Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2006 CES: Watch This Space

The 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show returns to Las Vegas January 5-8, 2006 and The Paper PC will be there. Check back here for updates on product announcements, photos from the show floor and for technology news as it breaks.

Since the demise of Fall Comdex, once the premier computing and technology showcase, CES has managed to pick up the slack and then some. This year CES spills out of the Las Vegas Convention Center and into the Sands Expo and Convention Center. As usual, the high-end audio exhibits will be at the Alexis Park Resort.

Much of the news at CES will be broken at pre-show press conferences and events. In this photo from the 2005 CES, Sirius Satellite Radio CEO Mel Karmazin makes his pitch to the press.

Do you have tips on what I should look for at the 2006 CES? Let me know at bob@paperpc.com. See you there!

Photo © 2005 Stadium Circle Features

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Turbo Charge: Grade AA Cell Phone Savior

If there's one thing you don't want to see in the middle of a long business travel day is the "low battery" warning on your cell phone. With luck--really bad luck--your phone charger will be miles away or packed with your luggage and you won't have a spare battery handy.

The chances that you will find the right battery for your cell phone at an airport newsstand or hotel convenience store are quite slim, but the odds of finding a store selling common AA batteries, even in the dead of the night, are probably quite good.

That's where the Turbo Charge from Voxred International LLC of Fairfield, New Jersey comes in. The silver-bullet-shaped Turbo Charge can bring a dead phone back to life with the aid of just about any type of AA battery. The Turbo Charge was shown at a New York preview event for the upcoming 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Jan 5-8).

The key feature of the $19.95 Turbo Charge, according to Voxred, is the unit's patent-pending Dual AlgorChip technology, which detects the power needs of the phone and delivers just the power that it needs, thus protecting the phone from overcharging. Included with the $19.95 unit is an adapter cord of your choice. Additional adapter cords are $2.95 each.

The body of the Turbo Charge isn't much larger than the single AA battery that fits into it. Using the Turbo Charge is simple: You insert an AA battery into one end, replace the end cap, insert the adapter cord into the other and then attach the entire assembly to your phone. A flashing blue light confirms that your phone is charging. If the battery doesn't have enough power left to charge you phone, the blue light goes out.

No, the Turbo Charge sure isn't the first cell phone charger to use AA batteries but it's definitely one of the smaller and more elegant-looking solutions.

Photo © Voxred International LLC

Monday, October 24, 2005

iDJ: An iPod mixer. Really.

Squeezed in between the electric guitars, electronic keyboards and other high-tech music gear at last weekend's Music Player Live! conference in New York was a nifty-looking mixing console that made many of the attendees do a double-take and then smile. Surely some of them must have thought the same thing: "Well why didn't I think of that?"

Instead of turntables, the $249 iDJ Mixing Console for iPod from Rhode Island-based Numark Industries LLC, comes with two empty docks with connectors designed for two Apple iPod digital music players.

While the iDJ wasn't the highest-tech device at the conference, it was arguably one of the coolest. All of the controls are backlit--a necessity if you're going to use the iDJ in a dark bar or club--and the blue glow only enhances the smooth lines of the white, blue and clear plastic that comprises the unit.

Since Apple Computer Inc. was wise enough to standardize the docking connector on most of its iPods, the iDJ can be used with anything from the video-enabled iPod to the diminutive iPod nano. You can also use it with other digital music player if you don't wiring them in.

If you really feel the need to scratch some vinyl, you can connect a turntable to one of the two audio input jacks. In fact, you can actually place the iDJ on top of a turntable--preferably a stationary one. There's a spindle hole on the bottom that lets you place the unit on top of one of the turntables of a dual-turntable mixer. Two large circular iPod touch controls let you control the docked iPods from the console and a USB port allows you to connect the unit to a Microsoft Windows-based or Apple Macintosh-compatible computer.

No it's not the highest-tech mixer on the block, but it sure looks like it would be fun to DJ a party with one. What do you think?

Photo ©Numark Industries LLC

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pop Goes the Speaker: Saitek's A-200

Your assignment: Design a portable speaker that lets you take room-filling, rich audio on the road without filling up your suitcase. You could stuff a couple small bookshelf speakers in your duffel bag, but where are you going to shove that big subwoofer?

Saitek, known for its joysticks and game controllers, solves the big-sound problem not with smoke and mirrors, but with thin air--with an assist from your hand.

The new Saitek A-200 Portable 2.1 Speaker System ($99.95) looks unique enough with its boomerang-style curves but its most interesting aspect is its stowaway subwoofer.

When closed, the dark plastic section in the center of the A-200 is even with the rest of the unit. Push down firmly, however, and it unlocks and rises slowly and silently until it's an inch or so high. This creates an echo chamber above the bottom-mounted, three-watt subwoofer. This design, called the Expanded Air Volume System, is meant to enhance the bass produced by the subwoofer.

In practice the concept seems to work. When connected to an old Sony Walkman, the A-200 indeed yielded a rich and full-sounding audio that seemed to emanate from a much larger speaker system. The two top-mounted three-watt speakers provided ample stereo separation and the bass response was more than adequate. The design is clean and simple: Only an on/off LED and two volume buttons grace the top of the unit. The audio input and AC jacks are on one side.

So how does it sound once you push the air chamber back down? It's hard to say since closing the chamber shuts the A-200 off.

With a fairly compact triangular footprint, the unit could be used as a viable replacement for a conventional two-speaker-and-subwoofer setup for a PC. It can also be used to improve the audio from laptop-driven presentations. You can power the A-200 with four AA batteries or with the included AC adapter. Also included is a carrying case and a buffing cloth so you can keep the shine on the smooth plastic body.

No, it's not your father's speaker system, but that's probably a good thing. Would you give this one a try?

(Photos © Saitek)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rio MP3 Player: Up the River

The Rio is dead. Long live the iPod.

Rio, the brand name that first made digital music players popular, will pass into history on September 30. D&M Holdings Inc., owner of the Rio brand, announced on August 26 that it would be getting out of the MP3 player business.

"The company's decision to exit the Rio business followed a determination that the mass-market portable digital audio player market was not a strong enough strategic fit with the company's core and profitable premium consumer electronics brands to warrant additional investment in the category," said the Tokyo-based company in a press release.

While Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod can lay claim to making the digital music experience simple and painless, it was the Rio PMP300, then manufactured by Diamond Multimedia, that introduced the cassette-tape- and CD-spinning world to portable digital music in 1998. However, after steady losses in market share, the end of the road for the Rio brand is now in sight.

The end came rather quickly. On July 26, just months after introducing the Rio Carbon (pictured above), D&M Holdings sold the technology behind the Rio players to SigmaTel, Inc., which makes the chipsets inside the players. However, even then the Rio Web site said that Rio players would continue to be marketed.

Is this the beginning of the end of the line for the rest of the iPod's competition? Not yet. The road for challengers will be tough, but other devices can compete by offering additional features.

For example, Giant International Ltd. plans to introduce the Tao Wireless Media Player (pictured to the right), an MP3 player with some nifty wireless capabilities, sometime this fall. In addition to a 20-gigabyte hard disk (enough for 5,000 songs) and an FM radio tuner, the unit also has an FM transmitter and a Wi-Fi wireless networking adapter.

The FM transmitter lets you listen to the music inside the unit on any FM radio, including your car stereo. You just need to set the unit to an unused FM frequency in your area.

The Wi-Fi adapter lets you download music into the unit without the need for a computer. Once you link with a Wi-Fi connection to the Internet, you can purchase and download music and audio books directly from online stores.

The Tao Wireless Media Player (suggested price $349.99) was shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January but is not expected to reach stores until this fall.

Is there room for iPod challengers? What do you think?

Monday, July 25, 2005

What a Shoq!

The Philips ShoqBox delivers on its promise of big sound
from a small box. Photo courtesy of Philips Electronics.

Raised eyebrows. That was my first reaction when I spotted Philips Electronics' ShoqBox digital music player/FM clock radio at a Philips press event in Manhattan in June.

The unit, also marketed as The Personal Sound System, resembles a shiny white Twinkie with silver eyes. Even its zippered carrying case could double as a hot dog and bun holder. Despite the somewhat whimsical look, the unit does deliver much better sound than one would expect out of such a small package.

The ShoqBox comes with something you don't expect in a digital music player: speakers. When tested, the small titanium drivers easily filled a bedroom with rich, distortion-free music which sounded as if it was coming from much larger speakers. Two small port holes behind each speaker did indeed seem to enhance bass response.

ShoqBox model PS110 ($129.99), available now, comes with 256 megabytes (MB) of storage; enough for 60 songs in MP3 format or 120 songs in Windows Media format. Model PSS120 ($149.99) comes with 512MB of storage and will be available in September, said Philips.

A small monochrome liquid crystal display panel on the front of the ShoqBox keeps track of the song that's playing or the radio station that's tuned in. You can tune in radio stations manually or let the unit automatically scan the FM band and install the ten strongest stations as presets. Some of the fonts for the configuration menus are small, however, so keep your reading glasses handy.

The ShoqBox comes with Yahoo! Inc.'s MusicMatch Jukebox 9 music-management software (Version 10 isn't supported yet), but works fine with other music software like Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Player as long as you install the basic ShoqBox drivers in your PC.

Free firmware updates available on the Philips support Web site can add new functionality to the ShoqBox. For example, the ShoqBox I tested came out of the box with a 24-hour digital alarm clock. After I installed a firmware upgrade, however, a new item was added to the configuration menu which allowed me to switch between 24-hour and 12-hour AM/PM format.

Behind a flip-down plastic cover on the rear is a headphone/antenna jack, a line-in jack, a USB port and a power socket for the included AC adapter and charger. You can connect a notebook computer, CD player or other device to the line-in port and use the ShoqBox as a set of external speakers. The built-in rechargeable battery provides up to ten hours of operation per charge, according to Philips.

While the ShoqBox is fine for outdoor use, its shiny white case might make you think twice before you take it to the beach or anywhere where you might get it dirty or sandy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tivoli Audio: Satellite Yes, HD Radio No

Tivoli Audio showed off the new 2005 Fashion Collection
colors for its PAL (Personal Audio Laboratory) portable
AM/FM radios at a June 21 press conference in New York.
© 2005 Stadium Circle Features
Posted by Hello

HD Radio may have a future with the hundreds of radio stations that use the technology and with radio manufacturers like Polk Audio and Boston Acoustics Inc., but not with Tivoli Audio LLC--at least not for now.

During a June 21 press conference to announce new products, Tivoli Audio founder and CEO Tom DeVesto said his company wouldn't be enabling its products with HD Radio any time soon "...because I don't really see what the consumer benefit is."

Tivoli Audio is known for its high-end, conservative-looking table radios like the Model One. At the press conference at New York's St. Regis Hotel, Tivoli Audio showed off colorful new additions to its portable radio line and new table top radios.

When asked about HD Radio during a Q&A session, DeVesto said it didn't appeal to him. "There's no content that you can't get with analog radio," said DeVesto. "There's really no advantage that I see to the consumer today."

HD Radio technology allows existing radio stations to broadcast static-free digital radio programming using the same AM and FM frequencies they are now assigned. According to iBiquity Digital Corp, which developed and licenses HD Radio, the technology results in AM reception that has the fidelity of today's FM stations and FM reception with the clarity of a music CD.

HD Radio also allows stations to stream text data like weather and traffic reports along with their audio broadcasts. For example, during a music broadcast an HD Radio-enabled radio can display the name and artist of the song that is playing. HD Radio is free--no subscription is required--just an HD Radio-enabled radio.

DeVesto said today's FM stations, when tuned in with quality equipment, already provide better audio quality than what HD Radio promises. He also noted that the modules necessary to build HD Radio reception into a radio are expensive and only available through iBiquity. He said HD Radio might be more appealing when there is more unique content available.

At the press onference Tivoli showed off its limited-edition 2005 Fashion Collection colors for its PAL (Personal Audio Laboratory) portable radios. These weatherproof, rectangular units offer Tivoli Audio's trademark precision analog tuning dial and a 2.5-inch speaker. The speaker is monaural but a headphone jack offers stereo output. The $129 units have rechargeable batteries that offer up to 16 hours of playing time, according to the company. The 2005 Fashion Collection colors include sky blue, pink, orange and lime green.

The new $329.99 Tivoli Audio iSongBook, a slim, digital-tuning portable radio, offers a flip-down dock that accommodates Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod digital music players and a detachable second speaker. The 2.2-inch deep unit can run on AA alkaline batteries but also has a built in battery charger for nickel-cadmium (NiCad) or nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. A small remote control unit controls the album and play list functions of a connected iPod. The second speaker can be attached to the right side of the unit or detached and connected with an included audio cable.

Also seen at the press conference was the $299 Model Satellite, which has a Sirius Satellite Radio receiver in addition to an AM/FM tuner. The sleek table radio is built into a cherry wood cabinet, offers a three-inch, top-mounted speaker and comes with a small remote control.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Samsung Unveils Its First Prosumer Digital Camera: The Digimax Pro815

Samsung Camera unveiled the Digimax Pro815, its first
prosumer model, at a June 17 press event in New York.

The 8-megapixel unit has has a 15X zoom lens, 4X digital
zoom and an $849 price tag.

© 2005 Stadium Circe Features Posted by Hello

The rear of the Samsung Digimax Pro815 reveals a huge,
3.5-inch LCD. That's larger than some portable TV
© 2005 Stadium Circe Features Posted by Hello

From a glitzy venue which offers picture-perfect views of New York's Central Park, Samsung Camera rolled out its first prosumer-grade digital camera, the $849 Digimax Pro815. Samsung made the announcement June 17 at press conference at the Samsung Experience product showcase in the midtown Manhattan's Time Warner Center.

The black SLR is a departure from Samsung's line of silver or red point-and-shoot models and enters market already crowded with high-powered entries from Canon USA Inc., Nikon Inc., Fuji Photo Film USA Inc. and others.

The Digimax Pro815's specifications are impressive, starting with the 15X zoom lens on the front and the super-size, 3.5-inch color LCD on the back. There's also a 1.44-inch color LCD display on the top which can display photo data or, with the push of a button, be used as an alternative preview screen for taking photos from the hip or from overhead.

A key factor in keeping down the price of the unit is the fact that Samsung can manufacture most of the key components itself, said Kenneth J. Gerb, senior vice president, sales and marketing for Samsung Opto-Electronics America Inc.

Because of the length and heft of the zoom lens, Samsung representatives said the company had taken measures to reduce sharpness loss due to "hand shake." When the Digimax Pro815 is put into "High Speed" mode, the ISO rating (the sensitivity) of the image sensor in is increased up to ISO 800, thus allowing the camera to use higher shutter speeds. The extra-large f/2.2 to f/4.6 maximum aperture allows plenty of light into the 7.2-to-108mm lens (equivalent to a 28-to-420mm lens on a 35mm film camera), once again allowing for higher shutter speeds and enhancing sharpness.

While the unit has an array of automated functions, the lens can be manually focused and zoomed and users can make manual exposure adjustments as well. The Digimax Pro815 uses CompactFlash removable memory cards, the first Samsung digital camera to use this format, the company said.

Also introduced was the ultra-slim Digimax i5, a 5-megapixel camera with the footprint of a credit card. The 0.68-inch thick unit comes in a stainless steel case which Samsung representatives said was more durable than aluminum. Despite its thin form factor, the unit still offers a 3X optical zoom lens as well as 5X digital zoom and a 2.5-inch color LCD.

Mr. Seishi Ohmori, vice president of the DSC Development Center of Samsung Techwin Co. Ltd., the parent company of Samsung Camera, said the Digimax i5 was the right thickness to be held comfortably, "...unlike Sony's T7, which is maybe too thin to hold."

He said the Digimax i5's Safety Flash technology compensates for red-eye effects, preserves natural colors and conserves power. The $349 unit will be available in silver, black red or gray.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

JVC Perfect Experience Studio Debuts

The JVC EX-D5 desktop audio system has a DVD
player, Wi-Fi and USB connectivity and speaker cones
made of wood. Yes, wood! It
was on display at the June
14 opening reception for JVC: The Perfect Experience
in New York. ©2005 Stadium Circle Features Posted by Hello

If you were distracted by the music, free food, open bar and fashion models, you might not have noticed the small video cameras, giant flat-screen, high-definition televisions or other nifty electronics gear on display at the debut of JVC: The Perfect Experience Studio in New York. The showcase of products from JVC Company of America opened with a reception for the media and invited guests on June 14 and will be open to the public daily through July 13.

The corner storefront, located in Manhattan at Fifth Ave. and E. 40th St. across from the twin-lioned New York Public Library, will offer free concerts, product demonstrations and other events. The showcase was developed by JVC and Hachette Filipacchi Media US, publishers of magazine titles such as ELLE, Woman's Day and Car and Driver.

Included in the showcase is JVC's new line of Everio video cameras. Instead of using tape or other removable media, the Everio camcorders have internal hard disks, a design that makes it easy to transfer videos to a PC for editing. You can connect to a PC with a cable or burn videos directly to a DVD with an optional DVD burner.

The Everio line ranges from the $800 Everio GZ-MG20, which has a 20-gigabyte (GB) hard disk (good for up to seven hours of DVD-camcorder-quality video), to the $1,000 Everio GZ-MG50, which has a higher-resolution, 1.33-megapixel image sensor and a 30GB hard disk (up to 10.5 hours of video). All of the four Everio models weigh less than 14 ounces with the battery installed, according to JVC.

The JVC EX-D5 executive desktop audio system (pictured above with Fifth Ave. in the background) features speaker cones made of wood. Thin sheets of wood are soaked in saki (Japanese rice wine) before they're hammered into shape. According to JVC, this design provides a richer, higher-quality sound than traditional paper speaker cones.

The unit has an AM/FM tuner and a DVD player that can handle DVD Audio and DVD Video discs as well as DVD-R/RW, CD, CD-R/RW and SVCD/VCD discs. It can play back music stored in MP3 or WMA formats and read images stored in JPEG format.

You can play digital audio files from your PC by linking the unit via a universal serial bus (USB) cable or wirelessly via its built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking adapter. The $604.95 unit will be available later this month.

Hard disks in camcorders? Wooden speaker cones? What do you think?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Not Just Another Table Radio: Polk Audio Raises Bar with I-Sonic

Polk Audio's new I-Sonic Entertainment System can
receive XM Satellite Radio broadcasts and HD Radio
stations in addition to the AM and FM bands. It also
has a DVD player and, yes, even an alarm clock.
© 2005 Stadium Circle Features. Posted by Hello

(See update below)

If you spotted Polk Audio Inc.'s new I-Sonic in a store window, you probably wouldn't be impressed. It looks like a conventional stereo table radio with what looks like a CD player--certainly nothing special.

Look closer, however, and its abilities come into focus. In addition to the standard AM and FM radio bands, the I-Sonic can also receive XM Satellite radio broadcasts (with the help of an extra-cost antenna) and can tune in the high-quality HD Radio broadcasts now available in many cities. That CD drive? It's actually a DVD player. The video connections are on the back. So much for first impressions.

The $599 I-Sonic Entertainment System was announced at the recent Home Entertainment Show in New York City, but the unit on display was only a non-functioning mock-up. Working units won't be available until September, according to Polk Audio.

[UPDATE (8/11/2005): Polk Audio reports that due to "technology integration issues" the I-Sonic won't be available until the first quarter of 2006.]

If the final product works as advertised, the I-Sonic would be a versatile home entertainment solution for those who don't want to deal with multiple devices. Aside from DVD movies and music CDs, the I-Sonic's DVD player can play music saved in MP3 format. According to Polk Audio, the radio's I-Sonic surround-sound technology and Power Port bass-enhancing speaker ports create a room-filling audio effect from the unit's small stereo speakers. A remote control is also included.

By connecting a $49 Connect & Play XM antenna, the I-Sonic can tune in XM Satellite Radio's offerings, which include 150 commercial-free, CD-quality stations. A basic subscription is $12.95 per month.

HD Radio, developed by iBiquity Digital Corp., allows radio stations to use tiny slices of their unused bandwidth to broadcast high-quality digital radio content. HD Radio, now available in many major radio markets, bumps FM reception to CD quality and improves AM broadcasts to today's FM quality.

Like satellite radio stations, HD Radio stations can broadcast data such as streaming stock reports, weather reports, sports scores or the name of the song that's playing. Unlike satellite radio, HD Radio broadcasts are free and don't require a subscription.

You can connect a digital music player to the iSonic via standard audio input jacks and at the end of the day you can use the I-Sonic as a standard dual-alarm clock radio.

Too much in one box? What do you think?

Friday, April 29, 2005

Verizon Phone Booth Wi-Fi in NYC To End

Verizon Communications Inc. has announced that it will end its wireless Internet service from its New York City phone booths effective June 30. The company had been offering the Wi-Fi service free exclusively to subscribers of Verizon Online Internet-access service. Verizon said it was shifting its focus to other wireless technologies.

According to Verizon, 365 phone booths had been outfitted with wireless routers. The Wi-Fi-enabled phone booths are easily identifiable by their weatherproof antennas, some of which looked like small black hats. The Verizon Wi-Fi service began in May 2003.

In practice I found the Wi-Fi connections unreliable or unavailable even when I stood in front of a working access point. At any given time dozens of the locations listed in Verizon's New York City hotspot directory were marked "temporarily unavailable."

By contrast I've found the free Wi-Fi service provided by the Bryant Park Restoration Corp. in Bryant Park, located behind the famous dual-lioned New York Public Library, to be fairly reliable.

What's your experience with Verizon Wi-Fi? Of course I want to know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI Elected; Vatican Web Site Weathers Demand

Did you try to watch the introduction of Pope Benedict XVI on the Vatican's Web site today? Much to my surprise, it was very responsive despite the heavy Internet traffic it must have endured when the white smoke rose from the Vatican.

I clicked on the live video link on the Vatican Web site and was able to watch a clear live video feed as Pope Benedict XVI introduced himself. I requested only the medium-speed Real Video feed since I assumed the site would be deluged and very slow, but the video performance seemed perfect with no glitches. When watched in tandem with a TV broadcast, the Web video feed was a few seconds behind, but this is normal given the way data travels on the Internet.

There are many ways for Web sites to contract for additional bandwidth for periods of high demand and it appears that the Vatican was fully prepared.

It didn't take long for the long awaited phrase "HABEMVS PAPAM," signaling the election of a new leader, to appear on the home page of the Vatican's site.

The Vatican has shown itself to be very comfortable with cyberspace. Indeed the bulletin announcing the death of Pope John Paul II was sent out via e-mail to media outlets.

As the first new pope of the 21st Century prepares to lead the Roman Catholic Church, it seems the Vatican's IT professionals already have a firm grasp on the century's newest technologies.

Friday, April 15, 2005

MoviebankUSA Outlet Premieres in NYC

Co-founder Stephane de Laforcade chats
with journalists before cutting the ribbon
to a free-standing MoviebankUSA outlet
in New York, the first in the US.
© 2005 Stadium Circle Features.
Posted by Hello

It wasn't the biggest movie-related opening night in New York, but the debut of MoviebankUSA Inc.'s first free-standing, 24-hour movie rental site in the city was remarkable just the same.

The concept is simple: Place a vending machine in a store or open an ATM-like storefront to provide low-cost DVD rentals around the clock.

While MoviebankUSA machines had already arrived at a few Manhattan Duane Reade drug stores, the April 14 opening of the location at 71 West Houston St., just south of Greenwich Village, marked the company's first free-standing outlet in the US.

The new outlet offers multiple computer terminals connected to a large automated DVD dispenser/return unit installed in one wall. While you don't need a MoviebankUSA membership to rent movies, members get discounted rates. You can pay with a credit or debit card or add funds to a MoviebankUSA card.

Members can rent a DVD for six hours for 99 cents--a nice option if you live near a MoviebankUSA machine. A twenty-four hour rental is $2.50 for members (99 cents for additional days) and $3.50 for non-members ($1.50 for extra days).

While the terminals aren't difficult to use, they do take a little getting used to. They're not touch screens and the buttons below the screen aren't always intuitive. You'll have to keep an eye on the menu options as they change.

A nice feature is the ability to check on what's available at a MoviebankUSA site before you go there. If you log into MoviebankUSA's Web site (http://www.moviebankusa.com/) you can see what's available at any outlet or vending machine. If you see something you like, you can place a three-hour hold on the title. This stops anyone else from scooping it up before you get there. If you don't pick up the DVD within three hours, your account is charged $1.

Do conventional movie-rental outlets like Blockbuster have something to worry about? Maybe they do, but the limited capacity of even the largest MoviebankUSA machine means that you're not likely to find the same choice of golden oldies as you would in a brick-and-mortar store.

Would you stumble out of your home after midnight to snag a late movie from one of these outlets if one were near you?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Windows At 20... Almost

I don't mean to make you feel old, but November will mark the 20th anniversary of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system. It was announced on November 10, 1983 but did not reach store shelves until November 20, 1985.

Those of you brave enough to load it on your PCs in 1985 understood the true meaning of "crash," "slowdown" and "unpredictable."

Version 1.0 of Windows simply wasn't very useful. Software written for one version or another of DOS (Disk Operating System), the predecessor of Windows, were faster and far more stable. Version 1.0 wasn't very pretty either. The graphics were flat and the colors were bland. It wasn't until I upgraded to Windows 3.1 in 1992 that I gained enough confidence to use Windows regularly and the arrival of Windows 95 in August 1995 finally sold me on Windows as a solid software platform for the future.

After almost 20 years of Windows, what have we gained as journalists? The PC users of 1984 managed to write and print documents, crunch spreadsheets, manage databases, build contact lists and do all sorts of other things without a mouse, toolbars, embedded Web browsers and all the other Windows accoutrements we've gotten used to.

And what about those intrepid pioneers who managed to churn out great work with (*gasp*) typewriters or with pen and paper? Has fiction writing, news reporting, poetry and other forms of writing evolved greatly since Windows arrived? Of course not.

Good content on the Web or on cereal boxes still requires good writers whether they use a quill and a jar of ink or a musclebound PC. A good reporter knows enough to get out of the office and talk to people in order to find good stories rather than to sit in front of a PC and mindlessly peruse a Web search engine.

Software tools like Windows just allow us to get a better look at our work as it evolves. And I appreciate that.

As I write this piece I don't have to embed two- or three-fingered keyboard commands to make a word bold or to put it in italics. Those of you who remember vintage word processors such as the DOS versions of WordPerfect and WordStar know what I'm talking about. And yes, I do appreciate the fact that I have spell checkers, thesauri and other writing tools at my fingertips. I could have even dictated this piece into a microphone if I wanted to.

I'll tip my hat to Bill Gates and the rest of Microsoft in November, but I won't forget the one thing that can keep a journalist from becoming a useless, toothless dinosaur: Hard work.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Welcome to The Paper PC

Thanks for stopping by.

I'm Robert S. Anthony, editor and owner of Stadium Circle Features (www.paperpc.net). I've been covering personal computing since the mid-1980s and I'm not tired of it yet.

I'll post my thoughts here as I attend technology events like the Consumer Electronics Show and share my opinions as high-tech news happens.

The Paper PC was the name of the syndicated weekly newspaper column I wrote from 1991 to 2002. It now takes new form here in cyberspace.

Welcome. And don't be shy.