Foxtel outguns TiVo with four HD tuners
By Adam TURNER
Foxtel's upcoming iQ2 high definition personal video recorder poses some serious competition to the almighty TiVo
Speaking at a Sydney preview event this week, Foxtel managing director Kim Williams revealed details of Foxtel's HD+ service, due to launch mid-year with four channels of sport, movies and docos. To access the service, Foxtel subscribers need to upgrade to the new Foxtel iQ2 PVR. The iQ features a 320GB hard drive good for up to 30 hours of HD recording or 90 hours of standard definition. The stand out feature is the inclusion of four HD tuners - allowing users to record two Foxtel or free-to-air programs whilst watching a third. The fourth tuner will be used to trickle Foxtel Box Office HD movies to the box in advance, giving subscribers access to instant on-demand 1080i high definition pay-per-view movies.
Interestingly, Williams also revealed the pay TV provider has rebroadcast agreements for all HD free-to-air channels except the Seven Network - which is no surprise considering the bad blood between the two. It's no coincidence that Seven is backing the high definition TiVo in Australia. Like TiVo, Foxtel's iQ2 features an Electronic Program Guide with the ability to schedule recordings remotely, plus the ability to automatically record an entire series.
TiVo is due to launch in Australia in time for the Beijing Olympics in August, which means it's likely to hit the market around the same time as the iQ2 - sending the push towards high definition viewing into overdrive. What's really impressive is Foxtel's HD channels will only feature real high definition content, a mixture of native 720p and 1080i resolutions using MPEG4 compression, unlike the free-to-air networks which regularly screen standard definition content on their new HD channels. To quote Williams; "We have taken particular care to ensure our HD channels are the best looking HD channels in Australia." This will be a welcome change considering how bad the current Foxtel picture looks when blown up on a big television.
Considering the iQ2 seems to do everything the TiVo does, with the added bonus of pay TV channels and extra tuners, TiVo will need to keep its monthly fee down - especially as Foxtel also plans to make the iQ2 available to subscribers who don't pay extra for the HD channels. If you can pick up the iQ2 and a basic Foxtel subscription for around $50, TiVo will have to be significantly cheaper. The fact the free-to-air networks have done such a crap job of introducing HD channels, with crap content, plays right into Foxtel's hands.
For me the decider between the two will be how they handle intelligent storage management (automatically deleting old recordings) and padded recordings (starting recordings early and running over). Both are essential in Australia if you want to be sure of recording your favourite shows. Another important factor is whether Foxtel's rebroadcast free-to-air HD channels look as sharp as terrestrial broadcasts.
Having fallen out of love with my high-def Vista media centre I'm on the hunt for a worthy replacement. It looks like TiVo will need to offer something special if it's going to fight off the iQ2 for pride of place in Australia's lounge rooms.
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Amazon MP3 going international - but does Apple look bothered?
By Stephen WITHERS
Some pundits have made a big deal about Amazon's plans to take its music download service beyond the borders of the US, suggesting it could mean trouble for Apple's iTunes Store.
The reasoning is that Amazon has proved more successful than Apple in gaining permission from the music majors to release tracks unencumbered by DRM. Although Apple was a pioneer in this regard, Universal, Sony and Warner wouldn't come to its party - but they quickly cozied up with Amazon.
Other points said to be in Amazon's favour are its choice of MP3 rather than AAC (moot, because most modern players and audio software either support AAC as well as MP3 or can be made to do so with an appropriate plug-in, and because AAC usually sounds better than MP3 at a given bit rate), and its variable pricing model that means it sometimes undercuts the iTunes Store. In my view, these are less significant than the absence of DRM, guaranteeing that any purchases will be compatible with whatever hardware or software you purchase in the foreseeable future.
But back to the international aspects. Some people seem to be interpreting Amazon's announcement to mean it will be selling music downloads to people all around the world. Given the fragmented state of music licensing, I can't see that happening - though I'd love to be proved wrong.
Instead, I think the announcement means that sometime during 2008, Amazon MP3 will open up at one or more of Amazon's international operations, which are currently in Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan and the UK. So it's probably good news if you live in one of those countries.
But where does the iTunes Store already operate? Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
That gives Apple much better coverage of Europe (though this could be of little importance if the European Commission achieves its goal of a single market for music downloads), and arguably of Asia-Pacific (depending on your view of the importance of the Chinese market for western music).
Amazon MP3's expansion outside the US is welcome in that it adds to the competition and may show there's room for lower prices in some markets. Every time commentators described the latest personal audio device as an 'iPod killer' they were been proved wrong, and I suspect the same fate awaits those who think Amazon MP3 is - despite its advantages - the 'iTunes killer.'
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Patent Troll Patents...Cellphones
By Anthony CARUANA
If you were ever looking for confirmation that the US Patents Office was staffed by total morons then look no further. Last week Minerva Industries, Inc was assigned patent 7,321,783. So what I hear you ask. Here's the abstract that describes their "invention".
A mobile entertainment and communication device in a palm-held size housing has a cellular or satellite telephone capable of wireless communication with the Internet and one or more replaceable memory card sockets for receiving a blank memory card for recording data directly from the Internet and, in particular, musical performances that then can be selectively reproduced by the device for the enjoyment of the user, including both audio and visual recordings and reproductions. The device also includes a camera and microphone for recording images and sound within the range of the device that can be wirelessly transmitted, either selectively or automatically to a remote telephone. Further, the device includes sensors for sensing unusual conditions that may also be transmitted to a remote telephone, together with the location of the device as determined by a GPS section of the device.
In other words, last Tuesday some dimwit has issued a patent for a mobile phone.
This is the sort of crap that makes me wonder why the United States even has a patents office. The patent was issued on Monday 21 January 2008. At 12.01 AM the next morning the patent holder started suing. They started with RIM for the BlackBerry, Apple over the iPhone, Nokia for just about everything they make, Sony Ericsson, the list goes on. There are over 30 defendants listed in the three lawsuits they've filed (RIM and Apple are special - they get their own lawsuit. The other 31 defendants are being sued in bulk - Minerva Industries must have got a "sue 30 - get some free" deal).
Why am I so annoyed by this? Because it costs us money. Every time some tool launches a frivolous lawsuit there's a team of lawyers paid to defend it. That team of lawyers costs money and the cost gets added on to the next device we buy.
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By David HAGUE
In a past life, I was full time as a motor sport photographer. Using my late father's pride and joys, a Leica M2 , Minolta SRT101 and Pentax KX with the mandatory 210mm lenses and 2x converters, I modestly took some fine shots and made a living out of both taking the photos, and writing articles for such publications as Auto Action, Motoring Reporter and Sports Car World.
When my employment direction changed, I still followed motor sport with a passion, and still took photos - albeit without my Dad's cameras - death duty took care of that. I was reduced to somewhat of an amateur for many years, still writing stories however, but this time from a different angle for firstly VideoCamera magazine and later of course AusCam on the role TV played in the V8 Supercars, A1GP and Production cars (the Ferraris, Lambos, mighty Monaro and so on).
My tool of choice for this work was the original Minolta dImage 7i - still waving the Minolta flag y'see. While not suitable for super-dooper action shots on the track, this 5MP digistill was ideal for interview and pit work.
I never really needed to use them, so I bypassed the advent of the super-digi-still that probably started with the Canon EOS 1D Mark 1 (from a sporting perspective) and was quickly followed by models from Nikon and SIGMA. But today, I finally had a long, long play with both the Sony alpha 700 (really a Minolta who are now of course defunct) and a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-L10.
Trust me, if you are one of those that has been hanging on saying "film is still king", go and have a play with one of these gems (or equivalent Nikon, Pentax or SIGMA models).
They are simply astonishing. You'll never go back.
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Will Windows 7 heal the Vista wounds?
By Ian GRAYSON
Put your hand in the air if you’re running Windows Vista on a work-related PC and you’re not happy with the experience. Is that a forest of hands I see waving around me?
Despite almost 12 months of post-launch spin from Microsoft, Windows Vista is still a very unpopular product. Incompatibilities with existing peripherals and software applications have put many users off side.
Add to this a bunch of annoying security prompts and the fact that it runs a lot slower than XP (even when you feed it with more memory and processing grunt) and the chorus of painful yelps gets even louder.
However during the past week, attention in the tech world has moved from berating Microsoft for unleashing Vista onto unsuspecting users to what form its replacement might take.
Dubbed Windows 7, the next operating system being readied in the backrooms at Redmond is scheduled to be released sometime in 2010. Not surprisingly, it’s supposed to be better, faster and more intuitive to use than Vista. Heck, it might even end up having a smaller carbon footprint!
Some industry observers and commentators believe Microsoft itself is feeding the Win 7 gossip frenzy. The logic is that if people are occupied talking about and waiting for a better OS, they’ll stop winging about the one they are currently using.
But I don’t believe it’s worth Microsoft getting people excited about a new OS this far away from its planned release. They can’t afford to have a re-run of the troubles and delays that beset Vista before it was even launched. I tend to think it’s more a case of the tech community’s ongoing fixation with what’s just around the corner.
Microsoft will remain focused on encouraging the corporate community to make 2008 the year they move to Vista on the desktop. Then they will ramp up their sales job on the almost completed Service Pack 1 which is widely tipped to be released next month.
Sure, massive resources will still be focused on Windows 7, but it won’t start getting the hype treatment until Microsoft is absolutely sure that it’s ready for prime time.
What does it all mean for users? Basically, if you’re happy with your XP-based machine and have no corporate necessity to upgrade, stay happy. Once SP-1 is out, take another look for sure, but it’s unlikely to be any more compelling.
Just remember, 2010 is not that far away. If your current PC does what you need it to do, sit back and wait. Windows 7 could be a whole new story.
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