Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 10, Number 8: July 2010


Interesting & Peculiar Products

Twenty Terabytes and Counting

What’s that? The Sony BDP-CX7000ES Blu-Ray Disc Changer, an $1,899 behemoth that holds 400 Blu-ray discs. (At 50GB per disc, that’s twenty terabytes.) It’s apparently a first-rate unit, based on the review in the January 2010 Sound & Vision and other reviews I’ve seen.

It is a behemoth: 17x9.5x22", much taller and deeper than most components. But it holds 400 discs! As I was writing this, I was first tempted to say, “Well, how much would 20TB of disk storage cost?” The answer, as of this writing, is not that much. Of course, 20TB worth of external hard drives wouldn’t provide you with 400 Blu-ray movies, but it would be enough to store those movies (if you could get around DRM issues). For 20TB, you’d need ten two-terabyte drives or 14 1.5-terabyte drives. As I edit this, you can buy name-brand external 2.0 terabyte hard drives for $130 to $150. You’d get 20 terabytes for $1,300 to $1,500. Which is sort of an astonishing sentence to write! Internal storage would be a little cheaper, to be sure.

Classic Movies On Demand

I’m a little late on this one, but it’s still a good idea if done right: the Warner Brothers Archive. Lots of movies aren’t likely to be popular enough to justify restoring, remastering and releasing as regular DVDs—and I don’t believe Warner is likely to release them to the public domain so Mill Creek Entertainment and the Internet Archive can make them available.

While that might be the ideal (I’d argue that if the film no longer has enough commercial value to justify a regular DVD release, it is the appropriate action), this is better than nothing. Warner provides a searchable database with brief previews. If you want the movie, you order it…and it’s produced on demand, creating a one-off DVD-R for $19.95. But of course, since it’s Big Media, that DVD-R contains a CSS-encrypted movie, so you can’t make a copy for your mom. Oh…and you can apparently buy a download instead, for $14.95, but it’s only for Windows (and it’s not clear whether the quality is the same).

I picked up the item on Spellbound Blog from April 2009. Going to the link, it’s not a massive resource: “500+ movies, shorts, TV movies and miniseries.” I see 89 movies from 1920-29, 203 from 1930-39, 177 from 1940-49, 201 from 1950-59, 123 from 1960-69, 108 from 1970-79, 103 from 1980-89, and 26 more recent. I also see some specials—e.g., a 4-DVD set of “Classic Musical Shorts from the Dream Factory” for $29.95, a five-DVD “Torchy Blane Collection” for $39.95 and a really interesting six-DVD, 63-short “Warner Bros. Big Band, Jazz & Swing Short Subject Collection” for $49.95. The Important Note on the listings is interesting, particularly one word that I’ve highlighted:

Important Note: This film has been manufactured from the best-quality video master currently available and has not been remastered or restored specifically for this DVD and Digital Download release.

Does that mean these are VHS-quality releases, comparable to the cleanest of Mill Creek Entertainment’s movies (which tend to run $0.50 each or less, not $19.95)? Looking at the clips (which range from 30 seconds to three minutes), it’s hard to say; given that they’re offered as indications of video quality, I’d suggest “very good VHS quality,” but they could be better.

Remember OQO?

On April 23, 2009, Eliot Van Buskirk wrote “OQO’s Brutal Lesson: Innovate and Die” at Wired.com. It’s an elegy of sorts for the OQO ultra-mobile personal computer, a “fully functional Windows computer that fits in the palm of your hand”—introduced in 2004. The critics loved it. Buyers? Not so much—if they could even get their hands on one.

Supposedly the new and improved Model 2+ would have a “breathtaking vibrant 5-inch OLED touchscreen” and up to 2GB RAM. It would also sell for $1,000. Just before this item appeared, OQO canceled all pre-orders for the device.

If you look at the picture in the story, you see problems. The keyboard’s not much bigger than a slide-out smartphone keyboard: “Thumbable” but no good for typing. The screen’s not much bigger than some smartphones. The price, though…that’s a lot bigger. After all, a netbook would do the same stuff, have a workable keyboard, have a much larger screen…and cost about a third as much.

Going back to earlier items, the OQO Model 02 actually came out in 2007—weighing a pound. Wired gave it a surprisingly enthusiastic mini-review—given that this underpowered (1.5GHz VIA processor), overloaded (running Vista Ultimate with 1GB RAM!), minimal device (5” 800x480 display, 60GB hard disk, an undersized keyboard made even smaller to accommodate a separate numeric keypad—really?) cost $1,849. Yes, it weighed a pound. But…well, it’s telling that OQO sent Wired a “testimonial” from a user who claims to have written 18,000 words on the device.

I’ve mentioned OQO before—in July 2002, when it was announced (and I poked fun at it), in July 2003 when it was “set to launch” but had gone up from $1,000 to $1,500, in August 2004 (when it was still almost maybe ready to ship any month now, perhaps), in December 2004 (quoting a November story saying it would be unveiled “next month” and was now up to $1,899)—and at more length in Midwinter 2005, when the Model 01 actually reached the market. At $1,999, with a 1GHz Crusoe CPU (you think 1GHz Atom CPUs are slow? you haven’t heard about slow), 256MB RAM (running Windows XP) and a 20GB hard disk. OQO thought it was revolutionary. Very few other people did. The final Wired story seemed to view OQO as too far ahead of its time—but it may also be that the device just didn’t make sense for any but a tiny group of users.

The Wikipedia writeup on OQO uses the past tense. The firm shut down in late April 2009. As is becoming increasingly common, the website remains, with a truly odd “about” page—starting with several paragraphs about the wonders of OQO and ending with “We are sorry to report that OQO Inc. is out of Business as of April 2009. OQO has closed.” Web searching turns up the usual fans who say how wonderful the device was and how easy it is to type on, but very little indication that it ever had significant sales.

Really Big Optical Discs

Here’s an interesting one, also from April 2009 (Ars Technica, April 28): A discussion of GE’s claim that they’d soon be able to store 500GB on a single optical disc. Of course it’s holographic storage; haven’t Incredible Storage Breakthroughs been holographic for, oh, more than a decade now? (Track record on getting usable holographic storage into retail stores: Not so good, but when did that matter?)

Ah, but this is Ars Technica, not sister publication Wired, and Jon Stokes’ article title is telling: “GE’s 500GB optical discs: who is going to use them?” He’s citing a New York Times article saying GE thinks they may be able to bring these discs to market in 2011-2012. That projection might be worth questioning—but maybe it doesn’t matter. Stokes figures that Blu-ray offers enough storage capacity for TV playback for the next decade or two… “And by the time there's a demand for even higher-quality media, one would hope that our broadband infrastructure will be sufficiently improved that we could digitally distribute data-intensive content (movies, games, music, etc.) with very large file sizes.” (Hope springs eternal.)

So the prospects for a 500GB, mass-market physical medium in 2011 don't seem so hot. Seriously, what would we put on it? If its real-world lifespan is anything like that of the current generation of optical media (i.e., well under ten years), then those who need long-term archiving will stick with magnetic tape.

I believe Stokes is understating the lifespan of optical media stored under reasonable conditions (I have 25-year-old CDs that work perfectly), but his next bit is probably sound: While there may be niche applications, he wonders whether those niches are large enough to lead to reasonably-priced media and players/burners. (“Magnetic tape”? Not redundant hard disk arrays? Maybe.)

He also cites what must have been either error or stupidity in the GE promotional materials: A claim that 500GB is “4,000 times more data than the human brain retains in a lifetime.”

So you're telling me that over the course of my entire life, my brain retains 125MB of data? What with the human brain being analog and all, any statistic that purports to say how many bytes of "data" the brain "stores" is bogus; but even if you're going to take some dramatic license and make up a number, it should at least be a very large one. Ultimately, I think we should stick to "libraries of congress" as the standard hyperbolic unit of data storage capacity.

I find that 125MB figure pretty bogus as well…

Naturally several commenters had great uses for these discs—and at least one noted the number of times we’ve heard about great new holographic storage breakthroughs, none of which has made it to market. One person has an oddly shaky understanding of how storage costs have been changing: He (or she) thinks the future is solid-state modules “(assuming the module costs less and offers similar or greater storage).” Well, sure…except that, as fast as solid-state storage prices go down, hard-disk storage (and optical storage) prices go down faster.

Incidentally, I’m not ready to say 500GB discs would be useless—there are use cases for them, at the right price and with the right stability. But with commenters saying the discs would need to be “a few pennies at most” you have to wonder. (I really wondered about commenters complaining about current storage needs and citing 5GB as the largest writable optical disc they could buy. So neither dual-layer DVD-R nor BD-R exists?)

“Influential” Products…

Christopher Nickson posted “10 Most Influential Tech Products” at Digital Trends on June 2, 2009—but the subtitle is narrower: the “ten most life-changing devices ever grown from the humble transistor.” Nickson notes the origin of the transistor (Bell Labs, 1947), a couple of landmarks (Intel’s 8088 in 1979 with 29,000 transistor-equivalents; the Intel Core 2 Duo with 291 million transistor-equivalents—note that this was a year ago, before the i7) and a narrowing of the definition: These are only products, “available to the average consumer via regular retail channels.”

Here’s the list: Desktop computers; VCRs; game consoles; modems; computer mice; laser printers; laptop computers; digital cameras; cell phones; and smartphones.

Have laser printers actually been more life-changing than, say, effective wearable hearing aids or portable music devices (beginning with transistor radios and continuing through MP3 players)? The computer mouse: Life-changing? Maybe.

…Or Not So Much

That same month, Charlie Sorrel wrote “Buyer’s Remorse: 5 Gadgets We Should Never Hage Bought” on Wired.com’s Gadget Lab. It’s always refreshing (and unusual) to have anyone at Wired admit that shiny might wear off. These are much narrower than the sweeping categories above—and, frankly, much more controversial. They’re all from 2009 and are mostly products that seem to be obsolescent shortly after you buy them. They’re pairs—the “old” product and the new one that seems to make the old one less shiny.

What’s here? Apple’s iPhone 3G (people were annoyed because they were stuck with it for two years and the 3GS came out so soon); the Kindle 2 (because the Kindle DX came out so soon thereafter); “analog TV and digital TV”; “personal GPS and every cellphone”; “megapixels and more megapixels”—specifically in high-end Nikon DSLRs.

As you read the article, you see that it’s all bullshit. What Sorrel is really saying, in essentially every case (except for slicing into President Obama because the long-overdue shift to DTV wasn’t communicated well enough?), is “grow a pair.” He tells Apple 3G buyers to “Suck it up, and quit whining.” He says—correctly—that the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX “are quite different products” (he says the DX is “really too big to carry for most people”—but Sorrel doesn’t attack the iPad for being too large to carry and used this same “It sounds like a critique but it’s really a defense” approach in writing about the iPad); he seems to be making bizarre accusation about the DTV switch (“Most of the suppliers, and even the cable companies, are lying about the digital switch to get people to upgrade to unneeded new plans and equipment”); he seems to believe “every cellphone” has or will have GPS (Sorrel later assumes that everybody carries a smartphone)—and that cellphone GPS is a complete substitute for personal GPS units; and…well, I don’t know enough to comment on the Nikon DSLR issue.

This is, in the end, pure Wired: He’s calling buyers “stupid” if they’re complaining. The shiny always wins. Some commenters were less than thrilled, particularly with statements by Sorrel that assume he knows what everybody else is thinking. Oh, did I forget to mention that he throws in a casual slur about hillbillies and marrying cousins?

Don Reisinger has a legitimate “not so much” list at eWeek on May 14, 2010—“10 Products Microsoft and Apple Want Us to Forget About.” It’s equal-opportunity snark: He alternates between not-so-great offerings from Apple and Microsoft. How many of these do you remember? Apple Newton; Windows XP for Tablet Edition; Apple Pippin; Microsoft Bob; Apple III; Windows ME; Apple Lisa; Windows Vista; iPod Hi-Fi; Internet Explorer 6.

Catching Up with the OLPC XO

I never thought much of Nicholas Negroponte’s grand design for the One Laptop Per Child “$100 computer” (deliberate scare quotes, since the device was never available for anything close to $100), which seems to have been—or to be, if you prefer—an ideological crusade for a particular educational approach (“constructionist learning”) rather than a hardware effort. It certainly never came close to the original goals or even to Negroponte’s original statement as to the minimum orders needed to proceed with production.

Wired was behind it all the way. Given Negroponte and the notion that shiny technology will solve the world’s problems (third-world children apparently need cheap laptops a lot more than they need clean water and medicine, those boring things Bill Gates is working on), how could it be otherwise?

Chuck Lawton wrote “The XO Laptop Two Years Later: Part 1–The Vision” on June 19, 2009 at Wired’s GeekDad. He describes the “considerable splash” from Negroponte’s announcement, what happened when objective reviewers actually compared the XO-1 to netbooks—and the “considerable progress” that OLPC has made in “realizing their vision.”

(Digression: Lawton seems to handle the distinction between it’s and its by using the short version of “it is” even when he means “its” as a possessive. Well, that’s one way around the problem—and it’s not like Wired.com claims to use professional writers or anything. He does this a lot.)

Lawton’s approach is simple: Once you accept the stated mission of OLPC as the only criterion worth considering, the XO must be a success. It’s not “meant for us” (anybody with computer experience). “It isn’t a netbook, and it’s not meant to be compared to a Mac or PC.” He says it’s “a tool – a gateway – to creativity and experimentation, sharing and discovery…” If you were excited about a cheap laptop, you were missing the point. It’s about building an ecosystem.

Fair enough…in which case the obvious question is, “Is it working?” Here Lawton ducks the question. Yes, a few hundred thousand machines have been shipped, many of them because a few hundred thousand gadgeteers joined the buy-one get-one program. The vision that had governments thinking this was a good enough idea to order a million at a time? Not so much. And now, “the economic crisis” can be blamed for any shortfalls. In the end, apparently, if the vision is admirable, its failure doesn’t matter. The “future indeed looks bright” because the machine is designed around the vision. Here’s a telling point:

Netbooks have also been coming down in price matching that of the XO laptop, causing potential buyers to take pause before purchasing large quantities of XO laptops with a specialized user interface that focuses on learning.

Except that the point isn’t spelled out: The XO laptop is focused on one version of learning—whereas cheap netbooks could be used for any educational system, not just Negroponte’s version.

A month later, Lawton wrote Part 2, “A Look Back at the OLCP XO-1 and a Peek at the Road Ahead.” (Sigh: Still full of “it’s” for “its”—unfortunate for someone claiming to write about educational philosophy, I’d think.) He includes the minimalist specs (which do yield great battery life) and loves the “industrial design” such as the rabbit-ear lid latches and wi-fi antenna and the membrane keyboard (which prevents spillage and rain damage but would drive typists nuts). He admits that it’s really slow and that recorded video from its camera looks pretty awful, that the speakers are so soft that the music software’s almost useless and that some bundled applications are nearly impossible to use because of the screen’s resolution. (Good grief: here’s “as the menu’s are too difficult to read.” It’s not just “it’s.” The man desperately needs a proofreader.)

Ah, but of course, these problems all go away with the XO-1.5 and the XO-2…although, since OLCP has laid off half its staff, these may be slow to emerge. And Negroponte is moving the goalposts: Now he’s hot for “a no-cost connectivity program, a million digital books, and passing on the development of the Sugar Operating System to the community.” His statement refers to “the moral purpose” of OLPC. He’s immensely proud of the half-million kids around the world who have OLPC laptops; there’s a little less focus on demonstrable educational and societal benefits from those laptops.

(The third part of the three-part series seems to be about the Sugar OS…and that is a case of “either you get it or you don’t,” so I won’t attempt to comment.)

Looking at other OLPC-related items, it’s interesting that Negroponte’s announcement of the XO-2 has it as a $75 dual-screen device—presumably based on the solid techniques that yielded the $100 XO-1. (As I’ve noted too often, Negroponte can get away with this crap for the rest of his lifetime, because he’s A Guru and Never Wrong.) It’s clear that the XO-2 has disappeared in OLCP’s grand scheme of things before ever actually appearing.

Come December 2009, we have the XO-3, which Charlie Sorrel calls “A Crazy-Thin Tablet OLPC for Just $75.” Unlike Lawton, Sorrel calls the original XO-1 “a flop however you look at it” and labels the hardware “vaporware.” He calls it “essentially a giant iPod Touch for just $75.” Well, we now have the giant iPod Touch, roughly the size of the XO-3 concept…but it’s from Apple and it costs just a tad more than $75. (This is a surprisingly negative piece for Sorrel and Wired, but it’s just a short squib.) A Forbes piece targets the XO-3 for a 2012 release, long enough away to avoid close scrutiny—but the “specs” are interesting at best. The unit would have an 8GHz processor, use less than a watt of power , be 8.5x11 (all touch screen, no real keyboard)—but also be one-sixteenth of an inch thick. Makes the iPad seem awfully clunky by comparison, but then the iPad is an actual device that you can actually buy and one that has actual batteries in it. (Oh, the $75 XO-3 also has a camera. It could be powered by unicorn farts, for all I know.) I saw several news reports on the XO-3, including a statement from an OLPC official assuring us that four EU nations would have to buy XOs for all their children—and a fair number of the news reports treated it as a serious device.

Another digression: I had a couple of good items tagged from Industry Standard. Unfortunately, not only has it disappeared into InformationWorld, all tagged articles from it now lead to that site’s home page—and the original articles are not retrievable, as far as I can tell. Sigh. That’s twice I’ve had to wave goodbye to Industry Standard.

As for OLPC itself…the site’s still around, and although when I reached it at one point the most “recent news” was from August 2009, when I went back half an hour later it showed news from May 2010. Uruguay appears to have given an XO to every schoolchild. Has it been effective? That may be the wrong question to ask. It’s worth noting that Uruguay is hardly the kind of third-world country where getting any kind of educational tool into kids’ hands is a triumph: The nation has near-universal literacy; it’s not dirt-poor (roughly $12K GDP per capita)—it’s a strong, peaceful, secular, democratic developing nation with a strong educational system.

This discussion moves from OLPC as a set of products to OLPC as a philosophy and mission. It gets into issues of imperialism (should a bunch of Americans be telling African nations how to run their educational systems?), priorities (wouldn’t the money go a lot further founding local library/educational centers?) and more. I’ve tried reading some OLPC resources—its own blog, OLPC News, etc.—and really don’t know what (if anything) to conclude. Mark Warschauer makes a compelling case in “OLPC: How Not to Run a Laptop Program” (at Educational Technology Debate, edutechdebate.org/one-laptop-per-child-impact/), comparing OLPC’s model to netbook-based programs in the U.S. Here are key paragraphs from his own analysis of OLPC’s model and its results:

The results are entirely predictable, and have started to surface. A handful of inspiring examples, based on terrific efforts by a few innovative teachers or students and backed by armies of volunteers, are touted. But, when examining the broader implementation, we learn that without professional development or curriculum development, and with little of the infrastructure that makes computer use in schools effective, teachers for the most part ignore the computers, which thus go largely unused in schools.

As for home use of the laptops, children are initially very excited, but—again, apart from a few inspiring examples—they mainly use them to play simple games that do little else but displace time spent on homework or other forms of play. Within a year or two, the machines start breaking down and most families lack the means to repair them.

Meanwhile, huge amounts of money have been wasted that, with better planning, could have improved education in a myriad of ways.

The lengthy comments on that essay are worth reading. They’re not high-five “you da man” comments; they’re long, argumentative, generally thoughtful and taking many perspectives. It’s particularly interesting to hear from those who argue that it’s more important to give kids computers than it is to solve fundamental health problems.

Note that the essay is one of seven you’ll find at the URL provided above—the one that got the most comments. I suspect they’re all worth reading, but I’ll leave that to the educators among my readership.

Kiwifruit Make Lousy Grapefruits

Kevin C. Tofel’s actual title for this June 23, 2009 piece at GigaOm is “As Small Notebooks, Netbooks Largely Dash Expectations.” I’ve seen similar notes relating to Target—people who went there, thought “Gee, I can buy a notebook for $259,” and were disappointed by what they got. Tofel cites an NPD survey on netbooks “showing that many consumers are bewildered and disappointed with the gadgets.” The survey reached fewer than 600 netbook owners, to be sure, and may have typical survey limitations. (Netbooks sell by the tens of millions; according to market research groups, some 33 million were sold in 2009 alone.)

What the survey seems to show is not that netbooks are crap—but that people who buy them with unrealistic expectations are likely to be unhappy. So, for example, 60% of those surveyed “expected the device to have the same functionality as a notebook”—and, more bizarre, 65% of 18- to 24-year-olds (which might only be a hundred or so) “expected their netbook to perform better than a notebook.” [Emphasis added.] This translates to “some 18- to 24-year-olds are stunningly naïve or believe in magic.”

Tofel’s article is, I think, on the money: Netbook manufacturers and retailers need to clarify what they’re selling. Tofel speaks of “the three Ps”: portability, price and power efficiency. Particularly compared to budget notebooks (it makes more sense to compare a $300 netbook to a $500-$600 budget notebook than to a $1,200-$2,000 ultralight!), netbooks weigh a lot less (half to a third as much), last a lot longer on a charge…and cost a lot less. The tradeoff is that they’re not as powerful.

Some consumers clearly expect to get contemporary notebook performance from a netbook. That’s just not going to happen—and if that’s what you expect, you’re going to be disappointed. Worth noting: Tofel owns a netbook and likes it a lot—but as a third device, not as a desktop or notebook replacement.

To Wash or Not To Wash?

No, this isn’t about personal hygiene. I’m talking about solar panels (photovoltaic panels)—and it’s something we’re thinking about as the rainy season finally ends: Do we need to spray the panels down once in a while?

There’s a July 31, 2009 entry on The Official Google Blog that addresses this issue based on actual experience with Google’s modest little Mountain View installation (1.6MW, about 670 times the capacity of our rooftop system): “Should you spring clean your solar panels?” Google has two sets of solar panels: Flat ones on carports, tilted ones on rooftops—like ours. They analyzed the situation:

For flat panels—ones with no vertical tilt—“spring cleaning” makes sense. (In Google’s case, a sandy vacant lot opposite the carports doesn’t help; in our case, a big vacant field behind our lot doesn’t help.) Google cleaned the panels after they’d been operating 15 months…and energy output doubled. They cleaned the panels again eight months later…and output increased 36%. “We found that cleaning these panels is the #1 way to maximize the energy they produce.”

For tilted panels, Google found that rain does a good enough job, even though dirt accumulates in corners. (That may be less true for our panels, since they’re thin-film and essentially frameless.) So far, “cleaning tilted panels does not significantly increase their energy production.” Google figures the photovoltaic system will pay for itself in 6.5 years, a lot better than the 12 years you can reasonably hope for in a residential system. That may make sense: Google’s costs for inverters will be relatively lower, the huge installation should have been relatively cheaper per kilowatt—and a very high percentage of the Googleplex’s energy use must come at peak-energy-rate times, when photovoltaic is the most helpful.

Looking at the slides, it appears that cleaning tilted panels might be worth a 12% improvement—which, if you’re paying for professional cleaning, probably isn’t worth it.

Group Reviews and Editors’ Choices

PC World’s January 2010 survey of antivirus software covers standalone programs, with a sidebar on suites. This time around, G Data Antivirus (relatively cheap at $25) gets the Best Buy, although Symantec Norton AntiVirus 2010, Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2010 and BitDefender AntiVirust 2010 also get the same 4.5-star Superior rating.

A roundup of high-performance in-ear headphones in the January 2010 Sound and Vision necessarily relies on subjective evaluation (there aren’t any good objective test methods for in-ear headphones), but in this case the reviewer was using $1,150 custom-fitted Ultimate Ears UE11 Pro in-ear phones as the comparison point. While none of these ‘phones are cheap (and some of us aren’t thrilled by deep-in-the-ear ‘phones), they’re a lot cheaper than the custom ones: $250 to $450, with most in the $300 to $400 range. Four sets were good enough for S&V’s “Certified & Recommended” seal: the $400 Shure SE420s, Sennheiser’s $450 IE8, Ultimate Ears’ $400 TripleFi 10 and Etymotic Research’s $300 ER-4P MicroPro. The writer doesn’t declare a single winner for everybody’s taste—his own favorite is the Ultimate Ears (but it’s a little bass-heavy), with a tossup for others between the Etymotic and Sennheiser—and most of the less-expensive units are also very good.

PC World tests reasonably-priced Blu-ray players in the February 2010 issue, setting $300 as an upper limit. The test results in a Top 10, with some prices as low as $160. Oddly enough, that lowest price (and the #1 choice and Best Buy) is not a house brand—the Insignia in the test costs $180 (and comes in 10th). It’s a Panasonic DMP-BD60K, and does include some network streaming (but not Netflix OnDemand). Want great images and great streaming? Try the second-place unit, the $300 LG BD390.

A long PC World April 2010 roundup seems to suggest that “Windows 7 desktop” has more meaning than, say, “contemporary Windows desktop.” It’s eye-catching if essentially meaningless. The long article suggests the Dell Inspiron Zino HD ($250 to $557) as a compact unit mostly to serve up media; the $2,000 Sony VAIO L117FX/B as an all-in-one (which they suggest could “let you do away with your TV altogether” if you think a 24” display is all you need); a $7,000 Maingear Shift as a tower (essentially a “personal supercomputer” with a 4GHz Intel Core i7, two 80GB solid-state drives serving as “a boot drive” and a 2TB hard drive, three high-end graphics cards using 6GB graphics RAM... and enough free bays to add another 8TB of disk space)—and, for each category, some alternatives.

The April 2010 Home Theater reviews the current Sony PlayStation 3 (the more compact $300 version) and the $250 Sony BDP-N460 Blu-ray player. While the latter (available for $190 or less) is a solid player with lots of streaming-video options, the conclusion is that the PlayStation is a better deal, since it’s still one of the best and fastest Blu-ray players around…and you’re getting the game features for very little additional cost.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 10, Number 8, Whole Issue 131, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford.

This issue sponsored by the Library Society of the World (LSW).

Comments should be sent to waltcrawford@gmail.com. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2010 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by-nc/1.0 or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

URL: citesandinsights.info/civ10i8.pdf