Archive for February, 2008

Saturday thoughts

February 23, 2008

HD-DVD FALLOUT BEGINS

The swift pullout of the HD-DVD standard will have long-lasting economic fallout on consumers and the industry.

Take Sanyo’s very impressive palm-size HD1000 1080i recorder. Sanyo had an HD-DVD solution for offloading the large size video files off camera (using SD memory) on HHD for storage and future viewing.

Scrap that plan. Sharp says a Blu-ray solution is in the works.

Check out my review on the HD1000 at:

www.canada.com/topics/technology/columnists/story.html?id=c4b8a700-3ca5-45da-9585-8f1a15b50cda 

What about HD-DVD prices? Will they drop? Unlikely. The home DVD industry is a $24 billion business. Frankly, I would never waste my hard earned bucks buying a DVD movie of my own, to keep and maybe watch a few times. This notion of “keeping” you very own title forever in a nice box sells a lot of DVDs. I would rather just pay for watching the same show, online or rental, and spend my savings elsewhere.

GREEN TIPS

The same Edmonton Journal Saturday column also talks about reducing carbon footprints when leaving computers on overnight. The zerofootpront.com folks teamed up with Microsoft to show how Vista’s default energy saving mode can slash electricity costs and keep our air cleaner.

Check out Microsoft’s Home Magazine smart article on “greening” your PC.at:

www.microsoft.com/canada/home/internetandsecurity/2.4.67_cm_GreeningyourPC.aspx

PEOPLE POWER

This past week, Bill Gates was quoted as saying Microsoft is prepared to shell out more than $40 billion for Yahoo’s people, not the company’s business assets. Gates values smart propeller heads and thinks the cultural differences between Microsoft and Yahoo are negligible. How many of those Yahoo engineers do you think will stay on if Microsoft gobbles up Yahoo? Much of their driving force to create Internet-based software was to outdo Microsoft, not just Google. If Microsoft succeeds in buying Yahoo, it will have to lock the company gates to keep Yahoo’s best minds from walking out. Money can buy great tech minds, but can it buy their hearts?

  

  

BEING PERFECT ISN’T EASY

February 16, 2008

ANYTHING YOU CAN DO I CAN DO BETTER

I wrote about Samsung’s new BD-UP5000 Duo HD player in the Edmonton Journal this Saturday, www.canada.com/topics/technology/columnists/makris.html Despite its $849 price tag, this is one awesome machine with full-featured 1080p HD-DVD and Blu-ray capability, hardware up-scaling for DVD discs and audio disc play with 99 song playlist.

What amazes me even more, is the fact that Samsung, one of the original backers of the Blu-ray format, even bothered making a high level dual player, what with the coming demise of the HD-DVD format.

Fact is, even Samsung could not have foreseen the quick demise of the HD-DVD when it decided to market a Duo player.

Even so, my Samsung friends tell me the Korean company would have made the Duo anyway, because of one-upmanship.

“Samsung and LG are fiercely competitive and will go out of their way to better each other,” said a Samsung insider. LG’s dual, made wave last year when it was released but it’s doesn’t play full features in HD-DVD mode.

With HD-DVD on the way out, you may be able to enjoy great sales on HD-DVD titles when the long format war comes to a painful end soon…and enjoy them on dual players like the Samsung Duo.

I wonder when Microsoft drops its HD-DVD support and comes out with an external Blu-ray player for the Xbox 360? Or maybe even a dual version?

 

ROYAL TROUBLEMAKER

 Hats off to Sir Richard Branson, for pushing the envelope in the cellphone industry. The off-centre zillionaire and Virgin Mobile Canada founder marched his way through Toronto streets this week to announce a new deal for consumers. It’s named myPlan™, a range of monthly packages to “take the ‘con’ out of contracts” and more. myTime lets you pick the hour when your unlimited calling starts – not like the evening plans all other cellcos limit you too, way after sunset. The cell phone industry in North America is pricey where it’s considered normal to fork out $75 a month for a locked subscription plan. FYI, cellphone plans in third world countries, I am sure they are subsidized, cost several bucks a month.Still we are optioned to bankruptcy with all the extras when signing on a new plan. “More than 16 million Canadians are currently in contracts that don’t always deliver what they want,” said Sir Richard in a Virgin press release. “People now have a chance to join a company that will treat them the way they deserve to be treated.” Telus, Rogers, Bell and Fido…are you listening?

DROP THE TURD FOLKS
Just got an eval car FM hookup for the Zune, soon to be available in Canada. It’s a nifty piece of engineering, with tonnes of FM frequencies to use, a smart magnetic holder for the tuner and an effective car dash rubber matt that keeps your Zune from flying off. But does it have to be CHOCO brown, a favourite colour but painful reminder of the first version Zune? I guess Microsoft had too many of the turd-coloured pads made so expedience trumps fashion co-ordination.I was also sent the Zune Home A/V Pack with charger/stand, remote control and the dreaded yellow RCA video connector for watching Zune movies on TV. That won’t show very well on your 50 inch flat panel.I asked the Zune Canada folks if higher quality videos would be available. Zip is the word for HD Zune, although the company offers component cables. Maybe there’s hope. Let’s see what the online Canadian Zune Marketplace offers later this year. I have grown to like using the Zune. The large screen and easy finger taping can go through massive song selections like a breeze an it just feels solid but comfortable in your hand. The Zune will be available soon and you will be able to buy locally with a smooth rear plate or direct from the Zune order site in China where for the same price you can have nice artwork, from a large selection, engraved and delivered within five business days for free. OK, this seems to be a raw deal for Canadian stores, who miss out on a sale to a Chinese low wage engraving plant.

Digital photography, are we there yet?

February 9, 2008

The miracle of today’s photography

Just a few photo thoughts on my recent Photo Marketing Association Show visit in Las Vegas.

I couldn’t help but think how far technology has pushed photography.

Remember when you had to wait for days or weeks to finish a roll of film, drop it off to the photo lab and pick it up a few days later? It literally took months to see photos!

We have come a long way, where what happens to a picture after it’s taken is just as exciting as taking it.

I have run into many folks recently who are picking up photography again as a hobby, because of the affordability of shooting to their hearts content and never pay for a roll of film.

Many choose to not print but post their photos online or on their PC, or portable devices. That’s cool as long as you back up your most important photos in three places: your hard drives, a CD or DVD disk and online storage sites, and only if they keep your images in the original size. 

Consumer cameras are getting better and smarter with cool features to help you “just take the picture,” with some incredible results.

See my Edmonton Journal Story at: http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/columnists/story.html?id=8d96cdc3-5dac-4eb7-bd3c-d2244c95cecc&p=1

Pundits will say that compared to the good old days where every shot counted, today’s digital cameras shoot faster than you can think or plan for. Critics think that leads to more poor, shot off-the-hip pictures with no artistic merit. 
I disagree.

I see it as simply getting more chances at shooting pictures, learning from your mistakes, eventually honing in on your unique skills on getting the right photo, whether it took one frame or 30. Instead of getting better in photography every several months, today you get better everytime you snap one picture and instantly see it on your bright camera screen.

Digital cameras are bigger and smaller, heavier and lighter, cheaper and more expensive, yet there seems to be just the right camera for everyone.

Digital photo frames, and yes, MMS on cellphones, online scrapbooking and social sharing network sites along with great home and instant public kiosk printers, make the photograph, once again, one of the most enduring media in the last century.

And unlike the olden days where the first keepsake a fleeing family took from a burning home was the photo album, today you just have to remember your password to your online photo gallery.

Today’s photography life is good. Isn’t it?

PMA 2008 was a personal adventure

February 4, 2008

There were signs of a straining economy at the Photo Marketing Associaton show in Las Vegas last week. There were fewer smaller “indie” booths at the South Hall convention Center floors, making it easier to cover. A sign of trouble for the imaging industry?

If you ask Vegas cabbies, yes. They are like nature’s wildlife that can sense a bad winter. All of the drivers told me things are slowing down and that it was getting worse.

My main story this year was the new green footprint photo lab competition between HP and Kodak. Both are pushing dry photo labs, Inkjet and Dye Sublimation respectively.

Check out my story at: http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/columnists/steve_makris.html

My next column in the Saturday Journal is on some of the cool technologies I found at PMA, and not from big-brand players, but inventive photo-gadget makers taking a big chance at the show.

Too bad for the fast-disappearing silver halide wet prints. I tend to be anal when it comes to printing and can spot the tiny inkjet dots on prints (especially on highlights and single colours) or the burn lines of dye sub prints. Nothing will replace the smootheness of wet prints. Call me old-fashioned.

My biggest personal challenge at PMA was getting my story and pictures out to the Journal. I left my Lenovo Tablet PC on the first leg of my trip, on a WestJet plane in Vancouver. I realized that too late, before boarding my connecting flight to Vegas and despite WestJet’s fast reaction, my Tablet was off to another destination in inner British Columbia!

Thankfully, the WestJet folks actually called the airplane, midflight, and found my laptop where I had left it.

But due to U.S. cross-boarder regulations, WestJet was not able to get my laptop back to me, like those miraculous TV ads they have. But they kept it safe and I got it back to Edmonton.

This left me with my trusty Rogers BlackBerry Curve and my Creative ZEN MP3 player to write and record interviews. It worked like a charm ( I carry several thousand emails on it, so I am never short of resources) letting me fine-tune my story while waiting for cabs, restaurant service and whenever my hands were idle. Yes, I wash my hands frequently.

Goes to show. Sometimes little gadgets can do a big job.

This weekend I changed work hats. I become a freelance technology and travel photojournalist, after taking early retirement from the Edmonton Journal, where I had worked for the past 39 years. Early? Scary. Freedom 58!