Connected Home EXPRESS
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February 5, 2003—In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- Mobile Media Still Has a Long Way to Go
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- The RIAA Is Lying to You!
- Retailers Invest in Echo
- If You Read It on the Internet, It Must Be True
- Microsoft to Change Passport Service
- TiVo and Fox Connect
- Sims Online: Subscription-Based Gaming in Doubt?
- Don't Miss Our 2 New Security Web Seminars in March!
- Join the HP & Microsoft Network Storage Solutions Road Show
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: 2003 CES Announcements
- New Poll: On-the-Road Activities
- Product Review: Personal Firewalls Sport Enterprise Features
- Tip: Get Updated Encoding Profiles for Plus! Photo Story
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Turn Your Computer into a Recording Studio
- Dolby Expands to DVD-Audio on the PC
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
1. GETTING CONNECTED
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Late last month, I embarked on the first of 9 straight weeks (3 or 4 days each week) of business-related travel. I tend to get a lot of work done on these trips, thanks to the isolation of hotels, planes, and airports. But depending on the situation, I also have a lot of downtime, during which I like to listen to music, watch movies, and read books and magazines. For example, from time to time I might get stuck in a cramped steerage—er, coach—seat on a 5-hour flight, and the second the person in front of me reclines his or her seat, any hope I had of writing on the laptop is gone.
Unlike most people, I tend to take two laptops when I travel, which gives me a good mix of battery life and work- and play-related activities. I use an Apple Computer iBook almost exclusively to watch DVD movies because of its excellent battery life and light weight, and I synchronize it with my Apple iPod for audio books and music. My Windows laptop is my workhorse for Microsoft Office applications and other work-related activities, but it also contains a copy of my music library as well as several eBooks, which I access with Microsoft Reader.
Most of the travel for this 9-week jaunt, however, is in support of a Microsoft Mobility Tour, so I'll be traveling with four Tablet PCs and a couple of Pocket PC devices. This cargo has a few ramifications, not the least of which is that I'm anything but mobile when I'm lugging around all that hardware. So I probably won't take my iBook, which is a problem because the ultralight Tablet PCs I'm using don't have internal CD-ROM drives, let alone DVD drives. So I knew I'd have to figure out some alternatives. As I write this, I've completed 3 of the 9 weeks of travel, and my experience thus far with new types of mobile media has been mixed at best. Below are some of the technologies I've tried.
Books and Magazines
Microsoft Reader works all right on a laptop, but it shines on the Tablet PC, thanks to the device's portrait display, which better resembles the page of a book, and the fact that most of the devices include hardware buttons that facilitate page turning without having to use the stylus. Microsoft Reader is also somewhat usable on Pocket PCs, although the small screen on those devices makes reading painful, especially for people with less-than-perfect eyesight, and the devices' small navigational buttons often cause me to skip over pages inadvertently. I recently purchased several Microsoft Reader-formatted eBooks (see the URL under Resources below), including recent best-sellers and business-oriented titles.
Tablet PC owners can also download a trial version of Zinio, a digital magazine reader. Zinio is a decent idea—the magazines look like hard-copy magazines, with the same layouts and graphics-heavy presentations. And you can choose from a variety of popular titles, such as "Business Week," "National Geographic Traveler," and "Windows & .NET Magazine." However, based on the miserable performance of the trial issues I tested, I won't purchase a subscription any time soon. Pages load slowly, and you have to scroll around each page, resulting in the type of miserable document redrawing I haven't seen since 1990, when I tried to run Windows 3.0 on a 286MHz machine with 2MB of RAM.
I've been working with digital music for several years and have a massive collection of music I ripped from CDs that I copy from device to device as I travel. That routine works well, but I took this opportunity to test some of the digitally delivered downloadable music that's now available online to see how it works. For this test, I skipped the budding subscription music services—although I'll look at them soon—and went straight for the direct digital downloads. The theory is that you pay for it, and you own it; you don't have to pay any monthly subscription fees.
Unfortunately, my experiment was a dismal failure. Several online services let you buy music in a variety of formats, but I went with one of the heavy hitters, Universal Music Group, which lets you download individual songs for about $1 and entire albums for about $10. Universal has a library of more than 60,000 songs, with more on the way.
The problem is Digital Rights Management (DRM). Universal's library is available in Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Liquid Audio formats through a variety of online retailers. In one instance, I chose Best Buy and purchased Sting's greatest hits package, "Fields of Gold," in WMA format. Like all DRM-enabled media, this album has a set of restrictions. You can export it to certain portable music players and burn it to a CD. However, although the music files worked fine on the road, I couldn't make them work on my desktop computer when I got home. Instead, I got an error message about a license I needed, and my attempts to obtain the license failed. I'll keep working on this problem, but the experience was disappointing.
Because I wouldn't have access to a DVD drive while I traveled, I checked to see whether I could download full movies to my hard disk, perhaps for one-time-only use. That way, I could watch them on a Tablet PC, then delete them afterward. The recently released Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 includes access to a variety of so-called Premium Services, one of which is CinemaNow, which currently offers more than 350 downloadable movies in Windows Media Video (WMV) 9 format. The movies are generally about 450MB to 600MB in size, depending on length, so you need a broadband connection to download them. And although CinemaNow offers subscription services, you can download and view movies over a 24-hour period, from the time of first viewing, at a cost of $2 to $4, which is less than most rentals. (Newer movies cost more, of course). CinemaNow seemed like a great solution.
Sadly, it wasn't. Because CinemaNow requires an active Internet connection when you launch the movie to ensure that your 24-hour viewing license is valid, you're probably better off using the service at home. If you download a few movies to your notebook's hard disk, as I did (the original "Psycho" and "The Scorpion King," in my case) and try to watch them on a plane, you're out of luck because the player tries to acquire a license online each time you play the movie. However, I was able to watch the movies in a hotel room. The quality was all right, too: Encoded at 700Mbps, the WMV files offer decent resolution and sound quality, albeit in so-called standard frame or cropped format (i.e., no letterbox format).
I also tried to play TV shows that I recorded on a Media Center PC on a standard Windows XP laptop and a Tablet PC. That plan worked because of a new free XP update available from Windows Update—but with several caveats. First, you need XP and a compatible DVD decoder, such as the $10 add-ins Microsoft sells from its Web site or a full DVD-playback application such as WinDVD. Second, you have to use WMP 9 to view the shows. Third, you can't edit them: Windows Movie Maker refuses to understand the format, and you can't edit out commercials. And finally, the files are humongous: Recorded at Best quality, 2100Mbps shows use a whopping 3GB per hour, severely limiting the amount of content you can bring with you. On the other hand, the quality is amazing, and I simply deleted shows after watching them to free up disk space. Still, I'd really like to have a WMV conversion utility to save disk space from the get-go; there's no reason these files couldn't be much, much smaller.
Mobile-capable media is better than ever but it still has drawbacks. I'd like to have DRM-enabled content that lets me take my media wherever I go, in a variety of formats. Disk space and Internet connectivity are huge concerns everywhere, but they're especially problematic when you're traveling. I'll explore this area a lot this year—as a frequent business traveler, I have a vested interest—but I'm interested in your experiences taking media on the road. What have your experiences been like?
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2. NEWS AND VIEWS
(An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)
Late last year, musician George Ziemann published a well-researched article about the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). When the RIAA isn't busy fending off intruder attacks on its Web site, the organization is apparently busy spreading misinformation about the effects of Internet piracy on the recording industry. According to data outlined in Ziemann's article, the record industry has cut its inventory and artist investments by 25 percent but sales have dropped only 4.1 percent. Considering the shape of the economy, that number is pretty impressive. More important, online file-sharing services don't appear to be having as much of an impact on music sales as the RIAA would like us to believe. We highly recommend you check out this detailed article.
And speaking of online music, Best Buy, Hastings Entertainment, Tower Records, Trans World Entertainment, Virgin Entertainment, and Wherehouse Music have created a consortium called Echo Networks to sell digital music. Echo Networks will let the companies provide on-demand streaming and downloading and music-recommendation services by using a "standard and open platform." The retailers are expected to sell digital music under their own brands or cobranded with the consortium. According to the companies, they hope to "extend the relationship" they have with customers to the emerging digital-music market.
A recent University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study found that US Internet users consider the Internet as important as newspapers and books, even though many users are becoming more skeptical of the information they find online. According to the school's third annual survey, the Internet now exceeds magazines, radio, and TV in importance among online users. The most surprising data from the survey was the level of trust, or shall we say distrust, users have in information on the Internet. Only 53 percent of users—a 5 percent decrease from last year—believe most or all of what they read online. Nearly a quarter of users expressed concern about using credit cards over the Internet, adding that nothing can ease their fears. We bet these are the same people who have no problem giving their credit cards to waiters at restaurants or attendants at gas stations.
Caving in to pressure from the European Union (EU), Microsoft will "radically" change its Passport online authentication and eWallet service, according to the European Commission (EC), the EU's antitrust arm. The commission has been investigating the service to see whether it conforms to the strict data-protection rules the EU countries require. The changes will help Microsoft avoid sanctions in Europe. Microsoft hasn't publicly announced what changes the company will make but is expected to give users more control over the information the service stores and uses.
Whoever said personal video recorders (PVRs) would be the death of commercial TV? TiVo and 20th Century Fox have announced a new deal that will let the movie studio send promotional information to TiVo users. (TiVo has signed similar deals with companies such as Best Buy.) As part of the deal, promotional content will automatically appear on TiVo boxes. The first promotion from 20th Century Fox is expected to provide exclusive information about the upcoming movie "Daredevil." Does getting data automatically on your TiVo without asking for it dampen the idea of TiVo being a "personal" device? Maybe. But welcome to the twenty-first century: You didn't really think the networks were going to ignore PVRs, did you?
Launched with great hype, including a "Newsweek" cover story, the online version of the The Sims isn't doing so well, according to its publisher. The game, which Electronic Arts released on December 17, has signed up just 82,000 users, far below the company's estimates. Sims Online requires users to purchase the game for $50 and spend $10 a month to play it online with other players. The offline version of The Sims has sold more than 8 million copies, making it one of the most popular computer games of all time. But the most popular online subscription-based game is Sony's EverQuest, which has about 500,000 users, all of whom pay $13 a month to access the service. Electronic Arts plans to cut the price of The Sims to $40 in an attempt to convince more people to buy the game. We think the company should give away the game if people have to spend more than $100 a year to play it. Get a clue, Electronic Arts.
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Windows & .NET Magazine has two new Web seminars to help you address your security concerns. There is no fee to attend "Selling the Importance of Security: 5 Ways to Get Your Manager's Attention" and "Building an Ultra Secure Extranet on a Shoe String," but space is limited, so register today!
4. QUICK POLL
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "What's the most exciting technology announcement from the 2003 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES)?" Here are the results from the 61 votes:
- 33% Microsoft Media2Go
- 38% Microsoft Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT)
- 0% Apple's Final Cut Express
- 7% Apple's iLife
- 23% Other
(Deviations from 100 percent are due to rounding error.)
The next Quick Poll question is, "Which of the following activities do you participate in when you travel?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Listen to digital music, b) Watch DVD movies, c) Read eBooks and eMagazines, d) Listen to Internet radio, or e) Other.
(contributed by Jeff Fellinge, email@example.com)
SonicWALL's TELE3 and SOHO3 are robust personal firewall and VPN network-security appliances that protect your home or branch office network from attacks and unauthorized use. Although these firewalls are significantly more expensive than their popular broadband-router and personal-firewall competitors, they have passed rigorous International Customer Service Association (ICSA) certification and have feature sets similar to some enterprise-class firewalls.
At the core of these devices is a stateful inspection engine that supports a Web or command-line-interface-based management front end, flexible rule-based network-access controls, IP Security (IPSec) VPN capability, robust logging, content filtering, auto-update, and antivirus protection. You can centrally manage many of these devices by using the SonicWALL Global Management System (GMS). SonicWALL also offers the TELE3 TZ, a variation of the TELE3 that includes two LAN connections: a "homeport" for home machines and a "workport" for corporate machines (think of a multilegged firewall). This design prevents home machines (and any vulnerabilities they might have) from accessing the telecommuter's work machine or corporate network.
To read the rest of this product review, visit the Connected Home Online Web site.
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, firstname.lastname@example.org)
One of my favorite applications in Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition for Windows XP is Plus! Photo Story, which makes unbelievable scrolling, animated movies out of still photos. Plus! Photo Story ships with two so-called Encoding Profiles, which let you create high-quality and low-quality videos in 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 resolutions, respectively. The resulting movies are great for desktop PC and online use, but if you have a high-performance Pentium 4 PC and you're looking for higher-resolution Encoding Profiles, Microsoft now offers 800 x 600 and 1024 x 768 profiles on its Web site. The profiles are available now for free download, along with instructions for using them in Plus! Photo Story.
Got a question or tip? Email email@example.com. Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Jason Bovberg, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Coldrg released Super Mp3 Recorder Professional, professional recording, editing, and player software that turns your computer into a recording studio. With Super Mp3 Recorder Pro, you can edit audio files by cutting, copying, pasting, trimming segments, and employing various digital signal processor (DSP) effects. The software's on-the-fly recording ability lets you save recordings as MP3 files without needing intermediate .wav files. Super Mp3 Recorder Pro also features record scheduling and built-in Record Volume Control. You can record from many sound sources, including voice from a microphone, streaming audio from the Internet, and players such as Nullsoft's Winamp, Windows Media Player (WMP), Apple Computer's QuickTime, RealNetworks' RealPlayer, and Macromedia's Flash. The software runs on Windows XP, Windows Me, Windows 2000, Windows NT, and Windows 98. For pricing information, contact Coldrg on the Web.
Dolby Laboratories announced an expansion of the DVD-Audio format with the recent introduction of Creative Technology's Sound Blaster Audigy2, the first sound card to provide DVD-Audio playback on the PC platform. The DVD-Audio format, which was developed through a multiindustry consensus of record companies, consumer electronics hardware manufacturers, and IT companies, offers superior-quality audio performance and value-added feature sets. Whereas CDs offer sampling rates of 44.1KHz samples per second and word lengths of 16 bits, two-channel DVD-Audio is capable of sample rates of 192KHz samples per second and related word lengths as high as 24 bits. Also important to the DVD-Audio format is its multichannel capability. The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 sound card works with DVD-ROM drives on PCs to deliver stereo 192KHz/24-bit and multichannel 96KHz/24-bit DVD-Audio playback. For pricing information, contact Creative Technology or Dolby Laboratories on the Web.
7. CONTACT US
Here's how to reach us with your comments and questions:
- ABOUT GETTING CONNECTED — email@example.com
- ABOUT THE NEWSLETTER IN GENERAL — firstname.lastname@example.org
(please mention the newsletter name in the subject line)
- TECHNICAL QUESTIONS — email@example.com
- PRODUCT NEWS — firstname.lastname@example.org
- QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR CONNECTED HOME EXPRESS SUBSCRIPTION?
Customer Support — email@example.com
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