Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Would You Like a Digital Tune with Your Latte?

Starbucks has always had an involvement in the music industry, selling CDs at the cash or even, in some locations I've seen (in the U.S.), equipped with digital music download stations where you can make your own custom CDs. Now, the java-fix supplier is teaming up with iTunes to offer a free Pick of the Week digital download to customers.

Visit any of 700 company-operated Starbucks locations in Ontario or Western Canada on a Tuesday, and the barista will hand you a complimentary download card with your purchase, good for 60 days to snag a music track on iTunes. You can't get any track you want, though. Each week, a particular song will be chosen by the Starbucks Entertainment Team and iTunes, and will include both Canadian and international artists. The promotion begins today, and the first Pick of the Week tune is Constant Knot by City and Colour.

Considering that Starbucks is a daily destination for many, this promotion could prove quite fruitful. Think about it: you'll get four free songs every month, and up to 48 a year! This is, of course, assuming that the store isn't "out of stock" by the time you arrive for your morning hot grande mocha java dark half-decaf no whipped latte. It's also great for artists, since customers will, assuming they download the tune, be exposed to new music they might never have otherwise been introduced to. And iTunes benefits since you'll have to download the iTunes software if you don't already have it; and might end up purchasing other tunes while you're there.

On the flip side, though, one could argue that the cost of that free song is already included in the high price you pay for the coffee. Either way, at least now you're getting something for that extra $0.50 you're forking over per drink. I'd be curious to know how many of the free tunes end up actually being downloaded versus forgotten in the back pocket of business men and trendy teens.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Do Not Call Reduces Annoying Telemarketing Calls, But Encourages Spam Mail

Canada's National Do Not Call List (DNCL) comes into effect today, which is good news for anyone who receives those annoying phone calls during dinner that ask if you're happy with your current car insurance provider. All you have to do is register at http://www.dncl.gc.ca/, and telemarketers will not be permitted to contact you by phone. If they violate this rule, they could be fined up to $15,000! It sounds great, but does this mean they'll stop trying to contact you for good? Not quite.

A survey conducted on behalf of Pitney Bowes by Harris/Decima finds that 66% of businesses that currently market their products and services by phone will simply switch to the direct mail method. Great. So my dinner, favourite TV show, or early Saturday morning will no longer be interrupted by some student reading robotically from a script, but my mailbox will be crammed with even more junk mail for recycling that I don't even open.

Nevertheless, direct mail campaigns obviously work to some degree, as long as the recipient is interested in your product or service. The same survey found that 26% of Canadians would be more likely to read unsolicited mail ifit were personalized. And the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) reports that every $1 spent in direct mail brings in $11 of business; more than twice as much as any other medium. (If this is the case, though, than wny wouldn't companies just go the direct mail route from the get-go?)

While the study was commissioned by Pitney Bowes with an obvious slant to snail mail campaigns, I'm sure that there are other studies that show many marketers will opt for the e-mail route as well. Online advertising spends will likely also go up as another method to reach customers. Funnily enough, my mom sent out an e-mail blast this morning letting everyone know about the DNCL, and suggesting that, while adding your name to the list might eliminate the calls, you could end up with "door-to-door (ding dong) telemarketers". (And yes, believe it or not, my mom is Internet-savvy!)

Rest assured that telephone or not, marketers will find a way to get their message out, whether it's by ding-dong door calls (selling vacuums, perhaps?) or a few extra letters in the mail every morning.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

TV DVDs Taking Over Movies?

I've visited a few retailers over the past little while and noticed something strange: DVD box sets for TV shows are placed front and centre of the store, with new release movies few and far in between. Why?

Are TV shows on DVD becoming more popular? Is this a way to make them more popular in the wake of things like on-demand movies that could be cutting into DVD sales? Or perhaps it's just a sales tactic since the holiday season is slowly creeping up on us? After all, DVD box sets are fairly popular among the gift-giving crowd.

Maybe it's also the result of a lot of successful TV shows coming out of the woodwork, like my favourite Dexter and other popular shows like Mad Men, The Office, and The Sopranos. Many of these are also broadcast on subscription-based networks, so it's likely that a lot of people wait until a series is released on DVD and then watch it that way instead of subscribing to the extra channels for a monthly fee. In fact, a friend of mine the other day told me of plans for a Lost party: he purchased the first two seasons on DVD, and a group of people were going to get together and watch it. It makes sense: you can watch an entire season in an 8-hour or so timeframe, and not have to even bother skipping through commercials because there are none!

Could TV on DVD be becoming yet another new way that people consume entertainment? After all, why wait a week to watch what's going to happen to the guy that Tony supposedly got whacked, or to find out what happens with Mike and Susan on Desperate Housewives? The one drawback to this, of course, is that you can't watch a season until it comes out on DVD, which is often long after the episodes have actually aired. If it's a really popular show, it would be tough to ignore all the media reports and water-cooler conversations that reveal what happens. But if you're able to wait it out, why not?

But back to my original observation. Maybe it's that there haven't been enough Blockbuster movies to warrant a huge new release section. While there have been a handful of popular movie titles as of late (Dark Knight immediately comes to mind), there have also been a lot of box office flops.

Either way, while I have never purchased a DVD box set of any kind for myself (I watch enough live TV as it is!) the rearrangement in store certainly engaged me, so I guess it's working to some degree. I found a few shows that I know won Emmys and considered picking them up to give them a try. Now all we need is Blu-ray TV show box sets, and we're in business!

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Acronyms: Confusing the Customer

The topic of confusing acronyms came up in a meeting yesterday, and got me thinking about the CE industry and the product sale. It's obvious that a salesperson should "dumb things down" in order to make sure the customer doesn't stare at him like a deer in headlights. But how many CE-related acronyms do we unknowingly take for granted that the average customer understands?

"HD" is the most common. You'd think by now that everyone under the sun knows what "HD" stands for, but the truth is that some don't. Then there's "PVR" or "DVR". The other day, a friend of mine asked me what "SLR" stood for because she had no idea.

Keep in mind that the actual words might not be important to know as long as the customer understands what you're describing. For example, as long as he knows that an LCD is a flat-screen TV, or a DVD is a circular disc that plays movies, then the actual term isn't 100% necessary. Two other examples: JPEG and MP3. No one really needs to know what they stand for as long as they understand what the terms are in reference to. But then there are others. "Who's your ISP?" a retailer might ask a stunned mother of three. "Huh?"

There's a simple way to avoid this: just use the words! Acronyms are meant to shorten sentences and simplify language for people who understand them. If the person doesn't, acronyms only make things more difficult. And that's the key. It could be a really simple word, but using the acronym might mistakenly intimidate someone, and make him think it means more than it is. So rather than say JPEG, just say "a type of digital image called JPEG", or even simply "photo". (The exact terminology will, of course, depend on the context).

It's important to note that you should always know your audience. If you're sitting among a group of CE industry members, well, you're pretty safe to follow the anything goes policy. But at a family dinner, you might want to go light on the alphabet soup.

With that said, for anyone who is interested in the meaning behind the acronyms noted above, here they are (along with a few others you might commonly hear or read about thrown in for good measure):

HD: High Definition. Basically, this refers to the resolution of a TV.

PVR: Personal Video Recorder. This is a device that has a built-in hard drive on which you can record TV programming.

DVR: Digital Video Recorder. Same as above, although the term DVR might be better suited toward a device that is separate from your cable or satellite TV box. For example, TiVo is a great example of a DVR. A set-top box from Bell TV that has recording functionality built right into it is probably better referred to as a PVR. The terms really are interchangeble in my books, though.

SLR: Single Lens Reflex. These are those big (although increasingly getting smaller) digital cameras that have interchangeable lens.

LCD: Liquid Crystal Display. This is a type of display, and refers to the process in which it's made and operates. While LCD can be used to describe anything from your cell phone's screen to that of a calculator, it's most commonly used in this industry to describe flat-panel TVs.

JPEG: Joint Photographic Experts Group. This just refers to the type of compression used in digital images that bear this extension (e.g. blog.jpg). It's the most common photo file type out there.

MP3: Moving Picture Experts Group Layer-3 Audio. Similar to JPEG, this is a type of compression for audio files. As with JPEG, it's arguably the most popular file type.

ISP: Internet Service Provider. This refers to the company that provides your Internet service. For example, Rogers, Videotron, or Bell.

VoIP: Voice Over Internet Protocol. This is a type of communication that lets you make voice calls using the Internet rather than a landline phone connection.

USB: Universal Serial Bus. This is a universal method of connecting a variety of portable devices. If you own a laptop, you'll probably see a couple of USB ports (small and slighty square-shaped) where you can plug in everything from a digital camera to an MP3 player. In the mobile phone industry, mini USB (a smaller version) is quickly becoming a standard as well.

GUI: Graphical User Interface. This one, usually actually spoken as "goo-ee", is the graphical menu that pops up on a device, whether it be a PC, touch-pad control, or TV. The term is most typically used, however, to describe the guide that appears on your TV when you're searching for programs via cable or satellite TV.

Feel free to add your own in the comments section below!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Web Complements, Not Replaces, Traditional Media

A new study conducted by The Canadian Internet Project (CIP) has found that the Web supplements traditional media rather than replaces it. Working for both print and Web publications, I'd be lying if I said this study wasn't a positive one from both a personal and an information perspective.

"Conventional wisdom would suggest that Internet use has increased at the expense of traditional media," explains Charles Zamaria, Professor at Ryerson University and Principal Investigator and Project Director of CIP. "But the amount of time spent attending to conventional media by Internet users and non-users is virtually identical.

"We found," he adds, "that Internet users are not finding time to be online by taking away from their traditional media diet. In many ways. media activity just begets more media activity."

It's not surprisingly, however, that people aged 12-17 (of which 400 were interviewed) spend about 15% less time with traditional media than adults. Still, it's promising numbers for anyone in the TV, radio, magazine, or book publishing industry. At the same time, the numbers related to the Y-generation users indicate that anyone who isn't seriously looking at the Web to complement your current strategy should do so in order to keep up.

The survey, which was conducted with more than 3,100 Canadians, also discovered that Internet penetration overall increased by 6% to reach 78% of Canadians in 2007. We're also spending more time online: 17 hours a week vs. just 13 in 2004. Of those aged 12-17, a whopping 96% are online; and more than 50% of those aged 60 and older are as well. But what's most interesting is that the 60+ group isn't just checking e-mail and basic Web pages: they're engaging in "hip" activities like social networking and photo uploading!

Another interesting finding: there's a significant, 15% gap between English-speaking Canadians and French-speaking residents, with the former online more frequently. Is there a need for more French-language Websites? It's an interesting question that I've never really made an observation about.

Personally, I find that I read paperback books almost as often as I read news on the 'net. The same goes for TV, and occassionally magazines. So even in my own personal experiences, I can see how new forms of media like the Internet just complement activities that have already become commonplace.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First Android Phone Lands on Earth

The first mobile phone to operate using Google's Android open platform will soon be available to T-Mobile customers in the U.S., after which it will touch down in the U.K. and then across Europe. Called the G1, the phone sounds like a mix of the iPhone and BlackBerry Bold, with a dash of Nokia N95 and Sony Ericsson K850 thrown in for good measure. What I mean is that it loooks to incorporate many of the best features of these phones to create a (hopefully) really, really cool product.

First, there's the touch-screen interface that slides down to reveal a QWERTY keyboard. This is combined with a BlackBerry-like trackball as an alternative means of operation. To zoom into a Web page, tap the screen (similar to the "pinch" function with the iPhone). One set-back I've noticed with the Bold is that, when I'm surfing a Web page, I'm forced to close it down to go back and check newly received e-mails. With the G1, you can easily go back and forth between Websites and e-mails.

Like both the iPhone and Bold, the G1 operates on the 3G network, and also integrates WiFi access. If you want to access e-mail, the device syncs seamlessly with Gmail, plus most other POP3 or IMAP accounts. To boot, it also boasts other Google favourites, like Maps, Street View, Gmail, and YouTube. A really cool feature: there's a built-in compass that will let you view locations at 360-degrees around you by just moving the phone in your hand.

The integrated digital camera is a step above the standard camera phones at a moderate (but certainly not industry-leading) 3 MP. Music playback and purchase is also an important facet of the phone experience. Using a new application developed by Amazon.com, customers can search, purchase and download from more than six-million DRM-free tunes.

Android is built around an open source platform, which means that pretty much anyone can develop an "app" for an Android phone that can then be downloaded to the device. The best part, however, is that Google will be offering Android to participating phone manufacturers for free. In addition to HTC, these currently include Motorola Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., and LG Electronics Inc.; as well as Texas Instruments. At launch, apps will include one designed for comparative shopping (ShopSavvy), and another that tracks daily behaviours in order to help users become more environmentally-conscious.

While Canada isn't on the list of companies to initially see this phone, I'm hopeful that it will eventually come here. It will sell in the U.S. for $179 with a two-year voice and data agreement starting October 22.

Could the device blow the iPhone out of the water? Who knows. But judging from the basic specs and design description, I'd say it has a pretty good chance.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

SanDisk Loads up microSD Cards with Music

SanDisk has developed a logical means of music distribution: microSD memory cards that come pre-loaded with music. Aptly named slotMusic, the cards will include DRM-free tunes from major record labels like EMI, Sony BMG, Universal, and Warner.

I've always been a fan of the flash memory card format, mainly due to its versatility and convenience. They sort of remind me of mini versions of the 3.5mm floppy discs of yesteryear, in that you can buy them pre-loaded, or load a bunch of data onto them, then access said data by inserting the square-shaped device into your PC. Except with flash memory, you can instantly access the data through a host of other devices as well: an MP3 player, a cell phone, a portable navigation device, a voice recorder, a digital photo frame, an SD card-enabled TV or car stereo system: essentially any digital card reader of any kind. The slotMusic cards will come with a small USB adapter to connect them directly to the PC, but I'm surprised that they won't come with SD card adapters, which allow you to insert them into larger, SD card-enabled devices (e.g. a digital camera).

One of the first questions that came to mind when I heard about this product was whether you'd be able to load your own songs onto the card as well. The answer is yes, you can. Each card is 1 GB in capacity, and tunes already loaded onto them will play back at 320 kbps. A really neat addition, however, is that the cards not only store the audio tracks, but also liner notes, album art, videos, and other creative content selected by the artist.

While the concept makes sense, and I'd totally be on board for it, there are some things to consider. First, if you have a Sony Ericsson mobile phone or other portable Sony device, you're likely out of luck since they use the Memory Stick media format. If you have an iPod, you're also not interested in this format since iPods (sadly) don't have memory card slots.

Another concern is the fact that microSD memory cards are tiny and therefore much easier to lose than a CD. While this wouldn't be a major setback with those old 16 and 32 MB cards that were the norm, today's 8 and 16 GB cards can easily hold someone's entire music collection. Would I entrust a small card like that with all my music, even if it were slotted into a postage stamp-sized SD adapter? I'm not sure. But it is something to consider if you're prone to misplacing things.

One thing's for sure: if SD cards continue to become more and more ubiquitous, you can bet your bottom dollar there will be a ton of them floating around pockets, purses, and wallets. If I were an accessory manufacturer, I'd be jumping on this opportunity to design a whole whack of neat, secure, and fashionable microSD memory card holders that can accomodate multiple cards, and fit into a wallet or purse. These may become the way of the future.

Availability and pricing for SanDisk's slotMusic cards will be announced in time for the holiday season; and they will initially be available through Best Buy and Wal-Mart stores in the U.S., with Europe to follow.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

What Will They Think of Next: Electronic Sleep Aid

Why bother with sleeping pills, hot tea, or meditation to battle insomnia when you can use technology! A biomedical company called HBI USA has developed a wrist-worn device called the DreamKeeper 400 that helps you fall asleep.

The gadget uses the company's proprietary Breath Synchronization Program (BSP) and Parallelized ElectroStatic Field (PESF) technology to slow down your breathing, than "adjust the user's biological clock". Just slap the DreamKeeper 400 onto your wrist (touching a particular spot called acupoint 6) 30 minutes before heading to bed for a period of 3 weeks. The unit does not emit any sort of current nor tingling vibrations upon your skin.

At the end of this 3-week period, HBI says that you'll experience "prolonged sleep with improved quality".

While I'd love to try it out to confirm the effectiveness of this device, I fear it might cause me to miss work!

DreamKeeper 400 is available for US$149.99 and yes, it sells through consumer electronics outlets like Target and Amazon.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Best Buy Mobile Survey Reveals Cell Phone Buyer Frustrations

In conjunction with the launch of its first Best Buy Mobile location in Canada, the retailer conducted a survey to find out what frustrates Canadians when it comes to the purchase of a mobile phone.

Not surprisingly, 60% cited dealing with service providers because of things like unbiased advice, the inability to change their service plans, and pesky hidden service fees. Best Buy's Director of Wireless Solutions, Phil Johnston, says that service providers "aren't giving transparent, unbiased information to their customers."

Of customers who own a mobile device, 74% say that a salesperson who's knowledgeable about service plans, not just devices, is "essential" to their shopping experience. (What on earth do the remaining 26% care about?) Just shy of 58% seek out a neutral, objective salesperson to walk them through mobile options as well. (Again, what are the other 42% thinking?)

Call me crazy, but I'd focus on getting rid of the hidden fees altogether instead of just revealing to the customer that hey, there are all these other fees that you'll be nickeled and dimed for. But that's up to the carriers, not the retailers, so I digress. In terms of working with what we've got, so to speak, being upfront and direct with the customer always helps; and it'll build credibility for any business.

Further to contract considerations, Best Buy Mobile's survey also discovered that 44% of new mobile phone buyers aged 35 to 54 say they struggle to get their fancy, new device up and running once they get home. While this might not have applied to the phones of yesteryear that simply charged up for 24 hours and were ready to go to make phone calls the next day, today's new data services can be overwhelming. How do I access the 'net from my phone? How do I set up my e-mail account on a BlackBerry? I bought a Bluetooth headset and a Bluetooth-equipped phone, but now how do I get them to talk to one another? To industry members, these questions sound silly. To the average consumer, they are often head-scratchers.

Not surprisingly, the survey ties in with strategies that Best Buy is taking with its new Mobile standalone and store-within-store locations, including employing non-commissioned salespersons, and a walk-out working program that will provide coaching and set-up up for customers before they leave the store. The neatest aspect of the service, in my opinion, is a machine that the salesperson can use to transfer all the data from your old phone to your new one in a matter of minutes. Now that's service!

The survey was conducted online by Angus Reid Strategies on August 25 and 26, 2008 with 1,003 Canadians.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dell Makes DVD Burning Drive for Digitally-Downloaded Content

Dell has plans to make what could be stringent copyright lobbyists' worst nightmare: a PC drive that would let customers take movies downloaded from CinemaNow and burn them to DVDs that can be played in most standard DVD players. While it sounds like a logical function (and let's face it: it is), those who feel strict copyright laws should be enforced will frown upon this device, claiming that it, along with other like devices, "infringes on copyrights".

The drives, which are based on Sonic Solutions' Qflix technology, work in tandem with the Roxio Venue application and specific Qflix CinemaNow titles (there are reportedly about 100 set to be available thus far), to create Qflix DVDs. The drive is already available in the U.S. as an option for most Inspiron, Studio, and XPS notebook PCs, and sells for US$120.

While some movie downloads from the CinemaNow Website are available in Canada, I doubt that this product and service will be. It's just another to add to the list that potential Canadian copyright law changes could deem illegal. This is despite the fact that it makes perfect sense to 1) enjoy content that you've legally purchased anywhere you want; and 2) be able to make back-ups of downloaded movies in case your PC crashes. Not to mention that DVDs created from this program are indeed copy-protected, just like regular store-bought DVDs.

"People are accessing and managing more and more digital content with their PCs," explains Michelle Pearcy, Director of Global Software Marketing at Dell, "but often they're limited by where and when they can view their content. With Qflix, movie fans can now burn their movies and TV shows to DVDs..."

Sonic Solutions' Executive Vice President of Strategy Mark Ely makes a bold statement in claiming that the Qflix technology is "bringing the $35 billion DVD sell-through market into the age of electronic distribution."

While I do see the other side of the coin where content can be mass-produced and sold in an illegal fashion (a la bootlegged content), stopping the development and integration of technology really isn't the answer. With that said, hopefully this product and the Qflix technology will cross over to the Canadian market in the near future.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Americans Procrastinate When it Comes to DTV Transition

A study conducted by DisplaySearch finds that to date, only 6% of Americans have redeemed a coupon to upgrade to a digital TV box to replace the source for their old TVs that are currently grabbing over-the-air signals. 23% of the respondents have at least one TV that is receiving programming in this manner, and close to 40% watch TV this way exclusively! As of February 2009 when the U.S. officially switches over to digital, none of these TVs will work.

Paul Gagnon, Director of North America TV Market Research for DisplaySearch points to the obvious reason of procrastination as what's holding these consumers back. This is especially so since more than half report that they do understand what the transition means, and believe that information has been adequately communicated to them.

"If a large number of consumers wait until the last minute," notes Gagnon, "there could be problems satisfying the surge in demand for converter boxes all at once, ultimately leaving some in the dark."

On the brighter side for the industry, perhaps frustrated consumers will run out to buy fancy, new flat-panel TVs so they don't miss their favourite programs. I'll bet money that there will be "DTV Transition" sales all over the U.S. targeting customers that don't want to wait in line for a DTV box for their old clunker. I can already envision taglines like "It's time to upgrade!" and "flat-panel is where it's at!" Lets face it: this is a very possible scenario considering that DisplaySearch numbers confirm over 25 million TVs that will require a transition to digital.

We've got 5 months to go. My advice to anyone in the U.S. that has an old TV and doesn't want to face the horrors of last minute rushes is to go now, grab your coupon, and enjoy a smooth transition come February.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Best Buy Buys Napster...Why?

The big news today is that Best Buy in the U.S. has purchased online music download company Napster for a reported US$121 million. Which begs the question: why?

Online music downloading has been an arguably struggling business for years, plagued by illegal, peer-to-peer (P2P) music Websites and customer's (warranted) hatred of silly things like DRM that prevent you from listening to purchased tracks on various devices, or burning them to CD. According to the Financial Times, Napster actually reported a loss of US$16.5 million in the year ending March 31.

Along with the still existent P2P activity and DRM (which is slowly melting away, but could see a resurgence thanks to the Government's Bill C-61), online digital download sites like Napster still have to fight the leader in that realm: iTunes. And with the iPhone added to the iPod family, iTunes will likely continue to be the leader of the pack, likely by an even bigger gap.

I'm trying to fathom why Best Buy would take on the task of competing with iTunes. The only thing I can come up with is that the strategy works in tandem with the retailer's recent move to ramp up its involvement in the mobile phone arena. Best Buy is opening standalone Best Buy Mobile stores that sell mobile phones. As is evidenced by devices like the iPhone, Nokia N95, and Sony Ericsson Walkman phones, music is becoming a huge part of the mobile phone experience. Could Best Buy be working out deals with carriers to link Napster downloading with their services? Or is Best Buy just looking to get back into this side of the business now that companies are offering DRM-free tunes that are more appealing to customers?

On the portable media player side, perhaps this is a way for Best Buy to make money on the sale of devices other than the iPod. Maybe a Napster subscription will be offered as an incentive to the purchase of an MP3 player. Or on the flip side, maybe "deals" on music downloading will be awarded in store on purchases. Who knows.

While there's no official comment on how the takeover might affect the Canadian market, my guess is that Best Buy is just testing the waters for now, and making sure that the company is well equipped to compete should digital music downloading take a significant upsurge in the next few years. While I'm rooting for this to take off, I'm not holding my breath either.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Seinfeld & Bill Gates "Perpetually Connecting"

Silly me always thought that "PC" stood for "Personal Computer". Nope, it appears that, according to the second Seinfeld/Bill Gates new campaign TV commercial, it now means "Perpetually Connecting". Hey, he's Bill Gates. If he decides to change the meaning to an acronym, than he can.

While I was left scratching my head at the first commercial in this new campaign, which saw Gates and Seinfeld meet in a shoe store (and oddly had me thinking Ed O'Neil's character Al Bundy in Married...With Children meets weird guy on the street in NYC), this one is slightly better. Apparently it debuted last night during Big Brother (which I was tuned into), but I guessed I missed it due to my PVR habits of fast forwarding through the commercials. Nevertheless, I did find a 4:30 copy on YouTube. I'm not sure which portion actually ran on live TV (perhaps the entire story in several 1-minute segments?) Either way, here's my take.

While I get the concept: conversations about "nothing" just like the show Seinfeld, I wonder how effective it can be in a 1:30 commercial versus a 30-minute sitcom. Sure, watching a series of the commercials will probably eventually tie the loose ends together, but aren't commercials supposed to make a bang? The instant I saw the first Mac vs. PC commercial from Apple, I got it. I laughed. There was no question of the intent. With every commercial thereafter, I still get it, I still laugh at each one individually, and there is a clear connection between them all. Subtlety, it seems, doesn't quite cut it for this viewer.

With that said, I will give some kudos to this second commercial, which puts Gates and Seinfeld in the home of a "regular" family in an effort to connect to "real" people. There are some humorous moments, like when Gates gives the bratty teenage girl a snarky look and spits out the double entendre that she's not so "real". Or when the mom and dad, on separate occasions, confide in Seinfeld that they have money hidden from one another.

But there's no real reference to computers or computing, period, other than a small sequence where Gates plays video games with the family son and alludes to the secrecy of the obviously fantastic game they're engaged in. And then there's the ending where, like in the first commercial, Seinfeld asks Gates to give him a signal if there's more to come from Microsoft (this time, Gates attempts the "robot" instead of shaking his bootie").

I think the commercial would have had more of an effect if the "nothing" theme extended to a PC experience, like Gates trying to show the mom how to use Vista, or walking the daughter through a new blog or social networking page. Naturally, humour would need to be included. Seinfeld could be looking on, asking why you need a PC anyway, and Gates could show him as Seinfeld throws back one comical refute after another. Perhaps where the subtlely should lie is in taking a dig at Apple or two within this process, but perhaps that would be too much like Apple's strategy.

On that note, too bad Microsoft couldn't get the entire Seinfeld cast involved, each playing his signature character. Now that would have been a hoot!

If you so desire, the entire commercial can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBWPf1BWtkw.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SpeakerCraft at CEDIA: No Product, But All Show!

What is up with all the controversy surrounding the SpeakerCraft booth at CEDIA? As mentioned in a previous post, the company opted not to feature any products in its booth, focusing instead on helping its dealers remain profitable in a weak economy through some "unconventional" means. This included entertaining them with scantily-clad dancers performing just down-right weird performances that looked like a combination of Cirque de Soleil with Michael Jackson's Thriller video from the '80s. Naturally, many have complained that the move was unprofessional, and a waste of dealer's time and booth space. So why did the company do it?

There are actually some very valid reasons behind it, believe it or not. Rather than focus on product, the company opted to hand out materials and play looped video that offered tips on remaining profitable during these trying times. The booth design also emphasized the importance of environmental consciousness, utilizing recycled materials throughout to create an eye-catching design.

Some feel the booth was insulting to other companies that took the time and effort to set up products and demonstrate them. Others felt it was all a show with no substance. Oh yah, did I mention the booth had seats and free beer? Frankly, I think it was a breath of fresh air. Here's a company that's not afraid to take risks, to be different, and to bring a little bit of fun back into the industry. Granted, as one colleague pointed out to me, people don't pay their staff to go to a trade show to sit in a booth all day long, drink, and watch dancing girls. I don't even need to spell out an obvious analogy to that situation. But I really didn't see any of that perceived sluggish, slacking off attitude at all. In fact, what I did see was a massive group of guys, tired and exhausted from walking the show floor and going through classes, with a smile on their face as they took 10-15 min. to watch the show or chat with friends in the SpeakerCraft "area" (I say area because it was just that when you consider the masses of people that spilled over to the perimeters of the actual booth).

The bottom line is that, if I were a dealer, that booth probably would not have made me pick up the SpeakerCraft line or tout the merits of the company's products to anyone. But if I already sold it, I'd probably be thinking back in the shop "man, those guys are pretty cool." A big part of this industry relies on immeasurable variables like psychology and brand awareness. And sometimes companies forget that it's not just the customer that needs to be aware of your brand, it's also the guys that are selling it.

If you're clueless as to what all this SpeakerCraft booth talk is about, or just want a second (or third, or fourth) look at the daily performance there, check out our video footage, complete with an exclusive interview with SpeakerCraft's V.P. of International Sales, Linda van Zanten. She sheds some light on some of the method behind the booth madness!

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Mac vs. PC: Standing up for the Windows PC Keyboard

I've always used a PC. I tend to be a creature of habit, and when I'm used to something, I don't adjust well to change. I work, however, in an office dominated by Mac users. Aside from my aversion to change, I also have to use the Windows OS for certain business purposes. In an effort to give it a chance, and in a sort of compromise, I've been working on a MacBook Pro running the Windows XP OS for the past month or so.

Macs are better, they say. Macs are more reliable, they say. Well, there are other, very important things to consider than the actual OS.

While I understand that there's a learning curve with any new piece of hardware or software that might do things differently than you're used to, the absence of logical function keys baffles me. Why on earth does the integrated mouse pad only have one button? What happens if I want to right-click something to save it, or e-mail to a friend? These are functions I perform all the time. After some frustration and searching, I found and downloaded a Web program that lets you right click by holding down Command and hitting the mouse button simultaneously. OK, so it can be done, but I need two hands to accomplish a simple task that should just require one.

Speaking of the actual mouse pad, another function I love with PC-based laptops is that I can actually double-tap the built-in mouse pad to select something. Scroll, tap, tap in one movement. With the Mac keyboard, I have to awkwardly scroll, lift my finger, move down, and tap then repeat. Imagine how annoying this is when, say, filling out a form online where there's several drop-down menus. It kind of feels clunky compared to the fluid motions I'm used to.

Then there's my hatred for the delete key. Seeing as I do a lot of word processing, I'll often write or edit something, read it over, and use the delete key in between sentences as I adjust things. Typically, this is the key that you use once the cursor is in front of a word to begin deleting it. Apparently delete in Mac language is equivalent to backspace. Naturally, there's no key called backspace on the Mac keyboard. Again, I figured out another two-key method I could use in order to accomplish this: Fn + delete = delete.

As a sidenote, I also used this button on a Windows PC to delete e-mails in a fast and efficient manner; which is helpful when receiving a ton of spam. Now, I have to again use two hands to scroll down message by message, then use the mouse pad to select the "X" at the top menu bar to delete each one individually. Or, of course, there's Fn + delete.

Another set of handy keys I often use when scrolling through and reviewing documents is Page Up and Page Down. Yes, you guessed it: neither are on the Mac keyboard. So instead of quickly hitting a button to scroll through each page of a lengthy article, I have to continuously hit or hold down the up or down arrow keys, or use the mouse pad to scroll over to the side up/down bar, hold down the mouse button, and scroll with the pad. Somehow I feel like this task just became twice as long.

Now, before you say what I know you'll say, I am aware that I can easily connect a separate mouse with two buttons and stop complaining. And I can just learn all the weird, short-codes and get on with my life. In fact, in the office, I do just this and go one step further, connecting the notebook to a two-button USB keyboard, mouse, and large-screen display. But I'm looking at the big picture. When I'm working at home or on the road, I am often using the notebook while lying in bed, with it on my lap on the couch, or sitting in an airport. None of these spots are ideal for connecting a mouse; and in all of them, I'm looking to get things done. Quickly.

I understand the OS might be world's better than Windows (to be honest, I haven't used it enough to really make a critical comparison). But why is this at the expense of logical key placement and function operation? What's more, this isn't Apple's first Mac. Why haven't they combated these issues and split that single mouse button in two, added a backspace key, and even gone crazy with Page Up/Page Down? Don't tell me there's no room. Do I really need two command and two alt buttons? I think I only ever use those to log on (I hear in the distance Mac users everywhere mocking Ctrl+Alt+Delete. Go ahead. Laugh.).

On the positive side, the keyboard is actually really comfortable to use when typing; and some of the top function keys are pretty handy (volume up/down, brightness, etc.) Granted, you'll find these functions on some Windows-based keyboards as well. The screen is nice, the form factor aesthetically gorgeous, and the magnetic power supply pretty darned cool. But I can't help but look at it as a ditzy, but pretty, schoolgirl compared to an average-looking, but very smart girl, that has the tendency to be a klutz at times.

I'm sure in time, I'll get used to the changes and feel more comfortable using a Mac over a PC. But until then, I will hold my ground that if your work involves a lot of writing or document review in Microsoft Word, stick with a PC. It sort of falls in line with the way I feel in the wireless phone world: I love the iPhone as well, but I'd still take the BlackBerry Bold over it any day.

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CEDIA EXPO: The Numbers Are In, and the Verdict Is...

CEDIA has officially released data on attendance at this year's Expo, which just wrapped up yesterday. As many expected, attendance was down by about 16%, from 29,000 visitors last year to 25,000 this year. However, CEDIA calls it a "minimal decrease", especially considering the current economic climate. The organization also claims that the number of non-exhibiting attendees was actually up, along with the number of system contractors taking courses.

What it sounds like, then, is that exhibitor numbers were down, because the actual show floor was certainly crowded on any given day of the show. Last year, there was a relatively small room on the lower level that housed maybe about 40 exhibitors showing off their wares in a more intimate setting. This year, that room sadly didn't exist, and many guess that there were just too few exhibitors that showed up. Indeed, it was observed that some companies magically appeared on the main floor on the second day to set up, leading many to believe that they had relocated from that bottom area.

While CEDIA is an important event for the custom A/V industry, it does cost a lot in both time and money to purchase a booth, set it up, fly down a team to man the booth, and then entertain dealers whilst there. Attendees don't have to worry about booth set up or any other costs but a flight, hotel, and meals (and time, of course). So it makes sense that if anyone were going to lay low this year and cut costs in relation to trade shows, it would be the manufacturers.

Nevertheless, CEDIA says that more than 500 companies exhibited at the show, 90 of which were new. While there wasn't one item that caused major buzz, there were a handful that really caught the attention of some. These include Russound's Collage system that provides multi-room digital audio distribution by using standard, AC wiring; Savant's ROSIE surface touch-panel controller that was on display in a coffee table-like setting that visitors could play around with; and, of course, anything and everything from Crestron!

Booth-wise, there's no question that Speakercraft stole the show with its oversized, oddly-designed booth that did not feature any products. Yes, you read that correctly: Speakercraft did not have ANY products in its booth! The company opted to use the show as a way to help dealers do better during these trying economic times, handing out cards that provided tips on remaining profitable, or inproving customer service. This was topped off by comfortable seating areas and something no one can say no to: free beer! Needless to say, the booth was jam-packed 'round the clock. A daily performance featuring Thriller-like, derelict and masked dancers accompanied by enchanting music really took this booth over the top. Stay tuned for a video interview with SpeakerCraft Canada's Linda van Zanten explaining the booth concept, along with some footage of the performance (soon featured at www.marketnews.ca/videos.asp).

Now that CEDIA has officially wrapped up, everyone's already thinking about CES and making their reservations for that show.

As an aside, any time I fly to any trade show, especially CEDIA and CES, it appears that at least half the plane is occupied by Canadian CE industry members. We should really think of banding together and getting a private plane. It could potentially save money, and hassle for everyone. And if we could find one without the dreaded middle seat, everyone would be a little bit happier upon their arrival.

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

CEDIA EXPO: The Sub-Cultures of the Tech Trade Show

I'm often asked what our industry trade shows are like. Most people assume that because we deal with all of these fun "tech toys" and travel to spots like Las Vegas (or Denver, in CEDIA'S case) that it's all about a little bit of work and a lot of fun, schmoozing, and partying it up. While, yes, these shows are typically a good time, the fun is offset by the mounds and mounds of exhausting work. So what is it really like to be involved in a consumer electronics trade show?

I can tell you from first hand what it's like for us as members of the media to walk a trade show. A typical day will consist of lots of meetings, lots of booth tours, lugging around pounds and pounds of press kits (thank goodness for the thumb drive!) and camera gear, and doing a little writing in the press room in between walks. But what about those on the other side of the fence? The manufacturers, sales reps, and dealers?

I spoke to some industry members to get their perspective on the trade show experience. In essence, it's probably more tiring for the manufacturers and distributors because they're standing on their feet, all day long in the same spot. They talk to person after person, from journalists to potential new dealers; and occasionally meeting with existing ones, which is a welcome chance to sit down for a change. While sales reps and distributors are often found outside of a booth, it's likely only because they're running from one client to another, dividing their time as best they can among all of their exhibiting accounts.

Lunch? What's lunch? Walk around any trade show floor, including CEDIA, and you'll see guys in suits and ties crouched on a corner of the floor chowing down on a slice of cold pizza. Some might designate one guy to run and grab some real grub, but lunch can never consist of anything longer than 10 minutes.

Everyone typically has early morning meetings, followed by late night schmooze dinners with top dealers. And be warned: if your dealer likes to party, you'd better like it too, because you'll be getting home at about 3 a.m. (it would be rude to take off any earlier, after all), only to get up the next day and do it all over again.

Dealers probably have it best. The show's all about education, and getting schmoozed. They'll walk the floor to learn about new products, make deals with vendors, maybe take some courses, and then enjoy a nice meal or event, courtesy of a manufacturer or distributor partner. One former dealer told me that, prior to any show, it was his job to arrange the team's "social calendar" by calling up vendors and finding out what was going on each night.

So yes, there are parties and events that take place in the evenings to complement the full days of exhausting work. You'd think that after a 10-hour day on your feet, the last thing anyone would want to do is go to some bar. But many follow the mantra, "work hard, play hard". Your intention might be to grab a nice glass of wine and a decent steak dinner. But what often happens is that you'll run into a big client, some colleagues, or just fellow industry members that you know. Then one drink turns into several, the group gets larger as the night creeps on, and before you know it, you're rolling into bed just as the sun's coming up, catching about 2 hours of sleep before getting up for a big meeting the next morning. The smart, sensible ones hole themselves up in their hotel rooms right after dinner, avoiding the risk of any night time shenanigans.

But there is a positive side (other than a fun night) to sacrificing your sleep: those evening events are often great bonding experiences to talk to your peers outside of the standard, business environment. And this industry in particular is fantastic for a high level of comraderie, despite fierce competition. Last night, for example, we enjoyed an evening out with individuals from three major flat-panel TV manufacturers. In what other industry can a bunch of guys get together and have a genuinely great time when, in reality, they should be looking at each other as "the enemy"?

Trade shows also bode well for the rumour mill. At CEDIA, everyone was talking about next year's event, which will be moving to Atlanta. Are you happy with that? Do you prefer Denver? What about Chicago? Another rumour we've heard: the possibility that CES, which is already on everyone's minds as we wrap up CEDIA, could be moving to Orlando in 2010. Could it be true? Finally, many were buzzing that attendance at this year's event is down anywhere from 15-30% in comparison to last year. It will be interesting to see the actual numbers once they're revealed.

And there you have it: the consumer electronics trade show experience in a nutshell.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

CEDIA EXPO: Hot Products & Demos

While some think attendance is down at this year's CEDIA EXPO (blame the economy and the fact that the show began right after the Labour Day long weekend), it's still chock-fulled of exhibits and attendees of every ilk. Last year, it was evident that the breadth of products on display covered the gamut of home A/V, moving heavily into areas like computing and home decor as well. It makes sense, after all, since custom A/V has really become about lifestyle, not just about the living room. At this year's event, the scope has broadened even more: I've seen everything from vacuum cleaners to a neat new spin on the bean bag chair in something called the Cuddle Bag (I have to admit: it is quite comfortable to sit in!) Here are a few "quick hits" on some other interesting products at the show:

The Squeezebox Boom: You've likely heard of the Squeezebox from Logitech, a DVD case-sized device that allows you to stream music from the Internet or your PC to a stereo system within the home. The Boom is essentially a self-contained unit, adding a speaker and amp to the portable package. It's an ideal option for a secondary location in the home, like your kitchen or bedroom. It'll be available for US$329 at the end of September.

LG's 47" LED LCD TV: The "hot" trend in the LCD TV arena seems to be LED backlighting, and LG's new 47" model is pretty impressive, offering blacker blacks and an overall sharper image. LG's intelligent sensor automatically adjusts the picture according to ambient light; another technological trend that's all the rage at the show. It will be available in September for $3,499.

Tivoli NetWorks Radio: The small, classy-designed tabletop radio uses WiFi technology to play back music and other audio content, like podcasts, wirelessly from a PC. By setting up the radio either via WiFi or Ethernet connection, you can listen to Internet radio stations from around the world, streaming tunes from your PC’s playlist, or your favourite podcasts, from anywhere in the home. It sells for $649, and comes in various finishes including cherry and walnut. Separate, matching speakers are available for $120 each.

If you're currently at the show, here are a few demos worth checking out:

Belkin's FlyWire HD distribution system: This is the first time that the product, which can send HD signals from one source display to another, has actually been up and running for us to see. It works within a 100-foot range (depending on obstructions). I watched a cartoon animation via a connected Blu-ray player, and picture quality was decent, although I can't say it blew me away. At just $999 when it first launches in November, it's a nice entry-level piece for those who want to port content between just two rooms. And we can expect this category to grow exponentially this year.

Epson Ensemble HD: This product has been in the works for a long time, and it's a neat idea for the customer that's looking for a quick and easy solution to home theatre. The package, which won't be available in Canada until November or so, includes a projector housed within an integrated surround cradle, screen with a left, right, and centre speaker built right into the frame, sub, controller with a built-in DVD player and various other connectivity options, equipment cabinet, universal remote, and all of the cables and other installation tools you'd need. Epson claims that the system, which will sell for US$4,999 with a 720p projector and US$6,999 for a 1080p projector, should take about four hours to install. I was impressed with the image quality during a short demo; it's definitely worth a look. While you're in the area, check out Epson's anamorphic lens demo that shows off the capabilities of its latest projector in full widescreen format (a captivating, dark scene from Harry Potter), as well as traditional 16:9 HD TV content (a fascinating excerpt from the Beijing Olympics).

Denon Audyssey Dynamic Volume: Have you ever been watching a TV show and found yourself jumping for the remote when a commercial comes on because the volume has been cranked up ten notches? This feature will automatically adjust volume based on three modes so that it always remains leveled. A demo at Denon's booth shows you how it works so you can hear it with your own ears. This third-party feature will be available in all new Denon receivers. Now that's clever!

Pioneer Elite demo: The new Pioneer Elite plasma TVs are absolutely gorgeous in both style and picture quality. It's worth taking in the 15-minute demo that shows off the company's strength when it comes to producing the blackest blacks.

Avoca Voice-Controlled Music Storage System: I wrote about this music storage product a few weeks back, but I finally had the chance to see it work live at the show. Essentially, it's a hard drive that stores tunes from inserted CDs, which can then be accessed wireless using the companion handheld device (HP iPAQ). The cool feature is that it operates via touch-screen as well as voice commands. I was amazed that the handheld device was able to pick up our voices despite the loud and crowded show floor. Hold down a corner button on the touch-screen display and just speak your command. You can say everything from "Play Madonna" to building your own playlists that can be called up by voice commands. Your voice can also control things like "next track" or "turn down volume". If you prefer, you can assign nicknames to tracks, which will probably be a useful feature for classical fanatics that will often have concertos and the like with long, drawn-out titles in their collections.

Stay tuned for more from the show!

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

CEDIA EXPO: Press Day Overview: Can Tru2Way, Internet Connectivity, Do Away with the Set-top Box?

Press day at CEDIA EXPO 2008, the day prior to the show’s official opening, proved fruitful for manufacturers on various fronts. For one, a good cross-section of industry journalists showed up to see the latest and greatest products. And second, the day was blessed with gorgeous weather in Denver, CO that made trudging from one hotel ballroom to another ballroom in an entirely different hotel, hour after hour, a not-so bad experience (we plead with you: please make all the press conferences in one venue next year!). But more important than the weather is the new products, and we got a sneak-peek at plenty of them, including the latest flat-panel TVs and Blu-ray players from the top manufacturers.

Traditionally, when we talk about connectivity with a TV, it’s in reference to a video source like a cable or set-top box. But as the Internet continues to play an important role as a conduit for good-quality video content, people are more often looking toward the PC as a source of entertainment. Flat-panel manufacturers are picking up on this growing trend, and coming out with innovative partnerships and designs to accommodate. In fact, connectivity is one of the key components of Panasonic’s “Viera message”, and the company’s latest plasmas certainly fall in line with it. A feature called Viera Cast allows a TV to essentially work as an IP device, connecting to the Internet via Ethernet, than porting content from partners, who range from YouTube to the Weather Channel and Bloomberg news. Sony is also continuing its focus in this area with new Bravia models, including the sexy new ultra-thin 9.9mm thin model, that utilize the company’s Internet Link technology. Sharp’s gorgeous new limited edition XS LCDs (I’ve never seen reds reproduced so sharply, excuse the pun!) incorporate Sharp’s ongoing Aquos Net feature that provides content as well as remote tech support. All companies plan to come out with new Blu-ray models that include BD Live as well for enjoying additional content from the ‘net while watching a compatible Blu-ray disc title.


The most interesting new method of getting content to the TV, however, hails from a new initiative called Tru2Way, which is essentially a cable technology that will download applications to the TV itself, including channels, guide, pay-per-view specialty content, etc., where the content will continue to reside. The technology, if it takes off, will essentially replace the need for a set-top box altogether! Panasonic, one of the key companies involved with the technology, will have Tru2Way operating and on display at its booth, so I’ll definitely be checking it out. The company also says that it will announce Tru2Way products in the coming weeks that will be available in time for the holiday shopping season. It’s unlikely we’ll see them that soon in Canada, if at all, but stay tuned!

Auto Picture Control

Manufacturers are also showing a greater focus on automatic picture adjustment that can adjust an image, in sections, based on room conditions and factors like ambient light. Toshiba calls its variation on this idea AutoView, which includes an ambient light sensor and film content detection to not only improve the picture, but also to conserve energy at night time. Another significant new technology developed by the company is called SRT (Super Resolution Technology), and this works to improve picture by up-scaling essentially any video source that’s connected to it, whether that be a DVD, cable signal, or video game. Sony employs Advanced Contrast Enhancer Pro to help improve picture quality; and Sharp’s version, which adjusts the brightness of a screen according to ambient light, is called Optical Picture Control.

Going Green

An area in consumer electronics that is becoming of more and more importance is energy efficiency, and every manufacturer has officially jumped on that bandwagon. Panasonic claims that its new Blu-ray players consume 20% less power than previous-generation models; while Sony’s new models are 55% smaller, resulting in reduced packaging (not to mention shipping weight!) Sharp, a company that has been at the forefront of environmental friendliness, says its new LE series promises to be up to 30% more efficient than traditional LCDs using the new Picture Control function. The company’s new D85U and D65U models, available in 42”, 46”, and 52” sizes, are also RoHS and Energy Star 3.0 compliant, resulting in 20% less energy consumption. A dedicated power-saving mode also helps to conserve energy.

This merely scratches the surface of what’s at the show, but it sure starts things off on an enticing note: CEDIA EXPO officially begins today. Stay tuned to this Website for daily updates from the show floor, including information on new products, as well as an inside look into some of the courses being offered.
A Few Neat Product Highlights:

Panasonic: A new DECT multi-cell wireless phone that is home automation-capable. By simply depressing keys on the phone, customers can perform tasks like adjusting lighting or temperature in the home. The phone is also really rugged, able to withstand drops, and even water spills!

Toshiba: The new XV Cinema Series Regza LCDs are top-of-the-line, employing the aforementioned Auto View and SRT technologies, along with a new double-skin cabinet, whereby you can see through the top layer into a second layer of design.

Sony: The new BRAVIA KDL-52XBR7 LCD TV features ultra-fast 240Hz refresh rate that the company calls Motionflow (or “Mo-Flo” for short!) The new KLV-40ZX1M LCD is just 9.9mm thin, and also boasts Motionflow (but at 120 Hz). Frustrated customers will also be happy to know that Sony claims its new Blu-ray players, of which there are five, will employ a quick-start feature that makes an inserted video ready to go in six seconds. Sony also whet our appetites with the promise of a 400-disc Blu-ray changer to be available in 2009.

Sharp: The Aquos XS series LCDs produce gorgeous, sharp, and ultra-bright pictures, and will come in 52” and 65” sizes. Other features include 1080p technology (of course) RGB-LED backlighting, and integrated speakers developed jointly with Pioneer. The new D85U and D65U series models (the latter of which replaces the existing D64U series) are RoHS and Energy Star 3.0 compliant, and employ neat-looking angled edges for a slightly different look than what you might be used to.

[Photo: Chris Matto, Senior Brand Manager, Sharp Electronics of Canada Ltd. (left) poses with Daisuke (“Doug”) Koshima, CEO & Chairman of Sharp Electronics of America and the company’s new limited edition XS series LCD TVs. Two iterations will be available in 52” and 65” screen sizes, both featuring advanced technology like RGB-LED backlighting, 1” thin frames, and an audio system developed jointly with Pioneer.]

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google Takes on the Browser

The company has tackled everything else in the Web world, so why not take a stab at creating a browser? Google is doing just that with Chrome, a new Web browser that promises to "get out of your way and get you where you want to go."

Google has built Chrome on the premise that the browser isn't really that important; it's just a "tool to run the important stuff." Given this, Chrome is designed to be clean, stable, and fast-loading, with the ability to run the most sophisticated, rich content-based Websites out there.

Google argues that there's an increasing need for such a browser given that Web pages today are no longer just static pages; they're full-fledged applications running everything from moving video to chat rooms. So not only do people need better support for running these "applications", but they also need the ability to run multiple applications (or Web pages) at a time without a reduction in speed and load time for the others.

As is customary with Google, the code will be open source so that others are free to use it (Google actually used components from Apple's Webkit and Mozilla's Firefox to create Chrome). Whether it will live up to its promises, or be able to rival popular browsers like Internet Explorer, remains to be seen.

A beta version of Chrome for Windows is available today, and instructions on where/how to download it will be made public at 11 a.m. this morning. Will you try it?

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