Interesting & Peculiar Products
You may not care about high-resolution multichannel sound recordings (other than multichannel soundtracks on DVD movies). Most consumers apparently don’t, and the record publishers aren’t nearly as committed to either or both formats (DVD-Audio and SACD) as they claim to be. Record stores don’t want the headaches of multiple formats.
One answer for SACD has been stealth discs—Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, and other restored reissues of important recordings that come out in a single form with two layers. One layer’s just a CD and that’s what most people (and libraries) think they’re buying. The other layer is SACD, with or without multichannel. These discs typically sell for CD prices and underplay the SACD connection. They solve the record store stocking problem (only one format) and finesse the copy-protection problem: SACD is copy-protected, CD isn’t. (I can live with that level of DRM.)
So what about DVD-Audio? It really hasn’t done well, even though it can offer video clips along with multichannel high-resolution sound. The four big record companies are trying to move things along with DualDisc, a “flipper disc.” A DualDisc is a slightly thin CD on one side and a DVD on the other; the DVD side could be DVD-Audio, surround sound in DVD-Video format, or regular video.
Oddly enough, even Sony Music is involved, although Sony developed SACD and is a strong proponent of that format. Indeed, Sony’s DualDiscs won’t have DVD-Audio on the DVD side, just DVD-Video surround sound. For high-res, you buy an SACD.
DualDiscs (which should be on the market as you read this) will be packaged in CD-size jewel boxes, not DVD-size longboxes, and priced similarly to CDs. You may have noticed that many music DVDs are cheaper than CDs by the same groups, even though they may have twice as much music in concert or music video form. Of course, you can’t rip that music to MP3 form without special and legally questionable software; that may make DualDiscs more desirable.
The thinner CD layer can’t handle 72 or 80 minutes of music: It’s limited to a total time of 60 to 65 minutes. The CD side of a DualDisc isn’t really a CD because it’s thinner. The CD Red Book requires a minimum of 1.1mm for a CD; the CD side of a DualDisc is 0.9mm thick. The DVD side is even thinner, 0.6mm. Philips says casual dirt causes a lot of failures when playing the CD side. The CD logo will not appear on DualDiscs; Philips insists on that. (Philips and Sony own the CD and SACD patents.) Some players may not handle the CD side very well.
And, of course, there’s the same problem as with all double-sided optical discs: No real label area and some confusion as to which side is which. For libraries, there’s the added complication that there’s really nowhere to put a security device—but you already know that from the many two-sided DVD movies.
Will DualDisc revive DVD-Audio? Wait and see. [Information on DualDisc gleaned from Sound & Vision 69:9 (November 2004).]
One of the longer-running stories in the world
of unusual PC variants. I wrote about it in July 2002, again (briefly)
in August 2004, and noted that it was apparently, finally, shipping (in the
December 2004 Interesting & Peculiar
Products). PC Magazine
PC Magazine didn’t run full performance tests. “Running Microsoft Office apps and surfing the Internet seemed fine, but we don’t recommend having several applications running at the same time.” You get reasonable connectivity: 802.11b Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a FireWire port, and one USB1.1 (not USB2!) port.
Here’s what PC Magazine concludes: “Clearly, the OQO model 01 isn’t right for everyone, but it could prove very useful for the salesperson who needs a scaled-down PC on the road.” It’s an odd market position, somewhere between a Windows CE-based PDA (less than one-third the price and a little smaller, but with nowhere near the screen resolution) and an ultralight notebook (about the same price but considerably larger). OQO continues to treat it as a revolutionary product that can’t be compared to anything else and will change everything. I see a niche player at best, but what do I know? One thing’s clear, between this device and a couple of PDAs with full VGA resolution: It is now possible to get greater than 175dpi resolution in an LCD screen, as long as the screen is small enough.
PC World reviewed the Model 01 in its December 2004 issue—but didn’t rate it because it still wasn’t a production model. The headline says “OQO Handheld Disappoints.” The story calls the device “painfully slow” and notes odd keyboard design, poorly-located headphone jack, noticeable heat, and erratic touch-screen performance. In sum, “you have a PDA that’s awkward to use at best.” You also have a $1,999 PDA, three times as expensive as high-end PDAs.
Nothing to do with computing technology or libraries, necessarily, but the M&K MP-4512 is—at the least—an interesting product. It’s a $650 speaker system, roughly 18x5x6", with six speakers on the front and one on each end. Ideally, you’d use it with a subwoofer like M&K’s $599 K-10, since the larger speakers on the MP-4512 are “mid-woofers” and make no pretense of going much below 100Hz.
Several companies have produced single-box surround-sound systems in the past two or three years, including the $300 Mainstage from Sound Matters. This is a little different partly because M&K is a high-end manufacturer, partly because this one runs from your regular 5.1-channel receiver or power amplifier. The review in Ultimate AV 1:6 (December 2004) is fairly positive. Set up properly in the right room, the MP-4512 apparently does provide a convincing surround-sound image most of the time, and good-quality sound at that. The whole thing should fit nicely on top of a 20" or larger TV. For small “home theaters,” it may be just the ticket.
That’s PC Magazine’s take on Apple’s iMac G5—and it’s a compliment. The G5 drops the snazzy swing-arm and the clunky dome base, putting the works in a two-inch-thick chassis behind the display itself. That design seems reminiscent of the older Gateway Profile and makes inserting removable media a bit clunky, but of course it’s white, has rounded corners, and has Apple’s cachet, so it’s automatically hot stuff.
Grumbling aside, the G5 appears to be a first-rate system at a fair price: $1,299 and up with a wide-screen 17" LCD or $1,899 and up with a 20" display. Given the price of separate 20" LCDs, that seems more than reasonable. The system tested cost $2,103, but that includes 512MB DDRAM, high-end nVidia graphics, a 160GB hard disk, a DVD-RW burner, 802.11g, and Bluetooth—and the 1.8GHz PowerPC G5 processor. It’s not that portable at 25 pounds, but you could cart it around. The rating is a full five dots, earning an Editors’ Choice designation.
A two-page news feature in EContent 27:11 (November 2004) discusses this “low-cost, write-once flash memory chip.” Matrix calls it a new category of memory, with three-dimensional chipmaking techniques that stack bits on top of each other as well as on a given plane, supposedly greatly reducing the cost of flash memory. I wonder a bit about the technological explanation—“chip costs are based on the area consumed rather than volume”—and even more about the complete lack of actual cost figures. There’s no direct competition with flash RAM, e.g. USB drives, solid-state MP3 players, and the many digital camera storage devices; this stuff can only be written once, so it’s more of a publishing medium.
For that matter, I wonder about the likely uses claimed by an industry analyst. He suggests that people would use blank write-once devices to buy video and music and would also buy them to use as digital film. The memory would have to be awfully cheap for the latter use to make sense, and it seems to eliminate the potential ecological advantage of digital cameras. But who knows? This one may be worth watching.
PC World’s Steve Fox thinks Oakley’s The Thump is “a marvel of geek-meets-chic design.” This $395 (128MB) or $495 ($256) oddity is a pair of sunglasses with an MP3/WMA/WAV player built in. Controls are on the frame; speakers are on “adjustable booms” next to your ears. The glasses don’t weigh much (1.9oz) and are rated for 6 hours battery life. Fox’s last line: “Besides, looking cool just costs more.” Except that, to my eyes, these glasses are the antithesis of cool: They look nerdy as all get out. To each their own.
LavaSoft’s Ad-Aware and Spybot’s Search and Destroy are typically among the highest-rated tools for cleaning and preventing spyware and adware—and both are free. But there’s also a $27 version of Ad-Aware, SE Plus. According to PC World’s 12/04 review, it may be worth it: It adds real-time protection.
The $2,099 Toshiba TDP-T91U is a little heavy as portable data projectors go (8.2 pounds), but it’s an impressive performer: 2018 lumens on PC Magazine’s tests, measured 336:1 contrast, “one of the highest we’ve encountered in years of testing,” and generally excellent image quality—and even a decent built-in speaker. That’s not what makes it special, though. This is: A document camera attached to one side that can be used to display documents and three-dimensional objects—offering a combo that used to be available in a very few high-priced overhead transparency projectors. You can detach the camera—and if you know you won’t need it on a trip, leave it behind to bring the projector down to 6.2 pounds.
Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 2, Whole Issue 58, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.
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