Friday, August 31, 2007
NBC reportedly wants Apple to pay an inflated fee for the content, which would result in an increase in the price customers pay for downloads (supposedly US$4.99 per episode instead of US$1.99). Apple says sorry, that won't fly.
Of course none of this matters to us Canucks north of the border who can’t even get downloadable TV content through the Canadian iTunes service. Not that I'm bitter, but I'll digress, since this is a whole other topic unto itself!
Nevertheless, this decision could lead to some very interesting possible outcomes. The first, I propose, is that downloadable online video continues to appeal only to techno-geek, early adopters, and eventually dwindles away. Downloadable video is still in a growth phase. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if the most popular media download site (i.e. iTunes) starts offering fewer quality videos instead of more, aren’t we moving in the wrong direction of where we want to be?
The second possible outcome is this: imagine NBC decides to launch its own site to rival iTunes (but just offers its own content); or partners with a competing online store that accomodates the price NBC wants. Would you pay $1.99 for stuff you don't want; or $4.99 for stuff you do? NBC announced in March that it would launch an ad-supported online video distribution site in partnership with Fox that would be available through partners like AOL and MySpace. You never know: I could be way off base, but an online video download store may not be too far off the horizon!
Sure, Apple’s domination in the portable player and online download arena is really being put to the test as of late, but we can't forget the third possible scenario: NBC feels the pain of missing the exposure of its 2007-08 season through iTunes (Apple reportedly said it would pull the plug before the new season rather than wait until the end of the year); and Apple laughs all the way to the bank.
Which way will things go? We'll just have to wait and see.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
I can’t argue with that. I live in the heart of downtown Toronto, right smack-dab in the middle of our blanket WiFi One Zone high-speed Internet, which is offered through Toronto Hydro Telecom. When this service was on free trial, I tried constantly to log on, and although I could see the network, I could never successfully get to the page to set up an account and log in. Funny enough, now that you have to pay to use it, my notebook constantly picks up the network and tries to log me on. Sure, it’s cheaper than my current high-speed package. But time is precious, and there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to get online and not being able to.
Plus, I don’t trust services like blanket WiFi to offer speeds that could rival my high-speed Internet at home; and saving a few bucks isn’t worth the potential for pulling my hair out because of super-slow speeds, whether I'm at home, or sitting in a coffee shop.
However, as they say, don't knock it 'til you try it, right? Maybe one sunny day, if I'm sitting on patio and feel like propping open my laptop to get some work done, I might just pay the $10 and try it out .
Meanwhile, the future of blanket WiFi is looking bright, as many tout WiMax as the “next big thing” in wireless technology. “WiMAX makes broadband as ubiquitous as air, and we believe it is key,” said Motorola President Greg Brown at the Canadian Telecom Summit that was held in June in Toronto, ON.
As technologies like WiMax and 3G for mobile devices continue to develop, blanket wireless might become a much more attractive option.
[Photo: Toronto Mayor David Miller and Toronto Hydro Telecom President, David Dobbin log on to the One Zone WiFi network while on King St. in Toronto, ON.]
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
How does it work? Log onto the Website, register to the service (which is currently free since it's still in the beta stage), enter the name of your webcam, and create a password. Then, just log on from your phone from anywhere in the world (obviously you’ll need to be somewhere where the Web browser feature is active), and take a photo of the area being monitored; or even scan pre-recorded images and short video clips. The service has a motion detection function that can automatically snap a shot when it detects movement (I wouldn’t suggest this if you have pets!)
Instead of randomly logging in to check on things, the system can also send updates to your mobile device. Right now, the only costs incurred for HomeCamera are those associated with your specific network carrier, like Internet browsing fees.
I’m a bit skeptical of how useful a feature it is to take photos remotely. If a burglar has entered the home, the likelihood that you'll actually catch him on in a still image is slim to none: it would be easy for him to sneak away quickly such that you might catch a stray leg as he bolts out the door! However, the video clip feature is pretty neat. HomeCamera says it hopes to add a real-time live video streaming option early next year.
As for the service's “free” availability, this is only until the official launch in October. However, existing subscribers will receive one year of free service. New customers will be able to sign up to a subscription package that suits their needs.
I haven’t signed up for an account yet, but I’m tempted to try it out. I’ll be sure to report my results here if I do!
Monday, August 27, 2007
Music retailer Sam The Record Man just closed the doors to its iconic downtown location this summer, clearly as a result of stiff competition from the online digital music marketplace. It’s no secret that people are downloading music online, but this isn’t to say that there aren’t still people who prefer a store-bought CD so they can enjoy the high-quality sound, and pamphlet inserts. Nevertheless, the number of customers who fit this group have dwindled considerably over the past few years.
HMV has made some pretty smart moves in order to remain profitable in the wake of the changing music landscape. The company has historically been very big in the DVD retailing side, which adds another source of revenue in addition to CDs. Last summer, HMV also added video games and gaming systems to its product roster, recognizing the huge growth in this particular area. This bold, new price reduction strategy can only mean good news for HMV. It will be interesting to see if other music retailers follow suit.
The difference between this method of hacking into the device and others reported on the ‘net over the past few weeks, is that the process is reportedly very quick, and does not require highly technical operations to complete. "No need to open your phone. No need to solder," says the Website. The group, named iPhoneSIMfree.com, claims that all that’s required is to install the developed software on the iPhone, and it should function on other carrier networks. According to the site, individual, per license units will be available starting next week.
This is big news for consumers north of the border who have been patiently waiting to get their hands on the “revolutionary” device: the iPhone is currently not available in Canada, or any other country but the U.S., for that matter.
Of course we'd like to think that most consumers will wait until the iPhone is legitimately available in their country. As for Canada, although no official launch date has been announced, all signs point to Mr. Rogers being the likely partner. And the sooner this happens, the less hacking we, and Apple, will have to endure.
Friday, August 24, 2007
The display measures 29 mm thin at the frame, and just 20 mm within the main display section. At 50-inches in size and weighing 25 kg, Sharp says the LCD would consume just 140 kWh a year, based on the average of 4.5 hours of daily use.
It will likely be a very long time before such a model actually come to fruition as a saleable product, but it’s an interesting look into the future of flat-panel TV, and exciting evidence that development in this category shows no signs of slowing down. If you haven't joined the flat-panel train yet, it's about time you jump on!
[Photo: This is just one concept design of Sharp’s prototype 20mm thin LCD TV that has already been developed in Japan].
Thursday, August 23, 2007
The hacker in question, Virgil Griffith, calls his discovery WikiScanner. Rather than hinder the development of Wikipedia, this technology could potentially lead to even greater accuracy of this up-to-the-minute Web resource. The way Wikipedia works is that any old Web surfer can anonymously update an entry, whether he's a college professor, or an 18-year-old student. If something derogatory or incorrect is added, don’t fear: it’s likely that someone from somewhere around the world will find it and correct within days, if not hours or minutes!
Now think about it: if you knew you could easily be discovered as the author of an update to an entry, would you be so crass as to write something you weren’t 100% sure was accurate, or that you thought might be offensive? Probably not.
In my experience (and others I’ve talked with) Wikipedia has, for the most part, been surprisingly accurate, but for a few facts and comments here and there. If WikiScanner can help increase the accuracy of entries even more, then kudos to 24-year-old Griffith.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
In February of this year, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) pegged Canada as a leading manufacturer and exporter of bootlegged movies such as those just seized, and illegal devices that facilitate pirated activity, like “modification chips” used to allow counterfeit games to be played on videogame consoles. In fact, the IIPA said that the issue of unauthorized camcording in Canada (where someone secretly films a movie in the theatre, then creates copied discs of said recording) is nearing “crisis” levels: in 2006, 20-25 per cent of pirated DVDs discovered were sourced back to Canada!
According to CBC News, the recently squashed Mississauga, ON operation had produced likely close to $21 million worth of blockbuster movies. What’s baffling is that many of the store’s “regular” customers had no problem providing their names and phone numbers for the company files; and some even stopped by as the accused were being arrested, and asked when the store would re-open! Canadians either don’t understand that counterfeit DVDs are illegal; or they simply don’t care.
It will be interesting to hear what the IIPA and the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network (CACN) have to say about this: in May 2007, the CACN set out an action plan for the government to address problems relating to counterfeiting and piracy. This incident is sure to add fuel to its fire.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Cleverly codenamed “Moviestar”, the upgrade for Adobe Flash Player 9 will offer, in addition to higher quality video, things like more enhanced full-screen playback. It could also serve as a stepping stone toward better quality video playback on portable devices that are compatible with the H.264 video format. Audio upgrades will include added support for High Efficiency AAC (HE-AAC).
I can absolutely see IT nuts connecting their PCs to large-screen flat-panel displays, then watching streaming video over the ‘net while curled up on the couch or in bed. I'm not saying such an activity would take over regular TV/movie watching, but can you imagine being able to pick and choose specific news broadcasts from a network’s Website, then watching them in high-definition on a large-screen TV; or even a widescreen PC monitor? This move is just one more in the direction toward the merging of the consumer electronics and information technology worlds.
Moviestar is currently available in the beta testing stage at http://labs.adobe.com/, and the full version is scheduled to be available by the fall.
This could be attributed to the age range of the survey sample: I’d guess the majority of the participants were above 30, while the average age of a social networker is undoubtedly much younger. Had they conducted this same survey among 16-30-year-olds, I’ll bet the numbers would have been skewed much differently.
Nevertheless, the study discovered that online gaming has grown 79% year-over-year, compared to 46% growth in social networking. However, video streaming sites blew gaming out of the water when it comes to growth, with an impressive 123% year-over-year rate. Interestingly, although a recent study by Parks’ claimed that consumers weren’t interested in downloading videos online, the results of this new survey imply that they have no problem watching them there!
This survey sheds some light on the often overlooked ‘net activity of “casual” gaming. I’m a victim of this growing trend myself, having engaged in a quick game of MSN Bejeweled 2 every now and then when I’m unwinding at home. It just goes to show that, even in a world with complex, first-person shooter, car chasing, gremlin massacring games, there’s still a thriving market that simply wants to match three shapes together repeatedly until a game board is cleared.
[Photo: MSN's Bejeweled 2, which is accessible via the MSN Games page.]
Monday, August 20, 2007
Will the latest decision in the high-definition DVD format war finally tip the scales? It’s a doozie: Paramount Pictures has opted to go the way of HD DVD, leaving Blu-ray high and dry, and giving HD DVD another notch in its belt.
This could represent a big blow to the Blu-ray format: Paramount distributes movies from a number of big names: DreamWorks Pictures, Paramount Vantage, Nickelodeon Movies, and MTV Films, as well as movies from DreamWorks Animation, which are distributed by Paramount Home Entertainment, and, of course, Paramount Pictures. The first titles under this exclusive partnership are highly-anticipated releases: Blades of Glory (with funnyman Will Ferrell); Transformers; and Shrek the Third.
Paramount has, up until now, been one of a few studios to back both formats: the only studio remaining in such a position is Warner. Additionally, HD DVD has support from Universal, HBO, and New Line Home Entertainment, plus software support from HP, Intel, and Microsoft, and hardware support from companies like Toshiba and Onkyo. The rumour mill has also recently been pointing toward the North American adult film industry leaning toward HD DVD as its format of choice. However, this isn't to say that Blu-ray support is suffering: the format has plenty of big names behind it, including Disney, Fox, Sony, Lionsgate, and MGM, plus a slew of hardware manufacturers, like Samsung, Sony, and Hitachi, the latter of which just introduced the world’s first high-definition Blu-ray camcorder.
On the retail side, decisions have been just as evenly skewed: in the U.S., Blockbuster announced that it would sell movies in both formats, but only rent in Blu-ray (this was later confirmed to not be the case in Canada); while Wal-Mart said it would add low-cost HD DVD players to its mix. Most recently, Target (often pronounced by humorous Canucks as “tar-jhay”) said it would offer Sony Blu-ray players exclusively this holiday season, although it would continue to offer software titles in both formats.
It looks to me that, although companies are one by one taking sides (whether via open admittance, or a subtle indication of which way they might, or might not, be leaning), the scales remain pretty much evenly weighted. Sure, each week, something happens to tip it ever so slightly one way, but I think we’re still far from a clear winner in this race.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Other sources report that, in addition to offering tracks without permission from the music labels, allofmp3 was also undercutting the pricing of other “legitimate” services. Apparently a “legal loophole” led to Denis Kvasov’s acquittal. This loophole has since been revised, albeit after Kvasov’s tenure with the company, thus leaving the Website’s former head foot loose and fancy free.
The current head of allofmp3’s parent company, Mediaservices, says that the site did in fact pay royalties to a Russian licensing group for the digital tracks it sold. However, the record companies in question say that the licensing group itself does not have permission to distribute their tracks, nor collect royalties on them.
In this case, should allofmp3 be penalized, or the Russian licensing group? If allofmp3 claims ignorance to the licensing group’s alleged unauthorized practices, then can it really be blamed? There are currently two additional cases pending against allofmp3.
It appears that Russia has a bad rap for piracy in general. In February, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) pegged Russia and China as its main concerns in relation to piracy.
“While there have been developments in both these key markets over the year, the bottom line is that piracy levels have not come down at all or only marginally, and some problems have grown worse,” noted Eric H. Smith of IIPA at that time.
The IIPA says that piracy rates for some sectors in Russia are estimated at over 70 per cent. Before you drop your jaw in shock, keep in mind that the IIPA also has its eye on Canada, having labeled our home and native land a growing piracy concern.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The study revealed that time spent on content has increased 37% over the past four years. Time spent on search has also gone up (35%), although this represents just 5% of a user’s overall online activity.
What type of content are people viewing online? It ranges from news, to entertainment information, videos, and even checking the weather. Of course we can’t forget social networking Websites, which I’d argue (and OPA President Pam Horan acknowledges) represent not only the consumption of content, but also a new means of communication. Meanwhile, other burgeoning online communication methods, like instant messaging, have hampered the popularity of e-mail; although e-mail arguably still remains an extremely popular method of staying in touch (Blackberry, anyone?)
Marshall McLuhan is famous for having said that “the medium is the message”. In this case, the message is rapidly advancing technology. And that's always a good thing for the CE/IT industry!
The OPA’s index is derived from Web properties that account for approx. 90% of active Web users and approximately 55% of total usage time (excluding .gov, .edu, and domains of a pornographic nature).
For more information on the study, visit http://www.online-publishers.org/iai/.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Of course in a utopian world, we’d have the best function combined with the best design at the most affordable price. But let’s face it: we don’t live in that world. Although I must admit some products come pretty darn close. Take Apple’s iPhone, for example. Aesthetically, there’s no question that it’s a beautiful device. And from what I hear, it’s equally as functional. Bose's QuietComfort 3 noise-canceling headphones have been nothing but a God-send to me, boasting effective noise-cancellation, with a beautiful and comfortable design, long battery life, and a convenient travel case. But sometimes one side of the coin will overshadow the other.
If you had to skimp in one area, as a manufacturer, retailer, or purchasing consumer, would it be form or function? In other words, would you rather a product that sits in your home to look OK and operate fantastically; or one that operates OK but looks absolutely stunning? I guess it depends on the particular product, and how one would define “OK”, but I’m interested to hear reader’s opinions on this topic.
Friday, August 10, 2007
This is a great move on Universal’s part. Although the company hasn’t made the decision to permanently move to a DRM-free platform, this test period, said to run until January 2008, will allow Universal to monitor how well such a platform could work over the long-term. If piracy rates remain unscathed, and consumers respond favourably, this could mean a major change in the distribution of digital music.
What's more, the fact that DRM-free versions of Universal songs will not be available through iTunes might shake up Apple’s hold in the online music business. iTunes currently leads the music download landscape, having just topped three-billion song downloads last week. But if competitors offer more tunes without copy-protection, from popular Universal artists like 50 Cent, Enrique Inglesias, and Bryan Adams, iTunes might just get a run for its money.
The reality in the music industry today is that CD sales are slipping, and will continue to slip, regardless of whether digital tracks come with DRM copy-protection or not. And it seems that the industry is finally wising up to this; and we’re one step closer to music without restrictions.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
The adult film industry might seem like small potatoes when compared to “regular” movies, but you’d be surprised at the power it could hold in this format war: porn is a billion-dollar industry, and many claim that adult films actually outsell regular movie sales! Meanwhile, back in the 1970s, the porn industry’s decision to utilize the VHS format played a major role in VHS prevailing over Betamax.
The pendulum has been swinging back and forth between Blu-ray and HD DVD over the past year, with Blu-ray always appearing to be one step ahead in the race. In the U.S., Blockbuster announced that, while it would still carry HD DVD in its stores, it would only rent movies in the Blu-ray format, citing customer choice as the driving factor toward this decision. Research firm Parks Associates reported last month that Blu-ray is the front runner in the U.S., when taking both set-top boxes and gaming consoles into consideration. And of course when it comes to studio backing, Blu-ray leads the pack with support from more movie studios, while HD DVD titles are only available from Universal, Paramount, and Warner.
If the adult film industry goes HD DVD, will others follow; and will this spell an eventual win for the HD DVD format? Or will this just put a dent in Blu-ray’s perceived lead, and prolong the war? An even more important question: what advantage is there for the adult film industry to produce films in high-definition at all? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for technological advancement in any sense. But if TV actors are nervous about HD showing their every wrinkle and blemish, imagine how adult film actors must feel!
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
According to Consumer Reports’ survey of more than 2,000 households with access to the Internet, 8% admitted to having submitted personal information in response to a phishing e-mail. Over the past two years, Consumer Reports’ suspects that one million customers in the U.S. lost in the billions of dollars from these types of scams alone! And although the median cost of a phishing scam is US$200, scammers are actually getting better at what they do. Instead of strange, so-called prominent people from overseas countries asking you to cash a cheque for them in order to receive a one-million dollar gift in return (I'm still flabbergasted that anyone would fall for this one!), e-mails now appear to come from companies you actually deal with, like your bank or PayPal; an even people you know!
I receive e-mails on a weekly basis that appear to originate from a slew of different banks: TD, Royal Bank, CIBC, Scotiabank, you name it. Eventually, the “phishers” will finally get the right bank, and I’ll silently laugh as I delete the e-mail. I don’t buy it. But many unsuspecting, technophobic people aren’t so lucky.
For tips and tricks on how to avoid being the victim of an online scam, check out vol. 6 no. 3 of here’s how! magazine (check back to http://www.hereshow.ca/ later this month for the full issue in digital format).
[Photo: Shown here is an e-mail that appears to be from RBC, but is actually a phishing e-mail. The scammer is telling me that my account has been blocked due to suspected fraudulent activity (funny, isn't it?), and asking that I log in to re-instate it. If I hold my cursor over the URL given in the e-mail that looks to direct to RBC’s online security centre, I see that it actually directs to a bogus address. This is just one tip offered in the here’s how! article called Spams and Scams. Readers might also want to note that my Microsoft Outlook had actually flagged this e-mail as a potential phishing message, and filtered it automatically to my junk mail.]
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Dateline put this theory to the test: it purchased a whack of iPods, made a duplicate CD that would send registration information to its own “mock” database in addition to Apple’s, then “accidentally" left the already registered iPods in various places (park benches, shopping mall food courts, on top of cars, etc.) to be picked up by unsuspecting thieves. Then, they waited for someone to pick up the iPods and eventually register them online. Once a recognized serial number was found, Dateline staff headed to the supplied address to confront the person.
In many cases, it was some 17-year old punk who simply didn’t know any better (and who Dateline had caught on hidden camera swiping the players!) But in other cases, the iPod had fallen into the hands of innocent gift-recipients who had no idea it had been stolen.
Dateline felt that, if the existence of a way to track stolen iPods could be proven, people might just stop viewing them as an easy target for thievery. Of course, would this work just as well in real-world scenarios, and would Apple take it upon themselves to manage such a database for the purpose of tracking thieves?
In the end, although Apple neglected to comment on the story, Dateline did note that Apple has filed a patent for a modification to the iPod and iPhone that would prevent them from being recharged unless the user can prove the device is his. This will hopefully be the first step in deterring iPod theft.
What I find even more interesting than the fact that iPods have become such a desirable target for thieves is the fact that this nifty little device warranted a one-hour TV special based solely on how big a problem “i-Jacking” is.
Click here for a complete transcript of the TV special.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Apple’s iPod was actually tied with Microsoft Excel for the fourth spot, with 49 per cent of the professionals surveyed citing each as the most influential product. Coming in third at 50 per cent is Microsoft’s Windows 95, which was apparently the most widely used operating system. (Note to anyone still using Win95: it’s probably about time to upgrade!) Second, at 56 per cent, is the most widely used word processing application: Microsoft Word.
What product topped the list, having been cited by 66 per cent of the IT professionals surveyed? None other than Internet Explorer, the browser used to help you do everything from surf news and gossip Websites, to research products, and view streaming video. The first IE browser was launched in 1995, and, within a few years, it had become, and still remains, the predominant browser on the market.
Other products that made the list include Research in Motion’s BlackBerry (39 per cent); Adobe Photoshop (35 per cent); McAfee VirusScan (32 per cent); Netscape Navigator (31 per cent); and PalmPilot (31 per cent).
What would you deem the most influential IT product of the past 25 years?