Tuesday, September 30, 2008

PC software coming from TiVo

TiVo and Nero of Germany were set to announce Monday that they will be launching a package that turns a Windows PC into a TV recorder, just like a TiVo set-top box.

The kit will cost $199 when it goes on sale Oct. 15, and includes a remote and a TV tuner that plugs into the PC. The interface on the computer screen looks just like the one on a TV equipped with a TiVo box.

It's not the first software that allows TV recording on the PC. That's been possible for years on computers equipped with TV tuners, and some versions of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system include the necessary software. But it will be the first time that both the TiVo interface and functions have been replicated on a PC.

The Nero LiquidTV/TiVo PC will go on sale initially in the US, Mexico and Canada, but it could open up some markets where TiVo does not yet sell its set-top boxes. Joshua Danovitz, vice president and general manager of international business at TiVo, said the plan is to launch it in Europe next year, including in Nero's home country, Germany. Britain is the only European country where TiVo currently has subscribers..

For people who already have a tuner-equipped PC, Nero - a private company mainly known for CD- and DVD-burning software - will sell the TV recording software separately, for $99. Either way, buyers will get a one-year subscription to TiVo's program guide updates. Renewal will cost $99 per year.

The renewal cost sets the product apart from the digital video recording features of Windows Vista, which has a free program guide. However, Nero and TiVo are counting on the popularity of the TiVo interface and brand to overcome that hurdle.

Like TiVo's existing TiVo Desktop software, LiquidTV will allow users to transfer shows recorded on other TiVo devices in the home to the PC's hard drive, and bring shows out of the home, either on a laptop's drive or on an iPod or PlayStation Portable. LiquidTV also allows users to burn shows onto DVDs if the computer has a DVD burner. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Flip phone BlackBerry coming soon

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is moving to increase its fast-growing share of the US market with its first flip phone, the most popular format in North America.

RIM unveiled a flip version of its Pearl BlackBerry that will be available this fall, initially only through T-Mobile USA. The move adds to RIM's tactics to extend its reach beyond its core of business users to the fashion-conscious consumer market.

BlackBerry devices have nearly doubled their share of the global market for do-it-all phones known as smart phones during the past year, even as economic woes have given cellphone users pause before upgrading to more expensive devices. RIM's sales more than doubled to 5.6 million units in the second quarter, according to the research firm Gartner Inc., as RIM added carriers and signed distribution agreements around the world.

While Apple's iPhone has made a big splash, BlackBerry has quietly become common in the US, in part because of heavy TV advertising to promote its brand among consumers seeking to check email on their cellphones. BlackBerry devices make up 1 in 10 phones sold in the US.

The Pearl Flip, which features a chrome-finished frame and weighs 3.6 ounces, features a high-resolution display on the outside, so users can preview incoming calls, mail and text without opening the phone. A larger display on the inside lets users browse the Web, watch videos and read email.

Flip-phone keyboards are commonly small and harder to type on, but the new phone has a "Qwerty" keyboard like a computer. Like other BlackBerry devices available in the US, the Pearl Flip isn't designed to work on the fastest 3G networks. Pricing has not been announced yet. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In an uncertain economy, maybe you can't afford to give diamonds, but that doesn't mean you can't give something sexy, sparkling and shiny, or treat yourself to something beautiful.

Our unique new PhoneBling is both practical and glamorous. From 9 to 5 it works as a high quality telephone handset cord, maintaining vital communications and making even an ordinary phone look extra special.

But after the close of business, it can be easily unclipped from the phone and quickly hung around the neck to become a gorgeous accessory for sophisticated evening wear.

Jewelry for the recession

In an uncertain economy, maybe you can't afford to give diamonds, but that doesn't mean you can't give something sexy, sparkling and shiny.

The new PhoneBling is both practical and glamorous. From 9 to 5 it works as a high quality 12-foot telephone handset cord, maintaining vital communications and making even an ordinary phone look extra special.

But after the close of business, it can be easily unclipped from the phone and quickly hung around the neck to become a gorgeous accessory for sophisticated eveningwear. CLICK for CordsForPhones.com

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

First Google cellphone coming from T-Mobile

Yesterday T-Mobile USA unveiled the first cellphone that runs Google's Android software. The phone includes an advanced Web browser and a number of Google services intended to spur wider use of the Internet on phones.

The G1 will be available in stores Oct. 22, priced at $179 with a two-year contract. Completing its first version of its mobile operating system is a milestone for Google, which has experimented with ways to spread its services to mobile for years. At times, its efforts -- such as bidding to purchase its own wireless spectrum -- have appeared as a crusade to change the wireless industry but the phone demonstrates how the company is currently content to work with traditional partners.

Google executives said the device is the first of many to be built on Android, a set of programs that are designed to be modified by other developers and serve as a foundation for other software. The company announced the project last fall, investing in the technology in order to create a more direct way to deliver mobile versions of its Web services and drive usage of the Internet by cellphone users.

Now Google must persuade other carriers and handset makers to sign-up to build on its software as well. Several companies, including Sprint, Motorola and Samsung have expressed interest in bringing Android devices to market. Google co-founder Sergey Brin didn't rule out that Google would play a more active role in designing handsets. "If we had good ideas to contribute, then we would," he said.

The G1 is a sign of how Google, along with others like Apple, are forcing wireless carriers to rethink their traditional business models. Normally, carriers aggressively promote their own branded services for Web browsing and purchasing ringtones. But T-Mobile USA agreed to play down its presence on the G1, betting that it can generate much more consumer Internet usage by exploiting Google's popular brand and partnering with other companies, like Amazon.com, which powers a full-track music download service on the phone.
The phone, offered in black, white and brown, has both a touch screen and a slide keyboard. It features a menu of traditional phone applications, like a phone book, email and calendar.
Executives also highlighted the Android Market, which they characterized as an open marketplace to let developers create and sell a variety of programs and games.

Andy Rubin, Google's senior director of mobile platforms, says Android has allowed Google to improve upon existing versions of its mobile services. For instance, Google created a new view for its mapping service that leverages the compass in the phone to rotate the image based on the phone's direction.

The G1 is expected to work best on T-Mobile's 3G wireless network, which has faster transmission speeds than second-generation services. But so far that service is only available in 13 U.S. cities, meaning many consumers may find the Web service slow.

The carrier, which is offering data plans of $25 to $35 a month, is planning to reach 27 markets with 3G service by the end of the year. The phone also supports Wi-Fi access, which will allow faster Web access and application downloads when users are in hotspots like airports. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

el-cheapo Blu-ray player from Memorex

The world has been expecting a Blu-ray player to hit the $299 price point for Christmas, but Memorex is beating that price by 30 bucks.

The company announced that their new MVBD-2510 model, scheduled to be available in November, will sell for $269, the lowest suggested retail price yet for a Blu-ray disc player. We'll probably see $199 next year, if the world is still here. CLICK for more info.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New way to buy physical music

In the latest attempt to shore up sales of music on physical media, flash memory maker SanDisk and the four major music companies plan a new format called slotMusic.

SlotMusic is be introduced in mid-October at retail outlets including Wal-Mart and Best Buy. Each unit is to contain an album, plus extras, on a compact memory card that can be played on cellphones, PCs and some portable MP3 players. The cards are inserted into vacant slots .

People close to the record companies and retailers said they view the effort as an experiment. The initial batch of releases is to comprise 29 albums, from all four of the big recorded music companies: EMI, Warner Music, Universal Music Group and Sony BMG. The releases are mostly by current pop artists including Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Robin Thicke, New Kids on the Block, Weezer, Usher, Chris Brown, Akon and Leona Lewis. In a nod to older buyers, Elvis Presley is also represented.

The music is to be sold in the MP3 format, with no digital locks that prevent copying. An adapter is to be included allowing users to transfer their music to PCs via their USB slots. The albums are expected to cost about $15 .

CD sales have been decimated in recent years, as people have migrated to digital downloads, whether they pay for them or not. Earlier this year Apple's iTunes Store surpassed Wal-Mart to become the largest music retailer in the world. The record labels have tried various ways to prop up sales of albums, which are more profitable than the 99-cent single tracks that make up the vast majority of iTunes sales.

The music companies over the years have tried to persuade consumers to migrate beyond CDs to a range of new formats, including DVD-Audio -- with limited or no success. Daniel Schreiber, general manager of SanDisk's audio-video business unit, says slotMusic has a unique advantage, since it's compatible with a vast range of devices people already own, including hundreds of millions of phones.

"I don't have to convince you to buy anything; you already own it," Schreiber says. "I don't have to convince you to carry anything; you're already carrying it." (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Finally, something good from a corporate merger: Dymo Rhino cable labeler

Corporate mergers and acquisitions seem to accomplish a lot less than expected. The often-touted synergy seldom occurs, and the most common results of a combination are waste, disappointment and unemployment.

We're pleased to note one corporate combo that accomplished something useful:

Dymo -- a company long-known for hand-operated label makers, and CoStar -- a company that has made great desk-top electronic label printers, and Sanford -- a company that makes terrific Sharpie permanent marking pens, are all parts of Newell Rubbermaid.

Newell's other adopted children make everything from Rubbermaid waste baskets and garage cabinets to Paper Mate pens, BernzOmatic torches, ViseGrip pliers, Calphalon cook's tools, Graco baby strollers and Goody hair styling gadgets. Next year they'll probably be making Hebrew National hotdogs and Sony TVs.

Anyway, one result of this mega-conglomeration is the Rhino 101, a compact label maker/dispenser that lets you write whatever you want on a flexible, durable white nylon label, that's perfect for identifying wires, cables, and almost anything else. The easy to load, drop-in cartridge holds split-back (easy-peel) Rhino labels with high-strength adhesive that resists moisture, heat, chemicals, farts and bad breath. You can run the label along the length of a thick cable, or wrap it around, flag-style, with thinner wires. It also works well in wiring cabinets, on circuit breaker panels, parts drawers, and 1001 other things.

The pen in the package is a black "Sharpie" permanent marker, in a new retractable point style. The writing surface integrated into the Rhino 101 makes it easy to write labels anywhere (even standing on a ladder with your head above ceiling tiles), and the built-in cutter, belt clip and lanyard hook provide additional convenience. Additionally, the Rhino 101 includes a thumb advance for easy tape dispensing (without smearing), a viewing window to align the label prior to cutting, and even a holster to hold the Sharpie.

Rhino makes some great pro-style label printers with keyboards, but if you are not trying to impress anyone with your choice of fonts, this hand-powered Rhino does the basic tasks quite well, at a very reasonable price. CLICK to order from PhoneGeeks.com

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Save your pennies, kids. New Aston Marton will cost 1.8 million bucks

Ads for the new $1.8 million Aston Martin coupe say nothing about the car's top speed or horsepower. Instead, they play up a different fact: only 77 of the cars will be built.

The British sports-car maker's marketing pitch is a sign of how being fast and powerful is no longer enough for high-end cars -- scarcity and sticker price (the higher the better) are now what provides the car makers with bragging rights.

Aston Martin's sales pitch for its new coupe plays down performance and focuses on ultra-exclusiveness. Upper-end auto makers have struggled to find a fresh sales pitch since the launch of the Bugatti Veyron in 2005, which set new benchmarks for both power (1,001 horsepower) and speed (faster than 250 miles an hour). Since then, environmental consciousness and a rise in oil prices have blunted the appeal of those attributes.

Aston, famous for its association with the James Bond films, has been coy about the particulars of its new car -- it hasn't even named the vehicle yet. It also has yet to reveal the car's acceleration and top speed.

Aston's one-page print ads show a dimly lit silhouette of a car, drawing viewers' eyes to the Aston Martin logo instead. The only performance details available are that the car will be made from carbon fiber and aluminum -- most of Aston's previous cars have been made from steel and aluminum -- and it will have a seven-liter V12 engine. The ads direct readers to a Website, www.one-77.com.

Aston Martin's decision to use scarcity to sell the car may be partly out of necessity. Smaller companies such as Aston, which makes only 7,000 cars a year, don't have the same resources as Bugatti's parent company, Volkswagen, which makes 6.2 million cars annually. And building faster cars is expensive: It requires getting approval from the highway authorities in various countries, which in turn requires extensive emissions and crash testing.

While Aston says it doesn't consider the Veyron a competitor, it does appear eager to play in the same league when it comes to price. The standard-version Veyron has a sticker price of $1.6 million versus $1.8 million for the new Aston Martin. Aston's production run of 77 is a fraction of Bugatti's planned run of 300 for standard Veyron vehicles.

That is a radically new price point for Aston Martin. Some analysts question how Aston, if it makes only 77 of the coupes, will be able to generate enough revenue to fund the cost of developing what is essentially an entirely new vehicle. That leads some observers to believe the company may be planning to build more carbon-fiber and aluminum cars down the line.

Aston, which Ford sold last year to an investor group led by a motor-racing entrepreneur who is backed by a Kuwaiti holding company, said it still hasn't made a final decision on when it will begin proding the new cars, though it could start as early as 2009. The print campaign is a "way of finding out about Aston's potential in this end of the market." (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

3D coming to small movie theater operators

In an effort to stay competitive with big chains, a consortium of independent movie theaters and small chains has cut a deal to get three-dimensional technology onto more of its screens.

The Cinema Buying Group, which represents 643 small-theater owners in the US and Canada with some 8,000 screens, said it planned to add 3D equipment at about 1,000 of its screens. That will allow more independent theaters to run 3D versions of coming movies that are generating buzz, such as "G Force" from Walt Disney, about a commando force of small animals, and "Monsters vs. Aliens" from DreamWorks SKG, about monsters battling interlopers from outer space.

The deal is with RealD Corp., a company that licenses 3D technology to theaters. For RealD's system to work, a theater must have upgraded to digital projectors from reel-based projectors, at a cost of about $50,000 to $70,000 per screen. Then, it needs to license the RealD technology, which might cost $20,000 per screen over 10 years, depending on factors such as how much business that particular theater does.

Currently, only a handful of independent theaters have 3D technology. The technology is more likely to be in a theater owned by a big chain; earlier this year, industry giants Regal Cinemas and Cinemark USA signed deals to outfit 1,500 screens each with RealD. Some 1,200 theaters in North America have RealD systems, with 2,000 more expected to be hooked up by the end of the year, including some independent theaters.

Many movie and theater executives hope that 3D, which has advanced well beyond the red and green glasses of years ago, will revitalize the movie industry. The technology isn't available for home viewing, so people who typically watch movies on DVDs must get off the couch and buy theater tickets if they want to catch 3D movies.

Theaters tend to charge a premium for 3D tickets, often $2 to $5 more than regular tickets. That means movies that run on 3D screens can boost theaters' and studios' bottom lines. During opening weekend for this summer's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," 3D screens took in almost four times the revenue of 2D screens showing the movie.

Bolstering per-ticket revenue is crucial for theaters amid weakness in the number of tickets sold compared with a few years ago. Last year, US moviegoers bought 1.4 billion tickets, up slightly from the year before but well below the 1.6 billion sold in 2002. The deal with the independents will be rolled out over the next two years. (nfo from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wilmington, NC going to all-digital TV five months early

Next Monday Wilmington, NC TV stations will shut off their old analog signals and broadcast only in digital, potentially leaving thousands of older televisions unusable. Wilmington is the first US city to switch to digital-only broadcasts and is doing it five months early as a test of the strategy the government and broadcasters have adopted for helping people who still rely on over-the-air, analog television move to the digital TV future.

Federal officials and broadcasters, concerned that the test could go badly, have blanketed the airwaves around Wilmington with public-service ads. The FCC has rotated staffers into the area to spread the word at weekend farmers markets and libraries.

"People have to have had their heads in the sand to not know this has been going on," said Gary McNair, general manager of WETC-TV, Wilmington's NBC affiliate. "Anytime there were a few people gathered, there was someone there with brochures."

So far, the top complaint has been about antennas, McNair said. Consumers without antennas that receive both UHF and VHF signals have been forced to buy new ones. Residents along the coast also have complained the battery-powered portable televisions they rely on during storms and hurricanes won't work now.

All of the efforts to educate Wilmington residents may result in just a few hiccups Monday. But there's also some doubt about how helpful the test may be in foreshadowing how prepared other communities will be, because no other areas will receive the kind of personal attention being showered on Wilmington.

"You can't say it's representative because we won't be doing that elsewhere. But it's all we've got, and we can look at what works and what doesn't work," said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who pressed unsuccessfully for multiple tests around the US before Feb. 17, when the rest of the nation switches to digital-only television.

Anxiety about the transition will only grow over the next five months, particularly among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who voted to move the US to digital-only television three years ago. When the switch happens, upwards of 15% of households that rely on free broadcasts will lose their television service unless they attach new digital converters boxes to their older televisions or subscribe to cable or satellite service.

Most households are eligible to receive two $40 government coupons to help pay for the converter boxes, although the number of coupons available is limited. Cable and satellite television subscribers don't need the boxes. Polls show that a majority of Americans know that the country is switching to digital-only television next year even if many still aren't exactly sure what they need to do about it. The Wilmington test was designed to show whether consumers could be educated on the transition and what they need to do to get ready.

It took some persuading to get Wilmington's broadcasters to agree to the early switch. Federal officials and broadcasters have left little to chance. For months, FCC staffers have flown in to take turns popping up at weekend farmers markets, town council meetings and senior centers, handing out pamphlets and answering questions.

Local broadcasters have run hundreds of ads, in addition to news segments on issues such as how to hook up one of the new converter boxes that will let consumers pick up new digital signals on older TVs.

The Consumer Electronics Association even donated 100 converter boxes to local nursing-home residents who aren't eligible for government coupons under current rules. Those rules will change this fall so that nursing home residents can receive coupons, although no date has been set yet.

Only 7% of households in Wilmington, or about 12,600 homes, rely on free television, far below many other communities.

The area is relatively flat, so residents haven't reported many problems receiving the digital signals, which can be obscured by buildings or mountainous terrain and leave viewers looking at black screens. Traditional TV signals may get faint and fuzzy when the signal isn't strong enough, but digital TV channels simply black out.

To help consumers make sure they're ready, Wilmington's four local network stations recently shut off their signals for one minute to test the readiness of local residents who rely on free over-the-air broadcast television. Other stations around the country have been doing similar tests. (info from The Wall Street Journal)