USB Key Concert Recordings from eMusic Live

A club in Hoboken, New Jersey is offering a new twist on concert recordings, by offering uploads to USB keys. After a live show, fans at Maxwells can pay $20 (€16.80) for a USB key and then a further $10 to have a MP3 of the gig copied to it.

The kiosk-based service is being offered by eMusic Live, who regard the service as a step beyond clubs who burn CDs of concerts for sale at the end of the night. The DRM-free music is also for sharing – providing free publicity and word of mouth for small bands.

Scott Ambrose Reilly, president of eMusic Live says the thinking behind the service is simple: “What we were seeing is that a large number of people were taking their CDs home and ripping them to MP3s, so we thought it would benefit music fans to eliminate that middle step. Admittedly this won’t be for everyone. But since the direction of music is increasingly going digital, I don’t see why this wouldn’t find its niche.”

eMusic Live are looking to roll more kiosks out to other venues around the US soon.

Founded in 1998, eMusic currently operate a music subscription service that offers tracks from its 300,000-strong library starting at US$0.25 (€0.21).

eMusic have long had one of the fairest usage clauses in the online music business (from their website):”Unlike other subscription services that put strict limits on how and where subscribers can listen to music, eMusic offers extremely flexible usage terms that allow the convenience online music fans want and expect. All eMusic’s tracks are in the industry standard MP3 format and subscribers are encouraged to make multiple copies for personal use, burn the music to CDs and transfer their music to portable MP3 players. Because eMusic uses the standard MP3 format, consumers can use their music the way they want. In addition, eMusic subscribers own the music they download.”

eMusic Live

FCC Requires Firewire in Set-top Boxes

A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) directive which came into force this month, requires cable operators to provide a Firewire (IEEE1394) -enabled set-top box to customers who require them. The FFC have long been promoting interoperability between STBs and other equipment, and this looks like another step down that road.

According to an HP paper on the subject (linked below) “The distributed set top architecture becomes more compelling when multiple devices, interconnected by a 1394 cluster/backbone network, can access an access network gateway simultaneously.”

Using the Firewire interface, customers will be able to connect their STB to a range of other devices, such as PVRs or Firewire enabled PCs and Macintoshes. Customers will be able to capture MPEG2 streams to for storage elsewhere – provided it’s within the 4.5m reach of a 1394 cable.

A Firewire interface doesn’t mean that customers will just be able to rip content – anything coming through that port can still be protected by DRM measures, IEEE1394 is just an interface after all. However, the inclusion of a Firewire port does allow the distribution of protected content to other devices around the home.

HP’s report on Firewire and set-top boxes

RIAA Starts New Wave of Lawsuits

Keen to keep up the pressure on illegal music swappers, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has launched another wave of lawsuits against illegal music sharers.

So far, the RIAA has launched 2,454 cases since last year, though none of the cases has reached trial stage yet – however, 437 have agreed to pay damages of about US$3000 (€2500) each.

It seems that the RIAA have yet to learn from the bad publicity that accompanied their last lot of legal action: 69 of these new cases are students. Whilst praising colleges for raising awareness of the illegality of copyright infringement, Carly Sherman, president of the RIAA said, “There is also a complementary need for enforcement by copyright owners against the serious offenders to remind people that this activity is illegal.”

The Recording Industry Association of America

Google Goes For US$2.7 billion (€2.26 billion) IPO

It’s been rumoured for a long time, but Google are finally heading for an IPO – so that means everyone finally get a chance to look at their finances.

Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse First Boston will act as joint book-running managers for the proposed offering.

Google generated US$961.9 million (€804.4 million) in revenue in 2003, reporting a net profit of US$106.5 million (€89 million) – and the company has been profitable since 2001. Google has already reported sales of US$389.6 million (€325.8 million) in the first quarter of this year – up 118% on this time last year.

This only goes to show that there definitely is money in search-based advertising.

Google said in the letter announcing the filing: “It is important to us to have a fair process for our IPO that is inclusive of both small and large investors. It is also crucial that we achieve a good outcome for Google and its current shareholders,” the co-founders wrote. “Our goal is to have a share price that reflects a fair market valuation of Google and that moves rationally based on changes in our business and the stock market.”

Google are currently trialling their comparison shopping service, Froogle which will bring them further into competition with Yahoo! who recently acquired Kelkoo in Europe to expand into the growing arena of comparing prices across internet shops.

Google reports the IPO

Bringing the School into the Home via Broadband

As Britain moves closer to complete broadband coverage, communities around the country are beginning to explore the potential that interactive services offer and are partnering with technology companies and content providers to create some innovative services.

We decided to look at one of the best examples of community broadband TV: Kingston Communication’s collaboration with an East Yorkshire school which has led to an exciting project to engage pupils in interactive learning, both at home and in the classroom.

The Kingswood High School’s Broadband TV (KBTV) Project was conceived in 2001 under the UK Government’s Information Society Programme and Hull’s own Digital Learning Plan. Kingswood was chosen to collaborate with the BBC in its Headstart project.

The BBC provided the school with access to its film and video archive – and from this, using standard desktop tools like Premiere, pupils and teachers were able to create interactive content that formed the basis of many exciting and informative lessons.

Kingswood High went on to develop the idea into community broadband TV – with the aim of providing a range of interactive services via set top boxes (STBs).  The school secured enough funding for the project to provide a one-year trial of STBs for all the families in the local community with a suitable phone line.

We spoke to Andrew Fawcett, Head of Products and Services at Kingston Communications about the stealthy growth of broadband television: “IPTV has come of age, and it’s come of age in a non-linear fashion.  We’re on both sides of the equation, because part of our business is being a broadband ISP, and that’s been experiencing exponential growth, delivering one megabit of broadband to a consumer PC.  Since 1998, we’ve been delivering five megabits into the back of people’s television sets with a service that people don’t know is broadband.”

We asked him for some background to the Kingswood project: “Everybody who goes to Kingswood School, all the kids basically as part of their school work, use the KIT service – it’s given to them free of charge.  They’re creating their own content at school level.”

“The service covers 200 homes at the moment, but we have a proposal to roll it out to 2000.”

Staff at the school are finding that this new way of learning reaches and appeals to children who would not normally enjoy or benefit from traditional classroom teaching methods.

The interactive service provides immersive learning tools at school and at home. Andrew added, “They (the pupils) get the Kingswood Channel, a school’s TV channel with three elements to it.  One is that we deliver curricular materials – there’s a permanently available set of resources for all subjects that’s very video rich.”

“The second part is taking stock materials and turning them into their own programmes.”  Each (school) year has its own area on the service, though areas are accessible to everyone.”

As an example of this, Andrew showed us a documentary on arson that had been created at the school.  The film had been constructed from content that was put together by the school’s pupils and teachers.

Part of the experience of learning about arson includes the kids going out with cameras and interviewing people.  The idea of making children media literate is very powerful. I’ve seen kids who would be a nightmare in class, but this stops being class work, and becomes making a film – and more importantly it becomes a film that’s going to be on live telly when they get home.  You can suddenly engage kids at a level that’s incredible.  Very significantly, the school comes into the home.”

The film included an interview with victims of arson, and an arsonist – and was put together with standard desktop tools like Adobe Premier.

Interactive television like this also provides educators with valuable information on the effectiveness of services and lessons.  “Year Ten”, he told us, “will be asked to go home and watch this as homework.  We track usage for a select number of pupils who have chosen to opt in to the research elements in the programme.  We’re looking at Educational Family Footprints.  One of the key determinants of the success or failure in education is parental support.  We’ve taken families with different educational footprints – from homes where education is core to the family life, to others where education is less important.”

The third aspect of the service provides pupils with a virtual PC they can access using their television set at home.  The system runs a virtual PC using Citrix MetaFrame – all the processing is done at the server end of the network, which only sends screen updates to the set-top box.  The box essentially becomes a “dumb terminal”.  Pupils can access and save work stored on the school’s network, and use Star Office providing them with applications for word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations.”

A virtual PC service like this has many advantages, as the customers don’t have to maintain a PC at home and so security against spyware, hacking and viruses is taken care of by a qualified IT department at the school.  It also ensures that pupils all have access to the same computing platform.

Andrew is justifiably proud of this aspect of the service, “Of all these things we’ve done with KIT, this brings everything together.  It brings the localness and on-demand aspects of the service together, and it emphasises the difference of broadband TV – you could never provide an application like this with satellite TV.  It’s wholly back-channel dependent.”
Kevin Beaton, Head Teacher at the school explains why they wanted to get so involved in a service like this:  “The rationale for the whole project is that the school becomes the local hub that is able to provide the surrounding community with access to digital services. Initially the focus will be on education, so that we can prove to everyone involved that the principle of on-demand access to information and interactive educational content really is viable.”

Vein continued, “The school is currently developing material to be used on KBTV, and we’ve identified a number of logical and consistent uses for the system. Lessons in several departments are already being developed using our very latest interactive ‘White Boards’. This in turn means that teaching methods and the style of learning are changing, and more and more lessons will begin to make use of film and video as a stimulus to greater creativity. Some of the items will only be produced for homework purposes; hence students would be expected to watch educational material on film, and then complete set work on the film at home. Other material will be work from lessons at school, which can be completed at home, or perhaps reviewed at a later stage as part of a planned revision programme.

“Yet other material will be demonstration work from subjects like Design Technology, where soldering small intricate parts can be clearly be shown to pupils in close-up mode. In the field of Art it would be possible to view many different examples of paintings and sculptures, with the key points that ensured the success of the work clearly demonstrated.

“Another interesting aspect of the KBTV on-demand channel is that parents would have independent access to vital school information concerning their children. This would include attendance records, term dates, coursework deadlines, examination entries, parents’ evenings, exhibitions and school music and drama productions. In addition, direct contact could be made with school staff via e-mail, with the possibility of video conferencing for those parents or guardians who were unable to physically visit the school for whatever reason.”

And what about the future for services like Kingswood?  Andrew Fawcett told us what was up next: “There was a very small budget for this – by squeezing things, as we tend to do, we managed to deliver it to 200 homes, to get a reasonable feel for the potential.  This stage of the trial finishes in June – our intention is to look for additional sources of funding.”

Kingswood High and Kingston Communications are compiling information on the before and after effects of the KBTV initiative – hopefully benefits of this sort of programme will inspire more partnership and research in the educational possibilities of our broadband future.

Kingswood High School

Kingston Communications

BBCi Humber

New Version of iTunes Released

Well, this one caught us on the hop – normally I just select “Check for iTunes Updates” out of habit and expect nothing, but today brought the 4.5 update.

What’s new? The most obvious addition is Party Shuffle – a little application for keeping your soirées rocking. By selecting tracks from your playlists and presenting them in a slightly simpler (presumably so even drunk people can operate it), slightly prettier interface (it’s for parties after all), you’ll never make a musical gaff at a party again. It even shows the last five tunes played and what’s coming up, so people can still bicker over the music choice – and you can even set it so that it plays high-rated songs more often.

Artists featured in the iTunes music store now have handy arrows next them – clicking on the arrows will take you to a handy area in the store with the option of buying more music.

Another new feature allows users to share playlists – you can share your favourite list with friends and people you’ve never met, accompanied with some spiffy artwork made up of a mosaic of sleeves from the tracks in your mix. This is done simply by choosing “Publish playlist to music store” from the file menu. iTunes users can rate each other’s mixes (be prepared to be insulted by people you’ve never met in ways you’d never dreamed of) and top lists are displayed in the iTunes store.

Cheekily, iTunes will now convert your Windows Media files to AAC, if you require – so now you can have music bought from other websites on your iPod.

The Windows version of 4.5 seems to make it a better behaved Windows application, which is welcomed after the first release ignored all the user interface guidelines.

So, not major update but adds a few interesting features for the youngsters – it’s still the best jukebox software out there, and that’s even without a music store in Europe to back it up.


European Anti-spam Laws Useless

European anti-spam legislation won’t do a thing to quench the flood of junk email across the region, says a report from the University of Amsterdam.

Why? Because Europe isn’t sending the bulk of it. As the study say “The simple fact that most spam originates from outside the EU restricts the European Union’s Directive’s effectiveness considerably.”

The study was conducted over nine months by Dr Lodewijk Asscher and a team at the Institute for Information Law at the university.

Europe’s guidelines for direct marketing are contained in the EU Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communication. The directive was passed in July 2002 and the compliance deadline was six months ago. So of course, you’ve been seeing less spam since then. Yes, we thought the real outcome was different too.

The legislation requires that users only receive bulk emails that they have opted-in to. Nice idea but since opting-in is a key way that spammers harvest addresses in the first place, and the legislation is yet to make a single prosecution against a spammer, the model is somewhat flawed.

In fact, the directive is so duff that Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal haven’t even bothered implementing it yet and have been threatened with legal action.

In order for anti-spam legislation to work, all countries have to have compatible directives in place. Since there is a lot of money in spam for some regions, this is going to be difficult.

The study – available from 1 May

Elonex’s Wall-mounted Media Centre PC

Elonex have produced an all-in-one media centre that is so simple to install you just need to drill some holes in the wall and provide an aerial and power.

The eXtentia (UK£2114, €3162) is essentially a slim wall-mounted PC with a TFT display – the display is bright and clear and has a 17” diagonal viewing area, running at 1280 x 768 pixels.

The media centre will connect to your home network through its integrated 802.11g interface, or even plain old Ethernet. Interestingly, there’s a dial up modem on the motherboard, though this probably won’t see much action: if you’re going to hang something this expensive on the wall to watch your DVDs, no doubt your internet access will be broadband.

Also inside the eXtentia is a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor with 512mb of RAM. Both memory slots are full, so if you ever want to upgrade you’ll have to throw the original sticks out. The graphics card is a Radeon 9600 – which isn’t bad for a media centre, though it might struggle in a couple of years when playing new games.

Sound is stereo with the integrated speakers and sub-woofer – but since there’s a full set of 5.1 outputs, including optical, presented at the back you can plug it into your existing set-up. Other connections for getting media into and out of the PC include five USB ports, Firewire and a variety of AV ports for camcorders.

Control of the eXtentia is through a wireless keyboard and mouse, and more traditional infra-red remote control. There’s a handy 8-format memory card reader so that you can display photographs and transfer files form all your other devices – and let’s face it, you probably use at least four different card types.

The unit runs Microsoft’s Windows Media Centre, and this provides the user interface for recording TV programmes onto the 250gb hard disk.

We can look forward to seeing a lot more of these devices in the future – Sony have already had success with their Vaio lifstyle PC, whilst Dell and Gateway are offering more products that are aimed at domestic media use.

What’s not known though is if public are ready yet for a TV that needs service packs, a firewall and anti-virus software – perhaps media centres will come to use an embedded OS and be more like the TiVo.


Band, Super Smart, Release Ringtone Album

Apparently, they're called Super SmartPanda Babies is the new album from Super Smart, a German four-piece band – and it’s only available as a series of mobile phone ringtones.

There are many aspects of this story that make me want to leave my office and go and live in a cave but I can’t deny that it’s innovative and turns the entire music publishing and purchasing model (which is already in disarray anyway) on its head.

The album is, apparently, a sort of disco-pop/electro-punk affair and is published by Go Fresh Mobile Music.

Antonio Vince Staybl, GMM founder, describes the thinking behind Panda Babies: “Music has to be re-thought. 20 Euro for an inflexible album, lowest margins for artists as well as the loss of image of CDs, which are nowadays distributed everywhere free of cost as give-aways, necessitate an immediate change in thinking.” Toni Werner Montana, boss of the label, adds: “We release songs within a few hours Europe-wide without interfaces to the classical music industry. Our prices for a ring tone album or a compilation of ten to twelve tracks including a mobile phone video will settle down at four to five Euro and the price for a single ringtone at 1.49 Euro in the medium-term”.

As part of the project, the band wear panda heads to protect their identity – though from whom, I’m not quite sure. Me, possibly.

If anyone would like to send us a review of the album for publication here – please feel free to contact us. The best one wins something terrible out of my record collection, chosen at random.


Lego Billund Introduces WiFi Child Tracking

Legoland Billund have just successfully deployed a “Kidspotter” WiFi tracking system for children at the park in Denmark. The service is provided by Opus IT, specialists in “themepark intelligence”.

Parents rent a kit from the information desk that contains a WiFi transceiver for their child to wear and a special map for the parents. If they somehow manage to lose sight of their offspring they send a SMS message to the Kidspotter number – the service then automatically sends back the name of the park area and map coordinate that their child is located in. Relieved parents can immediately whiz round to the location and remonstrate with wayward offspring until they cry.

This is a splendid idea for parents who are careless enough not to keep an eye on their children, but Opus’s technology is not just for tracking kids – they are promoting it for use with all visitors:

“IMAGINE Knowing exactly where all your visitors and assets are at any given point in time: Right now – or in the past! KidSpotter® will enable you to increase earning per visitor through comprehensive park traffic analysis and real-time optimization of traffic.”

We can’t imagine living in a world where visitors may routinely and voluntarily electronically tag themselves so that theme parks can sell them more things, but then people will do strange things for discounts. For use with all attendees voluntarily, the service may fail – fingerprint ID systems for banking have traditionally met resistance because of associations with criminal activity, and Kidspotter is clearly similar to convict tagging.

However, theme parks could make the service compulsory – after all, if you’re a good citizen, why would you object? Especially if you get a discount on rides for providing all that movement information.

WiFi transceivers in ID cards, anyone?

Legoland’s WiFi tracking service