Interesting & Peculiar Products
What else can I say about Toshiba’s $600 RD-XS32 combination PVR and DVD burner? It comes with an 80GB hard disk and VCR Plus+, and it writes to DVD-R, DVD-RW or DVD-RAM (but not DVD+R/RW). Here’s what’s amazing, according to the blurb in Sound & Vision 69:3: “Transferring shows from the hard disk to DVD is fast work—24x speed for DVD-R/RW and 12x for DVD-RAM.” Given that the fastest media for DVD-R/RW support 8x recording, that’s nothing short of amazing. (On reflection, it is possible—if you’re recording shows at the lowest quality, worse than VHS.)
In Cites & Insights 4:6, I grumbled about a “movie server” that could serve up to 160 DVD images from hard disk, for a mere $27,000 (roughly nine times as much as the DVDs cost). The April 2004 Sound & Vision offers a slightly less snazzy device for considerably less than one-tenth the price—but this time, the reviewer says it’s “expensive for features provided.”
Maybe so. What the FireBall does is pass through information from other devices. More specifically, you can connect up to three DVD/CD megachangers (e.g., Sony makes units that hold 400 DVDs/CDs) and the FireBall will catalog all of the disks (via a needed internet connection). Since Ken Pohlmann (the reviewer) is a fanboy for digital convergence, he loves the idea—but admits that $1,999 may be a little much. Maybe not: If you actually have 1,200 DVDs and store them all in monster changers, I suspect a device like this makes sense.
I think this one’s interesting, if not particularly revolutionary. Today’s computer stores don’t have enough shelf space for any but the biggest programs and games. This kiosk can stock some 1,500 software titles from 240 publishers. You look over what you want, decide on a package, and make the purchase decision. The machine gives you an order receipt; you take that to a sales clerk, who produces a CD-R and gives you a packaged CD with the vendor’s custom label and printed case. For packages too hefty for reasonable downloads and too obscure to garner shelf space, this could make sense. It’s being test-marketed in a couple dozen CompUSA stores, and should be in all of them by this fall. (Information from PC World 22:5)
PC Magazine 23:8 (May 4, 2004) has a good roundup, “Play as you go,” covering nine flash memory players and three current hard-drive miniplayers. Top honors among the flash players—some of which, I believe, can be used equally well as “keychain drives” for general-purpose file storage—is the $160 iRiver iFP-390T, a ruvey little device that can rip MP3s directly from your stereo, has a built-in microphone, and includes an FM tuner. It’s appropriately tiny (3.5x1.5x1.0", 2.1oz) and has 256MB capacity—but it doesn’t show up as a drive when you plug it in, so it’s not a general-purpose storage device. They got just over 13 hours of playback on a single AA nickel-hydride battery. The three hard-drive units are all smaller, lower-capacity devices than the 15GB-and-up units, but the result is pretty much the same: Editors’ Choice goes to Apple’s $249 iPod Mini. It seems like an expensive unit given its 4GB capacity as compared to the $299 15GB iPod, but it’s cute and small: 3.6x2.0x0.5", 3.4oz. On the other hand, using iTunes to rip CDs stinks when compared to MusicMatch (much slower and you have to play the CD), and you’ll get around 7 hours of battery life.
Sony is on the verge of releasing two DVD+R DL drives, a $230 internal and $330 external. These drives can record to new dual-layer DVD+Rs blanks—which, like dual-layer pressed DVDs, offer a bit less than twice the capacity of a single-layer disc. The little PC Magazine story claims “4 hours of MPEG-2 video or 2,000 songs” and ends with this sentence: “And the fact that two feature-length movies will fit on one disc could draw the interest of pirates and the ire of entertainment companies.” Except that most Hollywood DVDs these days already use two layers for a single movie—and true pirates either have access to DVD pressing facilities or are perfectly willing to overcompress movies to get more on a disc. What the dual-layer DVD+R could mean for movies, if 321 Studios is able to find a legal way to sell its backup software, is that you could make a personal backup copy of a typical Hollywood movie without losing special features. But that’s a very big if.
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