Connected Home EXPRESS, September 17, 2003

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1. Getting Connected
- Portable Audio: Creative Falters as Apple Surges

2. News and Views
- CEDIA 2003: Panasonic Releases First Digital-Cable-Ready TV
- Free PVRs for Everyone! Well, Except You
- Is VOOM! the Future of TV?
- RIAA Sues Additional Downloaders, Offers Controversial Amnesty Program
- Apple Updates iPod and iMac
- Microsoft Aims to Make WMV Format a Standard
- Note: Important New Microsoft Security Fix

3. Announcements
- Active Directory eBook Chapter 4 Published!
- New Web Seminars on Exchange, Active Directory, and More!

4. Quick Poll
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Home Technology
- New Poll: Portable Digital Audio

5. Resource
- Tip: Make Your Printer Network-Attached

6. Event
- New--Mobile & Wireless Road Show!

7. New and Improved
- Wireless Headphones with Voice Call
- Tell Us About a Hot Product and Get a T-Shirt!

8. Contact Us
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.

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==== 1. Getting Connected: Portable Audio: Creative Falters as Apple Surges ====
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]


In November 2001, I got one of the first Apple Computer iPod devices--a 5GB model with the old-style "moving-parts" scroll wheel--and I love it. My iPod has accompanied me on every business trip since then and has traveled with me across the world. I also take it in the car on long trips (with a cassette adapter) and use it on the treadmill on those rare occasions when I work out. From what I can tell, the iPod is as close to perfect as technology can get.

Since I got my iPod, however, times have changed. Apple has released newer, larger-capacity models and added Windows compatibility (although I use and recommend Mediafour's excellent XPlay shareware application to use the iPod with Windows). And earlier this year, the company unveiled the iPod 3G line, devices that feature a new, smaller, rounder form factor and a no-moving-parts scroll wheel. The new iPods make my model--which was the definition of excellent high-tech design when Apple released it--look big, blocky, and old-fashioned by comparison. More alarming, the 5GB hard disk in my device is now woefully inadequate. My music library occupies more than 18GB of space, and I started spending a lot of time deleting music from my iPod when I wanted to add new tracks. I needed to make a change.

Surveying the field in mid-2003, the hard disk-based portable digital-audio market came down to two major players: Apple and Creative Labs. At the time, iPods came in 30GB, 15GB, and 10GB sizes, and the two upper-end models included the improved ear-bud headphones, wired remote control, and a carrying case with a belt clip that I purchased separately for my iPod. They also included a new dock, which lets users switch between FireWire (for Apple Macintoshes) and USB 2.0 (for Windows) connectivity (no more separate models for each system). Since then, Apple has updated the iPod line to 40GB, 20GB, and 10GB models. As before, however, the weak link is cost: The Apple devices are expensive, coming in at $500, $400, and $300, respectively.

Despite the iPod's popularity, I should note that Creative entered the hard disk-based portable audio market first with a large device it called the NOMAD Jukebox. Since then, Creative has released a variety of NOMAD Jukebox devices, and in late July, the company announced the impending availability of what looked like an iPod-killer, the NOMAD Jukebox Zen NX, which offers 30GB of storage for just $300 (or 20GB for $250), compatibility with the superior Windows Media Audio (WMA) format (the iPod supports only MP3 and the proprietary Advanced Audio Coding--AAC--and's audio book formats), and USB 2.0 connectivity. I ordered one immediately.

After an interminable wait and some snitty email replies from Creative's support department, my Zen NX arrived about the delay. And, sadly, the disappointment began the second I opened the box. The Zen NX is much larger than my iPod, which is larger than the iPod 3G models, and sports a confusing array of buttons--nine in all--on the outside edges of the device as well as three ports on the top. The iPod doesn't have any buttons on the sides and just one hold button and two ports on its top. But I figured I could get used to the design, so I set about charging the device and examining the software that came with the system.

The iPod uses Apple's excellent iTunes software to manage and transfer music, although Windows users are temporarily stuck with the lackluster MUSICMATCH Jukebox software (an iTunes version for Windows is in the works). So for the Zen NX, I recommend and use XPlay, which lets you access the iPod directly from the Windows shell or through Microsoft's decent Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 software. By comparison, Creative's software is a joke, so enterprising third parties, such as Red Chair Software with its Notmad Explorer software, have released shareware applications that make using Creative's devices less painful. Microsoft also has a free utility called Microsoft Plus! Portable Audio Devices (it's also sold as part of Plus! Digital Media Edition) that works, although this application is difficult to use with devices as capacious as the Zen MX.

After I figured out the software, I started copying my music library to the device and I immediately ran into problems. (I've never had problems transferring music with the iPod.) The Zen NX apparently stores all its files in a flat folder, so if any filename duplicates exist, the software displays an error message. I'm not sure how the iPod handles file layout, but I'm positive you'd never see such an error on the device. Here's an example: I name my media files with an \[artist name\]--\[track number\]--\[song title\] format. Consider a music group with a song that's track one on both a typical album and a greatest-hits album. Such a song generates an error message on the Zen NX, and your only option is not to copy the second instance of the file or overwrite the first instance; in either case, one of the albums will be incomplete on the device. That solution is ridiculous and, at the very least, Creative Labs should give you the option of renaming the offending file on the fly or even do it for you transparently. Why would I care how the files are named on the device? To be fair, I could live with these problems. But the Zen NX also suffers from a variety of other concerns. You use the side-mounted scroll wheel to both navigate and select items on the device's onscreen UI, but the wheel is difficult to press and because it's made of cheap plastic, it's destined for failure. The device's software, in sharp contrast to the iPod's, is confusing and convoluted. On a recent business trip, I struggled for an hour trying to get the device to simply shuffle all the songs by a particular group. I then handed it to Keith Furman, a digital-media expert; he couldn't figure it out, either, and gave up in disgust (not surprisingly, Keith owns a 20GB iPod). On the iPod, completing such a task is simple, straightforward, and obvious, so much so that my wife, who had never even picked up the iPod before, figured it out in just minutes when I recently asked her to try it. The Zen NX's software is so bad that it's almost laughable: It has pop-up menus on top of pop-up menus, and it won't show the Now Playing view unless you explicitly select it in the menu.

On that trip, I decided that the Zen NX was going back to Creative, thanks to the company's 30-day, no-questions-asked return policy. But that decision left me with my previous problem: The high-end iPods were too expensive for my tastes, but I wanted something small, portable, and with a higher capacity than the 5GB iPod I was using. Then Apple came to the rescue by releasing new iPod models, bumping the 30GB and 15GB models to 40GB and 20GB, respectively. So I headed over to the Special Deals section of Apple's online store and ordered a suddenly obsolete, refurbished 30GB model for just $380--$120 less than the cost of a new device a week earlier and $80 more than the unbelievably unsatisfactory Zen NX. I thought that price difference was worthwhile, although I could see that even that price could be a bit much for many people. I travel frequently, however, and have used and abused my original iPod in ways I suspect most owners wouldn't, and the device has always worked--and worked well. I suspect and hope that the new version will work just as well. Ultimately, I'm sorry I ever strayed.

Apple's iPod

Creative's NOMAD Jukebox Zen NX

Mediafour's XPlay

Red Chair Software's Notmad Explorer

==== 2. News and Views ====
An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman

CEDIA 2003: Panasonic Releases First Digital-Cable-Ready TV
At the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) Expo 2003 in Indianapolis last week, Panasonic introduced the first cable-ready High-Definition Television (HDTV). The new Panasonic PT-53WXD63, which features a 53" wide-screen (16:9) projection screen, is the first digital TV to support a new CableLabs standard that lets TVs receive digital and HDTV signals without a set-top box. All the major cable companies agreed on the cable standard, which the FCC recently approved. Cable companies will give customers a CableCARD smart card to insert into their TVs. Not having a set-top box to receive digital cable should make it easier and less expensive for cable customers to receive digital cable. The new card will also work nicely in thin screens such as those used in plasma and LCD TVs because users won't need a big bulky box. Sadly, though, the standard doesn't have any specification to allow guide or interactive services, so cable customers will still have to get a set-top box to use those features.

Free PVRs for Everyone! Well, Except You
We're both huge fans and users of personal video recorders (PVRs), and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch recently predicted that we won't be part of a small minority much longer. Murdoch, who runs a large media company, made those predictions in the middle of his company's purchase of satellite TV provider DIRECTV; the deal is expected to close at the end of the year. At an investment bank's recent conference, Murdoch said that within a year, new subscribers will either get a free PVR or one for a nominal monthly fee. The best part? No extra subscription fees. Murdoch believes PVRs will be an important tool for the satellite industry to compete against cable and its Video on Demand (VoD) offerings. The cable industry isn't sitting on the sidelines in the PVR battle, though; many major cable companies are testing the technology throughout the country by letting customers rent PVR boxes. Cost has always been a huge barrier for this excellent technology, and we look forward to other people sharing the joys of watching whatever they want to watch whenever they want to watch it.

Is VOOM! the Future of TV?
Speaking of satellite providers, DIRECTV and DISH Networks will have a new competitor later this year when Cablevision Systems' Rainbow Media division launches its new satellite service. Few details have emerged about the service, which is called VOOM!, but the community site AVS Forum has reported some tentative details. VOOM! will be available exclusively from Sears until the end of the year. Initially, VOOM! will broadcast in MPEG-2 format, but the company plans to be the first to move to the MPEG-4 standard. According to early details, the service will offer 39 HDTV channels, including 21 exclusive channels. The exclusive HDTV channels will include a range of programming, including animation, extreme sports, movies, music video channels, news, and world sports. Unfortunately, the service won't come cheap. Startup costs will be $795 for all the necessary equipment and professional installation. The upfront equipment costs are similar to HDTV offerings from the other providers but will still make the service out of reach for many people. At the very least, the service should help show how much of a demand exists for HDTV programming.

RIAA Sues Additional Downloaders, Offers Controversial Amnesty Program
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is continuing its campaign against music piracy by filing 261 new lawsuits against individuals for file swapping. The lawsuits charge the users with "egregious" copyright infringements; each user could face millions of dollars in fines. As part of the new round of lawsuits, the organization has announced a new online amnesty campaign called Clean Slate. Clean Slate gives file swappers a chance to avoid being sued by the RIAA by turning themselves in before a suit is filed. They would have to destroy any copies of copyrighted material they have illegally downloaded and signed a notarized affidavit promising to never trade copyright material online again. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is crying foul, though. The EFF said that information collected in the Clean Slate program could be shared with music publishers or Hollywood studios if subpoenaed in a lawsuit. That move could open Clean Slate participates to lawsuits from other groups.

Apple Updates iPod and iMac
Although an Apple trade show wasn't going on, the company decided to update two of its key products last week. The company released faster iMacs and updated its iPod portable audio devices. The new "faster" iMacs reach speeds as fast as 1.25GHz. Regardless of whether you believe in the "megahertz myth" or not, we're both iMac owners and can tell you that speeds on the underpowered iMacs aren't even close to "budget" PCs. Sadly, we doubt that the new "faster" iMacs will do much to change the wide gap between PCs and Macs. The updated iPods change Apple's high-end model from 30GB to 40GB, although the 40GB model still costs a whopping $499. Apple updated the 15GB version to 20GB for $399, and left the 10GB, $299 iPod unchanged. Although the iPod is expensive and incompatible with Windows Media, it's still the simplest and best portable audio player. As part of the new product announcement, Apple announced that its iTunes digital-music store has sold 10 million songs, and the company is still on track to launch a Windows version later this year.

Microsoft Aims to Make WMV Format a Standard
Microsoft hopes to see its Windows Media Video (WMV) 9 video-compression technologies widely supported inside and outside the computer industry and is taking steps to make that goal a reality. The usually proprietary company has submitted the format to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), an international standards body, for consideration as a standard. The SMPTE is an influential body, and its review and approval of the format could considerably help Microsoft put Windows Media everywhere. WMV 9 competes against the MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 standards.

Note: Important New Microsoft Security Fix
We don't usually cover PC security concerns in Connected Home EXPRESS, but we wanted to encourage all our readers to visit Microsoft's Windows Update site and make sure their PCs are up-to-date with the most recent critical security fixes. Microsoft recently disclosed a new Windows vulnerability that could lead to system compromise. You can find more information on the WinInformant or Security Administrator Web sites.

==== 3. Announcements ====
(from Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)

Active Directory eBook Chapter 4 Published!
The fourth chapter of Windows & .NET Magazine's popular eBook "Windows 2003: Active Directory Administration Essentials" is now available at no charge! Chapter 4 looks at what's inside Windows Server 2003 forests and DNS. Download it now!

New Web Seminars on Exchange, Active Directory, and More!
Check out the latest lineup of Web seminars from Windows & .NET Magazine. Prepare your enterprise for Exchange Server 2003, discover the legal ramifications of deterring email abuse, and find out how Active Directory can help you create and maintain a rock-solid infrastructure. There is no charge for these events, but space is limited, so register today!

==== 4. Quick Poll ====

Results of Last Week's Poll: Home Technology
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "In your opinion, what should be the hub of home technology?" Here are the results from the 140 votes:
- 41% Computer
- 3% TV or set-top box
- 22% Home gateway
- 9% Separate devices for specific functions
- 26% Some combination of the above

New Poll: Portable Digital Audio
The next Quick Poll question is, "Do you own a portable digital audio device?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, I own an Apple iPod, b) Yes, I own a Creative Jukebox device, c) Yes, I own a SONICblue device, d) Yes, I own an iRiver device, e) Yes, I own an Archos device, f) Yes, I own a device from another manufacturer, or g) No.

==== 5. Resource ====

Tip: Make Your Printer Network-Attached
by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Since at least 1995, I've owned a wonderful HP LaserJet 5P that has never failed; it has churn out mountains of paper effortlessly and reliably over the years. I have just one problem: The 5P has a parallel printer port, which means I have to keep a computer on all the time if I want to share it over my home network. I wanted a network-attached printer, but those printers are typically expensive and, besides, the 5P has worked perfectly for years without pause. The solution is a dedicated print-server device, which lets you inexpensively add a parallel or USB-based printer directly to your existing network. I purchased NETGEAR's PS111W Wireless Ready Print Server, which works with both wireless and Ethernet networks, provides parallel-printer-port connectivity, and is extremely inexpensive: I picked up the device online for just $50. The device ships with driver software, so your networked machines can find the printer and sets up in just minutes. Now I can print directly to the network without leaving on a PC to ensure the printer is always available, and the performance is fantastic, both through wired and wirelessly connected PCs. I highly recommend this printer.

Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.

==== 6. Event ====
(brought to you by Windows & .NET Magazine)

New--Mobile & Wireless Road Show!
Learn more about the wireless and mobility solutions that are available today! Register now for this free event!

==== 7. New and Improved ====
by Jason Bovberg, [email protected]

Wireless Headphones with Voice Call
JVC announced the HA-W300RF, a cordless 900MHz headphone set with a 328' range. You can use the headphones with virtually any audio or video equipment. A new Voice Call function permits communication from the base to the headset, so you can use the device as a pager. The HA-W300RF features automatic on and off and automatic charging at the base. The headphones cost $99.95. For more information, contact JVC at 800-995-4582 or on the Web.

Tell Us About a Hot Product and Get a T-Shirt!
Have you used a product that changed your IT experience by saving you time or easing your daily burden? Tell us about the product, and we'll send you a Windows & .NET Magazine T-shirt if we write about the product in a future Windows & .NET Magazine What's Hot column. Send your product suggestions with information about how the product has helped you to [email protected]

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