Posts Tagged ‘Sony’
In an unusual flash of foresight, I have made a decision that may well save my life this Christmas. I see now that my choice of a Sony PS3 as a principle gift for my girlfriend, even with the addition of Gran Turismo 5 and FIFA 11 may leave me open to accusations of insensitivity, even, perish the thought, self interest.
Of course nothing could be further from the truth because gaming really isn’t my bag. The PS3 offers rather more than a compelling gaming experience, and it is this extra functionality that is of particular interest to me. Television, or more precisely, catch up TV is the killer application that puts the PS3 in the centre of the Magic and Lies entertainment hub. Sony have beaten the competition to the punch, licensing not just the BBC iPlayer, but also More4 and the ITV player.
Having the ability to watch TV on my terms, at a time that is convenient to me is something that in these days of endless repeats and dismal format shows will allow me to catch up on such vital Television as I currently miss because its on too late or is buried deep in the unnavigable depths of some dreadful digital channel. And there is good television out there, the recent documentary on krautrock for example. And this is where Sony have really upped the ante, the addition of PlayTV, a small very reasonably priced peripheral containing a pair of Freeview tuners, paired with the PS3 gives you total control of the airwaves. You can watch live television, pause it, rewind it, just like Sky+. Using the hard drive of the PS3, you can record one channel, while watching another and even set the thing to record a whole series.
That’s not all. Sony have also kitted out the PS3 with a Blue Ray player and a wireless adapter. This, for me completely seals the deal. I can stream media, download movies from LoveFilm, and I am told, with the addition of the PSP, programme the thing from afar. This may be a step too far this Christmas, and, the PSP being small enough when gift wrapped to be mistaken for a bottle of perfume, may prove to be an unacceptable risk to my health. As it is, there is a large gift wrapped present under the tree with no name on it. Look what Santa brought!
Spearheaded by the BBC’s iPlayer and supported by a proliferation of mobile devices, the concept of video on demand is starting to look like something that might just break through this year.
Those that remember the Betamax wars will hardly be surprised to find that there is a bewildering array of technology and solutions aimed at exploiting this market, from desktop players (iPlayer), internet streaming (4oD) to dedicated hardware solutions supporting HD (Netgear EVA 9150) and hybrid offerings such as the Sony VGXTP Media Centre PC. So given that one wrong move is likely to lead to yet another worthless chunk of hardware taking up space in the garage, where does a person go to get multichannel on demand Television?
The answer, as ever in the consultancy business is…”it depends”!
At this point in time, a decent laptop, with widescreen and equipped with iPlayer, 4oD and a bookmark to Seesaw will allow access to current and some legacy TV. However if you want to view this on the Television, life gets a little more complicated.
The Sony Media Centre PC is a solution that was designed to leverage the media capabilities of Windows Vista in order to make the Television the centre of the home media experience. Unfortunately it is only available with Windows Vista and at around £700 is very expensive for what is in effect, a moderately specified PC without a monitor! On the plus side, and this really is a plus, it offers twin freeview receivers which means you can record one program while watching another.
More interesting are the appliances offered by Netgear at the top end of the market and Popcorn at the middle market. The Netgear EVA9150 Digital Entertainer Elite is an appliance that supports wired and wireless connectivity to a home network and supports probably the widest range of formats i have seen anywhere, namely:
- MP3 up to 320 Kbps or variable bit rate (VBR)
- WMA8 and WMA9 files up to 192 Kbps or variable bit rate (VBR)
- WMV9 up to 1080p (to 40 Mbps)
- Internet radio (streaming MP3)
- Video codecs: MPEG 1/2/4 SD; MPEG-2 HD HP@HL to 40 Mbps; MPEG-4 Part 2 HP@HL to 10 Mbps (Xvid); H.264 HP@HL 4.1, VC1/WMV9HD to 1080p 40 Mbps
- Video file formats: AVI, DivX, Xvid, WMV9, MOV, M4V, VOB, MPG, MP1, MP2, MP4, ISO, IFO, MKV (with AC3 only), TS, M2TS, PS
- Audio formats: MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, FLAC, WMA-Pro, M4A, M4P, AC3, DTS Passthrough, PCM, LPCM, AIFF
- Photo formats: JPEG, BMP, PNG, TIFF
- Playlist formats: WPL, ASX, WAX, WVX, PLS, M3U, RMP
iPlayer can be configured to forward to this device from a Windows Vista Media Centre supporting PC, but it’s not hard to see a future where this device can be used to power a home cinema set up. In fact, movies are where this beast really comes into its own and with this range of format support, this looks like a winner if downloaded movies are the main reason for wanting to play. At £300 it is less than half the price of the Sony, but while you gain in viewing movies, you lose the freeview access and access to the full range of download TV.
Technologically, somewhere between the two, the Popcorn Hour C-200 supports a similarly vast array of formats, supports a range of internet enabled download TV (mostly American) and can be equipped with a 1Tb hard drive. for approximately £300. It can also be equipped with a Blu-ray drive, if you need it to double up as a player.
So, confronted with such fluidity, where does one turn for stability? This is where it gets really interesting. In the UK, the BBC have initiated Project Canvas, an attempt to define a platform specification for broadband delivered television. They have some heavyweight partners in this venture – ITV, C4, Five, BT and Talk Talk to name but five. Imagine if you will a device that is as well equipped as the Netgear offering, giving access to iPlayer, 4oD and legacy Television in addition to downloaded movies from a multitude of sources. Imagine if that device were also to support Freeview (in the UK) and was able to match the choice offered by Popcorn Hour in terms of American TV – now that would be a worthwhile piece of kit.
That would also represent a threat to the Sky hegemony – Sky TV are nowhere to be seen in this story – Sky have already offered us Sky+ and Sky HD – at a price. These solutions represent a one off payment and for those that don’t care about Sport particularly, the first really viable alternative to a Murdoch dominated future. Now there’s a thought.
Who killed the recorded music industry? In the light of Apple’s veiled threat to shut down iTunes in the face of demands from the music publishing industry for a larger slice of the pie, this question is suddenly a lot more relevant. The central issue is not about Apple, it is about the way that society rewards artists and the failure of the free market to keep up with technology.
Before the gramaphone (ignoring the wax cylinder) there was no recorded music industry. Musicians made a precarious living by playing real instruments, live, in front of real people. Songwriters had a share of the sheet music sales from popular songs. as I said, the living was precarious.
The music industry as we know it, evolved during the sixties – by this I mean the infrastructure of the industry, the distribution channels, the manufacturing, recording and marketing instruments, the fundamental structure of a recording contract that tied an artist into promoting records on tours underwritten by the record companies, ultimately paid for by the royalties on successful records. and by records, I mean the physical vinyl artifact.
This arrangement suited the record companies very well, so well that when CD’s and digital file formats arrived, they completely failed to see the writing on the wall. It was abundantly obvious to anyone with the wit to look, that recorded music would be passed from person to person via computer networks. In one fell swoop, the record companies lost control of the medium and some would say, the industry.
Napster, the peer to peer file sharing service was the first to really get under the record companies skin – hugely successful, the companies invention, a peer to peer music sharing system created a model for a decentralised distribution channel that has proved impossible for the traditional industry to control. It took a federal government to close down Napster, but there are a host of similar enterprises still in semi legal business.
This is why it has been so difficult for the industry to deal with. For each track there is an owner of the sound recording, the record company. There is also a separate work, the musical composition – the song the artist sings. By law, each track of the CD is also considered a reproduction of the musical composition. On a typical CD, there may be 12 sound recordings and 8 separate music publishers. Multiply that times 3,000 record companies in the US, and 25,000 music publishers, times 27,000 new CDs per year. Separate individual negotiations for all these rights are simply not a viable option.
With CD sales falling last year by 20% to ($7.4bn (£4bn)), the record companies now have a major problem. The artists do too, but the good ones are now making up the shortfall by playing live – this has to be good for the long term health of the art. By which i mean that new technology has been seen by the record companies as primarily a means of reducing recording costs – to the detriment of the quality of the product, as the art of songwriting took a back seat to the art of sampling. In the current climate, forcing acts to play live may encourage the use of technology to entertain the audiences again. But it’s not that simple.
Traditionally, the audience / society, pays the piper – prices are hiked and artists, record companies and publishers all live happily ever after. Now however there is a problem. Apple don’t own the medium, they are just the de facto owners of the largest share of the market. Rivals include Sony, who as a record and hardware company themselves, would be very well placed to mount a strong competitive alternative. So Apple will not want the price of recorded music to rise. The record companies, watching their profits dwindle daily are unlikely to want to take the hit, which leaves the publishers and the artists themselves.
Interesting times ahead. Should songwriters be paid for writing songs? Is it reasonable for the record industry to seek to sustain its profit levels when they no longer own the medium? What does the record industry do in these days of digital recording technology, to justify its profit? Should Apple simply raise the price of digital music?
What if the artist retains control of the recording? Is there any point in recording 12 song albums any longer? What are the implications of selling less songs? Would a tour the size of Madonna’s for example be sustainable on the back of the profit gained from a couple of singles? Actually the answer to that one is yes, ditto The Rolling Stones, but what of the middle ranking acts that depend on touring to shift albums?
But back to the central issue – we have an audience, millions of music hungry people with money to burn, who are quite happy to spend it. We have a computer company, Apple, capitalising on the digital format to charge the audience for the music at 99 cents per track. We have a music industry desperate to play ball with Apple because they no longer own the medium. We have a music publishing industry asserting its right to gain a higher percentage of the digital rights – so who loses?
Answers on a postcard please!
Carefully balancing the danger of resembling a North London pikey against the desirability of actually being able to hear my music above the roar of the aeroplanes I spend so much time in, I tentatively took the plunge on my way to Orlando last week and shelled out for a pair of Sony MDR NC60 Noise Cancelling Headphones.
The difference between these and the ‘bud’ phones I’m used to using is extraordinary. The stats boast 85% noise reduction – I’d happily concur and add to that crisp, clean bass reproduction, comfort and a range of plug adapters designed to allow use in aeroplanes, with domestic hi-fi and I-Pod and the £100 price tag begins to look reasonable.
From the users perspective, with noise cancelling switched on, background noise is almost entirely screened out. Powered by a single AAA battery, this is a feature worth its weight in gold. I tested these phones on a transatlantic flight, with a Sony Network Walkman playing a mixture of rock, country, blues and jazz – no complaints at all. Listening to the in flight movie only highlighted the paucity of the visual arrangements – wide sound stage, great clarity.
In summary, I’m a convert – I fly at least twice a week and these headphones will substantially add to the quality of my life in airports and aeroplane.