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

Selection from Cites & Insights 8, Number 7: July 2008

Trends & Quick Takes

The HD Saga Continues

It seems unlikely that there will be enough (or interesting enough) activity regarding high-definition optical discs to warrant full essays in the future—but the fallout of Toshiba’s decision to stop producing HD DVD players continues.

I was surprised by the editorial slant of Home Theater’s April 2008 news-section coverage, which I can only describe as “bitter to the end.” Technically, this was written before Toshiba dropped the last shoe, but that doesn’t excuse coverage this slanted:

If this is truly the end, HD DVDs demise would be a tragedy for Toshiba, which would have benefited from a future torrent of licensing revenue, and for consumers, for whom the format is an excellent deal.

The writer (Mark Fleischmann) goes on to dismiss Blu-ray’s 66% greater disc capacity as “marginal” because HD DVD discs do a good job. He makes a big point that “there are more than a million HD DVD players in the field” (which doesn’t necessarily mean “sold”), but doesn’t note that there are more than ten million Blu-ray players, mostly in the form of PlayStation 3 consoles.

In the final paragraph, Fleischmann suggests that downloads could mean Blu-ray won’t do all that well either—which seems like sour grapes and undermines the “future torrent of licensing revenue” in the quoted material. As for the “excellent deal,” one has to wonder how long Toshiba could keep subsidizing player sales. The answer is, apparently, not long enough.

A followup in the May 2008 issue is also full of editorializing, referring to Blu-ray’s victory with the phrase “the fox is already in the henhouse” and, once again, stressing the million HD DVD players and completely ignoring the much-larger Blu-ray base. This time, Fleischmann also stressed the cost-effectiveness of HD DVD disc-making and the “expensive new manufacturing process” required for Blu-ray—which never resulted in HD DVD discs being cheaper than Blu-ray discs. This time Fleischman notes that the “marginal” difference in disc capacity is 66% (25 gigabytes per layer for Blu-ray, 15 for HD DVD).

Yardena Arar, the “Skeptical Shopper” at PC World, offers a refreshingly honest column in the April 2008 issue, reviewing services for downloading or streaming movies: “For true high-def movies, you need discs.” That says it all; the rest is details. You can get “lower-def high-def movies” from Comcast On Demand and, in the future, from others—but Arar’s looked at the results (“decent”) as compared to Blu-ray output: From the latter, “the films just plain look better.” As Arar points out, Netflix doesn’t charge “a dime extra” to send Blu-ray versions. Given the realities of bandwidth, she doesn’t see any quick change.

One Odd View of the Top Five Tech Trends

The April 2008 Sound & Vision devotes a fairly long article to “The top 5 tech trends for ’08,” calling these the technologies “that we guarantee…um think maybe will emerge as being significant over the next few years.” Oddly enough, given that Ken Pohlmann is the writer, all five trends have to do with TV.

Remembering “the next few years” and that these are trends for 2008, not for “from here to infinity,” here’s the list:

·      OLED TVs. Well, yes, there is one, from Sony—a magnificent picture by all accounts, “green,” and only $2,500—but it’s also only 11" diagonal. Since the article says OLED isn’t “ready to be a contender in the big leagues” and that the short life of blue OLEDs hasn’t been solved, the article even concludes that this won’t show up in family-size TVs “for another few years.” So how does it belong here? (I say that with regret: I’d love to have a big-screen OLED TV with its energy efficiency and expanded color spectrum, if the OLED would last at least 10,000 hours.)

·      Wireless video. The primary case here seems to be that you have lots of TVs in the house communicating with one or more players—but there’s nothing in the writeup to suggest that single standards have been adopted or that we’ll see it that rapidly.

·      4K Video. That’s right. Never mind that most people still don’t have proper 2K video (that is, full 1080p HDTV), at least not for most viewing. “4K is the real deal.” Forget what they said four years ago about HDTV being like looking through a window—nope, now that’s just tattered old stuff, and the difference is “impressive enough to encourage upgrades.” Oh, you’ll need a 300GB storage device for a single 4K movie. My own take on this being significant for consumers “in the next few years”? Not a chance.

·      Dolby HDR. Which stands for High Dynamic Range—using special techniques to increase the contrast range of HDTVs. This one’s already on the market, to some extent, in new LED-based LCD TVs that can dim the LEDs in portions of the screen. How many people are going to replace their HDTVs over the next few years to get better contrast? Your guess is as good as mine. Since there are no limits on consumer spending in this, the eternal boom, I wouldn’t venture to be skeptical.

·      3D TV: Right. There are, oddly enough, some HDTVs that can generate 3D images—if you add on the “sync transmitter” and those dorky glasses. The prognosis even says “The Next Big Thing? No.”

Well, this article is in an April issue…but it’s an awfully big chunk of the editorial content for the issue.

The Next 25 Years

PC World devotes several March 2008 articles to “25 this-or-that” to celebrate the magazine’s 25th anniversary. By now, you’ve probably heard most of these sure-fire projections, most of them far enough in the future that we’ll have safely forgotten if they don’t pan out.

No question marks here. Dan Tynan states flatly:

Technology will become firmly embedded in advanced devices that deliver information and entertainment to our homes and our hip pockets, in sensors that monitor our environment from within the walls and floors of our homes, and in chips that deliver medicine and augment reality inside our bodies.

You will have ubiquitous computing and be chipped in the future: It’s inevitable. If you read the full report and think about energy and resource limitations, you have to wonder—both how it is that we’re going to rebuild entire communities, from the ground up, in the next quarter-century, and also where the unlimited resources will come from. You might even think there’s a big leap from cochlear implants for hearing to implants that “let you receive data directly from the Net” or allow brain-to-brain communication—but that’s because you’re not with it.

Ten Most Annoying Online Ads

Not ten ads, but ten types of ads as enumerated in the March 2008 PC World. It’s a sprightly page-plus column by Tom Spring. Here are the types, with almost none of Spring’s fine commentary:

·      Old-school attention-grabbing ads. You know, the blinking, dancing things that try to distract you from the actual page?

·      Noisy ads. Any site that starts audio without my explicit request gets shut down pretty fast—and ads are worse.

·      Floating ads. Worse than the blinkers—the ones that take over the screen until you wait them out or manage to shut them down.

·      “Triple threat”—the floating video sales pitch, with audio and takeover.

·      Mouse-over land-mines. Turns out there’s a company, Vibrant Media, that provides technology so a site can display eight keyword popups linked to text—and these ones are hard to close too.

·      Viral ads, ones that you’re supposed to love enough to send to others.

·      Expanding ads. I just love these (and, yes, PC World runs them): Accidentally mouse into a regular rectangle and it expands to take over most or all of the browser window.

·      Personal/tailored ads: They’re getting more personal—and more annoying.

·      Malware-laced ads: Apparently common on MySpace, these are ads that don’t require explicit action to install Trojan horses or backdoor programs.

·      Bait, switch and infect ads: Ones leading to booby-trapped websites.

And to think I used to be offended by “advertorials,” particularly when they mimic the typeface and layout of the publication in general. I still am, but they’re innocuous by comparison.

Quicker Takes

Arno H.P. Reuser has an intriguing article, “When InterNET is InterNOT,” in the January/February 2008 ONLINE Magazine—but I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Reuser is a librarian with the Ministry of Defense in the Netherlands. His six “The Internet is NOT” points: international, easy, just Google, large, objective, anonymous. To some extent, it’s an elaborate extension of “Not everything is on the free web,” a point that most every ONLINE reader certainly understands. (There’s a lot more to the internet than the free web, to be sure, but you’d lose the cute article title.)

As to the individual assertions? Saying “the internet is not international” is both true and nonsensical. First, it confuses connectivity with resources (saying that Sierra Leone has few connections to the internet does not imply that the internet won’t have much in the way of resources from or about Sierra Leone); second, “international” and “ubiquitous” are two very different things. “Not easy” really means “you can get more out of it with expert techniques.” “Not just Google” is certainly true and important. “Not large” as compared to commercial vendors—well, that’s a tough issue (not helped by Reuser’s dismissal of “useless weblogs”), and it’s odd that Reuser nowhere mentions the significant fact that Google and other open web search engines (a) return somewhat meaningless result sizes, (b) won’t let you see the full set of results if it’s greater than 1,000. “Not objective”—the summary basically says that the web is like the rest of mankind’s achievements, “a mirror of the cultures, political systems, and human beings that compose it and use it.” The web comes from people; it is not Godlike. “Not anonymous”—largely true.

What the article is really saying is that librarians can outperform laypeople when retrieving information. Probably true. (I have mixed feelings about one anti-Google anecdote: Reuser asks students in a searching class about today’s weather and is bothered that half of them “actually start searching with Google to find some weather sites, instead of just looking out the window.” Well…if I look out the window, I can see that the part of the sky I’m looking at is clear blue. If I put “94040 weather” in the search box on Firefox (assuming I have the box set to Google or Live Search, not IMDB or, I can see that Mountain View in general is clear and 68 degrees, with an expected high of 72 degrees, and there’s a several-day forecast as well. If I’m already at my computer and connected, the web search is a rational act that yields more information than looking out the window.)

·      “Talk is cheap, but Word is expensive.” That’s how a PC World pitch for Jarte (a miniature word processor) begins—and, frankly, I’m getting tired of this routine. I don’t know about Jarte (it’s “free”—but if you want spellcheck and outlines, it’s $19, and the mini-review gives no sense of how much of Word’s power is missing), but I do know something about how expensive Word is. And, particularly given the power and (to my mind) improved ease of use of Word 2007, the answer is “not very”—particularly not as compared to, say $19. For a home with two computers, it’s $60-$75 per person—oh, and that includes Excel and PowerPoint. Three computers? $40-$50. Office Home & Student 2007 for three users costs $120 to $150. Even if you never use PowerPoint, most home users will use spreadsheets often enough that I’d call it reasonable to assert that Word costs around $30. If you prefer open source, great. Hmm. A little investigation suggests that Jarte probably has fairly robust editing capabilities—because it’s essentially a Wordpad overlay. Well, that’s one way to reduce Microsoft’s domination: Use their products. (A two-thirds-page article later in that same issue suggests that you “Forget Word!”—and advocates WordPad itself—especially if you don’t need such “advanced features” as smart quotation marks and tables. And word count. And global replacement showing counts. And…)

·      Poor Lance Ulanoff. Bad enough he called for a clear victory for HD DVD. Now, in the February 2008 PC Magazine, among other predictions (“2008 will be the year Apple falls back to earth” and “Facebook will fade in 2008), he’s got The Prognosis for the high-def war. It’s going to stall, dual-format players will proliferate, and in 2009 the teams will merge—leading to a single high-def format in 2010. Here’s my counter-prognosis: Dual-format players will fade away pretty rapidly. Yes, we’ll stop caring, because there will be a single high-def format in 2008. Ulanoff finally admitted he was wrong, a couple of months later.

·      On the other hand, while Ulanoff thinks people will get along fine with Vista by the end of the year, Jim Louderback—in the same issue—says it will “remain a bloated, unstable, unappealing, and slow system.” Huh? He also thinks we’ll all be involved with lots of social networks this year—oh, and that users will abandon Apple. Maybe both of these belong later in this issue…say right around the back pages

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 8, Number 7, Whole Issue 104, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network.

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