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November 13, 2002—In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- Windows Video Editing Pulls Ahead of the Mac, Part 1
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- Judge Accepts Microsoft Settlement
- Online Music Sales Fall Sharply
- Apple Ships DVD-Writing PowerBooks, Cheaper iBooks
- Here Come the Tablet PCs
- Dell Pocket PC Set for November
- Virtual Handshake an Internet First
- Palm Introduces Tungsten Line of Pro Handhelds
- States Block DirecTV, Dish Network Merger
- Nintendo Reveals Online Plans
- Give Us Your Feedback and Be Entered to Win a Digital Camera
- Planning on Getting Certified? Make Sure to Pick Up Our New eBook!
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Holiday Video Game Buying
- New Poll: Wireless Network
- Tip: Get Surrounded in Sound
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Play a Trivia Game Show on Your PC
- Quickly Scan Your LAN for Music Files
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
For the past few years, I've confidently recommended Windows-based systems to all kinds of users for every conceivable computing task with just one caveat: Apple Computer's Macintosh systems were always better than Windows for digital-video editing. And because Apple set its sights on the so-called "digital hub," with digital media and home-networking applications receiving special attention, I believed that the Mac—especially the DVD-burning iMac that debuted early this year—was a good choice for anyone who wants to work with digital video, audio, or photos.
Now I'm not so sure. With Microsoft's recent digital-media-related releases such as the Windows Media 9 Series and Windows Movie Maker 2, Windows XP has finally pulled well ahead of the Mac in digital-video capabilities and has always been the superior system for digital photos and music. And an inexpensive third-party release I'll discuss in the next issue of Connected Home EXPRESS brings elegant, beautiful DVD movie-making capabilities to XP as well. Is Apple's advantage ending? Let's look at the applications and technologies that are bringing XP to the forefront of the digital-video revolution.
Windows Media 9 Series
Now in the almost-final release candidate stage, Windows Media 9 Series includes a new version of Windows Media Player (WMP)—WMP 9—and new audio and video codecs, or formats, called Windows Media Audio (WMA) 9 and Windows Media Video (WMV) 9. I've reviewed the Windows Media 9 Series on the SuperSite for Windows (see the first URL below), and although Microsoft's latest player is the best yet, the codecs make this technology notable. Thanks to new compression capabilities, you can now rip CD audio and create home movies that take up far less space than is possible on a Mac. For example, you can store 1 to 1.5 hours of full-resolution (720 x 480) WMV 9 video in just a gigabyte of hard disk space. With the Mac, you can store only 6 minutes of full-resolution digital video per gigabyte. And WMV 9's quality is as good or better than what you see on the Mac. WMV 9 lets you create video libraries on your hard disk the same way you create libraries of digital photos and audio. You can't do so on the Mac because its underlying video technology doesn't offer low bit-rate, high-quality encoding at native resolutions. The Release Candidate 1 (RC1) build of WMP 9, which includes the WMA 9 and WMV 9 codecs, is available for download from the Microsoft Web site (see the second URL below).
Windows Movie Maker 2
High-quality video codecs with good compression are nice, but to take advantage of WMV 9 you need a video-editing package. XP's bundled Windows Movie Maker application has always been the butt of jokes, although I've often defended the product for its simple video-capture interface. But the new Windows Movie Maker 2 not only surpasses the Apple iMovie and PC-based competition but takes video-editing state-of-the-art to a new level.
Now available as a public beta release (see the third URL below), Windows Movie Maker 2 is visually similar to its predecessor but is far more powerful. The application is divided into four areas. A new Movie Tasks pane features simple task-based links for capturing video, editing your movies, and finishing (or saving) your movies; it also includes various movie-making tips. The old Collections pane is still available as a toggle; it makes the Movie Tasks pane appear and disappear. You use the Collections pane to organize your movie library from the video you capture from a Digital Video (DV) camera and other sources. The Collections view—which displays the video and audio clips, bitmaps, and other resources that make up the selected collection—is in the center of the application window. The newly resizable preview window is on the right. And the familiar Timeline/Storyboard pane, which also has a lot of new features, is on the bottom.
Windows Movie Maker 2's goal is to let you easily capture, edit, and create movies. Microsoft has found that consumers have good intentions when it comes to home video, but the reality is that editing video is difficult and overly time-consuming (and this has been my experience as well). For average users (i.e., most people), Windows Movie Maker 2 will automate literally every step of the video-editing process. More advanced users can tweak those results or simply choose to manually slog through the entire process. Windows Movie Maker 2 is one of those rare applications that works equally well for experts and newcomers.
Let's walk through a typical Windows Movie Maker 2 movie-creation process. First, you need to capture your raw video footage, typically from a camcorder. Unlike iMovie, Windows Movie Maker 2 supports analog and digital video, so any video (or audio) source you can connect to your PC is automatically supported. Windows Movie Maker 2 includes a new Capture from the Video Device wizard that completely automates this process, and you can also import video, pictures, audio, or music from your hard disk.
After you import the video, Windows Movie Maker 2 splits it into clips and creates a collection, as before. But now your options are exponentially expanded. Windows Movie Maker 2 includes more than 130 new professional-looking, high-quality effects, titles, and transitions (compared with just one in Windows Movie Maker 1 and about 27 in iMovie). Instead of looking at the manual process, let's look at Windows Movie Maker 2's exciting new AutoMovie feature, which uses Microsoft Research technology to analyze your video clips and create a professionally edited movie that includes the best parts of each scene you selected. It sounds impossible, but AutoMovie does an amazing job, effectively eliminating the time and effort barriers to video editing. AutoMovie supports various movie types—Flip and Slide, with cool video transitions; Highlights Movie, for the traditionalist; Music Video, for a movie that syncs edits to beats of the underlying song, which you get to select; Old Movie, which uses film age and sepia-tone effects; and Sports Highlights, which uses quick editing techniques and zooms, so you'll probably be happy with the results. I've been making music-video versions of my home movies all week, and the effect is simply stunning.
There's more—much more. I haven't gotten to the DVD-recording part of the story yet, but I'm out of space. Next week, I'll wrap up this overview of Windows Movie Maker 2; in the meantime, XP users should give this download a try. It's an amazing, change-your-life product if you're interested in working with digital video.
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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)
Last week, a federal judge accepted, with minor changes, the Microsoft and US Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed settlement as the final ruling in Microsoft's years-long antitrust trial. Since then, Microsoft and the DOJ have accepted the judge's changes, effectively ending Microsoft's nightmarish legal battle with the federal government. But if you think Microsoft should face stiffer penalties than the weak settlement the company negotiated, fear not: The company still faces private lawsuits from various entities, including companies such as Be, Netscape, and Sun Microsystems, which are seeking billions of dollars in damages. Go get 'em, guys.
Some of us feigned ignorance when the recording industry complained that online music piracy from file-sharing services caused retail CD sales to drop, year over year, for the first time ever this year. But a recent survey suggests that the recording industry might be right, and now online music sales from companies such as Amazon.com are also plummeting. comScore Networks, which completed the study, says that music-sharing services such as KaZaA and Morpheus are responsible for a 25 percent decline in online music spending, largely because the downloads offer instant gratification, whereas customers who purchase music online have to wait for their purchases to come in the mail. I've often said that online music will spell the end of the "album" format we've suffered with for decades and that musicians and record companies will need to adapt to digital delivery. People are no longer going to spend $20 to get a CD that has one good song and several obvious filler tracks.
Apple Computer might have lost the megahertz war—and badly—but its new portable machines still look pretty good. On the high end, Apple has launched a new $3000 PowerBook that features an integrated, slot-loading SuperDrive that lets users burn CDs and DVDs, although recordable DVD writing was a first on Wintel-based laptops 2 months ago. On the low end, you can now buy a 700MHz iBook for just $999. As the owner of a 500MHz iBook that cost quite a bit more than that, I can honestly say it's a good deal. As for the PowerBook, I've bought cars that cost less than that.
Last week, Microsoft launched the Tablet PC and its Windows XP Tablet PC Edition software at a gala New York event that featured celebrities such as Rob Lowe and cool new hardware designs. Tablet PCs are new types of laptops that let users write directly on the screen by using a stylus and an active digitizer that sits below the screen. Microsoft's software uses digital ink as a native data format, which lets people use the devices in casual settings. Hey, that's exactly what your boss wants, right? You working during your leisure time, that is.
On November 25, Dell will enter the crowded Pocket PC market with its $300 Dell Axim device, which features a 400MHz Intel StrongARM processor and 64MB of RAM. A low-end model costs just $200 and uses a 300MHz processor and 32MB of RAM. Dell's units feature removable, rechargeable batteries and 3.5" color TFT displays. Next year, the company will update the products with support for integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, features some of Dell's competitors already offer.
Earlier this month, scientists 3000 miles apart in the United Kingdom and United States took part in the first Internet-based virtual handshake by using new virtual-reality hardware that lets individuals feel the shape, texture, and force of far-away objects. As part of the experiment, the scientists also manipulated a virtual cube between their hands, pushing it back and forth. "You can actually feel the object being pushed against your hand," one of the scientists said, noting that when the other person pushed against the object, he could instantaneously feel the force of the push. This technology has many potential applications, including online gaming and even legally binding electronic agreements for contracts.
To complement its line of Zire handhelds for newbies, Palm recently introduced the first of its new Tungsten handheld products, which are aimed at mobile professionals. The Palm Tungsten T features a unique sliding bottom that hides the data-input area and significantly reduces the overall size of the device when used in read-only mode. When you want to enter data, you simply slide open the bottom, revealing the standard pen-input area found on other Palm devices. At $500, the Palm Tungsten T isn't for everyone, but its small form factor is sure to be a hit with users.
Despite continued efforts to combine the country's two largest satellite broadcasters—Dish Network and DirecTV—various legal concerns keep postponing the merger. The latest problem might be difficult to overcome, however. After the FCC denied the merger for competitive reasons (the companies are basically the only national players in this market), attorneys general from 22 states; Washington, DC; and Puerto Rico also filed suit to block the proposed merger. Give it up, guys; the merger isn't going to happen.
Nintendo released Internet gaming adapters for its GameCube video-game console this week, joining Microsoft and Sony in a bid to dominate what is expected to be the next big growth area in video games. Nintendo's kit costs $35 and includes broadband and telephone adapters. But unlike the competition, Nintendo's selection of online-capable games is pretty lame. Right now, customers can play only a special version of Phantasy Star online, and that game requires a $9-per-month subscription fee. Say what you will about Microsoft, but I like the way the company is handling online gaming with its Xbox Live scheme, which debuts later this week: One product, one yearly fee, and a slew of titles, which don't come with extra fees.
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4. QUICK POLL
>The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Will you purchase a video game system this holiday season?" Here are the results (+/-2 percent) from the 193 votes:
- 10% Yes, a Sony PlayStation 2 - 24% Yes, a Microsoft Xbox - 5% Yes, a Nintendo GameCube - 1% Yes, but none of the above - 60% No
The next Quick Poll question is, "Do you have a wireless network in your home?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, b) No, but I plan to install one, or c) No, and I don't plan to install one.
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, email@example.com)
If you want to get the most of DVD movies and games on your home PC, consider upgrading your hardware to support surround sound. You'll need a 4.1- or 5.1-channel surround sound-capable sound card, such as Voyetra Turtle Beach’s Santa Cruz or Creative Technology's Sound Blaster Audigy 2 (see the URLs below) and a compatible set of speakers. A lot of speakers fall into this category, but a few to consider include Creative's line of Inspire speakers and Klipsch's excellent ProMedia line (see the URLs below). Whichever products you choose, you'll hear the difference the next time another player sneaks up behind you during an online Deathmatch session or when a plane roars by in the latest Hollywood movie.
Got a question or tip? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Jason Bovberg, email@example.com)
Global Star Software announced Brianstorm: The Game Show, a multiplayer trivia-challenge game for the PC platform. Brainstorm adheres to the classic 1960s game-show format in its presentation of more than 6500 trivia questions. Players can face off in four game modes. The game includes a virtual studio audience. Brainstorm costs $19.99. For more information, contact Global Star Software on the Web. http://www.globalstarsoftware.com
10-Strike Software released 10-Strike MP3-Scanner 1.2, a Windows music search engine that you can use to rapidly search your LAN for music files, create playlists, and play music. The software includes masks you can use to fine-tune LAN searches for music files, letting you search by artist name or keyword. New computer and resource filters increase the speed of searches by not searching machines or drives that you know don't contain music files. 10-Strike MP3-Scanner 1.2 supports Windows Media Player (WMP) and any third-party media player that uses standard .m3u playlists. The software costs $20 for a single-user license. For more information, or to download a free, fully functional 30-day trial version of 10-Strike MP3-Scanner, contact 10-Strike Software on the Web.
7. CONTACT US
Here's how to reach us with your comments and questions:
- ABOUT GETTING CONNECTED — firstname.lastname@example.org
- ABOUT THE NEWSLETTER IN GENERAL — email@example.com
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- PRODUCT NEWS — email@example.com
- QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR Connected Home EXPRESS SUBSCRIPTION?
Customer Support — firstname.lastname@example.org
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