You won't find a more institutionally conservative category in the consumer electronics space than home audio. More than any other industry segment, audio is one where technological advances tend to be lamented rather than celebrated, viewed with suspicion rather than embraced. And that's understandable: Subpar speakers are now passed off as good enough and used to listen to digital music, which is often highly compressed compared with CD or (even better) LP equivalents. And the music itself is coming from a dying recording industry, struggling to stay alive in the digital age, and often relegated to background music--fewer … Read more
Despite its widespread adoption, the current Bluetooth audio standard (A2DP) isn't pretty. The lackluster audio quality currently achievable using Bluetooth is fine for noisy applications such as car audio or wireless workout headphones, but degraded Bluetooth audio has kept the technology from crossing over into the world of high-end audio and home theater components. With any luck, 2008 will be the year that the A2DP Bluetooth audio standard gets pushed aside by a superior audio codec called SoundAbout Lossless.
Aiming squarely at devices such as the Logitech Squeezebox and Roku Soundbridge, the recently announced Philips Streamium NP1100 might not break the mold on features, but it will be offered at a great price of just $149. The Philips Streamium NP1100 offers three basic functions: an Internet radio tuner; a PC-link for streaming audio from a local computer; and a dedicated Rhapsody subscription music feature. The Streamium NP1100 uses a built-in Wi-Fi connection (or hardwired Ethernet), to pull down streaming music from the Internet or your networked PC library.
On the back of the Philips Streamium NP1100 you'll find … Read more
With its ability to deliver on-demand movies to your TV via a broadband Internet connection, the Vudu was one of the more promising home theater gadgets of 2007. The company is building on that momentum by adding a second, step-up model to its lineup: the Vudu XL. Physically, it's a near doppelganger of the original model--which remains available--but it ups the internal hard disk to 1 terabyte of storage. That's 4 times the size of the current version, and--according to Vudu--enough to store up to 500 standard-definition movies. The XL is also designed to be more friendly for … Read more
Digital audio is great--especially if you've got a multigigabyte music collection sitting on your computer or you subscribe to an "all you can eat" music service like Rhapsody. The problem, for a lot of people, is that they're stuck listening to all that great music on the tinny speakers of their computer--or perhaps patching the laptop into their living room stereo system. Dedicated audio streamers have helped somewhat, but they have tiny little screens, which--like docked iPods--aren't very useful if you're sitting on a sofa across the room. And the best solution to date--the excellent Sonos Digital Music System--costs a prohibitive $1,000. Enter Logitech's new Squeezebox Duet: the $400 network digital audio streamer employs a winning handheld remote with a brilliant color screen (not unlike an iPod) that lets you navigate your entire music collection--including some online services and the majority of free Internet radio stations--from the palm of your hand, even while you hear the music from the big speakers of your home stereo. … Read more
It's been hinted at for months, but Sling Media has finally officially confirmed that a BlackBerry version of the company's SlingPlayer software is on deck. The software--which allows live TV to be streamed from any Slingbox model--is designed for broadband-enabled (3G wireless or Wi-Fi) BlackBerry smartphones. The software will cost the same one-time $30 fee as the similar versions already available for Windows Mobile, Palm, and Symbian phones. Sling will be demoing an early version of the software on the Pearl 8120 at CES next week, and the company hopes to have it ready for public release by … Read more
Sling Media has unveiled the Slingbox PRO-HD, the first version of its video place-shifting boxes designed to stream true high-definition video. The catch? Due to the massive bandwidth requirements, HD video can't be streamed over the Internet--just to other locations on a home network. Still, that means that PCs running the SlingPlayer software--or TVs attached to Sling's soon-to-be-reannounced SlingCatcher--should be able to view a high-def stream at up to 1080i resolution with 5.1 surround audio. (To date, some Slingbox models have been able to accept HD video, but the output stream was limited to DVD-level standard-definition resolution.) … Read more
HP likes to hedge its bets. In addition to a couple of big-screen flat-panel TVs with built-in Media Center Extenders, the company is now offering a set-top box as well. Like the MediaSmart TVs, the MediaSmart Receiver x280N has the ability to stream a wide variety of video (including MPEG-2, DivX, WMV, WMV-HD, and H.264/MP4 files), audio (MP3, WMA, WMA-Pro, WAV, AAC/m4a), and images (JPEG, BMP, GIF, and PNG photos) from networked PCs to your living room TV via its wired Ethernet or wireless 802.11a/b/g/n connections. Local media playback is also available via … Read more
HP has updated its MediaSmart TVs for the new year. On the surface, the new SL4282N (42-inch) and SL4782N (47-inch) are very similar to their 2007 counterparts: full 1080p resolution LCD flat-panels with 3 HDMI inputs, built-in high-def and analog tuners, and--the big differentiator--the ability to stream digital video, audio, and images via their built-in 802.11a/b/g/n wireless networking connections. But the big upgrade for 2008 is the inclusion of Media Center Extender functionality, which offers easy connectivity to PCs running most flavors of Vista. Prefer a non-HP TV, but want those same media features? HP's … Read more
A new video streaming service called Qik has been getting some buzz lately. If you're familiar with UStream.tv, Veodia, and Comvu, the idea for Qik is similar: take a mobile phone with a video camera on a fast mobile connection, and stream video live for other people to watch. The service borrows a page from Kyte.tv and UStream in integrating live chat that allows broadcasters to interact with the users--although Qik steps it up a notch by letting the broadcaster simply reply using the phone's integrated microphone instead of having to type out text on the phone's keypad.
To compensate for network lag, the application will calculate the delay and show it in the corner of the screen. In testing over a 3G connection I got the delay up to about a minute, although if you're using the service over Wi-Fi, it's extremely nimble. You can also record videos for uploading later, when away from a data stream of Wi-Fi hot spot. The next time you connect, it'll automatically upload your video--which is a nice touch.
The beauty of Qik is that it's wonderfully simple to use and participate in. People viewing your video either via Qik.com or on a video embed can chat if it's live, and the second it goes offline, the player acts just like any other Web video, and turns the live chat into a comment thread. While the quality of the video leaves something to be desired when compared with Web video hosting services like YouTube, Viddler and Vimeo, it's limited to the mobile network connection and the often lackluster lenses found on camera phones. Qik's creators tell me there are plans to add a higher quality stream to the Nokia N95 and other high-end handsets in the near future.
The service is currently in private alpha, and limited to a range of Nokia phones on the S60 platform. The application itself is only a little over 300k, and downloads in seconds. We didn't get a chance to give it a spin over a slower connection like EDGE, but based on the 3G performance, you likely wouldn't want to. In the pipeline for future updates are mobile-to-mobile streaming (sending and receiving video), integration with social networking sites like Facebook, and additional handset support.
I've embedded an example of Qik after the break. You can also check out whoever's live streaming at the moment on the service's live page.