Russound Media Console

March 31, 2008

I guess this really shouldn’t have come as a shock, I mean I’ve noticed an increase in media center PC’s all around, it’s just that well, this ones from Russound. What’s so special about a media center PC from Russound you ask? Aside from the optional dual cable-card tuner slots, LifeWare customized Ultimate Vista Media center software (which gives the ability to control LifeWares home automation control suite), up to two terabytes of internal storage, wireless RF keyboard and remote control, it’s the very fact that Russound has stamped their name on the thing that I find most interesting.

Russound LifeWareThe Russound brand is stalwart among many custom installation businesses, many of these integrators look to Russound for proven solutions to their needs. The very fact that Russound offers a media center PC adds legitimacy to the entire HTPC space and probably fills a chasm for integrators looking to offer a HTPC but one from a reliable, established industry partner.

It’s tough (for me at least) to look at Russound offering a media center and then discount the notion that media centers will become mainstream. It may not happen immediately and they might not even resemble what we’d call a “HTPC” but in my estimation this is writing on the digital-wall. Traditional media and media playback devices are about to get a lot less traditional.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under HTPC, Media Servers | 4 Comments 

HD VMD – It’s Not Always About Winning

March 28, 2008

Sometimes just running the race is a win, some consider being seen at the finish line a victory, while others bet the marketplace is mature enough to win on merit, or price… Toshiba placed and lost that bet but not without making their fair share of noise during the two years or so of the “format war“. I believe New Medium Enterprises falls into the just running the race category, I don’t believe they have any intentions of beating Blu-ray to the finish line in any given market. That may be the genius of their plan however.

Toshiba’s all other nothing stake in the format race didn’t pay off but it appears NME’s HD VMD (Versatile Multilayer Disc) is gaining minor traction abroad, no doubt to some degree due to the players cost. Toshiba’s players eventually reached the $199 price mark shortly before implosion but HD VMD players started there. It also seems as if HD VMD is sparking interest with Bollywood (audience of 3.6 billion people anyone?) and specific regions where alternative low-cost 1080p source material is in demand.

HD VMD falls in-between HD DVD and Blu-ray on the performance front, with a maximum bitrate (if memory serves) of 40 megabits per second versus HD DVD’s 36 mbs and Blu-ray’s 48 mbs. Although initial discs seem to be limited to 30GB’s, New Medium Enterprises spokesmen have been reported as stating multilayer discs at 40GB’s or beyond are possible. Again, it’s not always about winning the race, if HD VMD can gain the least amount of traction in secondary markets, they may at minimum force dual-format inclusion with Blu-ray as those markets mature.

Am I interested in a HD VMD player? Look if anyone from NME is reading this and wants to submit a player and discs for review, I’ll happily look into it, but with no major Hollywood studios on board (I think Warner bros. hinted they might give it a go) I really can’t see the point, for me at least. But I can certainly see the benefit of being an also-ran in the word of licensing and intellectual property.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under HDTV Equipment | Leave a Comment 

AMX Implicated in Corporate Espionage

AMXBefore I even get started I want to of course remind everyone (Just as Gary Kayye did with his rAVe HomeAV Breaking News alert) that the accused are of course innocent until proven guilty. I’ve taken particular care not to let my dealings with two of the three companies named in this story, color my take on what I’m about to describe.

In an apparent case of corporate espionage David Goldenberg, the vice president of AMX Systems has been arrested and charged with “Unlawful Access of a Computer System/Network-3rd Degree, Unlawful Access of Computer Data/Theft of Data-2nd Degree, and Conducting an Illegal Wiretap-3rd Degree” by the Bergen county NJ prosecutor’s office. It’s alleged Goldenberg obtained access to the email server of a manufacturers’ representative (Sapphire Marketing) who has several high-profile A/V clients including, get this… AMX’s biggest competitor, Crestron.

Sapphire alerted the local authorizes after being “suspiciously and consistently underbid for contracts by a competitor for whom David Goldenberg works.” I really can’t begin to describe how much this hits home, as someone who has lost these type of bids to competitors (completely unrelated circumstances) I just can’t imagine how it must feel for something like this to happen.

We’re talking big amounts of money here folks, it’s not the least bit unusual for a Creston job to go out the door at over 100k, and don’t think for a second these proposals are just whipped up over a quick cup of coffee, I should know I used to be the guy making them. (somewhere else of course)

Now, in the interest of verification I’m going to repost a press release sent out by Sapphire Marketing (again via a rAVe HomeAV Breaking News alert) as I doubt being an isolated incident, this would get widespread release otherwise. I’m not posting this to cause AMX any further embarrassment but it does serve as Sapphire’s statement on the matter:

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Commentary | 26 Comments 

Home Theater Blog 2.0

March 27, 2008

hooray.jpgOk 1.5 but who’s counting. In case you were wondering why something seemed a little different around here today, we’ve overhauled the site a bit. Long (really long) story short I was using a content management system I’d grown tired of on a webhost I could no longer tolerate. It may not look like a drastic change but what you see is really the only thing left of the old site, the under-pinning’s are new from the ground up, and I plan to put the new features to good use. The overhaul isn’t the only new thing you’ll be seeing here…

Before I forget I want to mention some of the people who helped with the spring cleaning, first I’d like to thank Joseph Schrand of Render Reality (you’ll be hearing more of him) for the sites new header. To make a really long and really boring story short, Joe completely recreated the theater you see in the header from scratch! Yeah who knew I’d need anything that wider than 800 pixels way back in 2004, apparently not me.

I’d also like to thank James Mathias of One Lotus Creative for the kick-arse site tweaks and improvements yours truly couldn’t live without. Both James and Joseph managed to not only put up with me long enough to see this through but delivered better results than I was expecting and I was expecting a lot, that’s really saying something in this day of shortcuts and good enough’s. Both of these guys are grade A professionals in my book and I wouldn’t hesitate a nanosecond to call on them again for help.

Next month marks four years since we launched and I have even bigger goals for next four. As always thanks for your continued readership, I don’t mention it as much as I should but without you this is all bits of data in a folder on some server out in the middle of nowhere (ok I think it’s on the west coast now but you know what I mean). About the inevitable bugs… I know of a hundred or so that need to be shaken out, but if you see something really heinous feel free to drop me a line here, I’d appreciate it. Thanks for listening to me ramble; now back to your regularly scheduled home theater programming.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Commentary | Leave a Comment 

Blu-ray Review: Space Ace

March 22, 2008

Back in summer of 1983 I had a life changing event, well I had lots of life changing events in the eighties but this particular one was walking past a Dragon’s Lair machine in my local arcade, needless to say I did a double take. Dragon’s Lair looked like something from another world compared to all the other consoles surrounding it, at the time I didn’t realize the game ran on laser discs and didn’t care much either, all I knew was I was “playing” a cartoon, rather it was playing me. I must have dropped enough quarters into that machine to buy one outright.

Flash forward a year later the follow-up to Dragon’s Lair: ‘Space Ace’ was released and while it was certainly a success, In some ways the magic of seeing animation inside an arcade cabinet was strangely, already old-hat. It was almost as if Don Bluth and the rest of the team had done such a good job with Lair that its follow-up seemed somehow inferior. Sure Space Ace was impressive, and yes the “graphics” looked amazing but by now the limited left, left, wait, wait some more, up, left, wait some more routine was getting tiresome. That said, never under estimate the power of nostalgia.

Late last week the folks at Digital Leisure were kind enough to send over an early review copy of ‘Space Ace’ on Blu-ray and I have to say, sometimes it’s nice to reminisce and re-visit something that made a huge impact on you early in life. The Blu-ray versions of ‘Dragon’s Lair’ and ‘Space Ace’ are faithful adaptations of original arcade versions but with the added benefit of recent digital video remastering, the colors look noticeably improved over recent DVD versions.

Cutting to the chase, I popped the disc into the PS3 and gave it a go on the default settings, nope my reflexes haven’t improved one bit since I was 14 it would appear. I moved back to the root menu and selected difficulty cadet, unlimited lives, and the visual move guide to on. Even with all those “cheats” on I couldn’t manage to get past the first level, yeah pretty embarrassing. It didn’t take long to remember shoving quarter after quarter into those machines in hopes of seeing the next piece of the story. Luckily this time I won’t need a pocket full of quarters.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Blu-ray | 1 Comment 

CE Products and the Stimulus Package

March 13, 2008

Hear that off in the distance? It’s the sound of cash registers going *ka-ching*. According to research conducted by the CEA one in five tax-payers will cumulatively spend up to five billion dollars on consumer electronics; as a direct result of the economic stimulus package signed by President Bush last February.So what type of items does the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) expect to be most popular with consumers using their rebate checks? Computers, flat-panel televisions and mobile-phones (iPhone sales should see a sharp up-tick) lead the pack, with various other CE products bringing up the rear.

The “CEA found that consumers will spend their rebate check within the first two months of receiving it and 74 percent will spend the money within the first four months.” Individual tax-payers can expect “rebate” checks up to $600 while couples who filed jointly can look forward to $1200 rebates and up to $300 per child in the household at time of filing. The government should begin mailing out the checks in May, finishing up sometime in August.

Now here’s the part that might sound odd coming from a guy who makes his living in the home theater, while I might catch a few of those government pennies falling from the sky, I can’t exactly say as this news makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside either. Listen I know the stimulus package was meant to be a direct, shot-in-the-arm to the nation’s economy and rightfully so, we could all use a little help in righting the woes of the housing industry but mobile phones?

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Commentary | Leave a Comment 

Pioneer Outsourcing – Not Quitting Plasma Business Altogether

March 12, 2008

I read headlines all the time, I also read how others read headlines all the time. This whole Pioneer to exit the plasma business and no more Kuro plasmas business has really been a fascinating window into human psychology. This all peaked (for me at least) yesterday when a client said “Pioneer’s going to stop making the Kuro” to which I replied, well they’re going to stop manufacturing the panels in-house, I don’t see them scrapping the Kuro line altogether though.What ensued in the following minutes actually got heated if you can believe it with my client furiously defending his assertion (don’t worry, no love lost, we go way back). Eventually I showed him the trail of news snippets that started with the facts and eventually spiraled into a living illustration of psst! pass it on gone-bad. Simply put Pioneer will continue to design market and sell Kuro (and others) badged plasma televisions they just won’t produce them.

The following is from a Pioneer press release to be circulated later today:

“Pioneer remains passionate about delivering the ultimate home theater experience based on the brand strategy the company set nearly a year ago, to bring to market the best home theater technology, including high-definition plasma televisions like KURO.To do this, Pioneer will continue to focus on what it does best which includes engineering game-changing plasma technology and producing proprietary components that differentiate Pioneer plasma televisions from the rest of the market. The next generation KURO flat panel televisions will be coming this summer as planned with no disruption in Pioneer production.

As you are aware, outsourcing is common practice among successful consumer electronics companies all over the world. Many of the most notable and respected brands of televisions, cell phones and video game consoles do not manufacture their own products. Pioneer plans to outsource production of plasma panel modules in 2009 in an effort to right-size the business.

Pioneer is developing plans with a production partner that offers the best quality and reliability in line with its own strategy and high standards, but at this point no partnership arrangements or decisions have been made.”

Listen I know not everyone got the story wrong; I’m not even trying to pretend it was the majority but I’ve seen the misinterpreted headline more times in the last 48 hours than I can even remember. Pioneer may indeed drop the Kuro line altogether one day but until then its business as usual. Outsourcing production is an everyday occurrence, it might even shock you to know who’s actually making some of your “favorite brands”, for those companies however it’s (again) just business as usual.

Posted by Philip Stamps | Filed Under Display Technology | Leave a Comment 

Summer Movies 08

March 8, 2008

The summer movie season is right around the corner and for most of us here that’s prime time to get our fill of super-heroes, science fiction, fantasy, and super-heroes I know I said super-heroes twice but this year there’s twice as many to go around. Out of this year’s crop of summer blockbusters, I already see two or three likely candidates for purchase on hi-def this fall.

You really couldn’t ask for a better film to kick it all off with than ‘Iron Man’ on May 2nd. Ever since seeing the Comic-Con trailer from last year; this has been my most anticipated summer movie, and given 2008’s contenders that’s saying a lot. Just one week later (May 9th) ‘Speed Racer’ hits the screen and while I was initially pessimistic on how this would play on the big-screen, one look at the trailer put all those fears to rest.

May 16th brings Disney’s ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’ to the screen, which on its own would probably do just fine with a fall or winter release. But in a summer with a lineup like 2008’s the second Narnia film may experience stiff competition from the slew comic films aimed at tweens. (at least that’s what I think you call kids between 10-13 these days)

The weekend of May 22nd brings back one of films most beloved action heroes of all time, Harrison Ford reprises his role as Indiana Jones once again in ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’. The trailer pretty much had me from the get-go and held me until the end fade.

Two weeks later (June 13th) comes another one of my all time comic favorites, ‘The Incredible Hulk’. This time around Universal has opted for a do-over of sorts with Edward Norton taking over the lead from Eric Bana who starred in 2003’s ‘Hulk’, I liked Bana’s Hulk but I’m certainly looking forward to this one as well. Also that same week is M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Happening‘ which looks rather intriguing.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Commentary | Leave a Comment 

Home Theater Revenue to Nearly Double by 2012

March 5, 2008

Around the office we’ll occasionally joke that there are more people doing home theater than buying home theater. And while it feels true (at least in our neck of the woods) it was encouraging to see some hard data that backs-up something I’ve suspected for quite some time, home theater is still a growth market.

According to Parks Associates the increased adoption of residential network products will drive down the associated costs of multi-room audio and home theaters systems, as a result we’ll continue to see increased growth in the home theater market to the tune of nearly doubling total revenues by 2012. Perhaps I’ll hold off on that application to Sbarro’s just a weeeee bit longer.

“The high-end A/V market is in a major stage of transition,” said Bill Ablondi, Director, Home Systems Research, Parks Associates. Digital content is approaching the performance and quality of analog media, with the added flexibility only digital content offers. Reduced costs coupled with advancements in wireless and powerline networking technologies are also growing the retrofit portion of the market, at a time when mid-market construction is slowing down.”

So, all kidding aside it’s clear that my market (the home theater market) will continue to see shifts away from legacy media systems/technologies and continue to move toward local digital distribution. These systems may come in form of control and automation systems with digital audio/video distribution capabilities and or IP based home network distribution systems. I’m so glad I paid attention in computer class.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Home Theater | Leave a Comment 

Top Four Reasons Blu-ray Won’t Tank

February 29, 2008

Blu-rayIn case you missed it, Computer Worlds Lucas Mearian rattled a few blue chains Wednesday with his opinion piece titled, “Top four reasons Blu-ray Disc will tank”. I’m sure with a provocative title like that Mr. Mearian won’t be the least bit surprised that a few lone voices out in the wilderness politely beg to differ.

(1) “Blu-ray players are more than four times the cost of standard DVD players” Lucas goes on to mention $400 Blu-ray players from Sony being launched over the summer and an estimated $199 price point by the holidays. I’m really not even sure how to address this one, we already know (acknowledged earlier by the same author) that Blu-ray players launched at $999 or higher and we’re currently hovering around the $399 mark. maybe I’m naive but I don’t necessarily think $299 or better is out of the question before year’s end. I mean does that really sound all that impossible to anyone else?

(2) “Upgraded (SD) DVD players offer near-HD quality for a fraction of the price.” No Lucas, they don’t. It’s really not even close with the right display. By this point I’m honestly starting to get the impression this is all a big put-on. The color reproduction alone should clue someone in to the fact that they’re watching standard definition. Yeah, hold up, are we being had here?

(3) “Why buy when you can rent?” Good question but I’m not sure what it has to do with Blu-ray. In a nutshell renters rent and buyers buy, neither of these little truths seemed to hinder DVD adoption however. While I don’t expect Blu-ray to be as successful as DVD, even 15-25% of DVD’s market share would probably feel like a huge win for the studios. Never underestimate the desire to own, collect and point to a shelf saying, yeah I’ve got that right there.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Blu-ray | 2 Comments 

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