Microsoft Announce Partners for Portable Media Centers (nee Media2Go)

Microsoft has been talking about portable devices for a while that would enable owners to watch videos, view photos, play music, labelling them as Media2Go.

This week they have announced not only a new official name, but two companies that will help them create designs. AboCom Systems Inc and Tatung Co. will be the original design manufacturers (ODMs) of the now re-christened Portable Media Centers.

These designs will then be passed on the manufacturers, who are already lining up to get involved. So far Creative, iRiver International, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., SANYO Electric Co. Ltd. and ViewSonic Corp have thrown their hats in to the ring – others are expected to follow.

Intel has had this type of device, labelled a Personal Video Player (PVP), in development for a long time ($100 ZVUE!.

We imagine that Microsoft will hope to win the consumer, via strong integration of these devices with their operating system and the content owners, by highlighting their Digital Rights Management (DRM).

Archos Video AV320 information

Buy Archos Video AV320 at Amazon US and UK

Over 1m Bluetooth Units Shipping a Week

Six years after its launch, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group has announced that they are now shipping over one million Bluetooth devices a week. They hold this up as proof that Bluetooth has now moved out of hype and into reality.

It is generally thought that laws being enacted around the World, that forbid car drivers to hold their mobile phone while driving, are providing a significant contributions to the increased in these figures, and that this will only continue.

One concern in the Bluetooth circles are the number of non-ratified devices that are being brought in to the market, with TDK estimating that as many as half of products sold in shops are made by companies that are not member of the Bluetooth SIG. The industries big worry is that these devices will not function correctly and Bluetooth generally starts to get a bad name.

Bluetooth SIG

FCC Win Appeal for Digital TV by 2007

The US regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), whose remit covers the regulation of American TV, has ruled that by 2007 all TV sets sold in the US, bar the smallest (under 13″ screens), must be equipped to receive both digital and analogue signals.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), who represents the manufacturers of US TVs, took legal action against the FCC, claiming that they had acted illegally. Yesterday, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals, for the DC Circuit, rejected their appeal.

President and CEO Gary Shapiro responded, “We obviously are disappointed by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which we are still studying. We will be reviewing the full opinion and consulting with our member companies, but of course will be compliant with any final court order.” So, no clear conclusion as to whether they will appeal the decision.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) supported the outcome. President and CEO, Edwards O. Fritts, said “The court’s decision today upholding the FCC’s DTV tuner requirement is a milestone towards completing the DTV transition. Consumers buying TV sets will know that the receivers they buy will continue to receive all broadcast signals, even as broadcasting changes to digital. Chairman Powell and the FCC deserve congratulations for their strong leadership in advancing the digital transition.”

The FCC had originally wanted to broadcasters to make the switch by 2006 but was extended when it became clear that this wasn’t going to be reached. Starting in 2004, larger sets must be equipped to receive digital signals.

Court ruling (PDF)

FCC response – Word | PDF

CEA response

Dell Announce their iPod Rivals

Dell have just announced their competitor to the Apple iPod. It is initially launching two models, the Dell DJ 15 Digital Music Player ($249) and the DJ 20 ($299), with 15Gb (~3,700 songs) and 20Gb (~4,900 songs) of storage respectively.

Both of the models work as music players and portable storage devices, enabling users to load content on to them. They also have a built-in microphone, giving the ability to record conversations – this can only be achieved by using an add-on for the iPod.

The Dell offering certainly loses on looks, it looks at-best functional and the use moving buttons, as opposed to the iPod touch-sensitive controls, may contribute to reduced life. It is rumoured that the devices are made by Creative Labs and just badged Dell.

Dell have done a deal with the online music service MusicMatch to allow owner to electronically buy music and transfer it to the devices via USB 2.0. MusicMatch is not well regarded and it is therefore thought to be a major weakness ,when compared with the iPod/iTunes combination. Music from the service comes in DRM-protected WMA format, but the devices can also play MP3’s.

The iPod is often criticised for its battery life. The current version runs for about eight hours, but the Dell is reported to run for nearly twice that.

Without having had our hands on the Dell kit, our instant reaction is that the $100 saved by going for the Dell will not be sufficient to sway US purchasers from the iPod. For users outside the US, who don’t have the benefit of the iTunes service, the choice would be less clear.

Dell description of DJ range

Dell sales page

TI Wins Emmy Award for DLP

Texas Instruments has won the Technology and Engineering Emmy Award for their Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology. The National Television Academy official title of the award is “Pioneering Development of Mass-Produced Digital Reflective Imaging Technology for Consumer Rear Projection Television.”

DLP produced very high resolution video images and is used in Digital Cinema projectors, some video projectors and a number of rear-projection TV’s (PJTV). It gives an entirely digital connection between a video source and the screen by using a optical semiconductor known as the Digital Micromirror Device (DMD). The DMD is essentially a chip with many tiny mirrors that manipulates light.

Peter O. Price, President of the National Television Academy said “The worlds of broadcasting and home entertainment are undergoing a period of significant change that is characterised by the growing choice being offered to increasingly demanding consumers, and DLP technology is playing a significant role in enabling that change to take place. We see it as a considerable innovation in the market.”

DLP – How it works

Emmy 2003 Technology & Engineering Awards

Cox to Offer DVR Rental to 650k Arizona Homes

Cox Communications, a US cable company, will be making their digital video recorder (DVR) product available to 650,000 of their current Arizona digital cable subscribers.

In a different pricing model to current DVR manufacturers, subscribers will not have to pay for the DVR upfront, but will instead pay an additional $15/month. This is including Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) fees, which companies such as TiVo charge an additional $10+ fee for. Broadcasters are viewing DVRs as a tool to reduce customer churn, as well ac increasing Average Revenue Per User (ARPU).

The DVR has the to-be-expected functions but adds two tuners enabling the recording of two different channels and has the capacity to record up to 50 hours of programming.

Cox Communications

Sony Launch Compact 5 mega pixel Camera

Up until now, most pocket-sized cameras have compromised on the features that they offered, now Sony has announced a five mega pixel camera, the Cyber-shot DSC-T1.

They have also addresses a number common complaints – the delay between turning the camera on it being ready to take a photo has been reduced to just one second; it takes one 5mp image a second and can capture four high-speed burst shots in less than two seconds.

The back of the camera is dominated by a large 2.5-inch LCD viewfinder, vital for taking considered photos. The storage is Memory Stick PRO Duo, the small form of Sony’s Memory Stick, which can currently hold up to 512Mb.

To keep the size of the camera small, the Carl Zeiss operates within the camera rather than extending out, with the result that the camera measures about 0.8 inches deep.

The Cybershot DSC-T1 is expected to hit the shops in January and retail for $550.

Home HiFi Unit Enables Online Music Purchase

Pioneer Corp., Kenwood Corp, Sony Corp. and Sharp Corp. have came together at the start of the year to form Any Music Planning Inc.. Under this banner they co-developed a Linux-based music HiFi platform that enables home users to accesses and purchase music via networked services. Yesterday they showed working prototypes. Although co-developed – each of the four companies own a equal percentage of the development company – the units will be sold under their own brands.

Other devices such as the Onkyo Net-Tune NC-500, have had a similar form and functions – playing digitised music, delivered over a network connection and in the form of a traditional HiFi unit. Where this initiative differs is that the listener can buy the music via the device, without having to use their computer.

The new devices will initially pull content from online music service, LabelGate. It is thought that “OpenMG X”, Sony’s digital rights management and distribution technology will be used to protect the content.

The working versions will initially be released in Japanese, but “ultimately, our dream is to make the service a worldwide standard,” said Any Music CEO Fujio Noguchi.

Sharp’s audiovisual systems department head, Moriyuki Okada gave a stark comment – “Our industry is in crisis. We want to emerge from that by offering new business ideas.”


Onkyo Net-Tune NC-500

Apple iTunes v2 – New Features Analysed

Further details of the second version of the iTunes software and service are becoming clearer and as you would expect with Apple, they are not only interesting, but steps forward in the use of digital audio.

Audio books and Round Tripping
Apple have signed an exclusive, multi-year deal with to sell five thousand of their spoken books, equating to over twenty thousand hours of content.

Once the audio-books have been downloaded, the listener will be able to listen to it both on their computer and their iPod – features that were available on version one of the service. The clever part is that you can transfer your listen point, an audio bookmark, from computer to iPod and back again. This is best illustrated with an example – you starts listening to the book on your Mac, you then need to leave you computer, so transfer the audio-book to your iPod. The playback will continue from the point you left it at on the computer. When you return from travelling to your computer, hook up your iPod and continue listening from the point reached on your iPod. Apple have called this feature Round Tripping.

Round tripping is interesting for a number of reasons. Apple have only been able to quickly introduce a new feature like this into the market as they control both the client software on the computer, and the portable playback device, iPod, and can make the required changes to both. It will be interesting to see if Apple declare an open standard on this, to enable other playback devices to take advantage of this feature. We suspect they’ll be keeping this to themselves, at least for the while.

While Round tripping is nifty when listening to books, it becomes potentially far more interesting when it is applied to music, consumer electronic equipment and wireless connections – giving a listener the ability to have a “Continuous Music Experience” as they move from work, to the car and to home.

Enabling the “giving” of digital music
To enable children who do not have their own credit card to use the service, there is a patent-pending online “Allowance” feature which allows parents to automatically deposit funds into their children’s accounts – very smart.

People will also be able to give someone a gift certificate to spend in the online store. By signing on to their iTunes account, they can gift between $10-$200 to a person, who might not even currently have an iTunes account. The recipient receives an email telling them of the present and by clicking on a link, can start to use it to access content.

Digital Lifestyles:Apple Adds Windows Support to iTunes

Apple iTunes

New LGE Mobile Phone Includes 1.1 Mega Pixel Camera

LG Electronics have unveiled their latest mobile phone, incorporating a PDA and 1.1 mega pixel camera which can record one hour of video.

The handsets (LG-SC8000, LG-KC8000), which incorporates the ability to record one hour of video, and edit photos, runs on Windows Pocket PC 2003 and has 192MHz of memory. It features a slide-down keyboard, helping to keep its size down, while maintaining a large screen size, 2.8 inch TFT LCD capable of displaying 262,000 colours. They plan to release it in Korea at the end of the year.

We feel this looks and sounds like a significant step forward in integrated mobile device design and can’t wait to get our hand on one.

LG Electronics