post) for a more rugged design (metallic body) and faster performance (read 25 MB/sec., write 18 MB/sec.).

See more in my Portable Storage Gallery, under Flash USB Pocket Drives.

Find the SanDisk Ultra Backup USB Drive
and SanDisk Cruzer Contour on Amazon.com

July 3, 2009

Blu-ray Disc Publishing Costs (Finally) Reduced

Imagine you are promoting a replacement format for DVD, to support delivery of high-definition video on optical discs -- and let's call this new format Blu-ray Disc (because it uses a sexy blue laser beam). Is this format just about selling Hollywood movies on disc in high-def? Or might it be even more attractive as a more general format, like DVD, that could be used by smaller producers and independent videographers to package and sell HD productions, from weddings and sports and corporate events to independent films?

Blu-ray had obvious benefit for Hollywood, especially as DVD sales were cooling off, with the promise of reviving their catalogs of titles by selling a new copy of favorite movies in HD. Then the industry got caught up in the format war with the HD DVD format, so the attention was focused on getting the major studios on board with the format, and then on promoting the catalogs of movies now available in HD.

Yet while Blu-ray won the battle with HD DVD, the larger war is still ongoing, as it faces competition including DVD (entrenched, and good enough for many consumers), cable video-on-demand (also in HD), electronic delivery (HD, and even free) -- plus all the other options for consumer dollars, both for entertainment, and for more basic staples in these difficult times.

So you might think that the industry would be interested in encouraging the growth of a much broader range of content from the many independent publishers and videographers who have moved to high-def production, and are interested in the promise of Blu-ray for delivering HD content on physical media.

After all, getting into Blu-ray is already a big step for early adopters -- not only in hard production costs for equipment and tools, but also in the time and effort of ramping up on the more complex format. But the barrier to entry is actually even worse -- to license just the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) content protection technology required an entrance fee of $3000, plus another $1300 fee for each title, plus an ongoing fee of $0.04 per disc.

And unlike DVD, where producers can decline to use the CSS content protection technology, AACS is mandatory for manufactured Blu-ray discs -- even if you do not want to use it.

Finally, this week, the AACS licensing fees have been changed (as reported by Sonic Solutions, the leading developer of authoring tools and technology for Blu-ray, DVD, and other digital media for pros to consumers):

- First-time Blu-ray users can choose to start with an annual AACS Content Provider Agreement Fee of $500 (which accrues not to the old $3000 total, but to a maximum of $5000 over 10 years).

- And the per-title Content Certificate and Order Fulfillment Fee is reduced to $500 (from $1300), although technically this fee is for each "glass master" needed to manufacture copies of a disc.

- The Media Fee of $0.04 per disc (i.e., $40 / 1000 discs) for each disc replicated remains the same.

So the initial cost of entry, at least for the AACS license, has been reduced from $4300 to $1000, a helpful improvement for first-time and low volume content holders who are interested in taking a first step into the business.

Of course, it's still unfortunate that AACS is required at all. And there's still lots more the industry can do to take advantage of the full promise of the Blu-ray format, including more compelling use of interactivity and networking in new titles, more focus on Blu-ray on the personal computer, for data backup (at 25 to 50 GB per disc) and for creating personal HD videos, and more use on the set-top, including Blu-ray recorders for more flexibility in personal recording...

More information and links:

Continue reading "Blu-ray Disc Publishing Costs (Finally) Reduced" »

July 5, 2009

SanDisk Video HD Memory Cards for Flash Camcorders

Looking for memory cards for your flash-based camcorder? SanDisk has a helpful answer with the SanDisk Video HD SD/SDHC memory card product line -- explicitly rated by hours of video recording time, not just gigabytes of capacity.

In the days of analog tape, you could determine capacity by using a two-hour or longer tape, or setting the camera to a (super-)long-play mode for 4 or 6 hours. But with digital cameras, you need to think in terms of numbers like 4 or 8 or 16 GB of storage capacity.

So the SanDisk Video HD memory cards are presented in a similar way -- The largest number on the front of the package is the recording time, not the storage capacity. For example, the packaging features a 4 hour recording time for the 16 GB card. Of course, this does require an asterisk -- the 4 hours is a typical recording time for HD video at standard quality. The information on the back then lists example recording times for both HD and SD video: 2 hours for high-quality HD (AVCHD, 1920x1080), and 3 hours and 40 minutes for high-quality standard-def video (MPEG-2, 720x480).

Continuing the videotape theme, the Video HD cards also include a jewel case (plastic holder) and set of labels (for the case, not the cards).

In terms of performance, the Video HD memory cards are around the middle of the SanDisk "good-better-best" product lines for flash memory cards (see previous post). The Standard cards have a Class 2 (2 MB/sec.) minimum baseline performance, the Ultra II cards are Class 4 (4 MB/sec.) baseline plus a maximum read/write data rate of up to 15 MB/sec., and the Extreme III cards are Class 6 (soon stepping up to 10), with max read/write speeds up to 30 MB/sec.

The Video HD cards are Class 4, like the Ultra II line, but are unrated in terms of the max performance. They're typically priced around the same as the Ultra II, but, as usual, look around for discounts or special deals -- for example the 16 GB cards list for around $97 but have street prices around $41 -- and for even more storage, the 32 GB Ultra II is currently available at around $91.

See my full article: Flash Memory: Technology Summary for more on memory card formats and features

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

Find the SanDisk Video HD and Ultra II SDHC cards on Amazon.com

July 8, 2009

Mini to Micro: Kingston Memory Cards and USB Readers

Mini to micro -- It's not just skirts that shrink, it's also our now-indispensible electronic gadgets, continually being reduced in size so they can be with us wherever we go. But how small can this go? Displays and controls and keyboards can get so tiny that they are really no longer readily usable, at least for some of us.

One clear example of shrinking to the edge of usability is the microSD card format -- gigabytes crammed into tiny plastic slices, some 5/8 x 7/16 of an inch, literally the size of a fingernail.

The small size fits well for adding storage to portable devices like cell phones, for more photos and music and video on the go, now cramming in up to 16 GB for under $90.

But the tiny cards also are tricky to handle and so easy to lose. So microSD cards are often sold in sets, with adapter cards and USB readers. The SD and miniSD adapters allow you to access the cards with devices that have the larger SD or microSD slots. And the USB reader lets you access the card on a computer with a USB slot.

But now even the USB card readers are getting amazingly miniaturized. The previous Kingston microSD USB reader was basically the metal USB connector -- just one inch long -- with a slot for the microSD card.

But now there's a new form factor for tiny USB connectors, as in the Verbatim Tuff-'N'-Tiny / Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drive, which dispenses with the metal frame of the USB connector and just retains the internal connector, so it's actually half the thickness of a USB connector slot.

The updated Kingston microSD Mobility Kit has a similar design -- with the microSD card, mini/SD adapters, plus a USB card reader that is itself about a third of the size of a standard SD card, and still half the thickness of a USB connector slot.-- It's about an inch long, with the USB connectors on one side and a tiny slot for the microSD card on the other. No wonder it comes with an attached lanyard to help you try to keep track of it!

So as you downsize your storage, you can get a microSD card by itself, or bundled with a USB reader, adapters, or a full Mobility Kit with both.

See my full article: Flash Memory: Technology Summary for more on memory card formats and features

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

Find the Kingston microSDHC USB reader and
Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drive on Amazon.com

July 13, 2009

Belkin Micra Cases for iPod nano

You love your iPod nano -- the style, the size, and especially the vibrant colors. You'd like to protect it from dirt and scratches, but don't like the idea of bulking it up with a traditional case and covering the beautiful design.

So check out the Belkin Micra nano cases. These are based on a clear, thin, and tough polycarbonate protective sleeve that snaps over the back of the nano, plus a separate plastic overlay to protect the screen. The front of the iPod therefore is not covered, so you have complete access to the controls and connectors.

Of course, these cases aren't totally clear -- they have subtle graphical details to enhance your nano -- instead of covering it up. The Belkin Micro cases for the nano are available in four styles, each for $19.99:

- Micra Glam is clear with a subtle pattern of sparkles that twinkle when you move the case in the light.

- Micra Dusk has a smoky charcoal tint that darkens the nano's color, for example shifting the purple nano into an eggplant tone.

- Micra Flow has gentle curves, representing a sound wave to suggest motion.

- Micra Chex has a diagonal checkerboard pattern with translucent white squares.

So you can protect your iPod nano while keeping the compact size and beauty, and even add a fun subtle accent.

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

July 14, 2009

Esther Dyson at Princeton on the Quicken Model for Health Care

Esther Dyson, writer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and first lady of the digerati, visited our area last week to speak to the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce.

You may recall Dyson from her Release 1.0 newsletter (and subsequent updates as a book, column, and weblog), her work as the founding chairman of ICANN democratizing the naming structure for the Internet, or her venture investments through her company, EDventure Holdings.

More recently, Dyson has focused on aviation and space, and health care. She recently completed six months of training in Russia as a backup cosmonaut for the Soyuz mission to the International Space Station (she's an investor in Space Adventures).

At her Princeton talk, Dyson had just returned from a whirlwind trip to Russia, so she gave an informal travelogue of her trip, including the session at the Civil Society Summit with President Obama during his visit to Moscow with Russian President Medvedev.

In the big picture of health care, Dyson looks to the Internet to help open people's access to information, especially their own personal medical records. Imagine that -- transparency in both treatment and billing could allow people to understand what's going on and perhaps make better choices.

But do you really want a massive centralized medical database, with instant electronic access to all your records from any doctor, or hospital, or insurer -- or hacker?

So Dyson takes a different approach, the Quicken model for home finances -- standard electronic interfaces to your data, stored by different organizations, and only aggregated by you on your personal computer. Each organization can still be electronic and efficient, but the full history of your medical life is still distributed among multiple organizations, so there's still hope to retain some personal privacy.

For more Esther Dyson at Princeton (articles and video):

Continue reading "Esther Dyson at Princeton on the Quicken Model for Health Care" »

July 16, 2009

Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 Portable Speakers - Share Your Music -

You can carry your entire music collection on your iPod, or even on your mobile phone, and that's great when you want to put on earphones and enjoy by yourself. But what about letting other listen so you can share your passions?

Yes, some media players like the Samsung P3 have integrated speakers and wireless Bluetooth to let others listen to your songs, but Apple does not believe in such things for the iPod. And while your mobile phone does have small speaker for hands-free calling, it's not great for savoring music.

But you can turn your portable device into an entertainment system with a portable speaker like the Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 -- compact and portable enough to carry along easily, but big enough to provide good sound, and priced at $39.95.

The Orbit designed to lie flat to provide a 360-degree sound field. It plugs into your iPod, iPhone, MP3 player, or laptop with the integrated 8-inch cord (standard 3.5 mm connector -- there's also an orbitM model that includes a 2.5 mm adapter for use with mobile phones). And it plays up to 24 hours on 3 AAA batteries.

The Orbit is certainly easy to carry, at around 3 1/2 inches in diameter and 2 inches high. The cord wraps up inside the base, and the product includes a protective case and carry strap. The Orbit design was updated for this year, and now has a power button and battery level indicator light so you don't run down the batteries when not in use (see previous post).

There's no volume control -- just crank up the sound on your player. The Orbit plays loud enough to be heard across a room, but still lets you have a conversation. The sound is clean (though obviously not stereo), although at max volume on an iPod nano the speaker did break up at some of the louder parts of Amadeus.

The Orbit design was updated for this year, and is not particularly sexy looking (arguably less so than the previous model), but has a simple shape that's designed to be rugged and functional. But now you can jazz it up with graphics from Skinit for around $12 -- choose from a variety of designs (licensed logos, art, and photos), or upload your own. The design is printed on glossy 3M Scotchprint graphics, which you peel off and wrap around the outside of the Orbit (in two strips, for the base and the top). The Skinit prints look good, are durable, and don't leave a residue after removal (which also means they are relatively easy to put it on since you can adjust the positioning).

The Orbit-MP3 is a solid portable speaker that you can throw in your bag to share your music with a larger group, or even to listen without earphones from your laptop or in a hotel room.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones.

    Find the Altec Lansing Orbit Speakers on Amazon.com

July 21, 2009

20th Anniversary of DVI Technology Commercial Product

It was hubris, of course, to imagine in 1983 that we could play video on a PC (see previous post). It took six more years of prototyping and engineering what we called DVI Technology (for Digital Video Interactive) -- but twenty years ago today, July 21, 1989, we shipped the first commercial DVI product, the Intel Pro750 ADP.

This was real video on a PC -- real-time, interactive, full-screen, 30 fps motion video playback with stereo audio -- and streaming from a CD-ROM. And it ran on the 386-based PC/AT platform, under DOS, almost a decade before the introduction of DVD (around 1996 / 1997).

Our group at RCA Laboratories / David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton had a unique mix of skills to conceive and create this vision: analog television pioneers and digital TV designers, image / video processing scientists, plus hardware and software engineers with deep experience working on a broad range of products. And we kept the project going though major corporate turmoil: The project started in RCA Laboratories in 1983, G.E. acquired RCA in 1985/86, SRI acquired the Sarnoff Research Center from G.E. in 1987, and finally Intel acquired the DVI Technology and team in 1988.

This was a non-trivial task. Getting real-time CD-ROM streaming and video and audio decompression running on the PC platform of the time required serious custom hardware -- two DVI Video Display Processor chips (microcode pixel processor and display), and three DVI boards (Video, Audio, Utility / CD-ROM), plus piggyback boards for video memory and video and audio capture.

And it required custom system software for reliable continuous real-time data flow under DOS, plus associated custom authoring tools for digital media (video, audio, image capture and compression) and CD-ROM layout.

This first commercial product introduced in July 1989, the Pro750 ADP (Application Development Platform), was designed as a turn-key system for developing multimedia applications. It included an IBM PC/AT-compatible computer with 40 MB hard drive, the full DVI board set, and the DVI software, all for $22,000. The DVI board set, without the digitizers, also was available as the End-User Kit for configuring delivery systems.

Also, this was before standard video formats like MPEG, and before video architectures like Microsoft AVI or Apple QuickTime, so we developed our own compression algorithms to fit the constraints of the available processing power (12.5 MIPS microcode engine) and CD-ROM data rate. The Production-Level Video (PLV) algorithm provided full-screen 30 fps video, but required the use of an off-line compression facility. The Edit-Level Video (ELV) algorithm supported real-time video capture and compression directly on the Pro750 system, to preview the application during development with stand-in video at 10 fps.

See my DVI Technology pages for more on the development of DVI, including chronology, products, pilot applications, publications, and photos and videos.

See Intel Pro750 Product Family for more on the Pro750 product from 1989, including specifications and marketing brochures.

July 24, 2009

Apple Updates Final Cut Studio

Apple has announced and released an updated version of Final Cut Studio, with new versions of Final Cut Pro 7, Motion 4, Soundtrack Pro 3, Color 1.5, and Compressor 3.5 (see press release). The price has dropped by $300 to $999, and the upgrade is $299.

(There's no identifying version number associated with this flavor of Final Cut Studio, although the last update in 2007 was version 2, so draw your own conclusions.)

One major focus of the new Final Cut Studio is web-based output and sharing. Final Cut Pro 7 adds Easy Export to continue working on projects while encoding in background, and Compressor 3.5 can share to YouTube and MobileMe, or export for iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, and mobile phones.

Final Cut Pro also has new iChat Theater support for real time Web review and approval of timelines or individual clips with iChat users, even if they don’t have Final Cut Pro.

However, Apple remains unenthused about delivery on old-fashioned optical disc -- DVD Studio Pro 4 still has not been updated, and is still only for authoring standard-def DVDs. However, you now can export HD material from FCP/Compressor to Blu-ray disc, albeit with simple menus and chapters.

FCP also adds three new Apple ProRes codecs for more efficient editing of complex formats, including for offline and mobile editing, general purpose broadcast quality editing, and high-quality editing.

Apple states there are more than 100 new features in the new Final Cut Studio, with deeper support for HD / high-quality formats, and tighter integration within the suite.

See Jan Ozer's First Look Review: Apple Final Cut Pro 7 (registration required for full access)

See my article, Summary: Apple Final Cut Studio for a summary of the suite's applications and new features.

See more video applications in my Video Editing Software Gallery

Free Early Registration for the 2010 International CES

Yes, it's time to start thinking about the 2010 International CES, the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow, which returns to Las Vegas on January 7-10, 2010 (see wrap-up post on CES 2009).

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has announced that registration for the 2010 CES is free for industry professionals through September 30. A fee of $100 goes into effect on October 1, and increases to $200 on January 2.

And the CEA wants you to know that the hotel rates in Las Vegas are currently at their lowest in years. The CES Travel Site has rates and early-bird offers from the 30-some official CES hotels that are on the complimentary CES bus shuttle service. Check the list for some new hotels, but also note that there are a number of hotels not on the list to check as well, including names from last year like Harrah's, Caesars, Bally's and Paris. Hmmm...

Last year's show had an audited attendance of 141,150 -- down from 2007's 143,695 -- but still better than expected, and surprisingly good in the midst of significant economic turmoil. And 2009 had most exhibit space in show history, 1.85 million net square feet, for some 3,000 exhibitors.

With Macworld moving to February instead of being held the same week, the 2010 CES also has added an iLounge Pavilion as a unified exhibition area for Apple iPod, iPhone and Mac third-party applications, accessories, and software.

So starting making plans for CES -- sign up for a free registration, and lock in a hotel room. My hotel rate dropped dramatically last year, with several reductions leading up to the show, and the rate now is even lower.

See my CES 2009 Summary article for trends and products for the new year, and links to wrap-up coverage.

July 28, 2009

Loud Enough Volume Limiting Earphones for Kids from Ultimate Ears

(with Brian Dixon)

Crank it up! We like our music loud -- and when we use earphones out in public we need to turn it up even louder to drown out all the outside sound.

But continuous exposure to loud sound can damage your hearing -- especially for children who may not be concerned with these kinds of issues. (If you pipe the noise of a rock concert (over 100 dB) into your ears, the recommended maximum exposure time is under 15 minutes -- see Ultimate Ears FAQ).

One answer is to use sound-isolating earphones, with a tight fit in the ear to reduce the outside noise so you can lower the volume from your music player. An even better answer for children and people with sensitive hearing is earphones like the Loud Enough Volume Limiting Earphones for Kids from Ultimate Ears, with built-in volume protection to reduce the maximum volume of the music source.

Compared to the Apple iPod ear buds, these can reduce the maximum sound level by 12dB, perceived as approximately 50% the loudness. And compared to other noise isolating headsets, they reduce the maximum sound level by 20dB, heard as about 25% of the loudness.

However, these are not "kiddie" looking earphones. Yes, they come in vibrant colors (Plum purple, Mint green, Blueberry), but they also have a clean, compact design, and are lightweight and rugged, with an included pocket-size hard case. Oddly, however, they do not have markings for the left and right ears.

But Loud Enough earphones still are designed for children, 6 and over, with three sizes of comfortable silicone ear tips (extra small, small, medium) that provide noise isolation to reduce the temptation to crank the volume up to hear clearly.

And you don't have to compromise on the sound quality -- the Loud Enoughs draw on the Ultimate Ears experience in professional and custom earphones for musicians and serious audiophiles (see previous post), with better than average sound, certainly better then standard iPod ear buds.

At $39.99, the Loud Enough earphones are not dirt cheap. Instead you get a nice design, good sound, comfortable fit, sound isolation, plus the additional bonus of protecting your children's hearing ...

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on earphones and headphones.

    Find the Loud Enough Earphones on Amazon.com

July 30, 2009

Ultimate Ears 700 Noise Isolating Pro Earphones

(with Brian Dixon)

Ultimate Ears designs custom in-ear monitor earphones for professional musicians with wildly different styles -- and claims to be used by 75% of the world's professional touring artists for live performance (see the gallery of Ear Art designs).

And, especially after it was acquired by Logitech a year ago, Ultimate Ears has expanded its line of premium earphones and headsets for the broader consumer market. OK, these are not for mass-market consumers, but more designed to meet the needs of audiophiles and fans looking for a great sound experience.

Ultimate Ears has four lines of earphones:
- MetroFi for listening on the go at around $50 to $90
- SuperFi for serious music lovers (some with two speakers per ear) at $130 to $250
- TripleFi for a custom personal monitor experience with three drivers at around $400
- Custom pro designs for $400 up to $1150

The TripleFi earphones are particularly amazing (see previous post), providing a clear and intense listening experience that is close to good headphones or even studio monitors. But the TripleFi's are around $400, and are really for short bursts of intense, focused listening.

The SuperFi line still provides pro-quality sound for serious music lovers, but at around half the price. The new Ultimate Ears 700 Noise Isolating Earphones are $229, with dual drivers to separate frequencies into two high-fidelity channels per ear. They are particularly compact, cramming all that technology into a micro size that fits flush within the ear.

They include three sizes of tapered silicone ear cushions, plus a set of Comply foam ear cushions, a soft memory foam that that molds to the shape of your ear canal. These provide isolation of up to 26 dB from outside noise and retention of the music, so you can turn down the volume.

The UE 700s also include some nice additional features, with a subtle red ring to mark the right earpiece, a cable slider keep the earpieces together when storing the 46 inch cord, and a sound level attenuator adapter for unfamiliar or unstable sound sources (like an airplane feed).

In our testing, the Ultimate Ears 700s were light and comfortable, with a crisp, clear, spacious sound. There was more treble sound, but without being thin or tinny. The bottom line is that you get what you pay for -- natural sound that can satisfy professional musicians.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on earphones and headphones.

    Find the Ultimate Ears 700 Earphones on Amazon.com

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About July 2009

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

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