Cool Tech Reviews

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January 6, 2009

Apple iTunes to add DRM-free music from Warner, Sony, and Universal

The long and rancorous negotiations between Apple and the major music labels are apparently over and Apple’s iTunes will be able to offer their music DRM-free, but it came at the expense of Apple’s long standing "one price for all" policy:

Apple has cut deals that will finally enable iTunes to offer songs free of copy protection software from the three largest music labels, according to two sources close to the negotiations. In exchange, Apple has agreed to become more flexible on pricing, the sources said.

The three largest labels are Warner Music, Sony BMG and Universal Music Group.

Under the terms of the deal, song prices will be broken down into three categories–older songs from the catalog, midline songs (newer songs that aren’t big hits), and current hits–said one of the sources. Apple has offered songs free of digital rights management protections from EMI for more than a year. But EMI accounts for less than 10 percent of music sold in the U.S.

Apple and the music labels have also apparently come to terms on over-the-air downloads, according to a source. That would allow iPhone owners to download songs to their mobile devices via cell networks and without the aid of Wi-Fi. Apple, which closed the deals last week, could announce the agreements as early as Tuesday at the Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco.

There is some questioning of whether the availability of DRM-free music makes any difference to consumers. While I agree that the average consumer probably doesn’t pay attention to DRM in the normal course of events, they get really cranky when for whatever reason their subscription lapses and all their tunes are unplayable.

From the same source, the rumored pricing for the tiers is $0.79, $0.99 and $1.29 per track. Yes, it would have better if they had gone lower at the low end.

Update: Apple did announce it at MacWorld and the prices are: $0.69, $0.99 and $1.29 per track.

Posted at 12:27 pm. Filed under Apple, Brands, Companies, Internet, iTunes, MP3 Player, Music downloads, Portable Audio, Sony, Universal Music Group, Warner Bros.

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December 6, 2008

2008 Digital Picture Frame Review

It’s been a year since my last digital picture frame round-up, and the crop of new digital picture frames for 2008 can best be described as, "Bigger and Cheaper!" because there is more selection in the over 11 inch sizes and because a there has been a general reduction in the prices of all sizes. Below are my selections for best of breed and, as always, I use Amazon as a pricing reference, but you may find better deals elsewhere.

Large digital picture frames (11 inch and larger):

Recall that the stated sizes of digital picture frames are measured diagonally across the screen, but even so an 11 inch model is rather large and almost makes you want to put it on a wall. That’s fine and doable for most units, but remember there will be a power cord hanging down so a better location is on a credenza or shelf or a large desk.

In the large size frames, Opteka seems to be the best vendor with their 11.3 and 15 inch models which are reasonably priced and which get very good reviews:


The Opteka units have wood frames, are easy to set up, and have great pictures as well as 128MB of built-in memory so you don’t have to leave a memory card in the frame unless you want to, although you will need a memory card to hold a large number of pictures. You can also add pictures via USB from your computer.

Be aware that, as with all digital picture frames, the integral speakers for playing MP3 tunes don’t have very good sound quality, but I still regard sound as a dubious feature for digital picture frames – they aren’t intended to be sound systems.

Standard desk size digital picture frames (6 – 8 inches):

Digital picture frames got their start as desk accessories and while you can go smaller or larger, the best size is in the 6 inch to 8 inch range. Many of these will have battery power, but the battery life is usually on the order of an hour so it would only be usable for briefly handing the frame around.

I see that there is a new version of the venerable Philips 6.5-Inch Digital Photo Frame selling for around $75 when it was $168 in 2006 and $130 last year, but the Philips frames have been getting less favorable reviews lately, so I would instead choose one from Sony, Kodak, or Opteka.

Sony has the DPF line of desk size frames with great pictures, but be aware that they are rather pricey.


Kodak as always has its EasyShare digital picture frame line which is well regarded and competitively priced, but also offers more expensive versions that can be accessed wirelessly via Wi-Fi:


Finally, Opteka has a highly rated 8 inch frame with features similar to its larger cousins:

Portable digital picture frames:

There are a variety of digital picture frame gadgets available that allow you to hold and display your pictures on a keychain or a necklace or something else similarly small and portable. In principle there is no reason why this should not work and be a useful niche, but I have yet to see one of these with good reviews.  You would be better off putting the pictures into your MP3 player with a screen. Maybe next year this will change.

Posted at 1:35 am. Filed under Companies, Digital Picture Frame, Kodak, Opteka, Philips, Sony

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July 17, 2008

Amazon tries out video streaming store

Amazon logo got into the Internet video business in 2006 with its Unbox video download store which, after a rocky start, had seemed to be perking along although achieving minimal success. However, it seems that Amazon has been rethinking the whole market and has now decided to give sales of streaming video a try: will introduce a new online store of TV shows and movies on Thursday, called Amazon Video on Demand.

Customers of Amazon’s new store will be able to start watching any of 40,000 movies and television programs immediately after ordering them because they stream, just like programs on a cable video-on-demand service. That is different from most Internet video stores, like Apple iTunes and the original incarnation of Amazon’s video store, which require users to endure lengthy waits as video files are downloaded to their hard drives.

The video store will be accessible through the Sony Bravia Internet Video link, a $300 tower-shaped device that funnels Web video directly to Sony’s high-definition televisions. That is an awkward extra expense, for now. But future Bravias are expected to have this capability embedded in the television, making it even easier to gain access to the full catalog of past and present TV shows and movies, over the Internet, using a television remote control.

Mr. Carr said Amazon would pursue similar deals with other makers of TVs and Internet devices. “We can support both streaming and downloading,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to establish partnerships with all companies who have a connected device.”

Amazon Video on Demand will be accessible to a limited number of invited customers on Thursday before it opens more broadly to other users later this summer.

One interesting touch is that once an item is "purchased" it is stored in "Your Video Library" and can be watched repeatedly, even from different locations and devices.

Frequent readers will know my mantra that Internet video won’t take off until it is dead simple for the average consumer to use. Amazon Video on Demand certainly fits the bill, but the not-unexpected expense of the intermediate box and its relative rarity is certainly going to slow acceptance. Moreover, details on the technical requirements for the customer’s Internet connection have not been revealed. It will be interesting to see how fat a pipe you have to have to your home to play.

Posted at 12:23 pm. Filed under Amazon, Brands, Bravia, Companies, Internet, Sony, Streaming video, Video on Demand

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