Connected Home EXPRESS
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April 16, 2003--In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- State of the Art: A Look at Consumer-Oriented DVD Movie Making
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- Apple Looking to Buy Universal Music?
- Murdoch Pays Big Bucks for DIRECTV
- DISH Network Goes International
- Why, Spam, Why?
- TiVo Shares the Wealth with PC and Mac Users
- Couldn't Make the Microsoft Mobility Tour Event?
- Microsoft TechEd 2003, June 1-6, 2003, Dallas, TX
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Purchasing a New PC
- New Poll: Home Movie DVDs
- Tip: Surf the Web Without Annoying Pop-Up Ads
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Upgrade Your Theater Seating
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]
* STATE OF THE ART: A LOOK AT CONSUMER-ORIENTED DVD MOVIE MAKING
Since the beginning of the year, I've discussed in this newsletter several new Apple Computer iLife applications, including iMovie 3, iPhoto 2, and iTunes 3. In this issue of Connected Home EXPRESS, I examine iDVD 3, Apple's latest iDVD release and the final piece of the iLife puzzle, and see how it stacks up against MyDVD 4, the current Windows champion. Note that both of these applications are consumer-level--not professional-level--DVD movie-making applications, so they're easy to use and offer accessible, basic functionality. If your needs are more complex, however, both the Macintosh and Windows platforms offer higher-end tools designed for the video professional. If a demand exists, I can look at these packages in the future.
When I looked at iDVD 2 last year, the application blew me away. Apple's consumer-grade DVD-making application was without peer; it had an elegant, simple UI and stunning design templates, some of which were nicely animated. Now, with iDVD 3, released in January, Apple has improved the product dramatically, and the new version offers several features--some obvious, others subtle--that once again elevate iDVD above the competition.
First, iDVD 3 is faster than earlier releases. One of the biggest problems with digital video in general--and with DVD movie making specifically--is the amount of time it takes to render video to DVD-compatible MPEG-2 format so that you can encode the video on disc. To offset this concern, iDVD renders videos in the background as soon as you import them into the application. That way, as you go about designing menus and performing other tasks, in the background the application is silently getting some of the more time-consuming tasks out of the way. And you can switch to the new Status page on the side-mounted shelf to see the progress of the rendering process for each imported video. In my tests that compared iDVD 3 with MyDVD 4, I found rendering speeds, overall, to be faster on the PC. But that difference probably has more to do with the underlying superiority of PC hardware than anything else. And which platform you use doesn't really matter: In either case, video rendering takes a long, long time.
In iDVD 2, Apple added motion menus, which gave finished DVD movies a more professional look. I had trouble imagining how the company could improve on this feature, although I eventually expected to see more motion menu designs. But in iDVD 3, Apple has raised the bar yet again. Now you can add your own video clips to special motion areas of certain menus; the effect is simply stunning. Imagine a DVD menu, with various links to movies and photo slide shows, that includes one of your own home movies animating in the background. This feature is amazing, and the PC world has nothing like it.
Speaking of themes, iDVD 3 ships with a large collection of professionally designed themes, most of which are quite beautiful. Apple really excels in this area. Say what you will about the company, but Apple knows quality and makes no bones about distributing only the highest-quality themes with iDVD. The same can't be said for Sonic Solutions' MyDVD 4, which includes a few nice themes but also several that look like children designed them.
Another advantage of iDVD 3 is its thorough integration with the other iLife applications. If you want to make a photo slide show, for example, you can access your iPhoto library directly from the iDVD shelf's Photos page--a nice shortcut that doesn't require you to move between two applications. Likewise, thanks to integration with iMovie 3, iDVD 3 recognizes the chapter markers you created in iMovie and adds them to your finished DVDs. Apple's integration strategy is paying off because one company makes all the applications, and creating cross-application functionality is therefore easier for the company. By contrast, in MyDVD 4, you can create chapter points only when you record video directly from MyDVD 4. Because I prefer to record (and edit) video in Windows Movie Maker (WMM) 2 and MyDVD 4 doesn't let me add chapter points to video recorded in another application, this feature is useless to me, as it would be to anyone who uses a third-party application to record video.
That Apple still owns the consumer-oriented DVD movie-making market is clear. That's not to say that MyDVD 4 is horrible. It's the nicest Windows-based consumer-oriented DVD movie-making application on the market and features a simple, attractive, Windows XP-like UI and, more important, compatibility with the Windows Media Video (WMV) 9-formatted movies WMM 2 creates. A few months ago, I declared that Windows video editing had pulled ahead of the Mac because of WMM 2, and I still believe that statement is true, as iMovie 3 still lags behind the Microsoft product. But when it comes to DVD making, the Mac has little viable competition.
The obvious question is which platform makes more sense for the typical home user who is trying to record his or her home video and photo memories on DVD. If you'll excuse the cop-out, both platforms are equally viable. The Mac has a better DVD-making application in iDVD, and Apple's other iLife applications are all excellent. Windows has the superior movie-editing software in WMM 2, but no integrated DVD movie-making functionality, leading users to the third-party market in which MyDVD 4 is king. Thanks to Apple's single source, however, the company's products are now highly integrated, which makes working with them somewhat simpler than their Windows equivalents. Whether that's enough to cause consumers to switch platforms is debatable.
I've chosen to use both Windows and the Mac because each platform offers various competitive advantages over the other. However, most people can't afford to make that choice for all the familiar reasons--inertia, a preexisting library of software, and data-compatibility concerns (whether real or perceived). Windows will likely continue to dominate, even in digital media. But don't let that fact scare you away from the Mac. Apple has many plans in the making--including an online digital-music store and new iPods--that might further cement the company's stake in the digital-media market. The debate, such as it is, only gets more interesting over time.
(An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)
* APPLE LOOKING TO BUY UNIVERSAL MUSIC?
Last week, a report in the "Los Angeles Times" revealed that Apple Computer is considering purchasing Universal Music Group (UMG), the music company of Vivendi Universal, for $4 billion to $6 billion. Apple isn't the first high-tech company to consider the purchase, although you won't read much about this story from the Apple-friendly press. Microsoft also considered buying UMG but backed away because of falling sales of conventional music. And even the Apple story is somewhat overstated. According to various sources, Apple isn't actually considering buying all of UMG, only a portion of the company. Stay tuned; this story will probably develop quickly.
* MURDOCH PAYS BIG BUCKS FOR DIRECTV
Last week, News Corporation honcho Rupert Murdoch purchased satellite TV service DIRECTV for a whopping $6.6 billion in cash and other assets, the media mogul said. The deal ends Murdoch's 3-year courtship of DIRECTV, which federal regulators closely watched. Because of fears that the deal will make Murdoch too big a player in the nascent satellite TV market, as part of the deal Murdoch will allegedly ensure that DIRECTV's suppliers and distributors maintain open access to DIRECTV's programming. "We have every intention of being a fair player," Murdoch said. "We'll make our programming available to all satellite and cable providers."
* DISH NETWORK GOES INTERNATIONAL
And speaking of satellite TV, DISH Network satellite TV subscribers will soon be able to view content from more than 100 international TV stations, thanks to an upcoming service offering from DISH owner EchoStar Communications. EchoStar says the new service will feature news, sports, and entertainment programming from Africa, China, India, the Middle East, the Philippines, South Korea, and Vietnam--in a variety of languages. This feature is crucial for anyone who wants to understand why the Iraqi Minister of Information was taken seriously in the Arab world.
* WHY, SPAM, WHY?
An amazing new report from the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) examines spam, the reasons some people get a lot of spam, and the steps you can take to curtail the amount of spam you do get. Run, don't walk, to the CDT Web site, and check out this important report. Great reading.
* TiVo SHARES THE WEALTH WITH PC AND MAC USERS
Last week, personal digital video recording (DVR) device maker TiVo announced a new feature for users of its TiVo Series2 devices that lets them use the devices to access digital audio and photo content stored on home computers. The $99 Home Media Option upgrade lets TiVo users effectively distribute digital-media content to any TiVo in the home by using wireless or wired networking. The upgrade also lets TiVo users program their machines through a Web site, which is pretty cool.
(brought to you by Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)
* COULDN'T MAKE THE MICROSOFT MOBILITY TOUR EVENT?
If you were too busy to catch our Microsoft Mobility Tour event in person, now you can view the Webcast archives for free! You'll learn more about the available solutions for PC and mobile devices and discover the direction mobility marketplace is headed.
* MICROSOFT TECHED 2003, JUNE 1-6, 2003, DALLAS, TX
Realize your potential at TechEd 2003, Microsoft's premier technical conference. Includes the latest in-depth sessions on the entire .NET developer-language family. Register by April 25 and save $400!
* RESULTS OF LAST WEEK'S POLL: PURCHASING A NEW PC
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Are you planning to buy a new PC in the next 3 months?" Here are the results from the 151 votes:
- 36% Yes, and I plan to buy a desktop PC
- 16% Yes, and I plan to buy a notebook PC
- 48% No
* NEW POLL: HOME MOVIE DVDs
The next Quick Poll question is, "Do you make your own home-movie DVDs?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, or b) No.
* TIP: SURF THE WEB WITHOUT ANNOYING POP-UP ADS
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
With the startling exception of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), today's Web browsers let you surf the Web without having to worry about most pop-up ads, those annoying windows that pop up in front of and behind the main Web browser window. If you use Windows, check into Mozilla (1.3 or later), which features automatic pop-up-ad blocking. Or, if you simply must use IE, consider a free ad blocker such as Panicware's excellent Pop-Up Stopper Free Edition (a paid version blocks ads on other browsers, including MSN 8). On the Macintosh, check out Apple Computer's excellent Safari browser, which the company recently upgraded to beta 2 status. Any of these products--all of which are free, incidentally--will keep you browsing the Web free of pop-up ads.
Panicware's Pop-Up Stopper Free Edition
Apple's Safari Public Beta 2
Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
(contributed by Jason Bovberg, [email protected])
* UPGRADE YOUR THEATER SEATING
Theatre Design Associates announced the addition of the Jazz, Cruiser, and Montreal chairs to its DreamLounger home-theater seating collection. The Jazz comes as a stationary club chair, rocker, recliner, or reclining sofa. The Cruiser comes with a matching ottoman. The Montreal comes with an optional leather finish and a variety of design options. All three chairs offer head and lumbar support and carry a lifetime guarantee. The Jazz is priced between $1500 and $1700, the Cruiser at $2700, and the Montreal between $1525 and $2180. For more information, contact Theatre Design Associates at 800-786-6832 or on the Web.
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Copyright 2003, Penton Media, Inc.