Archive for June, 2008

Daily Blog – John E. Johnson, Jr. – June 30, 2008: WHAT PRICE MARKETING DEPARTMENT?

Monday, June 30th, 2008

I had an interesting experience this past weekend that I want to tell you about.

A product that I use for outdoor exercising wore out. This happens about every five years, and I simply replace the product with a new one.

So, I went into the store to get it, and they took me over to a display that showed a new model. It was priced about $150 more than the model l usually purchase. He said there was a $150 rebate on the new model, and the old model was not in stock anyway. It did not appear to have the heft of the old model, but I decided what the heck, and bought one. They gave me a rebate slip that I was supposed to send in and would get my $150 rebate check within a couple of weeks.

OK, so I get home and install the new model. Well, it did not perform nearly as smoothly as the old model. Part of the problem was the lower weight of the new one.

I thought about this and realized what was going on. The company that makes this product didn’t have any competition at first. Now, they have some, and the competition makes good units.

What they are trying to do is build a new version that is much cheaper to manufacture, stock it fully in dealer showrooms, not stock the old one very much, price it higher so you think it is a better model than the old one, offer it with a rebate so you will be tempted to buy the new one (with the rebate, you then get it at the same price as the old model), and slowly work their customer base into using the new, cheaper made model. They raise the price and build it cheaper. What could be better?

Well, how about a customer base that is stupid enough to fall for this? It does not exist. Customers are just too shopping-wise these days. There is too much info out there and we have been screwed too many times before.

So, I took the new model back and said I want the old model. He gave me a $132 refund, with the rest of the money going to pay for the old model when it comes in next week.

The thing I really want to say here is that I have not seen this kind of shady marketing in the Audio Video world, and the reason is that there is just too much competition. There are only three competitors to the exercise product that I bought. There must be 100 speaker manufacturers out there. Anyone who tried to fool us would be out of business within a year. Can you imagine what would be said about them on all the audio video forums?

HTPC: The Pieces

Friday, June 27th, 2008

 

When I first started to think about building an HTPC I was faced with an enormous number of choices.  What HTPC case should I buy?  What motherboard should I get?  etc.  There were many buying decisions to make and this just seemed like a daunting task. 

It helps when you can look to someone for some advice.  For me, it was Sandy Bird.  I asked him for recommendations on several items and he sent me a list.  Decision made!  The 3 big items here were the motherboard (ASUS P5E-VM HDMI), CPU (Intel Q6600) and power supply (Corsair VX450W).  The ASUS motherboard is nice since it has built-in HDMI support, something I considered a must for the HTPC.  The graphics capabilities are adequate, but a beefier graphics card can be installed if gaming is going to be high on the activity list.

One component where I wanted something different from what he had was the HTPC case.  Here I wanted a horizontal enclosure which would blend with my A/V components since the case was going to be in plain sight.  Again, there were several choices but in the end I went for the Silverstone GD01 case.  Among the attractions were a VFD, an IR receiver, a multi-card reader and of course the styling.  I also considered offerings with built-in touchscreens; such cases were attractive because you could navigate the menus without turning on the main display.  The added cost was a factor, but more importantly, I also wanted a flexible remote option (more on this in a later blog) which could get me this functionality in a hand-held format.

For the most part, the choice of this enclosure has been good.  The included software which controls the VFD is “good”, but it could (and should) add a lot more customization capability.  The enclosure is reasonably quiet, but I would like the fan and drive noise level to be lower.  Maybe I will try some other fan options at a later point.  The IR sensor works well and I can use my IR remote to control Windows Media Center.  The one part I don’t like is the access to the optical drive which is behind a drop down door; this makes accessing the drive mildly inconvenient.

The one big area where I don’t have a good solution yet is storage.  Here I am looking to build a NAS with RAID capability.  There are several good candidates and I am in the process of narrowing down the choices.  The enclosure has a large drive bay and the ASUS motherboard has a RAID controller, so this option also exists.  For now, I am using an internal 750 GB drive.  The capacity is running low and it is not backed up.  I hope that this drive will endure the rigors in the short term!

Music Port Fully Integrates PCs with NuVo Technologies’ Multi-Room Audio Systems

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

New package greatly expands the range and functionality of NuVo’s Grand Concerto and Essentia E6G systems by embracing the PC as both a source and as a controller.

Hebron, KY – June 26, 2008 – NuVo Technologies, an innovator in multi-room digital audio, today introduced NuVo Music Port™, a compact package of hardware and software that enables home desktop and ?????? PCs to act both as sources and as controllers in a NuVo Grand Concerto or Essentia E6G multi-room audio system. (more…)

Daily Blog – Ross Jones – June 26, 2008: THE CABLE COMPANY BLUES

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

My cable box went on the fritz last weekend, conveniently while I was out of town. Apparently, it could output sound or video, but not both at the same time. Our box (with dual HDTV tuners) was several years old, and I knew was being replaced by a newer, modern unit. So I wasn’t totally surprised that it was malfunctioning. My wife called the cable company, which promised to send a truck out with a replacement box.

I got the call while driving up Interstate 5. My wife said that the cable guy was confused about how to hook up the interconnects, because the replacement box didn’t have an HDMI port. Uh, what? I got on the phone with the technician, and ran it down. My existing cable box (the broken one), which did have an HDMI port, had been in my home at least two years, and was not a new box when I got it. If the “replacement” box didn’t even have an HDMI port (it was DVI), then that meant that the box was at least two generations older than the newest box. And likely was on its last legs before it too failed, which would require yet another trip.

So I politely told him no thanks, we’d stop by the cable office and pick up a new box. It wasn’t his fault; he could only offer us what he had on the truck. But it made me wonder what a less knowledgeable customer would have done in the same situation.

Daily Blog – Brian Florian – June 25th, 2008: BAD DVD AUTHORING SHOULD BE A THING OF THE PAST

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

At my brother’s urging I picked up La Vie end Rose this weekend on DVD….and could barely watch it.

Not the movie itself mind you, which is a very interesting biopic piece, but rather it was the way the DVD was formatted.

Whoever the genius was at the DVD authoring workstation, they decided to encode the film as letterbox-in-4:3-frame.

That alone should be an unforgivable sin this late in the game, but the wrench in the mechanism was the non-negotiable subtitles.

Now I grant that if you have what should now be considered an antiquated 4:3 display system, all of this is of no consequence. But with any conventional widescreen TV setup, the first thing we run into is a loss of potential resolution. We have to force a “zoom” mode in the display system which cuts the top and bottom of the 4:3 frame, usually an inconsequential move from a content point of view since the top and bottom of such letterbox presentations contain encoded nothingness, but ultimatley it yields a picture with 33% less detail compared to if it had been encoded within a 16×9 frame (like virtually every other DVD out there with widescreen content on it).

Now I have a few DVDs like this in my collection, all of which date back to the dawn of DVD I’d like to note, so I can deal with that much. But what made La Vie en Rose impossible to watch was the subtitles. Zooming the frame for best picture-fit on the 16×9 screen causes the subtitles to be cropped.


This blue frame shows the actual content of the DVD, and is exactly how it would appear on a 4:3 TV. Shown here in green are the extents of a widescreeen TV with the content “zoomed”, preserving the image aspect but cropping the subtitles.

 

There were only two ways for me to watch the movie and still see the subtitles: Either treat it as if it were 4:3 where we get a so called “window box” presentation with substantial unused screen real estate ALL ARROUND the image, or stretched horizontally such that it appears as nothing more than a distorted “slot” of a film.

“Window box” presentation Distorted “Slot Vision” presentation

 

At this point in the life of DVD we are well, WELL past being able to excuse these sorts of things.

Its worth noting that a few of the very high end video processors/scallers have the facility to vertically offset the frame, which particularly speaks to this scenario of letterbox-in-4:3-with-subtitles: they zoom the frame and then shift it up so that the image is still best-fit yet with subtitles still visible. The reason such processors offer this mode is for old DVDs, very old ones, made at a time when the industry was still working out the kinks. Having to employ it for a new release is simply ridiculous.

Now, there is one possible explanation as to why someone would author this DVD the way it was:  the subtitles appear to have been “burned-in” (they are part of the image as oppose to being generated by the DVD player) which might mean they were there before the DVD author even got a hold of the material.  If so, it is plausible that they HAD to do it the way they did it (space wise, the subtitles need to overlap an image which is vertically centered inside a 16×9 workspace), but if that were the case, I would say they should have instead put pressure on the studio to supply a clean video transfer so that they could have done the subtitles using the DVD system as well as author it in the better 16×9 workspace.

 

Salamander Designs Ships Premium Mounts, Accessories for Flat-Panel TVs

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

New Dyno, PilotMotion™, Flexo, Plano, Luna Ceiling and Zoom Desk Mounts Plus Synchro Accessories Deliver Stylish, Maneuverable A/V System Support

BLOOMFIELD, CT, June 24, 2008 — Salamander Designs, Ltd., a leading designer and manufacturer of modern furniture, seating and mounting products for Home Theater and A/V entertainment systems, announces the availability of more than 20 new premium high-performance TV mounting systems and accessories. (more…)

Daily Blog – Adrian Wittenberg – June 23, 2008: ONE SCREEN TO RULE THEM ALL

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Whether streaming music or video from a bedroom media server or watching a Blu Ray disc on our expensive home theater system, we are seeing more and more of our entertainment being shifted to a centralized location in the home. 

It`s not just entertainment though.  In the future, we will see more products that give information about our homes integrated into the primary display.  Checking on energy usage or room temperature will all be at the touch of a button.  Right now, Panasonic is displaying their new plasma displays that integrate with their remote security cameras.  How would you like to check on a strange noise, or check on baby`s sleep by pulling up a picture in picture window while watching a movie.

You can expect everything from internet information, to all things home automation and security to start to appear as regular features on displays.  The amount of features available is also going to grow fast.

 

SE2 Labs Road Tour Rolls Across U.S.

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Luxurious, all-in-one theater console will be discussed and demonstrated for A/V dealers and press in five major metropolitan hubs, beginning June 26 in Dallas. (more…)

D&M Holdings Announces Tender Offer Agreement with Bain Capital

Friday, June 20th, 2008

2-1 Nisshin-cho
Kawasaki-ku, Kawasaki-shi
Kanagawa 210-8569 Japan
www.dm-holdings.com

Contacts for D&M Holdings:
Yoshiyuki Honda (Japan)
81.44.670.1111
Gail Petersen (US)
1.201.762.6635

Contact for Bain Capital Partners:
Alex Stanton
Stanton Crenshaw Communications
1.212.780.0701
alex@stantoncrenshaw.com

For Immediate Release

D&M Holdings Announces Tender Offer Agreement with Bain Capital
Tender Offer of 510 Yen per Share to Shareholders to Follow

Tokyo, Japan, June 20, 2008 — D&M Holdings Inc. (TSE 1:6735) and Bain Capital Partners LLC today announced that they have entered into an agreement, under which an acquisition corporation owned by investment funds advised by Bain Capital Partners LLC will launch a tender offer for all of the shares of D&M Holdings at a ????? of 510 yen per share of common stock. This ????? represents a premium of 37.1% over the average closing share ????? in the six months prior to June 19, 2008, and a premium of 68.9% over the unaffected closing share ????? on January 23, 2008, the day prior to the emergence of press speculation regarding a potential transaction involving the company. Following the completion of the tender offer process, the shares of D&M Holdings would be delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange. (more…)

Daily Blog – John E. Johnson, Jr. – June 20, 2008: ATTENDING A MERIDIAN AUDIO MEDIA EVENT IN SEATTLE.

Friday, June 20th, 2008

On June 18, I attended the product debut of Meridian Audio’s new 810 projector, held at Definitive Audio, in Bellevue, Washington, which is very near Seattle. It has three D-ILA panels, 4,000 lumen output (maximum), and a native resolution of 4,000 x 2,500.  Yes, you read that right, 4,000 x 2,500, and it is a consumer product too, not a projector for a commercial theater.

It is priced at $175,000, and the light engine is made for Meridian by JVC. The projector itself is assembled at Meridian’s factory in the U.K. It takes 4 days just to do the alignment, which is accomplished with a computer. Each 4×4 pixel area on the D-ILA panels can be individually calibrated to produce even illumination across the entire image. The detailed precise calibration is part of what you are paying for with this projector.

Here is a photo:

It is a really big projector and weighs about 130 pounds.

On the front you can see two lenses. The one on the left is anamorphic and a motorized control is used to move it in front of the main lens (seen on the right) when you want to watch 2.35:1 movies using the entire 16:9 chip area.

Here is a close-up of the two lenses.

On the rear are the connections, including four single-link DVI cables (at the left end of the projector) that are needed to carry the very high bitrate signal.

The processor which goes with the projector (included in the price) is shown below. It converts regular DVD video signals (480i) as well as 1,920×1,080 Blu-ray video signals to 4,000×2,500. To keep this in perspective, a 1,080p signal is 2 megapixels for each frame, and the processor converts it to 10 megapixels. That is a lot of horsepower.

Here is the equipment rack for the entire setup which included Meridian’s DVD player and SSP.

There was a full set of Meridian digital speakers, including some new ones that have upsampling capabilities built-in. Remember, Meridian speakers receive a digital signal from the SSP and the DACs in the speakers then convert it to analog signals for the amplifiers, and each driver has its own amplifier. Because the sound from a woofer is slower to get transmitted into the room, the power to the high frequency drivers can be delayed so that the sound from all the drivers goes into the room at the same time.

The subwoofers consisted of two JL Audio F113′s.

The image quality from the Meridian 810 was the best I have ever seen, in any theater, anywhere. Movies that were used included Patton and Cars. Patton was shown because it was shot in 70mm and the color depth was spectacular. As an animated feature, Cars had never gone through a lens until projection, so the detail there was just beyond belief. I got up close to the screen and could not see any pixels at all, in part because of the panel resolution, but also because Meridian uses a new process that involves an analog back plane behind the digital panel.

I also recorded a full high def video (1,920×1,080) of Bob Stuart – President of Meridian Audio – describing the projector system. Click on his photo below to see the video, encoded as a Windows Media Video file (*.wmv). Because the video is high resolution, it will take about two minutes for your player to buffer before the video starts to play, so be patient.

This was my first time attending the Definitive Audio event, which displayed a wide variety of new products. I stayed at the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland (near Bellevue), right on the water. The entire affair was extremely enjoyable.

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