Posts in category entertainment - page 7

Apple announcements and a little fumbling

iPod G5

Apple have announced the fifth generation of iPod. Improvements include better battery life, a thinner enclose, better screen and now in both black and white.

But not everything is peachy. Gone is the FireWire support, the remote socket and there is still no sign of Bluetooth. Quite how you are supposed to switch tracks without pulling your iPod out your pocket I’m not sure.

iPod video

The big hoopla is video on your iPod and I’m not impressed. When exactly could you watch video on your iPod? Not while jogging, driving or walking which seem to be the popular regular usage if the accessories are anything to go by.

Capture from Zorro 2 at 320x240Ignoring that, you can now watch a music video, Pixar short or (if you live in the US) a TV show on a 2.5″ non-wide-screen display at 320×240 resolution. They expect $1.99 for the privilege of viewing this tiny short content previously free elsewhere.

UK residents get an even worse deal with videos costing £1.89 – a massive 75% increase over the US with current exchange rates. And you thought the $0.99 to £0.79 increase of 45% was bad! American TV shows run around 24 episodes per season – paying £30 for a DVD edition hurts but £41.58 for DRM’ed low-res stereo videos with no resale value. Sign me up Apple! </sarcasm>

It’s like wide-screen and high definition never happened. If you have a TV or computer to hand you can play your DRM’ed media on a big screen but frankly 320×240 scaled up will look dire at 17″ and probably induce nausea above 32″. Unscaled it would be as big as this capture from Zorro 2.

Best of all the quoted time for battery life when watching video’s is up to whopping three hours. (I lied about stopping the sarcasm).

Better mobile video

Want to watch video on the move? Get yourself a portable DVD player, a small laptop or if it really must be hand-held a PSP.

The PSP has a bigger 4.3″ wide-screen display, UMD movie discs and 4-5 hour battery life. As a bonus you can play games, surf the web wirelessly, play music and check out a memory stick full of photos. For less than the price of an iPod Video.

Sony have also just announced Location Free TV client for the PSP that lets you watch whatever your own base-station at home is connected to.

The base station is a little pricey at $350 but does feature an RF tuner and two s-video inputs. It is also capable of sending IR codes so connect this baby up to your satellite or cable TV and a 200 disk DVD changer…

Universal dock & remote control

Apple do have a new remote control available real soon but it only works with your iPod while it is connected to the universal dock.

The universal dock is a good idea – one dock for all the iPods – especially useful for a family or individual with more than one iPod. What I’d like to know is if Apple will enable Macs connected to a universal dock to be controlled in the same way as the new iMac.

Front Row

A direct heads up to media centre style interfaces of Windows Media Centre Edition, Sony’s PSP and the forthcoming Xbox 360 comes Apple’s FrontRow.

Big colorful icons, massive text – just what you’d want on your TV… but curiously only available on the iMac, now available with both 17″ and 20″ widescreen displays again as last seen on the iLamp model.

iTunes 6

iTunes 5 has been out a whole month and Apple think the addition of buying videos justifies a whole new version number. Apart from this the only other changes seem to be a couple of minor cosmetics.

I guess they are desperately trying to catch up version numbers with RealPlayer and Windows Media Player. I wonder what other features they can add/borrow from other apps now that video has been nabbed from QuickTime and syncing from iSync. How much longer before it is renamed iKitchenSink?

Other stuff

  • Goodbye eMac
  • No sign of faster PowerBooks
  • Hello iMac with faster CPU

For more commentary check out these BoingBoing or DaringFireball commentaries.

[)amien

One Hit Wonderland

Okay so my current munchy reads Great Expectations but those who’ve visited my Zen-like abode will have admired the un-Zen-like bedside tower of pulp that rivals the best Pisa has to offer in the way of leaning towers. For a few days Pip has been taking a back-seat to a tome of non-fiction…

One Hit Wonderland comes from the multi-talented and under-exposed British writer, musician and comedian Tony Hawks. When not appearing on TV and radio shows he takes to writing books that chronicle taking on unlikely bets in the hope of impressing a friend or, most lately, getting laid. This book, his latest, starts with such a bet made at a dinner party where Tony takes on the challenge of creating another musical hit…

Another musical hit you may wonder, after all Tony is not a house-hold name, but in 1987 had a number 4 hit with Stutter Rap, originally performed as part of his stand-up comedy and later released by fictional band Morris Minor & The Majors. The band produced a follow-up single but the novelty nature of their song (parodying Beastie Boys while paying homage to a few other 80’s hits) meant the follow-up disappeared without much of a trace and the entered the one-way tunnel of the one-hit-wonder. They did however manage to spin-off a six-episode TV show based on the characters under the name Morris Minor’s Marvelous Motors.

The book is a pleasure to read, witty yet honest as Hawks take every opportunity to achieve his mission and exploits the clause that allows him to apply his talents everywhere from Memphis to Southern Sudan and through eastern Europe to find recognition and adoration. On his way he’ll bump into “Pop Idol”‘s Simon Cowell, 60’s comic legend Norman Wisdom and top lyricist Tim Rice.

His other two books revolve around betting he couldn’t travel Round Ireland With a Fridge or beating the Moldovan football team at tennis. They’ll both be hitting my reading tower soon providing I can get clearance from ATC.

He should, under no circumstances, be confused with American video-game darling and skateboarder Tony Hawk.

[)amien

Filling an iPod & what is podcasting anyway?

I recently upgraded my aging and rather temperamental iPod, a 20GB G3, to a spiffy new color 60GB. My 20GB wasn’t full and my 60GB was positively bare. What can I put on it?

More music

I’ve loaded every audio CD I own and spent over £100 at the iTMS and while there’s a few tracks I want they’re not in iTMS and I’m not buying an album full of junk for a single track. The few bands I enjoy whole albums of aren’t very prolific.

Audio books

I enjoyed Red Dwarf on tape and The Second Coming of Steve Jobs from Audible but I find it difficult to listen to a strong American accent for several hours. Perhaps this is because I’m not acclimatized to the twang after I ceased TV viewing at the start of 2001 (the year, not Kubrick’s space-out space-trip).

Then there is the cost – most titles costing much more than the books themselves. While there is a little extra cost in recording the audio track surely once that’s done the files must be cheaper than their dead-tree cousins. I can only assume Audible have their hands tied by scared book publishers.

Radio shows

I just love the Hitchhiker’s Guide radio show, all 13 CD’s worth. The problem here seems to be trying to get hold of the shows. The BBC releases very few on audio CD, perhaps they could register with Audible/iTMS and provide some via that. The BBC web site uses the rather iPod-unfriendly Real Audio although they are experimenting with MP3 and podcasting.

Podcasts

Perhaps podcasting could fill the unused sectors now iTunes makes finding and downloading them simplicity itself. Tens of podcasts and a couple of weeks later I was left rather disappointed. You can break down what’s available into two types:

Professional podcasts, “The future of radio”

I ran through several professional podcasts, normally edited chunks from radio or TV productions hosted by presenters who’ve proven themselves in the commercial world of being able to talk and at least jot down a page of points and topics before a show.

Sandi Toksvig – The Best Of

The only podcast I’ve listened to daily since I subscribed. Often funny with interesting stories, Sandi’s observations and guests including ex-Python travel-writer Michael Palin.

Best of Moyles

BBC Radio 1’s popular breakfast show presenter could have a shot here if it wasn’t for the fact the BBC are only putting up 20 minutes a week of “highlights” that aren’t capturing the best of the show at all.

Amateur podcasts, “Blogs gone wrong”

Blogging is similar to the early days of DTP where technology gave enabled anyone with a computer to produce a newsletter. While the bar to production was lowered people quickly discovered software can’t create interesting well-written material.

Even the best blogs vary in quality and topic but it’s painless to skip over uninteresting subjects and select individual categories and blogs for aggregation. Blogs you read often uncover other interesting blogs or a Google search might lead you to a new blogs you may also want to keep an eye on. Technical information, diagrams and supplemental material is easily linked and downloaded.

Amateur podcasting has sprung from blogging but looses almost all these redeeming features despite some attempt at addressing these some with chapters and show notes.

Podcasts are much longer than blog posts but the presenters seem to spend little time putting a basic plan together. Often they start by talking about podcasting, their shows rank in iTMS, why they weren’t here last Wednesday and other off-topic stuff that is of little interest to anyone but themselves.

Even good content can loose an audience after a few minutes if the speaker lacks audio communication skills. Anyone who’s been to a seminar, presentation or lecture can vouch for the importance of a speaker with an interesting tone of voice and being able to deliver a talk that just flows naturally.

Such a flow is usually the result of solid preparation and pod-casters have the luxury of a little post-show editing. Perhaps if they edited and relied less on group-chats to avoiding develop material at all something good might emerge. Instead we are often treated to a group of people chatting about a subject with little to say – like overhearing a conversation in a coffee shop. At least everybody in a coffee shop is there and not talking over a poor quality phone or IP telephony solution.

I couldn’t bring myself to review most of the podcasts I came across for the reasons already explained but here’s a few I wanted to like.

Daily Source Code

Both this and PodFinder are hosted by the self-proclaimed “Podfather” Adam Curry (no, not my friend from the Toaster Files with the same name).

I tried three different DSC shows before I gave up. Curry actually has a good radio voice and technical ability but his lack of material preparation leads to an uncountable number of errs, umms and uhhs interspersed between talking about his cat, podcasting, new headphones and whatever else he feels like.

PodFinder

A great idea – review new and interesting podcasts! Curry has spent a time preparing and editing so his delivery is much more professional. On the downside is the show takes wholesale chunks of other people’s podcasts with little commentary so it’s not much better than preview the podcasts in the iTunes directory itself.

Both Curry’s shows have seen serous iTMS rank slippage but I think there is still hope for this one.

MyMac.com

These two guys chat about various Mac and iPod things, none in much depth. They loose credibility when they claim IBM’s 2.0GHz to 2.7GHz G5 speed increase in a year was abysmal (it’s a much bigger increase than Intel in the same period). If they are going to discuss a subject without knowing it….

They talked about getting permission from their wives to travel an hour to a new Apple Store and told each other what buttons to press I decided that listening to uninformed Apple fanatics chatting to each other, virtual or otherwise, wasn’t for me.

There is hope for podcasts yet providing they can polish up before the hyped-up audiences give up for good. I’d recommend starting with Mastering Communication by Nicky Stanton.

Here is one guy who can blog, write, act, deliver a talk, make people laugh and podcast. I just wish he would do it more regularly.

[)amien

iTunes & iPod wish-list

Contrary to popular belief iTunes and the iPod aren’t perfect and are in fact host to a number of my own personal peeves, including:

iTunes Music Store previews stop when browsing

If you are previewing a song in the music store then it will be abruptly halted the moment you visit another page. Let me just clarify that, people are here to listen to music they might want to buy and you are forcing them to spend most of their time sitting in silence while they browse. Can you get any stupider? It’s easy for Apple to fix, simply add underneath “Music Store” in the “Source” list a “Previews” play list. Every time a user clicks on a track add it to that ready to be played after the current preview finishes it’s 30 second play. Leave them there for a couple of hours perhaps and let them jump back and re-listen to a preview they are still considering, even if it streams again.

iTunes DVD audio ripping

I own a fair few number of DVDs, some of which would lend themselves quite well to listening on my iPod, indeed a few of the comedy ones are available from the iTunes Music Store but I’ll be damned if I’m paying another £7.95 for something I already legally own.

iPod & iTunes OGG support

OGG is an open-source audio codec with a lot going for it and I’d really like to be able to use this format. I understand Apple don’t want to offer it because they want you to use their own AAC format. Bear in mind that Sony wanted everyone to use ATRAC instead of MP3 and look where that got them1.

iTunes movie preview full-screen

Modern PC’s multi task and so do many of it’s users especially when downloading, so why is it that any movie preview in iTunes takes over the whole screen the moment you click it long before it has anything to show you? Even more annoyingly if you switch out to another application it will abort loading the movie! What am I supposed to do while waiting if I can’t use my machine, make a cup of tea? More likely I’ll just abort the preview and go do something else. To fix, why not see the idea for audio previews above or better yet fire off any movies off into QuickTime where they belong. I mean I did pay for QuickTime so I could save this sort of stuff locally and now you’ve changed the game…

Shuffle per playlist

Apple have partially fixed this at least in iTunes now, when you switch playlist it remembers whether you were shuffling when you last used that playlist but the iPod won’t take note :( Really, it should be a setting on the playlist itself “Shuffle: Use player status, Always on, Always off”. Music should shuffle but shuffling the multi-track audio-books I’ve ripped from my own CD’s should definitely not.

Pioneer iPod adapter

Well this isn’t really Apple’s fault but this adapter has two annoying problems. The first is that it only displays the first eight letters of each song name and won’t scroll them unless you go into a menu… And that scrolling setting only lasts until you come out of the menu! Secondly when choosing artists, playlists, genre’s etc the unit actually starts to play the first song from that selection… while you are trying to switch and causes a not insignificant delay. This makes it impossible to scroll through artists, you’d take forever. Why it can’t just wait a few seconds before firing off the track or wait for you to press next song I’ve no idea.

[)amien

1

Sony lost the portable audio market they’d practically owned with the Walkman brand for over a decade for fear of cutting into another business unit’s profits, specifically their music labels. We’ve seen this pattern time and time again, British Telecom lost it’s stranglehold on UK telecom customers by dragging it’s heels with mobile technology for fear of cutting into its payphone business. Nintendo lost the console market by refusing to use CD-ROM technology for fear of lost profits on cartridge production/piracy. Atari refused Jay Miner the chance to develop a 16-bit system for fear of damaging the revenues of the 8-bit systems he had designed them. He left, created the Amiga and handed it over to rival Commodore who would dominate Atari for the next 10 years. The moral of this story is move with the technology because your customers will. If you’re not there for them, somebody else will be.