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

Selection from Cites & Insights 11, Number 1: January 2011

Interesting & Peculiar Products

Resistance is Futile?

I’ve written about the borgs among us before, specifically in one of my favorite “disContent” columns in EContent Magazine. Back then my prime examples of borgs were Bluetooth devices wearing people, apparently on a semi-permanent basis—specifically, devices that didn’t even allow their people to remove them while on a plane, where the cell phone itself couldn’t be used. (I’ve come to think of the devices as wearing the people, rather than the other way around.) And, as with those white earbuds wearing people, one characteristic of borgs is that they’re not really where they appear to be—they are, at least partially, in some version of Other. That’s why they tend to run into you on crowded walkways and, if you’re really unlucky, on the road: They’re not really here.

It may be getting a lot worse, if the Gurus of Augmented Reality have their way. Apparently, just looking at a cityscape or landscape is so 20th century: You should be staring at your permaconnection so it can tell you what’s interesting about what it sees through its camera. As Brian X. Chen put it in an August 25, 2009 post at Wired’s Gadget Lab, “If You’re Not Seeing Data, You’re Not Seeing.”

Clearly, Chen thinks the lead paragraph should be enticing:

As you shove your way through the crowd in a baseball stadium, the lenses of your digital glasses display the names, hometowns and favorite hobbies of the strangers surrounding you. Then you claim a seat and fix your attention on the batter, and his player statistics pop up in a transparent box in the corner of your field of vision.

Your reaction to that future may say a lot about whether you’re a borg-in-waiting or a potential member of The Resistance (futile as we may be). Way back in August 2009, you couldn’t get anything close to the “perfectly augmented world” that the article touts—you had to settle for, you know, ads, because spending five minutes without ads would be so dreary. Since I neither have nor much crave a smartphone, chances are I’ll be one of the last to be absorbed into this future—with luck, I might be absorbed into the ground first. There are definitely worthwhile uses for augmented-reality technologies, in assistive technology and elsewhere. As a ubiquitous part of daily life? Shudder.

I should note a February 13, 2010 Technology Review article on “Augmented Identity” touting an app that “makes it possible to identify people and learn about them just by pointing your phone.” The prototype software, Recognizr, has one big virtue: You can’t be identified unless you’ve opted in by uploading a photo and profile of yourself. You can probably count me out. (As one commenter notes, what’s to stop somebody else from taking your picture and “volunteering” you to participate—particularly, say, a mean-spirited ex-lover or ex–friend?)

USB 3.0 Arrives

Do you have applications where USB 2.0 is a bottleneck? I must admit I don’t, but I also don’t have half-terabyte backups or lots of video stuff. If you’re frustrated by the snail’s pace of USB 2.0 (a mere 480 mb/s or 60 mB/s), you might be waiting for USB 3.0, which can theoretically handle 5 gigabits per second (that is, 5000 mb/s or 625 mB/s).

A May 2010 PC World writeup covers four early USB 3.0 hard drives. They’re not particularly expensive—what consumer hard disks are? They run $180 for a 1TB Seagate to $240 for a 2TB Iomega. (The Seagate’s a 5400RPM drive; the others—the Iomega and two $200 units, a 1.5TB Buffalo and 1TB Western Digital—are all 7200RPM.) The 7200RPM units are fast, reading 3.7GB of files in 39 to 40 seconds and copying 3.7GB of files in 55 to 57 seconds. The article finds that the drives all work noticeably faster running USB 3.0 than running FireWire 800 (which has a transfer rate of, you guessed it, 800mb/s) and anywhere from twice to 3.5 times as fast as USB 2.0. Ten times as fast? Not in these applications. Of course, if you have a notebook computer, you may be out of luck until you upgrade. For desktops, you can buy an adapter card for $30. USB 3.0 also consumes less power than USB 2.0.

Reading Those Diskettes?

Given up on reading microdiskettes (the hard-shell 3.5" diskettes)? So have I—but if you’re a data archaeologist, you have to go back to true floppies—diskettes with exposed media. The real pioneers were 8" and came in a bewildering variety of incompatible physical formats, but more stuff is probably on 5.25" minidiskettes. (I still have dozens of Tyvek sleeves for minidiskettes and boxes to store them in—mostly because they’re nearly the perfect size to house 12cm discs—CD-Rs and DVDs and the like.)

Jason Scott offers a “Review of the FC5025 5.25" Floppy to USB Adapter” at ASCII on February 18, 2010—and if you have the need to read some of these very old diskettes, you should read the review. The device comes from Device Side Data, it sells for “roughly $60” and it’s only part of what you need: It comes with software to translate many old diskette formats, the USB adapter and a circuit board—but not the 5.25" drive itself. So unless you have a working drive or can find one, it’s not that much help. Scott also mentions in passing that there are a number of external 3.5" drives with USB cables, costing $50 to $200; he recommends buying the cheapie.

Life Recorders

“Life Recorders May Be This Century’s Wrist Watch.” That’s the headline on Michael Arrington’s September 6, 2009 TechCrunch item—and it may be another one where your reaction to the first paragraph says a lot about you:

Imagine a small device that you wear on a necklace that takes photos every few seconds of whatever is around you, and records sound all day long. It has GPS and the ability to wirelessly upload the data to the cloud, where everything is date/time and geo stamped and the sound files are automatically transcribed and indexed. Photos of people, of course, would be automatically identified and tagged as well.

The idea isn’t new; one Microsoft researcher has been “lifeblogging” for many years, presumably yielding the vision in the second paragraph:

Imagine an entire lifetime recorded and searchable. Imagine if you could scroll and search through the lives of your ancestors.

Arrington thinks he would wear such a device—and sees them “becoming as ubiquitous as wrist watches were in the last century.” He raises and immediately dismisses the privacy issue. And, as you’d expect from Arrington, he doesn’t phrase the issue as whether you (all of you) will wind up with this “never forget anything” dystopia, but when:

But these devices are coming. And you have to decide if you’ll be one of the first or one of the last to use one.

How about “never”? Will that work for you? He included a poll that yielded 5,322 votes (so far), with a bizarrely even outcome that may reflect TechCrunch’s readership: 49.64 said “Of course I would. Recording my whole life is a dream come true” while 50.36%—36 more—said “Uh, no. Hell no.”

As for wristwatches? Guess what: Lots of young people wear them and lots of those watches have analog dials.

Finding “Duplicate” Images

Here’s an interesting idea: MindGem’s $25 Visual Similarity Duplicate Image Finder. It looks for duplicate filenames across a set of folders you specify—but it also looks at the images, even when they’re in different formats, to consider similarity. Once it’s done, it shows you a list of images it thinks are duplicates or very similar, rates their similarity and lets you compare them and delete ones that are actually redundant. You can try it for free, but the freebie won’t actually delete files.

Format Wars Redux

Anders Bylund wrote “The format wars: of lasers and (creative) destruction” on…well, “last updated 11 months ago” as of December 10, 2010, so “sometime in January 2010” at ars technica. It should be a brief history of “format wars”—e.g., why VHS defeated Betamax in the consumer marketplace (Betamax stayed around a lot longer in the professional environment) and how long that took (about a decade), the odd wars in large-format videodiscs (which get no coverage to speak of), the “war” in which DVDs mostly eliminated VHS (except you can still buy DVD player/VCR combos, you can still buy blank VHS and S-VHS cassettes, and lots of libraries still circulate VHS), and the very brief Blu-ray/HD DVD “war.” It has a little of that, but it’s curiously free of facts in many cases, such as how long it actually took for DVDs to become more popular than VHS (a lot longer than you might remember).

Because this is really another “physical media are dead, dead, dead, and the sooner the better” article and another case in which ars technica derides Blu-ray without apparently understanding it. The author seems to think almost nobody can see the difference between Blu-ray and DVD anyway, and of course Everybody Knows Streaming Conquers All. So it’s a little disappointing. The 99 comments are interesting—I’d say at least two-thirds of them are from people who damn well can see the difference and are aware that most of us aren’t going to have 30mbps broadband in the near future. When some others say “but most people don’t care,” the answer is what it should be: If there are tens of millions who do care, it would be crazy of studios to shut down Blu-ray production just because there are even more who don’t.

Desktop Touch Screens

Having poked at Michael Arrington and TechCrunch earlier, I should note “Why Desktop Touch Screens Don’t Really Work Well for Humans,” posted October 12, 2009. He’s looking at HP’s TouchSmart all-in-one desktops with touch screens, and even uses one. (He says the TouchSmart weighs “something like 60 lbs.,” which seems a bit bizarre unless that big screen is a lot bigger than it looks, but never mind…)

Although he uses one he says

the machine is still all wrong. Anyone who has used one for a long time will tell you that they quickly revert to using the keyboard and mouse. And it isn’t because of the software or touch technology—both are fine.

The problem is that you get tired keeping your hands up and on the screen for a long period of time. Touch experts I’ve spoken with say it’s because your hands are above your heart, which isn’t comfortable for very long.

Which sounds exactly right to me—not necessarily the “hands above the heart,” but the strangeness of dealing with a touch screen at that distance and in that form, at least for very long. I even wonder whether a touch screen on a notebook would work well in the long run.

Ah, but this is Arrington and TechCrunch. After noting that Microsoft’s Surface computer (a low table with touch technology) works well, he says the proper layout for a desktop touch machine is an architect’s desk—a slightly inclined desktop that is a touch screen for your computer. And then:

With the advances in touch technology most users won’t need any peripheral input device (keyboard, mouse, etc.) to be productive on inclined desktop touch screen machine.

I view the urge to dismiss physical keyboards as old-fashioned with some of the same bemusement that I view the urge to get rid of print books. Maybe “productive” for Arrington doesn’t involve lots of text and data entry, but for me it does—and a physical keyboard with tactile response is by far the best way to do that.

QUEed Up?

Plastic Logic has been around since 2000 and, according to Wikipedia, has more than $200 million in funding. It’s got great promises, primarily of superthin large flexible displays—and the QUE proReader, with an 8.5x11” screen, tough enough so you can drop it, weighing less than a pound, able to read almost any kind of document…and with battery life in days.

It was supposed to ship in 2009. It didn’t. Then it was supposed to ship in the summer of 2010. Robert Boer devoted his July/August 2010 “info insider” column in EContent Magazine to the QUE, mentioning that he’d been following it for more than a year, noting its many virtues and ending with this paragraph:

Yet even if QUE meets all my e-reader requirements, will it suffer the Betamax fate—a superior product that couldn’t win sufficient market share? The QUE is indeed new and appealing, but technology waits for no product. The clock is ticking.

Fast Company even gave it a great writeup in a comparison of different ereaders, even if the $650 price seemed a bit high. And Fast Company’s writeup seemed to be of a shipping product.

Not so fast. In August 2010, Plastic Logic announced that it was focusing on a second-generation reader. In other words, the QUE that had never shipped was already abandoned. Did it ever exist outside of prototypes? Only Plastic Logic knows. This isn’t a Betamax situation. It’s worse. Betamax shipped before VHS and continued for a decade (much longer in professional circles).

It’s a Slate! It’s an Ereader!

It’s the $500 Entourage Edge—which, according to an August 2010 PC World review—combines an oversize (9.7”) touch E-ink screen with, on a hinge, a 10.1” touchscreen LCD. According to the review, it’s basically a “large smartphone” and really too bulky for most uses. The review is three of five stars: Good but far from great.

Convergent vs. Dedicated

The Entourage is a strange hybrid convergence device—and Steven Harris had a pretty good take on one of those silly “versus” situations in this October 18, 2009 post at Collections 2.0.

Convergent vs dedicated is an endless question when we talk about digital devices. Specialization or jack-of-all-trades. Roy Tennant said recently that the single-purpose e-book reader was “dead, dead, dead.” Convergent devices are often seen as “killers” of the specialized. But over the past 10 years I’ve found that not to be the case.

Harris is decidedly technophilic—he first started shopping for a PDA in 1999 and owned two generations of Compaq’s iPAQ. (Remember Compaq’s iPAQ?) He’s looked for a do-everything machine—and thought he had one in a Treo. But, as he found, the do-everything device usually doesn’t do everything very well. The Treo didn’t have enough screen space for easy reading and didn’t take very good photos. He wound up buying two digital cameras, a point-and-shoot and a DSLR.

I think cameras are a good example of how the do-everything device doesn’t always win. Virtually all cellphones now days have a built-in camera. Yet people continue to buy single-purpose digital cameras. That is because they have functions and features that are difficult to cram into the small space of an all-in-one device. And people sometimes want to take a picture that is better than the fog and blur of a cameraphone photo. Performance matters. Video cameras like the Flip also continue to be successful despite the ability of many phones to do video. Televisions are another single-purpose device that continue to sell, even though people can watch TV on their computer. A big television screen is better.

There’s more to this pre-iPad discussion (he notes the likelihood of an Apple tablet computer). The iPad was supposed to be an instant KindleKiller, an inevitability that hasn’t quite worked out so far. He doesn’t note that feature phones continue to outsell smartphones by a considerable margin, but he does note that some people still buy phones that just make phone calls.

It isn’t and shouldn’t be either-or, which makes particularly silly the notion (I’ve seen advanced by some gurus) that all devices inevitably become full-fledged multipurpose computers. Why should they?

Just looking at the American market, there are doubtless tens of millions of people who would never buy a camera but might take an occasional snapshot with a cell phone (smart or otherwise) and be happy with the results—but also tens of millions for whom a separate camera is precisely the right device. The same with iPads and Kindles and, well, you name it. Some people happily give up performance for convergence (or choose convergence because it’s The Right Thing To Do); others pick and choose, preferring dedicated devices for some things, multipurpose elsewhere. One size never really did fit all, and that’s even truer for technology than for clothing.

Blu-ray in Libraries

Guess what? Blu-ray didn’t die; in fact, it’s being adopted at a faster rate than DVDs were, relative to the introduction of the medium. With falling prices, an increasing tendency to bundle Blu-ray plus DVD plus a version you can use on a portable player into a single box that’s a few bucks more than a DVD and the fact that Blu-ray players now cost $120 or less…well, it’s not surprising that the supermarket DVD racks around here devote about one-third of the space to Blu-ray. They’re not doing that because nobody wants the discs.

Jeff T. Dick has an interesting article at Library Journal, dated November 15, 2009: “Bracing for Blu-ray.” It includes a survey of some public and academic libraries—and even in April 2009, 11% of academic and 12% of public libraries were circulating Blu-ray Discs. I’d guess the rate is considerably higher now, and it probably should be.

Streaming isn’t going to replace Blu-ray any time soon, not for patrons who appreciate the difference in visual quality between DVD and Blu-ray. The infrastructure isn’t there for mass adoption of streaming at that rate. Almost nobody has the required broadband (at least 20 megabits per second, preferably 30). I have yet to see an honest review that showed even the best streams as being close to Blu-ray quality. For a community-oriented library to say “Screw Blu-ray, everybody’s going to stream” is on a par with saying “We’re not buying any more print books, since everybody’s switching to ebooks.” Not true, and a dangerous attitude.

Maybe this is the right place to say a few words about Grady Hendrix’ “Boxed In,” posted at Slate on December 1, 2009, with the page title “Don’t give DVD box sets as gifts” (Slate has a bizarre habit of using different page names and titles for stories) and subtitle “Giving someone a TV series on DVD is like giving them a life sentence.” I’m not sure whether the article’s a joke or not. It seems to imply that having a boxed set of a series requires you to engage in marathon viewing sessions. Which is…well, maybe the article’s a joke. I agree with the statement “Television episodes were never meant to be viewed in rapid-fire order,” and that’s why we don’t watch series on DVD that way (and don’t recommend it). It’s really easy to put a big Post-it® note on the box and check off episodes as you go, say one episode a week (our usual practice), with other stuff in between.

The piece also allows Hendrix to turn up his nose at TV series that don’t meet his critical approval. “Is the arrival of Jake and the Fat Man on DVD a sign that perhaps we’ve overpreserved? Isn’t a 42-disc set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman taking things just a bit too far?” Not if you happen to love those series (I’m not among that company). And since nobody’s forcing Hendrix to watch them, he should butt out. If the article’s a joke, it’s strangely deficient in humor; if it’s not, it’s strangely deficient in sense.

Windows 7 on a 1999 PC?

Yep. A “Geektech” piece in the November 2010 PC World notes that they were going through their warehouse and spotted a “My Favorite PC” budget PC dating from January 1999—noting that this was a budget PC way back then. The piece doesn’t mention the CPU name, but it’s a 400MHz unit; given the date, it’s likely that it was a Pentium-II or Pentium-III. Oh, they had to do a couple of upgrades, swapping out 32MB of RAM for 512MB and junking the 512MB hard disk (yes, that’s right, 512 megabytes) for a 160GB drive. But after that, they plugged it in, updated the BIOS, and installed Windows 7 Starter.

And it runs. Not real rapidly—“the 400MHz processor spent days chugging through Firefox and Microsoft Office tests that take 6 to 8 hours on a new budget PC”—but it ran. It completed WorldBench 6, earning a 5. (A typical 2010 budget desktop scores around 100.) This is on an 11-year-old CPU with half a gig of RAM.

My Favorite PC? That was the brand name. No, I haven’t either.

Chrome OS

Since the previous item discusses an operating system indirectly, this may be the place to mention Chrome OS—or at least some posts about it from more than a year ago. Start with a November 10, 2009 story by Jon Stokes at ars technica, “Chrome OS: Internet failing at PC > PC failing at Internet.” That came a day after Google’s big press event where it introduced Chrome OS. The piece is typical of ars technica at its best, describing the OS carefully and clearly (it may be open sourced, but it “will support only a limited number of Google-blessed devices and peripherals”). It says a Chrome OS device will be “closer in many ways to a smartphone than…to a netbook.” All user data lives in the cloud (to Stokes, the lack of a file system is a plus). Stokes wonders whether a device with even less capability than a netbook has much future—and notes that the key indicator isn’t the burgeoning sales of netbooks but whether those sales are for cloud devices or cheap Windows devices. (With the low requirements and apparent success of Windows 7 Starter, that’s probably a more significant question now than it was in November 2009.) As I read the conclusion, Stokes seems to be saying that The Future is The Cloud, giving Chrome OS a real shot.

A somewhat less favorable look came on November 20 from InfoWorld: Randall C. Kennedy’s “Why Chrome OS will fail—big time.” Kennedy doesn’t much care for Linux (the foundation for Chrome OS), calling it “a minefield of buggy code and half-baked driver implementations.” He’s not wild about using a browser as the user interface. Mostly, though, he regards it as inflexible and says, “The world won’t buy an inflexible OS.” He doesn’t think most users are ready to compute entirely in the cloud. (The first comment promises $50 tablets by the end of 2011 and calls Kennedy “a computing dinosaur and completely out of touch.” That set the tone for the rest of the comments, many of which flatly state that Kennedy is a paid shill for Microsoft.)

Know who gets Chrome OS in one? Phil Bradley. His November 22, 2009 post embeds a three-minute video explaining Chrome OS but also has one paragraph of text, of which the key portion is this: “Google ChromeOS turns your computer into a dumb terminal. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but that's essentially what's happening.”

How has Chrome OS done since then? A year after the full press event (the original announcement came in July 2009), there must be a bunch of Chrome OS tablets, right? Cue Wikipedia, which as of December 10, 2009 calls Chrome OS “a forthcoming Linux-based, open source operating system…” [Emphasis added.] The article says the launch date has slipped to “by some reports, mid-2011.” A December 7, 2010 ars technica piece by Ryan Paul describes a same-day Google press briefing demonstrating Chrome OS—but seeming to conflate it with the Chrome browser. Google is passing out a few “unbranded test units” to show what Chrome OS devices can do. It’s fair to say Paul isn’t absolutely convinced: “it's difficult to see the appeal of Chrome OS compared to simply using the Chrome browser on top of Ubuntu, for example, which would give users the added advantages of a native computing environment.”

…and Speaking of Windows 7

Windows 7 was introduced in October 2009. After two months on the market, it already had almost 6% market share (more than Mac OS X), a level that Vista hadn’t reached after five months. According to NetMarketShare, as of December 10, 2010 Windows 7 has passed Vista and has about 20% of the market to Vista’s 12.6%. XP still leads with nearly 58%; Mac OS X, all versions, comes to 5%—and, if you’re wondering, Linux isn’t quite 1%.

The Trouble with DVRs

Now that we finally have a superb HDTV at home, I’d love to have a digital video recorder. We don’t watch a lot of broadcast TV—eight shows or 7.5 hours a week when everything’s on—but we care about what we watch and hate to miss episodes. Our S-VHS VCR, while it faithfully records analog TV with no apparent loss of video quality, isn’t up to high-def standards. Nor does it claim to be. (To my pleasant surprise, the video passthrough on coax in and out is up to high-def standards: It passes the full bandwidth with no degradation.)

So what’s the problem? I’m not wild about TiVo’s monthly program fee, but could handle that. But there’s this—something I suspected that’s affirmed in an October 2010 PC World article where the writer’s discussing “vampire power” (or “parasitic power”), power used by devices that appear to be off. He notes that his DVR “burns a frightening 53 watts in standby”—and DVRs must be left in standby or on all the time to perform properly. For us, that would mean 464 kilowatt-hours a year or about 39 per month, assuming that it’s consumption when “on” is about the same (as it probably is). That would be significantly more than a 10% increase in our entire household electrical usage…for a device we’d probably need one or two hours a month. I’m also not wild about having a hard disk running 24 hours a day, but that’s secondary.

Build a DVR for people who don’t watch a lot of TV—one that turns itself on once a day to download programming updates and is otherwise only on if you schedule a program. Standby shouldn’t be more than half a watt. I’d be interested. Otherwise, not so much.

Wisdom Audio Sage L100i

This speaker system, reviewed in the October 2010 Home Theater, takes in-wall speakers to what might be a logical extreme if you don’t have the money or space to build a dedicated home cinema room. The front speakers are 52” tall and 8” wide but less than 4” deep and designed for in-wall installation—did I mention that there are two of these tall, slender panels for each channel? (One has a 48” planar magnetic speaker, the other has eight 6” woofers.) There’s an in-wall center speaker, the same dimensions but apparently three enclosures (with twice as many woofers), a subwoofer, and surround speakers similar to the front speakers but with a single 80”-tall enclosure and only four of those 6” woofers. And the amplifiers and controllers you need for this complex set of speakers: the woofers and planar tweeters require separate amplification.

They apparently sound great, and other than the surround speakers and subwoofer, they can be nearly invisible. The reviewer calls the sound “jaw-dropping.” There are no measurements, unusual for speaker reviews in this magazine, so you must take it on faith. There is one issue. The set costs a trifling $88,500 (not including surround processor, sources, video components, screen and installation). These being speakers, I am not prepared to say they’re obviously overpriced…particularly given the problems involved in making high quality speakers disappear. I’ll never own speakers like these, but for some folks they may be a bargain.

Editors’ Choices and Roundups

The July 2010 PC World looks at a lot of netbooks and finds five winners, depending on your needs. Lenovo’s $369 IdeaPad S10-3 gets honors for best design, although it’s a little pricey for what you get. Gateway’s $350 LT2118u has the best battery life—11 hours 17 minutes in the magazine’s tests. If you’re on a budget, the $299 Asus Eee PC 1001P-MU17 is a winner, mostly for its “Express Gate” instant-on OS. HP’s $729 Mini 5102 is called best for business, but to my mind, $729 takes it out of the netbook category. The $480 Asus Eee PC 1201N is described as best for entertainment—but with a 12” screen and near-$500 price, I also wonder whether it’s really a netbook. Notably, it’s also 3.2 pounds (the others range from 2.6 to 2.8 pounds).

A May 2010 PC World roundup of desktop PCs gives the highest rating to the $4,199 CyberPower Black Pearl—but the Best Buy goes to HP’s $1,434 Pavilion HPE-170t. Based on the “good” graphics rating and “fair’ overall design rating for the HP, I’m not so sure.

What’s the status of security suites? According to PC World as of May 2010, the two “superior” suites are Norton Internet Security 2010 and Kaspersky Internet Security 2010—but the Best Buy goes to a lower-rated suite, PC Tools Internet Security 2010. PC Tools is $50/year for three computers; Norton—the top rating—is $70.

A September 2010 PC World article claims to “reveal which browser is the fastest, the safest, and the most powerful tool for the Web.” It’s an odd set of comparisons—one with some built-in biases (e.g., Firefox’s interface “feels dated” compared to competitors). The article says Google Chrome has the best user interface and best security, Firefox has the best extensions, and Chrome is fastest and has the best JavaScript handling. Guess which one they recommend? I should note that speed differences between Chrome 5, IE 8, Firefox 3.6 and Safari 5 were all minor—except that IE is slow on JavaScript. A sidebar about HTML5 says it’s “the future of the web” but also says the spec won’t be finalized for “another 12 years or so.” Twelve years?

Over on the audio side, the October 2010 Sound+Vision reviews four soundbar systems with distinctly different characteristics and prices. At the low end, Boston Acoustics’ TVee Model 20 costs a mere $300, which gets you a two-channel powered soundbar and a powered wireless subwoofer. It appears to offer pretty good performance for the price. Aperion Audio’s SLIMstage 30 soundbar is designed to simulate surround sound, with six speakers to handle four channels (plus a subwoofer) and its own surround decoding and surround synthesis. It also includes a headphone output jack, which may be more useful for some of us than the reviewer believes. The price? $800. KEF’s HTF8003 soundbar had three front channels but no amplifier, so you need a receiver or amplifier as well. The soundbar alone costs $800, but the provided subwoofer is another $1,250. Finally, Yamaha’s YSP-4100/YST-SW15 combo uses 40 little tweeters (and two midrange drivers) to simulate surround sound; it runs a cool $2,200 total. If size is an issue, any of these will fit beneath most big-screen TVs: The two pricey ones are 37 to 40” wide, while the two less expensive units are 31” wide.

Another PC World “best for this kind of user” roundup appears in the November 2010 issue, this time reviewing one-piece PCs, of which there are many more than there used to be. The choices? For your home office, the $1,100 Lenovo ThinkCenter M90z (Core i5 CPU, 4GB RAM, 500GB disk, 23” display). For your living room, HP’s $1,800 TouchSmart 600 Quad (Core i7, 6GB RAM, 1TB hard disk, Blu-ray, 23” display). In the kitchen, HP’s $780 All-in-One 200-5020 (Pentium Dual Core, 4GB RAM, 500GB disk, 21.5” display). Your “cash-strapped student” can get by with Acer’s $1,000 AZ5700-U2112 (Core i5, 4GB RAM, 1TB hard disk, 23” screen)—but your “gaming tween” deserves the $1,400 Lenovo IdeaCentre 8500 (Core 2 Quad, 4GB RAM, 1TB disc, Blu-ray, nVidia GeForce GTS 250M graphics…and, oddly, no indication of the size of the 1920x1080 display). What about iMac? With no Blu-ray, TV tuner, HDMI or eSata, it’s too pricey and underconfigured for the discussion, although it is fast and gorgeous “if you’re a fan of brushed metal.”

The November 2010 Sound+Vision reviews three 3D Blu-ray players, all costing $250. All three—from LG, Panasonic and Sony—do a great job with Blu-ray, but differ in other areas. LG’s BX580 includes wifi and streams lots of things but doesn’t do a great job upscaling regular DVD. Panasonic’s DMP-BDT100 is WiFi-ready (add a $70 or so adapter to make it work) and has slightly fewer streaming options, but it does a great job of upconversion, has good picture enhancement and works rapidly. Finally, Sony’s BDP-S770 has wifi and loads of streaming, and adds SACD support—but it’s not quite as good with DVDs as the Panasonic.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 11, Number 1, Whole # 136, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford.

Comments should be sent to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2011 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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