Monday, August 27, 2001

Photos of Loewe TV's posted

Well, I added a whole slew of Photos and Specs of the various Loewe digital TV's to the end of the Loewe Aconda FAQ page. Check it out...

Also, if any of you could pipe up with the local pricing in your area on these Loewe Models, I'll try to put up the prices so we can all see how much these suckers run. Most of these models are only available in Europe so we here in the U.S. don't know how much they go for. Just drop me a e-mail.

Sensory Science Web Site Updated...finally!

Well, I haven't visited their site in a long time because it just wasn't up to date. NO mention of the 30" Aconda at all for more than a year. In case you didn't know, Sensory Science imports Loewe TV's to the states. Anyways, it seems that they've finally gotten around to updating their site. They even have some details on the 38" Aconda though I don't know if this is an indication that we're moving away from vaporware status.

FAQ finally taking shape...

OK, I finally got off my duff and I'm getting the FAQ section written. If anyone has any questions or suggestions, plese drop me an e-mail and I'll try to put it up in the FAQ.

What finally motivated me to getting around to doing this? Well, I was doing a search on the Aconda on Google the other day and surprise, surprise, my site was coming up pretty prominently...including the blank FAQ page. That made me feel kinda lame so I got to typing...

Aconda's Settings Preserved by Reserve Battery

For those of you residing in Southern California, you are no doubt familiar with the rolling black-outs that have been happening here. Consequently, I have ALL my expensive electronics on surge supressors and power isolators. Funny enough, I got through almost the whole summer without one hitting me....until this morning that is.

The power died here in my section of Newport Beach from around 11am to 12 pm yesterday morning. No big deal, just had a few clocks to reset. But the one thing I wasn't looking forward to was re-creating the settings and channel labels on the Aconda (BTW, the Aconda will automatically label the channels that broadcast their station ID's too or you can label any of the channels w/ up to 4 letters or numbers of your choosing). The option bytes and display geometry settings are preserved in the flash rom but I wasn't really sure if the Aconda had any backup power for the other stuff (ie. brightness, contrast, channel labels, etc). Well apparently it does and the single hour of zero power was no problem. The internal clock did have to be reset however.

Set works fine, no re-adjustments needed, whew.


Friday, August 24, 2001

More on Superbit DVD's

The Consumer Electronics newsletter reports that Columbia/Tri Star Entertainment Superbit DVD's (see this post for more details) will not have regional coding restrictions, with the first ones will be released October 23, 2001.

Wide Screen Review has some additional details as well. According to them, the MSRP will be $27.96. Steep, but according to WSR, they will feature BOTH Dolby Digital Surround and DTS (my personal favourite) sound tracks.

This is nice, no regional coding restrictions, but it does confirm my theory that this could be a sneaky way to get consumers to buy the same movie twice as the region free Superbit DVD's will have to be released AFTER the complete world wide release of the standard DVD is completed. Thus if you have to see it as soon as the movie is released, you'd probably be better off just renting it first and waiting for the REALLY well mastered version to come out later to add to your permanent collection.

Then again, this could be a rather niche product designed for really hardcore videophiles as 90% of the folks out there don't honestly have AV system's that could make use of the doubled video bit rate, not to mention that most people happen to LIKE the little extra features (the Director's commentaries are my favourite...when they actually stay on subject and talk about the movie that is).

Which reminds me: I'm bummed that I bought the original DVD release of "Silence of the Lambs" (Dolby 2 channel audio only). Since "Hannibal" was recently released on DVD, they have also released a special Widescreen edition of "Silence of the Lambs" w/ a Dolby Surround soundtrack and it looks like it has even MORE extra features than the original release. Doh!!!

Review of 2 HDTV Tuner cards for your PC

Check out this article about HDTV Tuner cards for your PC. They liked the AccessDTV card much better than the Hauppauge Computer Works WinTV-HD. I have also heard good things about the AccessDTV on AVS Forum. You can record HDTV programming onto your hard drive, but be prepared to use 9 GB (!!!) per hour to do it. Hope you have a big old drive.

Unfortunately, at this time, if you also want to record NTSC/Regular broadcast TV or cable but you can VIEW NTSC broadcasts just fine. If you want TiVO/Replay TV capabilities, you'll need a separate TV Tuner card and software as these HDTV cards don't have that feature as well. Talk about redundant cards and overlapping functions, wish they'd get both HDTV and TV recording features up and running, then it'd be nearly perfect. I thought the wiring of my HT setup couldn't get much bushier...

On-Line HDTV Program Guide

This looks like a pretty nice on-line program guide. It actually will list programs based on what broadcast source you are looking at, ie. NTSC Over the Air/Cable/Sattelite/etc. It also localizes to your zip code so the program information reflects local broadcast programming as well.

One really nice feature is that programs that are broadcast in HD (Native HD vs. just upsampled NTSC) are labeled as such with a "HD" designator. Nice.

Check it out at: Program Guide

It looks like it is being developed to use w/ various PC based TV Recorder software programs w/ one button programming by hitting the little video cassette looking icon, cool.


Thursday, August 23, 2001

DTCP Sucks in more ways than one...

OK, so you think I'm a grump about DTCP because my older HDTV doesn't have a Firewire/5C DTCP compliant port and I'm bitter that I'll be SOL when they start restrictiing HDTV playback on non-copy protected devices. Yeah, it's true, that does piss me off.

But, it does seem that DTCP does suck in that way, AND in the fact that it has been cracked (at least in it's current form).

See these links for details: article
Keith Irwin's article
AVS Forum thread

It kinda makes me happy, but sad in a way knowing this will most likely further delay the release of more HDTV content as the Major Film Studios will be VERY hesitant in light of DTCP being cracked.

Promises, Promises

TJ Sandell forwarded me a copy of some e-mail correspondence about the long overdue 38" Aconda. It reads:

"From: Mike Santos at Sensory Science...
...we are now looking at late August to early September.
Mike, Consumer Relations"

OK, I'm really getting tired of these constant delays and I'm not even in the market personally for one of these...sheesh, as I said, I just HATE vaporware...

College Football in HDTV

To tell you the truth, I just am not a sports fan. But, the only time I've watched more than 10 minutes of sports on TV in the last year was when I caught some Football games and college Basketball games broadcast in NATIVE HDTV. The picture was incredible, I swear I could see the sweat on their faces and the paint coming off the helmets during the tackles, I could see the field being visibly torn up during good running plays. It overcame even my notoriously short attention span for televised sports...

Here is a schedule of some upcoming College games to be broadcast by CBS in native HDTV.

September 15th: Tennessee vs. Florida
September 22nd: Arkansas vs. Alabama
September 29th: Miss St. vs. Florida, Alabama vs. SC
October 6th: Florida vs. LSU
October 13th: Alabama vs. Miss
October 20th: Tennessee vs. Alabama
October 27th: Georgia vs. Florida, Miss St. vs. Alabama
November 17th: Florida vs. Florida St.
November 23rd: Arkansas vs. LSU
December 1st: Army vs. Navy

Once again, CBS proves itself as THE major proponent of HDTV amongst the major broadcasters.


Monday, August 20, 2001

Network Congestion Headaches

I know this doesn't have alot to do w/ Acondas and Home Theater, but I gotta whine somewhere...

You know, I don't think the various Code Red worms are really hitting any of our personal computers directly (Unless you are running an unpatched Windows NT anyways), but it is still pissing me off royally as my previously fast DSL connection is kinda poky and sluggish since this latest Code Red worm propagation cycle started again. I checked my Firewall (and if you aren't running one shame on you, go to ZoneAlarm and download a copy of the BEST software firewall product I've come across, and the price is FREE for personal users, can't beat it!) logs and found a HUGE number of Code Red port scans (HTTP port 80 for you techies). Man do I think this dammed worm is slowing my net connection and am I irritated.

OK, public service announcement and griping complete. But really, you all should think about running some sort of Firewall, even from a dial up connection, and especially if you are on an always on connection like Cable or DSL. For details on why, check out the well regarded Gibson Research web site and do some reading. Hostile takeovers of your PC/MAC over an Internet connection are a reality and w/o a Firewall, you might as well be leaving your computer on your front porch.

Downloadable Movies from the Internet?

Pay per view downloadable movies may soon become a reality according to this New York Times Article.
(You may have to create a free login account to read the article if you haven't already estabilished one. I set up a dummy account every couple of months as they purge the ones I've made with fake e-mail addresses. What can I say, I just HATE getting spammed!!)

MGM, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures have agreed on a proprietary file distribution system and downloadable movie format that allows viewing anytime within a 30 day period but for 24 hours from the first access only.

What is not yet determined are some really important details, namely:

1) How much will it cost? The article mentions a price at around a Pay Per View Movie: $3.00-$5.00

2) How big a file size are we looking at? The article claims that the files will be about 500 MB in size (I am assuming it is a 1 1/2 hour flick) and optimistically estimates a download time of 20-40 minutes. I roughly calculated that at optimal DSL speeds of 1.5 Mbps, you're looking more around 45-55 minutes. Faster if your Cable Modem connection is running faster than that at the time.

3) What kinds of resolutions or sound formats are going to be in a measly 500 MB file? Probably pretty lame, heavily MPEG compressed videos at low resolutions and bitrates far below that DVD w/o surround sound at these file sizes is likely.

4) How are we supposed to play these things? Only a small percentage of Home Computer users have their PC's/MAC's hooked up to their TV's. Or are they planning to sell us yet another Set Top Box to download and control/monitor our viewing?

I am skeptical for one. Unless the downloadable movies are VERY value priced, I'll continue to buy and rent DVD's. At the Pay Per View price point, something like Netflix still seems like a better deal AND you get an actual DVD quality movie w/ extras! (Note, I am not paid by nor do I work for Netflix, I just like their service alot and I think they are a reasonable compromise between price, convenience and selection.) Note the release windows for these downloadable movies is AFTER the official DVD releases. I think all this is a big price to pay for the marginal convenience of a 1 hour long on demand download, I mean, Blockbuster is just 5 minutes away from my house...


Saturday, August 18, 2001

More information on Superbit DVD's

Check out this article on the Stereophile's Guide to Home Theater Web Site that gives some details on the new higher bitrate/resolution DVD's being released by Columbia/Tri Star Entertainment. Man, DTS and higher bitrates, I will end up buying the same DVD twice dammit!


Thursday, August 16, 2001

Required Reading

I have added some links to the On-Line/Web versions of the following print HT Magazines to the nav bar at the left for your convenience:

Wide Screen Review (My personal favourite)
Home Theater Magazine
Stereophile Guide to Home Theater
Sound and Vision Online

They are an excellent source of FREE information and news about the Home Theater scene.

Must Have for your Home Theater collection

Sure they aren't the cutting edge in terms of visuals but the sound is EXCELLENT (even if they aren't in dts but just plain Dolby Surround 5.1) and you can't beat the musical performances on them...

They are "The Best of Sessions at West 54th Volume 1" and "The Best of Sessions at West 54th Volume 2". I mean, I've played both discs nearly daily for 2 weeks after getting each one. The performances are that good. Even in the genres I usually don't listen to (ie. Country).

They also have 2 other single band/artist full concerts available for the Keb Mo and Neil Finn sets, the John Prine set is coming out soon. I HOPE that they eventually release all of the performances that they've recorded on DVD like this. Here is the infomation about these extraordinary DVD's at (No, I am NOT endorsing Amazon, they are just a good place to get info on stuff. Go buy the DVD's at your local Mom and Pop's DVD/Stereo shop instead if you can and support them. That's what I like to do if I can..:).

Do yourself a favour, go buy these discs!

Higher Bitrate DVD's

I thought DVD's looked pretty good except once in awhile, you see some MPEG artifacts in really complex scenes that also have lots of action. Here is a possible solution as posted on Mark's Monday Memo in the 8/13/01 issue:

"Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment will be introducing "Superbit" DVDs that double the average coding bit rate by eliminating bonus features. The first titles will be "Air Force One," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Desperado," "The Fifth Element," and "Johnny Mnemonic." DreamWorks, on the other hand, will be loading their "Shrek" DVD release with 11 hours of material (on two disks)."

So you get something cool but you lose the special features. Darn. The problem with this is I already own "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Fifth Element". Is this some sneaky way for the Studios to make me pay TWICE for the same DVD? How did they know Home Theater hobbyists were so dammed obsessive...


Tuesday, August 14, 2001

More Details on the "Aconda Select"

Thanks to Mike Rikovsky for the information about the CES concept product: The Aconda Select as seen to the right ->
This was supposed to be a special light silver colored Aconda w/ a matching silver speaker grill that came with a Loewe Planus like TV stand w/ integrated Powered Sub woofer and 4 surround speakers priced at approx £3000 (Pounds Sterling or about $4261 USD). Presumably, it had integrated Dolby Surround and maybe even TOS link digital inputs? Anyways, it did look dammed fine!

Mike was kind enough to forward me a copy of an e-mail from Sensory Science detailing why they choose to drop this model and more importantlly, what they might replace it with: The Aconda Premium...

"The short answer is there no longer a "Select" in the works."

"While we showed a prototype of this at CES in January, the purpose of this was to get market feedback to determine acceptance of this product concept."

"While we felt this concept was very well received, this model was eliminated from our roadmap during our product planning meeting in London this summer, due to conflicts with other models being planned in the future and due to difficulties in Loewe engineering a proper active subwoofer power supply for North America on a timely basis."

"Instead, the Aconda Light Silver will be coming this fall - to be followed early next year with a matching consolette base, similar to the one we showed with the Select concept at CES. The Aconda Light Silver, is similar to the Select cosmetics, in that the grille is metal and painted to match the front bezel of the set, giving it a monochromatic look. When fitted on the optional consolette base, this gives a striking appearance, like the Select. The only change is that the subwoofer will be passive, driven from the set - just like we do when a Planus consolette base is used with the Planus TV. We do not yet have pricing on this consolette base, but overall,
this package will be a more affordable one than the Aconda Select shown at CES."

"For those looking for something more high-end, like the Select we were showing, we'll have a solution that will be an even more high-end 30" concept - code named "Premium" for the first half of next year. This will be designed with some more interesting stand solutions as well as a matching range of home-theatre audio components that will be utilizing acoustic technology from Bose."

While I'm not so hot on the Bose speakers, the way this system looks with is matching speakers is quite appealing. The little Bose Acoustimass(tm) speakers are very discreet and inconspicuous, but I find they are too much of a compromise in terms of sound reproduction as they are especially lacking in the low midrange/upper bass registers. This is a direct result of the small size of the speaker enclosures that necessitate very small drivers that just cannot produce this midbass range.

A passive Subwoofer and Stand is a bit pricy for the additional $1000.00 price difference of the Premium over an Aconda alone, however if this Premium Aconda (aptly named) price were to include all 4 sattelites, some amplification and some pre-amp capabilities as well...that would be a pretty good deal as a Bose Acoustimass Surround system starts at around $900-1300.

Funky Formatting Fixed!!!

Thanks to Evan Williams, who is none less than the co-founder and CEO of Blogger, for debugging my HTML code (which was my really amateur customization of a really pretty Blogger default template) and fixing that really annoying formatting problem.

Apparently, in my zeal to remove the defunct comments feature, I probably nuked some subtle but essential formatting and brought all this grief down upon myself. I have since gone through the code and found and corrected some other stylistic and coding errors. Ooops, what do you expect for self taught HTML scripting eh?

Once again, I am VERY impressed at the quickness of the response and diagnosis of my little problem by the very nice folks at Blogger and SOOOOOO happy with this very cool free Blogspot service. Thanks for bearing with me y'all.


Monday, August 13, 2001

Something Funky with the Page formatting...

For some reason, each successive post is being indented so that the page is being displayed in a really annoying "wider than the browser window" width. Trying to root out the source of this problem, please bear with me.

Pictures of the Aconda models now available

Well, I finally got off my lazy butt and uploaded some pictures to a small web server space I have access to. You can see the following pictures:

30" Aconda (Black on the Loewe Glass Stand)
30" Aconda in Stratos (Silver color)
38" Aconda (as seen at CES 2001)

Thanks to Mike Rikovsky on the details of the Aconda Select which had it's debut at CES. Unfortunately this model WON'T be going into production (more details to follow in a later post), but Mike was kind enough to provide this picture:

30" Aconda Select

It does look tasty, but still only in the 30" / 81 cm tube.

38" Aconda's release in the U.S. Delayed again!!!

Man I hate vaporware. It seems that unfortunately the 38" Aconda is falling into this category at least in the U.S. I have recieved many reports via e-mail from our European readers about the availability of the 38" Aconda in the EU but alas, the U.S. release has been pushed back yet again.

I spoke with a very knowlegeable fellow at The Good Guys and I was informed that the release date has been pushed back to September or October at the latest (we hope!). The exact reasons seem to be unknown, perhaps it is due to a shortage or difficulty in making enough 38" 16:9 picture tubes on RCA's part? I understand that these large tubes are very difficult and costly to make.

One consolation though, with RCA/Proscan dropping the prices on their 38" 16:9 HDTV Sets (with built in Direct TV decoders too!!), the salesman at The Good Guys suspects that Loewe may be forced to MSRP below the originally forecasted $5400.00 USD price. As the $5400.00 price was based on the RCA/ProScan price not being discounted...a slimy sales pitch? Who knows, time will tell. However, more power to Loewe fans if this delay in release does force a bit of a price drop...

Keeping my fingers crossed,

Removing Comments Feature

Well, it looks like the free service (Blogvoices) powering the comments feature is down for good, so I'm taking this non-functioning and confusing link off the page. Sorry, it would have been nice to have interactive forums. I have some web server space available, perhaps I can put up something at a later time. Thanks for bearing with us.


Thursday, August 09, 2001

HDTV over IP/Internet

Does anyone else out there read Slashdot? They aren't about HT or HDTV primarily, but the discussions seem to cover anything in the Technology sectors; the discussions can get a bit technical, but are pretty cutting edge and interesting. Check out this thread about a NASA experiment in which a live HDTV transmission was sucessfully sent over the Internet. Could this be the future of HDTV?