Connected Home EXPRESS
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August 14, 2002—In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- Importing Analog Audio to the PC the Easy Way (Part One)
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- FCC: All TVs Must Be Digital By 2007
- Nielsen Begins Monitoring TiVo Usage
- Faster Recordable DVD on Tap
- Panasonic Offers Mira Competitor
- Sony, Universal Upgrade Online Music Service
- Get a Free Digital or Print Sample Issue Today!
- Enter the Windows & .NET Magazine/Transcender Sweepstakes
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Buying a Mac
- New Poll: Owning an HDTV
- Product Review: On the Road Again ...
- Tip: Master the Keys to Efficiency
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Remotely Control Your Oven
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
1. GETTING CONNECTED
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]
An all-digital music library would be ideal, but most people have vast libraries of albums, cassettes, and other analog audio sources—not to mention other potential audio sources, such as concert DVD movies—that require analog copying. Wouldn't it be nice to get that content onto your PC?
The catch—and there's always a catch—is that recording analog audio requires that you hand-tune each recording. Cassette and album recordings, for example, generally contain a lot of background noise, such as hiss, so you probably want to fade in and out of each song. Then you need to consider hardware and software concerns: How do you physically connect the analog device to your PC, and which software should you use to edit the audio into acceptable clips?
Most users have sound cards on their PCs, but because the quality of these cards varies from machine to machine, you need to test your card before you commit to using it for recording analog audio. My desktop machine has Voyetra Turtle Beach's Santa Cruz sound card, and I found that the quality of the Line In port was much better than I had expected.
To test the sound-card Line In recording process, I searched for the most horrible-sounding analog recording I could find—a cassette tape of 1980s "power ballads" (and you thought I wouldn't take a bullet for the team), which I played back through a once-decent early-1990s Sony tape deck. To connect the stereo component to the PC, I purchased a $4 Recoton 6' Mini-to-RCA "Y" cable, which converts the RCA-based audio outs on the cassette player into one stereo minijack that fits the Line In port on my sound card. I also grabbed a 6' miniplug extension cable, just in case I couldn't get the cassette player close enough to the computer (also $4).
After dusting off the cassette player and making the physical connection, I had to figure out how to record the sound into the PC. All Windows versions come with a handy little tool called Sound Recorder, which lets you record through your sound card's microphone or Line In ports. Sound Recorder works strictly with the WAV (.wav) format, which is uncompressed (and thus creates large files), and it offers no real editing functionality (that is, you can't fade in or fade out—two crucial capabilities I needed). Thus, Sound Recorder is unsuitable for our work, although it would do in a pinch.
By searching the Internet, I found several tools that supply the features I wanted, and I ended up using E-Soft's $15 Audio Edit 3.3 shareware tool (see Resources below) that's easy to use and full-featured. But regardless of the tool you use, the process is the same. First, ensure that the Line In port is enabled in Windows (because it often isn't). To do so, double-click the speaker icon in your system tray (or, in Windows XP, select Start, Control Panel, Sounds, Speech and Audio Devices, Sound and Audio Devices, Advanced) and clear the Mute check box under Line In if it's selected. I left the volume level at its default, about 75 percent, but you might experiment with this setting based on the volume of the recordings you create.
Next, cue up the audio, which is generally a manual process on albums and cassettes, by pressing Play on the component stereo device, then clicking record in Audio Edit or your tool of choice; the tool will then prompt you to begin the recording. A couple of recommendations: First, before you begin, make sure the audio editor is set up to record from Line In (select File, Setup, Record Input Source in Audio Edit). Also, you should record songs individually, if you can, and leave room at the beginning and end of each song so that you have space for editing. You want a few seconds of lead-in and lead-out time so that you can create the appropriate fades.
After recording the song or selection, stop the analog playback. Then you can begin editing. For my tests, I chose a drecky Bad English power ballad called "When I See You Cry," which features a hissy, quiet piano introduction, making it the perfect candidate for a fade-in (not to mention the clearance bin at Sam Goody, but that's another story). Like most audio editors, Audio Edit presents a visual sound wave display that shows you the highs and lows of the recording you just made. A flat line represents silence. First, edit the beginning and end of each song so that, if possible, you have a second or two of silence. This process won't work with some recordings, such as live concert recordings, but it should be easy with most studio tracks. In Audio Edit, you can clip audio sections by selecting them in the sound-wave display area, just as you'd select text in a word processor. Then, select Edit and Cut. Do this both for the song's introduction and the ending, where appropriate.
Creating fades works the same way. Select a portion of the introduction, then select Command and Fade In to create a fade-in effect. You might need to test this process a few times to get it just right (you can undo from the Edit menu), but you should be able to remove any start of recording hiss. Ditto for the fade out. Audio Edit also includes other editing features that might be of interest, such as level adjustments, normalization, and silence insertion, which is why I opted to pay the shareware fee. For just $15, Audio Edit is a handy tool.
Like Sound Recorder, Audio Edit works only with uncompressed WAV format, so you'll probably want to convert the recording to MP3 or Windows Media Audio (WMA) format when you're finished editing. Select File, Save to save your recording in .wav format, then select your audio conversion tool of choice. As with the actual audio recording phase, several tools can do the job. If you're interested in using WMA format, I recommend the Plus! MP3 Audio Converter LE tool from the free Microsoft Windows Media Bonus Pack for Windows XP (it's also available in Microsoft Plus! for XP), which works with both MP3 and .wav input formats (see Resources below). To convert to MP3 format, I used Logipole's Konvertor shareware tool that works with numerous audio, video, and image formats. I converted the .wav file to 128Kbps MP3 format and tested it on several media players. You can also use Audio Edit to record directly to MP3 format and avoid the conversion step.
The resulting file sounds fine but is a bit lower volume than the other MP3 files in my media collection, and, of course, the quality isn't as high as my rips of professional audio CDs. But I did a quick test with an analog copy of a DVD concert recording to see how the sound quality stacked up compared with a typical CD rip of the same song. Surprisingly, they were virtually identical when I used 160Kbps MP3 format, which bodes well for this technique. Next week, I'll look at ways to improve quality for substandard audio sources, non-sound-card-based audio recording, and some Macintosh tools as well. If you've copied analog audio to the PC, please let me know if you have any tips or recommendations and I'll pass them along.
E-Soft's Audio Edit 3.3|
Microsoft Windows Media Bonus Pack for Windows XP
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
(An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)
In a controversial move doomed to a lengthy legal fight, the FCC voted this week to require television makers to include digital TV tuners in all TV sets by 2007. The requirement furthers the federal government's efforts to make High-Definition Television (HDTV) the viewing standard on televisions in the United States. HDTV offers significant resolution and image- and sound-quality improvements over today's dated NTSC standard but will require expensive upgrades for TV makers, television studios, and cable companies. The FCC's new ruling will affect large TVs sooner than small TVs: Sets with 36" or larger screens must include digital tuners by 2004. TV makers vowed to fight this decision in court, stating that the FCC is essentially telling consumers what to buy. Yeah, that's a good point: We should continue letting consumers buy technology that was already out of date in 1965.
TiVo and Nielsen Media Research have teamed up to extract user information from TiVo digital video recording (DVR) units in an effort to determine the effects of DVRs on TV viewing patterns. I could save the companies a lot of money: TiVo lets people watch TV without commercials, and that's why people like it. We're sick of advertisements. And we're sick of companies telling us what to like, what to watch, and what other people are watching. Remember what it was like when we formed opinions based solely on our own first-hand experiences?
We're no closer to a unified recordable-DVD standard, but some faster recording speeds are on the horizon, which is welcome news. Last week, the DVD+RW Alliance, which backs the DVD+R and DVD+RW recordable DVD formats, announced specifications for new disks that can write DVD+R at 4x speeds and DVD+RW at 2x speeds. These specifications will place new DVD+RW drives in similar performance territory as the next-generation DVD-RW drives, which will support 4x DVD-R and 2x DVD-RW. Today's drives—regardless of the format—are about half as fast. Expect to see the new recordable DVD drives—and more resulting confusion—this fall.
Microsoft developed its Windows CE for Smart Displays (code-named Mira) technology as a way to wirelessly connect a display to a PC, letting users wander away from the home office and access Web, email, word processing, and other applications from the couch or bed. But Mira isn't the only such game in town anymore: Panasonic recently announced a new Mobile Data Wireless Display (MDWD) that basically does the same thing as Mira but without any Windows software. The MDWD features an 8" 800 x 600 screen, a carrying strap, and Wi-Fi capabilities, just as Mira does. But MDWD has a few features Mira doesn't—a tough, ruggedized exterior, perfect for construction sites or anyplace you need to withstand rain, snow, or even a 4' drop. And MDWD screens use transflexive technology, which means you can use them inside and outside, without worrying about glare. Think of it as the Humvee of displays.
Sony Music and Universal Music Group have launched a major upgrade to their "pressplay" online music service, offering consumers the ability to burn new songs on custom audio-mix CDs and transfer those songs to portable audio devices, all for a low monthly fee. These features represent serious concessions from the recording companies, which have long fought against the rising tide of users who want to download and digitally manipulate music, often for no cost. By bowing to market demands and a large array of free music-trading services such as Gnutella, the companies bit the bullet and decided to take a piece of the pie. Bravo.
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4. QUICK POLL
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "When will you buy a Mac OS X machine?" Here are the results (+/-2 percent) from the 154 votes:
- 15% I already have one, and I'll upgrade to 10.2 as soon as I can
- 13% I'll buy one when OS X 10.2 is available
- 3% I'll stick with my old Mac
- 69% You'll never catch me with a Mac!
The next Quick Poll question is, "Do you own a high-definition TV (HDTV)?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, b) No, but I'm planning to buy one, or c) No, and I'm not planning to buy one.
(contributed by David Chernicoff, [email protected])
During the summer, I become a road warrior. On business trips and vacations, I've found these products to be useful when I'm away from home with my notebook computer and other digital paraphernalia.
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
Whether you're using Windows or Mac OS X, you can be more efficient if you keep your hands on the keyboard and aren't constantly reaching for the mouse. The (ahem) key to successful keyboard navigation is familiarity: Both OSs have global key combinations that let you navigate the UI, select elements, and cancel operations. Because Windows came of age before the mouse did, the OS has a far more complete key-based interface, and Microsoft designed all the UI widgets to be keyboard-aware. In Mac OS X, however, Apple Computer followed the mouse-based tradition of previous Mac OSs, so not all operations are possible from the keyboard. But Mac OS X 10.1 added a new feature called Full Keyboard Access that lets you reach some UI elements, such as the menu bar, dock, and toolbars, that were previously unavailable from the keyboard. You can turn on this feature in System Preferences.
To find out more about Windows key combinations and shortcuts, open Help and look for "keyboard shortcuts" in the index. In Mac OS X, open Mac Help and enter "keyboard shortcut" in the Ask box.
Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Jason Bovberg, [email protected])
Tonight's Menu announced intelligent ovens, appliances that bring the kitchen to the home network. You can place your evening dinner in the refrigerated appliance before you go to work, and your meal will be ready by the time you arrive home. If your plans change, you can call into or log on to your oven and tell it when you want the meal ready. You can also remotely change temperature, set a warming mode, or keep the food refrigerated. A thin server, phone line, and outlet connect the oven for remote access. For information about pricing, contact Tonight's Menu at [email protected] or 440-838-5135.
7. CONTACT US
Here's how to reach us with your comments and questions:
(please mention the newsletter name in the subject line)
- TECHNICAL QUESTIONS — [email protected]
- PRODUCT NEWS — [email protected]
- QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR CONNECTED HOME EXPRESS SUBSCRIPTION?
Customer Support — [email protected]
- WANT TO SPONSOR CONNECTED HOME EXPRESS ?
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