Connected Home EXPRESS--January 7, 2004

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Connected Home Magazine


1. Getting Connected - Ripping Audio CDs

2. News and Views - 2003: A Year Filled with Spam
- Next Big Thing: Radio Spam
- Get Ready for iReady
- RIAA Fear Slows Downloads
- Will Apple Users Strike Back?
- SPOT the New Watches in Las Vegas
- SnapStream Goes BeyondTV

3. Announcements - Register for Windows & .NET Magazine Connections! - The Windows & .NET Magazine Network VIP Web Site/Super CD Has It All!

4. Quick Poll - Results of Previous Poll: Attending CES 2004? - New Poll: Home-Theater Investment

5. Resource - Tip: Try a Low-Priced Photo-Management Option

6. Event - New--Microsoft Security Strategies Roadshow!

7. New and Improved - Digital Entertainment Showcase - 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.

==== Sponsor: Connected Home Magazine ====

Connected Home Magazine is Offering You The Chance to Win a Portable DVD Player - Simply Answer Our Super-Quick 10 Question Survey!


==== 1. Getting Connected ====

By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]

Ripping Audio CDs

In the December 24 edition of Connected Home Express UPDATE (, I talked about my experiences copying a friend's CD collection to a hard disk. I also recently wrote an article for the Connected Home Media Web site called "Digital Audio: Step by Step" (, which walks you through the process of acquiring, manipulating, and sharing digital music. I intended the latter article as a mile-high view of the various digital audio tasks you might undertake, and it links generously to Connected Home articles from the past 2 years.

As I wrote these two articles, I thought we had surely covered all possible digital-audio topics, repeatedly and comprehensively, over the years. However, I was somewhat surprised to find a few lapses in our coverage. This week, therefore, I'd like to revisit a core digital-audio topic: copying, or ripping, audio CDs to your PC or Macintosh. Let's take a look at the process.

I use two primary applications for ripping audio CDs: Microsoft Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 on the PC (, and Apple Computer's iTunes 4.2 on the Mac ( Because WMP 9 does a good job of providing folder-based album art that integrates graphically with the Windows XP shell, I don't use the available iTunes for Windows application. But if you're using an earlier Windows version, iTunes is a compelling and easy-to-use option. Your use of WMP 9 might be further complicated by the fact that it natively supports copying music only in the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. WMA is superior to the more widely used MP3 format, and it's compatible with a wide range of portable devices. However, WMA doesn't work with Apple's best-selling iPod (or with iTunes, for that matter). To copy music in MP3 format on a PC with WMP 9, you'll need an inexpensive software add-on. I recommend and use CyberLink's MP3 PowerEncoder for Windows XP, which costs $9.95 and is available for download at

Configuring Your Player

Before you can rip a CD, you'll want to configure how your media player copies music. In XP, launch WMP 9, select Options from the Tools menu, and go to the Copy Music tab. On this tab, you can set the copy format (WMA or MP3), choose to protect your music (this check box is shaded if you select MP3, but you should disable it regardless), and adjust audio quality. If you're using the MP3 format, I recommend 160Kbps or higher for CD-quality sound; the more efficient WMA format can deliver equivalent quality at 128Kbps. In Mac OS X, open iTunes, select Preferences from the iTunes menu, and click the Importing icon. Here, you should select the MP3 Encoder, then select "High Quality (160Kbps)."

Ripping in XP

To rip a CD in XP, simply insert the audio CD in the CD drive. By default, an AutoPlay dialog box should appear and ask you what you'd like to do. However, sometimes this dialog box won't appear, either because you configured the system to react differently to the insertion of an audio CD or because another media-player application has hijacked this autoplay setting. If the dialog box doesn't appear or another application opens, close the offending application and launch WMP 9. When you click the Copy From CD button on the menu's left side, WMP 9 connects to the online All Music Guide (AMG) database and attempts to match CD information with the CD you inserted. WMP will autofill such items as artist, CD name, track titles, genre, and year. If the information is incorrect (or doesn't autofill for some reason), you can click Find Album Info to search for the CD or edit the information. You can also edit tracks one at a time, if you see only a few errors. For example, if the name of one song is incorrect, select that song name once, then click it once again to put the name in edit mode; you can then replace text, add text, or perform other editing tasks.

WMP 9 also offers advanced editing options. If you want to change the genre for every song on a CD, select the entire list of songs, then click track 1's genre to enter editing mode; when you type in a new genre and press Enter, the change will apply to every song, not just track 1. You can perform the same bulk edit for artist name. If you want to change the CD name, however, you must select Find Album Info. Of course, you need to edit track names individually.

When you're ready to copy the CD, click Copy Music. As WMP copies each song, a progress bar details the process for each song. By default, WMP 9 copies music to subfolders under My Documents\My Music. For example, if you copy a CD titled "A Cup of Moonlight" by David Lanz, you'll get a "David Lanz" folder under My Music. Inside that folder will be a subfolder titled "A Cup of Moonlight"; this folder will be decorated with the CD's album art. Inside that folder will be the individual files that make up the music you copied from that disk.

Ripping on the Mac

To rip a CD on the Mac, insert the audio CD in the CD drive. If iTunes isn't running, it will launch automatically and navigate to the CD view so that you can inspect the list of songs on the current CD. Like WMP 9, iTunes gathers CD information from an online database, though Apple uses the more error-prone CDDB database. To edit information for the CD, select the CD in the iTunes Source list and click OPTION + I (Get Info). In the resulting dialog box, you can change information such as artist name, composer, album, genre, and year for the entire CD. If you need to edit individual song information, simply select the applicable song in the song list and click OPTION + I (Get Info). On the Info pane of the resulting dialog box, you can edit virtually any song information. You can also fix spelling mistakes, as with WMP 9, by selecting individual data points (e.g., song titles) and clicking again to edit in-place.

When you're ready to copy the CD, click the Import button. At the top of the window, iTunes will detail the progress of each file copy and indicate how much time remains. By default, Apple copies songs into your Home/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music folder, although this information is less relevant on a Mac because you'll typically use iTunes as your front end for any songs you've recorded. One thing you don't get with iTunes is album art, but the application includes the ability to display it. If you're really dedicated, you can download album art from or another online location and copy it into iTunes. However, this process is time-consuming.

Enjoy Your Tunes

Both Windows and the Mac offer excellent tools for ripping audio CDs to your system, after which time you can use them in a variety of fun and exciting ways. Check out the aforementioned "Digital Audio: Step by Step" article for some ideas. If you'd like to know about this process, don't hesitate to drop me an email message.

==== 2. News and Views ====

An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman ([email protected])

2003: A Year Filled with Spam

Who said the Internet wasn't useful? According to AOL, the most popular spam subjects for 2003 included "Viagra," "Lowest mortgage rates," "Hot XXX action," and "As seen on Oprah." The company said that during 2003, it blocked nearly 500 billion spam messages, which accounted for about 75 to 80 percent of AOL mail. In 2003, we did see some efforts aimed at ending spam, including antispam legislation that was finally passed in the United States. However, experts don't expect spam to decline much this year. Instead, many believe that email technology will need to change to completely eliminate the online nuisance. We're all for taking any necessary steps to stop the evil of spam.

Next Big Thing: Radio Spam

Are you ready to be spammed on your radio? Radio broadcasters and advertisers plan to begin using a new technology called Radio Data System (RDS) in the United States to deliver text messages to car radios. The technology is already in use in Europe. Broadcasted messages will include useful information such as artist information and news but is also expected to include product advertisements. We aren't looking forward to FREE CASH NOW! and VIAGRA! messages on our radios.

Get Ready for iReady

Four major Japanese electronics vendors have agreed on a new standard that will let appliances communicate with one another and with other connected devices in the home. The agreement between Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Sharp, and Sanyo creates a standard called iReady, which is short for "Internet ready" or "I am ready," depending on whom you ask. Some of the iReady applications in appliances are expected to include recipe downloads and online shopping and will let you make appliance settings and adjustments remotely from devices such as mobile phones. iReady products will be available this year, and the four companies have invited other companies to join the effort.

RIAA Fear Slows Downloads

If a newly released study has any merit, perhaps the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is doing a good job with its antipiracy campaign. According to a phone survey that the Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted over a 30-day period, the percentages of Americans who downloaded music online over the course of 4 weeks ending in mid-December fell 50 percent from similar surveys in May 2003, with the total number of music downloaders down from 35 million in the spring to 18 million people in the winter. The RIAA has been aggressively pursuing online music downloaders and has filed more than 400 lawsuits since September 2003. The lawsuits seek $150,000 per violation, but the group has settled with about half of defendants outside of court for an average fine of $5000. File-sharing software has seen big declines over the past 6 months, with Kazaa registering a 15 percent drop and Grokster declining 59 percent, according to comScore Media Metrix, which took part in the study. Legal online music saw a large usage increase throughout the year, thanks mostly to the success of Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store and newcomers such as Napster 2.0.

Will Apple Users Strike Back?

Apple might have to face music of another kind in a class-action lawsuit that will likely be filed this month against the company in California. Disgruntled Apple users are gathering online support for the two separate actions, which seek to punish Apple for problems with its iBook laptop and its iPod portable music player. The lawsuits will address problems with Apple's default 1-year warranty period for the iPod and problems with Apple's iBook laptop display and video output. Apple has always had fanatical fans, and if these efforts are successful, they could be harmful to a company that relies on a steady stream of good news.

SPOT the New Watches in Las Vegas

At least two of Microsoft's partners are expected to finally release watches based on Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) this week at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Microsoft first introduced the SPOT technology at COMDEX in late 2002; SPOT is designed to bring simple and relevant information to everyday devices wirelessly. Microsoft officially announced the first SPOT watches last year at CES 2003. SPOT watches will be able to receive customized information from a wireless FM-radio based service, including news, weather, stock quotes, and even one-way short personal messages. Microsoft originally scheduled the watches to go on sale by fall 2003 but delayed them at the last moment. Fossil will start to sell its watches in its Las Vegas stores during CES this week. The watches will be generally available for purchase throughout the United States in major markets 1 to 3 weeks later. Suunto, another SPOT partner, is also expected to make its watches available soon. Fossil's watches start at $180 but require a subscription to Microsoft MSN Direct, which costs either $10 per month or $60 per year.

SnapStream Goes BeyondTV

Personal video recorder (PVR) software developer SnapStream Media has released a new version of its flagship software, complete with new features and a new name. The company is now referring to the SnapStream product as Beyond TV. Beyond TV lets Windows XP users turn their computers into PVRs without buying an expensive XP Media Center Edition (MCE) PC. Like XP MCE, SnapStream supports TV viewing and recording, although you must also purchase a separate PC TV tuner card. The new Beyond TV version includes an improved interface, commercial skipping, and support for Canadian users.

==== 3. Announcements ====

(from Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)

Register for Windows & .NET Magazine Connections!

Windows & .NET Magazine Connections will be held April 4-7, 2004, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Complete details about workshops, breakout sessions, and speakers are now online. Save $200 if you hurry and register before the early bird discount expires. Register now on the Web or by calling 203-268-3204 or 800-505-1201.

The Windows & .NET Magazine Network VIP Web Site/Super CD Has It All!

With a VIP Web site/Super CD subscription, you'll get online access to all of our publications, a print subscription to Windows & .NET Magazine, and a subscription to our VIP Web site, a banner-free resource loaded with articles you can't find anywhere else. Click here to find out how you can get it all at 25 percent off!

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

Results of Previous Poll: Attending CES 2004?

The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Will you be attending the 2004 International CES?" Here are the results from the 65 votes:

- 15% Yes
- 85% No

New Poll: Home-Theater Investment

The next Quick Poll question is, "How much money have you invested in your entire home-theater setup?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Less than $500, b) $500 to $1000, c) $1000 to $2000, d) $2000 to $5000, or e) More than $5000.

==== 5. Resource ====

Tip: Try a Low-Priced Photo-Management Option by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Late last year, in Connected Home Express UPDATE, I discussed various commercial photo-management packages. Now, several smaller outfits are offering download-only photo managers that might serve your needs. Certainly, the online-based offerings are cheaper than retail packages. The best of the lot is probably Picasa, now in version 1.6. This application, available for just $29, indexes your hard disk's images, like other photo-management applications, but then works with a lightning-fast speed than might surprise you. The Picasa interface is wonderfully rich, with variable-sized thumbnails and a cool timeline view that's unlike anything I've seen in other applications. Picasa also includes valuable picture-editing tools, including black-and-white conversion, red-eye removal, one-click enhancement, and cropping, and includes support for picture acquisition, photolab prints, and email. All in all, Picasa is a surprisingly complete package that's worth a look. You can try Picasa free for 14 days.

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

New--Microsoft Security Strategies Roadshow!

We've teamed with Microsoft, Avanade, and Network Associates to bring you a full day of training to help you get your organization secure and keep it secure. You'll learn how to implement a patch-management strategy; lock down servers, workstations, and network infrastructure; and implement security policy management. Register now for this free, 20-city tour.

==== 7. New and Improved ====

by Jason Bovberg, [email protected]

Digital Entertainment Showcase

CyberLink will showcase new digital-entertainment technologies at the 2003 International CES in Las Vegas this week. Highlighted products will include PowerProducer 2 Gold, PowerDirector 3, PowerCinema 3, and PowerDVD 5. PowerProducer 2 Gold is a wizard-style DVD-authoring program that offers full support for DVD+VR and DVD-VR whether importing, authoring, or editing files. PowerDirector 3 is a video-editing solution for handling the total production process. PowerCinema 3 is an entertainment solution that offers everything a PC owner needs to enjoy the best in digital media. And PowerDVD is a DVD software player that delivers a theater-like DVD experience on a desktop or notebook PC. For more information about these products, including pricing and availability, contact CyberLink at CES 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]

==== Sponsored Link ====

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==== 8. Contact Us ====

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