Cool Tech Reviews

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December 23, 2006

Xbox 360 video download buzz

Ben Fritz at Variety reports that the Xbox 360 video download service announced in November may be a surprise hit:

In a topsy-turvy year for the digital download biz, a videogame service in just a few million homes is ending 2006 with more momentum than the world’s biggest e-tailer.

The relative success of video downloads on Microsoft’s Xbox Live and disappointment of’s Unbox point to two factors that differentiate Xbox from Amazon and its many other competitors — consumers who download a movie want a simple way to watch it on their TV, and those with high-def TVs want high-def content.

Thanks to the Xbox 360′s direct connection to a TV and the console’s focus on HD content, Microsoft can deliver both. Though exact sales figures aren’t available from any Web site or studio, insiders agree that it’s the most, and maybe only, positive story in digital movie downloads this year.

Many in Hollywood had high expectations that Amazon’s strength in DVD sales would spur the nascent Web download biz. But the Netco faces the same problems as competitors such as Movielink, CinemaNow, Guba and AOL that launched before it: It’s difficult for consumers to burn downloads onto DVD (save for a few titles on CinemaNow), and it’s tricky for all but the most tech-savvy to watch downloads on a TV.

Part of it is the tech savvy Xbox 360 demographic and part is the ease of watching a movie on a box already connected to a TV (which says something about where Windows XP Media Center systems are installed). There aren’t really any hard numbers, but the buzz is that despite the limited audience, Xbox 360 download numbers are equal to any of the PC download sites. While that’s certainly good news for Microsoft, it also illustrates the current sad state of Internet video downloads.

Posted at 10:00 am. Filed under Amazon, AOL, CinemaNow, Companies, Guba, Internet, Media Center PC, Microsoft, Movielink, Video Downloads, Video Games, Xbox 360

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December 12, 2006

Jitterbug Cell Phones for Senior Citizens

Since I’m fast approaching senior citizen status and find a lot to grouch about with cell phones, I was interested in Ed Oswald’s review at BetaNews of the Jitterbug phone (a product of Great Call) which is directed at senior citizens:

For many seniors, using a cell phone can be a challenging and intimidating experience. Thus, they opt to not carry a cell phone; or if they do, refrain from using it much. A company called Jitterbug aims to change that.

Every part of the Jitterbug phone — built by Samsung — is designed to take into account the needs of this group. From the design of the handset to the simplified user interface, and even features that attempt to make it as much like a regular phone as possible, the learning curve is much less steep than a traditional cellular handset.

But does this phone measure up with the consumer? BetaNews shared the Jitterbug with several people within the target demographic and what we found was a near universal positive response to the device.

Hit the link for the full review, but there’s a lot of goodness there:

The only thing they didn’t like was that it was offered for Sprint’s CDMA network only (coverage maps here), the screen could have been bigger, and that it was hard to find where to plug in the recharger.

I’m all for ergonomic improvements in cell phones since small size and small print are already an annoyance for me and my bifocals, but the latter three features take the Jitterbug into a wholly different territory specific to users who can’t handle the complexity of ordinary cellphones. Hitting the Jitterbug website shows much more of the this including a version of the phone called “Jitterbug OneTouch” that only has keys for Operator, Tow, and 911. I won’t need that for quite a while I hope, but it seems like a reasonable convenience for those that do.

Other reviews:

Finally, I haven’t mentioned the service plans and for that I’m afraid the Jitterbug isn’t much of an improvement over regular cell phones – you still need to be a bit of a lawyer to figure them out, particularly since the phone isn’t necessarily included with the service. If you can’t figure out a cell phone menu, you may not be able to figure out the offerings either.

To net it out: the Jitterbug has a few bugs, but it seems like a worthwhile offering for senior citizens who could use cell phone access and for their loved ones who would like to provide them with it.

Posted at 9:22 pm. Filed under Brands, Companies, GreatCall, Jitterbug, Mobile Phones

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TV prices dropping too fast?

Sometimes you just have to laugh – TV prices dropping too fast, Sony says:

Television prices are dropping faster than expected, and Sony’s not too happy about it.

Prices for liquid crystal display TVs should drop between 25 percent and 30 percent this year. That’s between 5 percent and 7 percent more than Sony anticipated, Stan Glasgow, president of Sony Electronics, said in a meeting with reporters in San Francisco last week.

And the problem is what exactly?

While this is good for consumers–and it would be hard to find a thrifty buyer sympathetic to Sony’s concerns–the quick plunge in prices could hurt the industry as a whole because it could leave consumer electronics manufacturers financially weakened and less able to invest in future technologies, Glasgow argued.

Mr. Glasgow seems to be unfamiliar with the concept of the free market where efficient producers survive and inefficient ones get forced out. Either that or Sony is on the inefficient side.

“LCDs will continue to experience heavy price erosion, but not at this level,” he said. “It is hard to see that business model (of drastic price cuts) sustaining itself.”

It won’t unless the manufacturers can sustain it.

However, aside from beating up Sony for cluelessness, the point is that there are bargains out there:

“Prices have come down pretty aggressively,” said Steve Baker, an analyst at NPD Techworld. “We saw more big names on Black Friday come out with more aggressive prices than expected. The surprise was that the big guys got dragged into the muck.”

Vizio, for instance, a bargain plasma TV maker, sold a 42-inch plasma for $999 while Panasonic also touted 42-inch plasma deals for around $1,300.

A variety of factors have played a role in the dramatic drop. LCD and plasma TV makers are engaged in a turf war for the key 40-inch to 49-inch TV market, Baker said. Many manufacturers are also trying to get rid of excess supplies of TVs shipped to Europe in anticipation of a big selling binge before the summer’s World Cup soccer tournament. Not as many sets sold as expected.

Consumers are buying bigger, fancier TVs, but they expect to buy them at far lower prices than they did a year ago, which squeezes sales margins. Additionally, the number of companies hawking LCD TVs is putting pressure on big companies like Sony. IDC analyst Bob O’Donnell estimated that there might be close to 90 manufacturers.

“You and I can start an LCD company tomorrow. You buy some panels and circuits, get a Taiwanese (contract manufacturer) and, bam, you’re in business,” he said. “Given that environment, there are people fighting for survival.”

On the latter point, it means you just need to check the reviews of the model and manufacturer for quality, or stick to the big names like Sony as they get dragged kicking and screaming to lower their margins.

Posted at 8:12 pm. Filed under Companies, LCD TV, Plasma TV, Sony, Television

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