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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Nokia Announces the 9300i

With the announcement of the Nokia 9300i, Nokia has added another member to its family of high-end smartphones. The company says that its 9300i has the right combination of design and functionality, and is ideal for professionals on-the-go.

The Nokia 9300i features WLAN connectivity with full keyboard, 65,536-color screen, support for a wide range of email solutions and an attachment viewer. WLAN connectivity enables the 9300i to provide a reliable and cost-effective data connection for downloading large files or emails with attachments.

Nokia 9300i's wide color screen facilitates viewing different types of documents, presentations, spread-sheets, etc; while its memory capacity of 80 MB expandable up to 2 GB, offers ample space for file storage.

The new smartphone supports E-GPRS (EDGE) and WLAN 802.11g; multiple email clients (with attachments) including BlackBerry Connect, Nokia Business Center, IBM WebSphere, Oracle Collaboration Suite, Seven Always-On Mail and Visto Mobile; and five-party conference calling via an integrated speakerphone.

9300i's infrared and Bluetooth capabilities offer users 2 distinct ways of wirelessly synchronizing their devices to a desktop PC or laptop, as also of exchanging data with other mobile devices.

Niklas Savander, senior vice president, business device unit - enterprise solutions business group, Nokia, said, "Nokia continues to offer more choices for individuals, looking for fully featured smartphones built specifically for business use. Our business customers want continuity as well as a constant stream of improvements in our products. The Nokia 9300i delivers just that as it combines WLAN and other features with a suite of powerful applications and email solutions."

The Nokia 9300i is slated to be available in Q1 2006 and the company plans to offer a tri-band version of its 9300i, optimized for mobile networks in Europe and Asia (900/1800/1900 MHz), and capable of operating in compatible GSM networks in America.


Holographic Challenge for DVDs

If you thought Blu-ray and HD-DVD were the only new disc formats coming out this decade, think again. The emergence of holographic data storage technology may hamper growth for the two rival high-definition formats in the years to come.

Holographic data storage has existed for 40 years, but is just coming to the commercial market and may reach the consumer market by 2007. The new DVD formats promoted by Sony (Blu-ray) and Toshiba (HD-DVD) are expected to go on sale in early 2006.

As opposed to the blue laser technology used both in Blu-ray and HD-DVD, holographic storage goes beyond recording the surface of the disc and records through the full depth of the medium.

Longmont, Colorado-based InPhase Technologies has formed an alliance with Hitachi Maxell to sell discs the size of a DVD that can store 300 GB of data. By comparison, Blu-ray discs will be able to hold 50 GB and HD-DVD discs will store about 30 GB. InPhase’s Tapestry holographic system can store more than 26 hours of broadcast-quality high-definition video.

While other technologies record one data bit at a time, holography allows a million bits of data to be written and read in parallel with a single flash of light. So transfer rates are significantly higher than current optical storage devices.

As a result, the holographic discs also can read and write data at 10 times the speed of the DVDs currently in the market, or six times that of blue laser discs.

Commercial holographic discs will go on sale by the end of 2006. The initial product, called Tapestry Media, will come in the form of 130mm discs made from a photopolymer material.

InPhase is currently marketing the product to enterprises that can afford the high cost of the discs and readers. Currently, the reader costs a lofty $15,000 each, while one single disc costs $120—clearly unaffordable for the consumer market, Liz Murphy, vice president of marketing at InPhase, said Monday.

The hopes to fill the archival needs in the commercial markets for specific applications such as security, geospatial imagery, entertainment and broadcast, medical, and scientific applications, Ms. Murphy said.


Arriving on Tuesday: Firefox's 1.5 Browser

As we reported recently, the final version of Firefox 1.5 is due to show up on Tuesday, sometime in the afternoon. Once it does, it'll be available at, and I'll get in line with the teeming masses to download it. But I've been using various pre-release versions for weeks now, and for the most part, things have gone extremely well. The little browser that could has gotten even better.

Firefox 1.5 looks practically the same as 1.0, and there's no single new feature that'll change your life. But there's a pretty long list of enhancements, including at least two that are major and overdue: You can now download and install patches to the browser--rather than having to download the whole shebang every time--and you can drag and drop tabs to shuffle 'em around.

Some of the other tweaks include a quick and easy way to flush out your browser history and other settings that snoops might look at, faster performance of the Back and Forward buttons (according to Mozilla--I never had a problem with 1.0's speed here, but 1.5 does feel a tad snappier), and a tidier, better-organized Options dialog. And bravo to Mozilla for taking the time to improve the browser's accessibility to disabled users, including better support for screen readers for the blind.

The upgrade also has a bunch of architectural refinements, such as support for SVG, CSS 2, CSS 2, and CSS 3; most of us won't notice these, but they put the browser in better stead to run today and tomorrow's most sophisticated Web applications smoothly. And Mozilla says it has "many" security enahncements, which might be reason enough to upgrade.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

3G industry optimistic for 2006

3G stands for third generation, which, put simply, is broadband for your mobile.

However, much of the hype around the services it offers - including video, picture messaging, and accessing the internet - has not been realised in past years.

Despite all the fancy offerings, it turns out that most people use their phones to make telephone calls and send the occasional text.

In Europe voice is the clear revenue winner, closely followed by text. But we only spend an average of 1 euro a month on all the other services put together.

Operators are looking at a similar situation in the US, although in Japan and South Korea, where 3G were first introduced, the field is more bunched up.

Part of the problem may be data speeds. 3G typically offers us download rates of 100 to 300 kilobits per second - this is much slower than most broadband connections in the home which typically pass data round at megabit speeds.

But new upgrades to networks such as HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) and EV-DO (Evolution, Data Optimised) could spark a change in 2006.

We will not know it is happening, but these upgrades will mean we can download data from one place to another at between two and three times the speed.

This makes large files like music or video a far more attractive proposition.


Last month, the Isle of Man in the UK was the first place in Europe to get a commercial roll out of the new HSDPA technology, allowing faster broadband access over the whole island.

Although this is only available through a PC card at the moment, it is already leading to a turf war between wi-fi hotspots and cellular networks.

Internet browsing on mobiles is in for a makeover as well. Some big industry names are behind a new browser called the S60, which was recently shown off in Hong Kong.

Launching early next year, it allows quick zoom in, a page overview, and an Apple-like scroll-through page history.

Broadband has already fuelled an explosion in online multi-player gaming in the home, and now many see that transferring to mobiles.

However, because of the time it takes to play many games, much will depend on how much operators charge these young players.

Higher data speeds while on the go makes mobile TV more attractive, too, and many in the industry believe it is the development to watch in 2006.

But some already see a tussle between the operators and content providers, as Mark Newman, an industry analyst from Informa, explained.

"If we imagine in any particular country there may be four or five mobile operators, and each one wants to have something exclusive that they can offer to their customers.

"On the other hand if you're a TV company, you want to broadcast your services to as many people as possible. Immediately you have friction between the two sides."

Driving factors

It is not just about the technology. Next year's Football World Cup is expected to be a significant turning point.

Christophe Caselitz, the president of Global Mobile Networks for Siemens, said: "The soccer event is going to be one of the driving factors next year.

"I would doubt that somebody is going to watch 120 minutes over the cell phone, but you can condense that, you can look to the most important goals, or to the most important scenes.

"Then we have really good chances that the soccer championship next year will be the boom for this technology."

Siemens was showing off its version of a new mobile TV broadcast system, called DVBH, at the show.

We will need new handsets to receive the signals, so while trials began this year, the rollout could perhaps be more likely to coincide with the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Internet telephony, or IP calling, promises to help bring down the cost of calling next year, with wi-fi in the home and office likely to lead to landline rates on our mobiles while inside these hotspots.

Marc Rouanne, the chief operating officer at Alcatel, said the first thing that will start is combined GSM and wi-fi.

"With the handset you have, you will arrive in your home and you will move to wi-fi and DSL. You won't notice.

"That's simplicity. This is coming for Christmas in seven markets."

As for Wimax - wi-fi's cousin that covers a much larger area - it could still be a way off for mobiles. For one thing, they need to get a large transmitter/receiver inside the handsets.

As for 3G itself, many see 2006 as a turning point for the fortunes of new services.

The industry is waiting for us all to do more than just talk.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

XBox 360 - High Def vs Normal TV

One glorious feature of the XBox 360 is that it can put out a high definition TV signal. All of us players with HDTV systems will get to see amazing clarity.

First, it's important to comment that the XBox 360 has two separate cables that it can use. One puts out the high quality HD signal. The other cable is the STANDARD TV signal that we know and love from existing game systems. So if you don't have a HD TV yet, don't panic. As long as you get the standard cable, you will be able to play the system on your standard TV.

That being said, it's important to note that the games will look FAR better on a HDTV, because of course the HDTV has a far better resolution. Here's how TV resolution works.

On a standard TV, if you look really closely at the screen, you'll see little dots of color. Each dot can make red, green or blue. There are a total of 480 lines of dots. Each dot lights up with its 3 base colors, to help fill in the total picture. Since there are only 480 lines, it means you can actually see the lines and the graininess when you watch TV. It's like reading a poorly printed newspaper, where you can see lines and ridges in the photos.

Also, a standard TV has a ratio of 4:3, meaning that the screen is 4 units wide by 3 units high. It's not quite a square, it's a long rectangle. That's because when TVs were coming out, this was the radio of movie screens. Since then of course movie screens have gotten wider - but TV screens have not.

High definition fixes these problems. First, it has a MUCH better resolution. You now have a grid of 1920 x 1080 dots!! That gives you *incredibly* higher detailed pictures. You usually are very hard pressed to see the lines at all. You can see crystal clear images on this.

Next, the ratio has changed to match what we see in movie theaters - 16:9 ratio. It is much wider. This is important because your human eyeballs are meant to see the world with a wide angle. You don't look down a tunnel. When you watch a show with that wider aspect, you feel more "immersed" in the experience. Also, when you get DVDs of modern movies, you don't end up with pieces chopped off the edges. You get to see the full movie experience.

Currently, just under 20% of US homes have a HD TV set. According to studies, over half of all US households had plans to buy a HDTV in the next 12 months. You might want to be one of them, if you don't have a HD TV already!


Wireless home music hub needs no computer

Olive Media Products has introduced the Musica wireless music center, an alternative to the PC as the digital music hub in the home.

The Musica has a 160GB hard drive that stores more than 40,000 songs. It can access music from any Mac or PC that is on the same home network. It also allows users to burn music directly into the device, from not only CDs but also analog tape or vinyl albums.

The Musica has its own CD rewritable drive, so users can burn custom CDs or copy existing albums and update iPods, all without a computer.

As a media hub, the Musica can stream music to as many as 20 rooms, including user-selected Internet radio stations. The Digital Pure Audio feature allows users to harmonize the music volume and attributes to correspond to a specific room or atmosphere.

Burned music can be stored in MP3 or WAV files. The Musica is available via the company's Web site at for $1,099. For an additional fee, the company will preload the Musica with a customer's private music collection.


Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Highest in 650,000 Years

Levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are the highest they have been in 650,000 years, according to the first in-depth analysis of tiny air bubbles trapped in an ice core from East Antarctica.

In two articles analyzing air from the ice core published in the journal "Science" today, European researchers have extended the greenhouse gas record back to 650,000 years before the present, adding 210,000 years to previous records.

One study chronicles the stable relationship between climate and the carbon cycle during the Pleistocene Era, 390,000 to 650,000 years before the present. The second one documents atmospheric methane and nitrous oxide levels over the same period.

The analysis shows that today’s rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, at 380 parts per million by volume, is now 27 percent higher than its highest recorded level during the last 650,000 years, said "Science" author Thomas Stocker of the Physics Institute of the University of Bern, in Bern, Switzerland, who serves as the corresponding author for both papers.

“We have added another piece of information showing that the timescales on which humans have changed the composition of the atmosphere are extremely short compared to the natural time cycles of the climate system,” Stocker said.

This 210,000 year extension of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane records, encompassing two full glacial cycles, should help scientists better understand climate change and the nature of the current warm period on Earth. The record may also aid researchers in reducing uncertainty in predictions of future climate change and help to clarify when humans began significantly changing the balance of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere.

A long term research effort known as the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica, or EPICA, recovered the new ice core from a site in East Antarctica called EPICA Dome C.

The EPICA Dome C ice core contains hundreds of thousands of years worth of atmospheric air samples within small bubbles trapped in the ice. The air bubbles form when snowflakes fall, and they contain a record of global greenhouse gas concentrations.

The new ice core record described in the two "Science" papers provides some overlap with a similar record from the Vostok ice core – now, the second longest ice core record -- and extends the Vostok record by 210,000 years.

Ed Brook, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University, who analyzed the studies in the same issue of "Science" called the research "an amazing accomplishment we would not have thought possible" as recently as 10 years ago."

"Not long ago we thought that previous ice studies which go back about 500,000 years might be the best we could obtain," said Brook, who is also the co-chair of the International Partnerships in Ice Coring Sciences, a group that is helping to plan future ice core research efforts around the world.

"Now we have a glimpse into the past of up to 650,000 years, and we believe it may be possible to go as much as one million years or more," Brook said. "This will give us a fuller picture of Earth's past climates, the way they changed and fluctuated, and the forces that caused the changes. We'll be studying this new data for years."

"The levels of primary greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are up dramatically since the Industrial Revolution, at a speed and magnitude that the Earth has not seen in hundreds of thousands of years," Brook said. "There is now no question this is due to human influence."

Analysis of the older cores just removed from Antarctica, Brook said, are consistent with some of the quick changes in methane and carbon dioxide levels that are related to abrupt climate change.

It also appears that the natural climate cycles in the distant past – the development and retreat of Ice Ages, for instance – were smaller in magnitude and had less fluctuation in atmospheric gases than what the Earth is now experiencing.

There are critical questions that work of this type may help answer, researchers say such as the relationship between increasing levels of greenhouse gases and global warming.

There are also concerns that the Earth's climate may have changed very abruptly at times in the past, in complex interactions between the atmosphere, ocean currents and ice sheets.

Past studies of gases trapped in Greenland and Antarctic ice cores have suggested that Earth's temperature can sometimes change amazingly fast, warming as much as 15 degrees in some regions within a couple of decades.

At the same time, there are concerns about the change of major ocean currents, such as those in the North Atlantic Ocean, that are responsible for the comparatively mild climate of much of Europe.

If that "thermohaline circulation pattern" were to abruptly shut down, as has happened at times in the past, it could plunge much of the European continent into a climate more closely resembling that of central Canada.

Brook says continuing research will help to address many of these questions. The 17 nation committee he co-chairs is considering a very deep ice coring project in Antarctica that might provide a record of atmospheric gases 1.2 million years ago, or even further back in time.


Scientists discover singing iceberg in Antarctica

Scientists monitoring earth movements in Antarctica believe they have found a singing iceberg.

Sound waves from the iceberg had a frequency of around 0.5 hertz, too low to be heard by humans, but by playing them at higher speed the iceberg sounded like a swarm of bees or an orchestra warming up, the scientists said.

The German Alfred Wegener institute for polar and marine research publish the results of its study, done in 2002, in Science magazine on Friday.

Between July and November 2002 researchers picked up acoustic signals of unprecedented clarity when recording seismic signals to measure earthquakes and tectonic movements on the Ekstroem ice shelf on Antarctica's South Atlantic coast.

Tracking the signal, the scientists found a 50 by 20 kilometer iceberg that had collided with an underwater peninsula and was slowly scraping around it.

"Once the iceberg stuck fast on the seabed it was like a rock in a river," said scientist Vera Schlindwein. "The water pushes through its crevasses and tunnels at high pressure and the iceberg starts singing."

"The tune even goes up and down, just like a real song."


High Def, Low Cost: HDTV Prices Plunge

Big screen, shrinking price tag: Syntax's 32-inch Olevia LT32HVE LCD TV has a street price of approximately $1100. The most casual of HDTV shoppers know that prices fall each year, but price cuts over the past 12 months have finally brought large LCD and plasma models within reach for mainstream shoppers as the holiday-buying season gets into full swing.

Prices for LCD TVs have declined in part because of heavy competition from such budget brands as Syntax and Westinghouse, says Riddhi Patel, senior analyst for market research company iSuppli. In addition, LCD panel manufacturers are able to turn out more screens per day. David Naranjo, vice president at research firm DisplaySearch, says that new factories can output glass sheets large enough to make eight 32-inch panels, compared with the three-panel sheets previous-generation facilities produced.

This combination of efficiency and competition has roughly halved the average street prices of 32-inch LCDs in the past year, according to DisplaySearch. Still, prices continue to vary a good deal between brand-name and budget offerings. For example, U.S. market leader Sharp's LC-32GA5U model has a street price of about $1700, while the Olevia LT32HVE from relative newcomer Syntax goes for about $1100.

Good Starters

These 32-inch models make good HD starter sets for U.S. customers, Naranjo says, because images on their wide, 16:9-aspect-ratio screens are roughly the same height as those on a conventional 27-inch, 4:3-aspect-ratio CRT--today's most popular TV type.

As usual, shoppers willing to wait longer will likely save even more money. However, DisplaySearch predicts a more modest 38 percent price drop for 32-inch LCD TVs in 2006.

While LCD vendors are upping production of 40-inch-plus panels, plasma displays remain far better deals in that size range, with average prices of 42-inch high-definition panels falling by about 35 percent in 2005, DisplaySearch reports. Some price cuts have been greater: In 2004 Panasonic's TH-42PX25 listed at $6000; its current successor, the TH-42PX50, has a list price of $3000. In comparison, LG's 42-inch LCD, the 42LP1D, sells for $4800.

As with LCDs, efficiency gains have contributed to falling plasma prices. Panasonic's newest plasma-glass factory produces six 42-inch panels per sheet, compared with two panels per sheet at the previous-generation facility. Discount brands such as Akai, Maxx, and Norcent have not pushed prices down as much as their LCD counterparts have, but they're starting to. "I think they are getting more attention now that value brands in LCD have caught on," says iSuppli's Patel.

Plasma Closes In

Meanwhile, prices for digital rear-projection sets--DLP, LCD, and LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) models--haven't dropped as much as prices for flat panels. For example, 50-inch digital rear-projection sets have dropped just 27 percent over the last year. As a result, plasma sets are starting to attract people who in years past might have opted for a rear projection model.

LG Electronics spokesperson John Taylor says that the company is focusing its rear-projection efforts on 50-inch or larger sets. But even here, rear projection is no longer markedly less expensive than plasma. For example, Panasonic's 56-inch DLP model, the PT-56DLX75, lists for $3300, while its 50-inch TH-50PX50 plasma set sells for just $700 more. In contrast, Panasonic's 50-inch DLP set, the PT-50DLD64, last year sold for $4000--half the list price of the company's 50-inch TH-50PX25 plasma set.

Flat Panels Drop the Most

LCD and plasma prices have fallen furthest in the past year; digital rear-projection price declines are now predicted to flatten.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Shortages spoil Xbox 360 launch

Many American electronics stores sold out of the coveted console on the first day it went on sale and many who queued overnight were left empty handed.

Shortages were made worse as many gamers did not want to settle for the lower-priced version of the gadget that lacks a hard drive.

Some enterprising Xbox 360 owners cashed in on the scarcity by instantly re-selling their console on eBay.

Empty shelves

Microsoft's next generation console officially went on sale at midnight on 22 November but many who queued to make sure of grabbing the gadget did not manage to buy one. Some stores were reportedly allocated less than fifty of the consoles.

The websites of Amazon, Circuit City, Best Buy and Wal-Mart all listed the console as sold out.

Microsoft is selling the Xbox 360 in two bundles but few gamers seemed happy to settle for the cheaper version of the unit that does not have a 20 GB hard drive.

The hard drive or a memory unit is needed for players who want to use the console to play games for the original Xbox or who want to save their progress on new games.

"Hard-core gamers would pay up for a premium system and do not want to feel limited to a shaved down system," said David Hornak who was offered only the lower-priced machine at Best Buy in New York.

Up to half of all the machines allocated to electronics stores were the cheaper bundle which only helped to worsen the supply problems.

Analysts expect the sell-outs to continue for days and some did not expect the supply problems to ease until well into December. The situation is likely to be repeated when the 360 goes on sale in Europe on 2 December and Japan on 10 December.

"We are well aware that many gamers are disappointed to have not gotten their Xbox 360 on day one," said Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, in a statement.

He added: "We are working around the clock to manufacture as many Xbox 360s as we can and are replenishing our retail channel week after week."

Microsoft is hoping to sell three million Xbox 360s in the first 90 days that the console is on sale.

Ebay reported that 1,800 Xbox 360s had been re-sold via the auction site in the first 12 hours after the console was launched - many for a significant mark-up on the original price.

In a statement eBay said that the average price of the consoles was $660 (£385). By comparison the full Xbox 360 bundle is selling in stores for $399.99.

Some packages of the console which came with a selection of games were selling for prices as high as $2,500 said Ebay.

Microsoft's launch of the Xbox 360 now is widely seen as a gamble because although it means the console is on sale in the important Christmas season it has to hope that frustration does not turn to anger and translate into lost sales.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Classy debut for GTA on Sony PSP

It is time to return to the Liberty City of Grand Theft Auto 3 in the most intense epic created for the PlayStation Portable (PSP).

Terrorising the handheld amid the usual fanfare, the biggest-selling action series of all time retains the same free-roaming gameplay, high production values and tabloid-baiting violence as players grease the crime ladder for the Leone family.

Befitting the format, missions are easier and more potted than on the home consoles, delivering quick bursts of crime to your thumbs.

The action hardly deviates much from GTA's best-selling formula, while rage missions, hidden packages, and lashings of side tasks keep things busy.

Once again the presentation is impeccable, with lengthy cut-scenes driving the story and an urban sprawl that is even easier on the eyes than when we first made the merry trip to Liberty City on the PlayStation 2.

The radio stations return and, although offering a less memorable collection of tunes, the ability to rip your MP3s is a big plus. The voice talent, although competent, boasts none of the star turns that characterised previous games.

Power hungry

It is not all hunky-dory in Liberty City, though.

While pushing the infant PSP like no other game, Liberty City also exposes the machine's hardware failings.

The stiff, shallow analogue stick is unforgiving and difficult to control. It is no substitute for the PlayStation 2's Dual Shock controller.

The machine's tin-pot speakers whimper out the licensed soundtrack like a mouse's death rattle, while the limited battery life means you must stay close to a power socket.

Still, there is much to admire here, including wireless multiplayer death matches and racing for the masses.

Hardware issues aside, Liberty City is simply an incredible technical accomplishment for a handheld, delivering a dose of Grand Theft that outshines the original PlayStation 2 GTA3 and redefines what portable gaming can be.


Ground Rules for Buying on the Cutting Edge: mp3 player

IPod or not? Faced with that decision, people tend to flock toward what's most popular.

And there are good reasons to do so. Apple's tiny iPod Shuffle, barely-larger iPod Nano and the full-sized, video-capable iPod combine utility, elegance and style as few electronic items ever have. The iPod also works with the best music-jukebox program available, Apple's iTunes.

So why buy any other player?

The first reason is the most important feature of a digital music player: which kinds of music files it accepts in addition to MP3s, by far the most widely used type. (Only some older Sony models balk at that format.)

Beyond MP3s, Apple's iPods support the AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) formats used by the iTunes program and music store, but not Microsoft's Windows Media Audio, or WMA. Windows Media-compatible players by such firms as Creative and iRiver, however, can't play Apple's formats. Sony's hardware accommodates Sony's proprietary ATRAC format, but not Windows Media or AAC.

Although the big music-download stores carry about the same inventory, Windows Media-based sites such as Napster, Rhapsody and Yahoo offer one thing iTunes doesn't: the option to pay $10 to $15 a month to download unlimited songs. These downloads can't be burned to audio CDs and expire when the subscription does-- but for those who want to acquire a lot of music in a hurry, this rental option might work. If so, look for a player marked with a blue "Plays For Sure" logo that has a checkmark next to "Subscription."

The other reason to buy a non-iPod player is to get things that Apple won't offer--for instance, FM tuners and user-replaceable batteries. (Those inside the iPods are sealed inside their shiny cases; Apple's mail-in replacement service costs $60.)

Lastly, since the Windows version of iTunes only runs on Win 2000 and XP, users of older Microsoft systems who don't want to pay for third-party iPod-management programs will have to stick to Windows Media-based players.

How to choose among the many different Windows Media models?

Most are compact devices that use flash memory to store anywhere from 64 megabytes to two gigabytes of music. If you go this route, pick up one with at least 256 megabytes of storage. One useful bonus feature to look for is the ability to store a computer's address book and calendars, which may eliminate the need for a handheld organizer.

If, on the other hand, you'd prefer to join the iPod-purchasing hordes, the next step is to choose between the iPod Shuffle, the iPod Nano and what I'll call the "big" iPod ("big" being a relative term).

For most people, the iPod Nano makes sense. In two- and four-gigabyte sizes ($199 and $249), it stores enough music for days of nonstop listening, as well as copies of digital photos and a Mac or PC's contacts and calendar files.

The big iPod, $299 for a 30-gigabyte model and $399 for a 60-gigabyte version, can also play videos bought at iTunes or converted from other sources. But the limited selection on iTunes -- and the way video playback drains an iPod's battery in just a few hours -- makes that feature a dubious value. The real reason to get the big iPod is to be able to carry around an entire music collection at once.

The iPod Shuffle starts at just $99 for a 512-megabyte version. But with little storage and no screen, it's best as somebody's first player ever -- especially if the recipient may subject it to some abuse -- or as a second player used during exercise.


Butterfly wings work like LEDs

Fluorescent patches on the wings of African swallowtail butterflies work in a very similar way to high emission light emitting diodes (LEDs).

These high emission LEDs are an efficient variation on the diodes used in electronic equipment and displays.

The University of Exeter, UK, research appears in the journal Science.

In 2001, Alexei Erchak and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) demonstrated a method for building a more efficient LED.

Most light emitted from standard LEDs cannot escape, resulting in what scientists call a low extraction efficiency of light.

Ingenious design

The LED developed at MIT used a two-dimensional (2D) photonic crystal - a triangular lattice of holes etched into the LED's upper cladding layer - to enhance the extraction of light.

And layered structures called Bragg reflectors were used to control the emission direction. These high emission devices potentially offer a huge step up in performance over standard types.

Pete Vukusic and Ian Hooper at Exeter have now shown that swallowtail butterflies evolved an identical method for signalling to each other in the wild.

Swallowtails belonging to the Princeps nireus species live in eastern and central Africa. They have dark wings with bright blue or blue-green patches.

The wing scales on these swallowtails act as 2D photonic crystals, infused with pigment and structured in such a way that they produce intense fluorescence.

Pigment on the butterflies' wings absorbs ultra-violet light which is then re-emitted, using fluorescence, as brilliant blue-green light.

Performance-enhancing bugs

Most of this light would be lost were it not for the pigment being located in a region of the wing which has evenly spaced micro-holes through it.

This slab of hollow air cylinders in the wing scales is essentially mother nature's version of a 2D photonic crystal.

Like its counterpart in a high emission LED, it prevents the fluorescent colour from being trapped inside the structure and from being emitted sideways.

The scales also have a type of mirror underneath them to upwardly reflect all the fluorescent light that gets emitted down towards it. Again, this is very similar to the Bragg reflectors in high emission LEDs.

"Unlike the diodes, the butterfly's system clearly doesn't have semiconductor in it and it doesn't produce its own radiative energy," Dr Vukusic told the BBC News website "That makes it doubly efficient in a way.

"But the way light is extracted from the butterfly's system is more than an analogy - it's all but identical in design to the LED."

Dr Vukusic agreed that studying natural designs such as this could help scientists improve upon manmade devices.

"When you study these things and get a feel for the photonic architecture available, you really start to appreciate the elegance with which nature put some of these things together," he said.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

New Dispute in Technology for Next Generation of DVD's

The battle for who will control the standards for the next generation of DVD's became more tangled yesterday when the Blu-ray Disc group said that it would not adopt technology requested by one of its leading members, the Hewlett-Packard Company.

Last month, Hewlett said it would consider quitting the Blu-ray group, which is led by the Sony Corporation and Panasonic, if it did not honor its request that certain copy protection and interactive software be included in the standard for the discs, which promise better audio and visual quality and more data storage.

The software that Hewlett favors has been adopted into the rival standard that Toshiba and others have developed.

One technology that Hewlett favors is called mandatory managed copy and lets users legally copy DVD's. The other, known as iHD, allows for interactive features and will be included in an operating system being developed by Microsoft, which supports Toshiba's standard.

But on Wednesday, the spokesman of the Blu-ray group, Andy Parsons, told Reuters that his group would use different software technology known as Java that was developed by Sun Microsystems.

While the Blu-ray group was willing to consider Hewlett's request, it was unwilling to make the changes to its standard if it meant delaying the introduction of new Blu-ray products next year, Mr. Parsons told Reuters.

Mr. Parsons told Reuters that mandatory managed copy would be part of Blu-ray format, but while Hewlett's request for interactivity was being considered, "at this point in time, the Blu-ray group is still proceeding down the path of Java."

The Blu-ray group could change course and adopt the additions that Hewlett wants. But for now, Hewlett is a step closer to having to decide whether to leave the Blu-ray group and formally join forces with the Toshiba group, or potentially produce products in both standards.

If Hewlett leaves the Blu-ray group, it could put pressure on Dell, another Blu-ray member, to follow. This would provide a huge lift to Toshiba, which has recently lost ground to the Blu-ray group in the battle for allies in Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

Negotiations over the architecture of the rival DVD technologies have been primarily between the Hollywood studios producing the content for the discs and consumer electronics manufacturers that will make the machinery to play them.

But Microsoft, Intel and computer makers have added their voice to debate because they build DVD players and recorders into their PC's.

Microsoft and Intel have formally backed Toshiba's HD-DVD standard because they said it is more computer friendly.


Apple updates Front Row to 1.0.1

Apple has released an update to Front Row, bringing it to version 1.0.1. The new release is available for download from Apple’s Web site.

Front Row is a new application which debuted with Apple’s recently refreshed iMac G5 line. Paired with a wireless remote control included with the iMac, Front Row provides users with an integrated way of navigating the music, photos and video stored on the iMac without needing a keyboard or mouse to do it.

“The Front Row Update delivers overall improved reliability and compatibility for browsing music, photos, and videos on your iMac,” said Apple.

Front Row requires an iMac G5 with built-in iSight and Mac OS X v10.4.2 or later.


Sony Offers Instant Video Everywhere

Working toward the ultimate goal of making "everything possible video-capable," Sony Electronics has partnered with GlowPoint Inc. to launch Instant Video Everywhere, a consumer-oriented Internet telephony option that offers free video VOIP calling capability worldwide, the companies announced Wednesday.

IVE is a standards-based application that combines desktop video services with voice-over-IP capability. The IVE service is compatible with a number of communication devices (such as cell phones and laptops) and enables live, face-to-face interactions between users, regardless of whether they have Web cam access, according to a recent news release.

"We look at video communication as the final frontier in terms of thinking about the ways people can connect," said David Trachtenberg, CEO and president of GlowPoint. "We are visual beings, consistently bombarded by one-way video. Moving forward, what we're talking about here is two-way real-time video communication."

Sony's IVE service is available at the consumer or enterprise level, upping the overall VOIP ante. It uses patent-pending standards-based technology to allow users to place and receive audio or video calls to any mobile phone, traditional telephone or videoconferencing system.

"With the current options available on the market, users can only communicate with people in their network," said Trachtenberg. "With the IVE solution you can now connect to anyone, anywhere, including cell phones and land lines."

Consumers can access the IVE service from their home, office or any other broadband-enabled "hot spot" (such as hotel, airport or coffee house) to place unlimited free calls to other users worldwide. In addition, communication is not restricted to users on the same proprietary service, according to a GlowPoint representative.

"We realize that it's more than transport. Getting a video packet from point A to point B has to be as easy and spontaneous as making a phone call," said Eric Murphy, vice president of integrated visual communications for Sony. "We've integrated services that mimic what you're used to in the telephone world into the video world. We call it VOIP Plus; it's what VOIP will be when it grows up."

The service is available as a free one-click software download at Sony's IVE Web site. In terms of features, it offers "All You Can See and Say" unlimited video and voice calling between users, with no per-call or long-distance charges. Each user is also given a 10-digit personal video number.

"We give out real telephone numbers to all subscribers, so users can make voice calls to a friend's cell phone from their computer," said Trachtenberg. "Not only going from video to voice, but also completely off of the video network, a user can place a call from a cell phone to a video number and have a VOIP call."

Sony is offering off-network access (i.e., calling a cell phone or communicating with video users on other conference-based systems) via IVE pay-for purchase options. The premium service is available to consumers for $9.95, and a service for office professional goes for $19.95.

Additional IVE service features include multiperson calling, video call mailboxes, live video operators, and online user and video portals.

"IVE is all bundled under the Sony brand, which is important from a distribution aspect because we're now able to use the solution to get into new channels and partnerships," said Trachtenberg. "Sony has already preloaded IVE on its new line of VAIO notebooks, so it's also opening up doors from a retail perspective."

"It's a great way to bring network, content, branding and distribution into one partnership," said Murphy. "The way Vonage did with the VOIP market, we will do with the video VOIP market."

Looking toward the future at advanced video VOIP technology, calls may come through your television or even your PlayStation Portable, according to Michael Brandofino, chief technology officer and executive vice president of GlowPoint.

"A video-enabled community is what we're driving for," he said. "And this service is the start of it."


Moto Phone Offers Cingular Users No-Click News

Motorola Inc. announced Thursday the launch of its V557 flip-phone for Cingular Wireless customers, which gives instant access to news, sports, entertainment and other content via a "ticker tape" feature on the cell phone home screen.

The Bluetooth-enabled V557 multimedia handset, with soft-touch finish and chrome accents, is the first device to offer Motorola's new Screen3 technology, according to a recent news release.

"Subscribers want the latest mobile content without having to click, scroll and hunt through menus for it," Cheryln Chin, corporate vice president of Mobile Software Solutions at Motorola, said in a statement.

"And network operators want to be able to do more with mobile data services. With SCREEN3, we address both sets of needs; making the mobile phone the next major media gateway by putting content where it belongs, in front of subscribers' eyes, zero clicks away."

Motorola's Screen3 solution, which the company unveiled today, is a data service application that ships standard with the V557 handset. The technology is designed to help operators drive mobile data usage and generate revenue by offering easy access to targeted content and promotions, according to a company representative.

Click here to read about Motorola's V360 multimedia phone.

Screen3 incorporates a media gateway server to manage client technology and content from beginning to end, offering a range of media channels based on user preference. Motorola designed the server to provide billing, operator control and tracking capabilities, the company said.

"We've made available RSS news feeds through the network, which we monitor and update regularly," Chin told Ziff Davis Internet. "A 'smart synchronization' feature intelligently synchs between media gateway and client, so only new and personalized content is delivered."

Cingular is the first network operator to make available Screen3, which it will offer through its new Media Net Live Ticker service, also announced today.

Cingular's Media Net ticker offers customized content via a "bite, snack, meal" model that drives data services revenue immediately, according to Chin.

The Media Net ticker baits with preselected "bites" (or headlines) that are updated automatically and continuously roll across the bottom of the screen display. The user can opt to "snack" by clicking on a headline to access an excerpt of the story.

"The data services revenue kicks in when the user opts to read the entire article," Chin said. "The beauty [of it] is that as a Cingular subscriber, it doesn't cost for a bite or a snack, I'd only pay for the whole meal."

Charges only occur if the user opts to access the entire story. Cingular customers can purchase the ticker tape content on a pay-as-you-go basis, at 1 cent per KB, or through one of the Media Net Bundle packages, which range from $4.99 for 1MB data usage to $19.99 for unlimited access.

"Our customers have already shown a desire to personalize their phones with ring tones, games and graphics," Ralph de la Vega, chief operating officer for Cingular Wireless, said in a statement.

"We are giving them the tools to take personalization an unprecedented step further and attain the quickest access to news, information and entertainment in the industry. The result is a service that completely changes the way consumers engage with the wireless Internet."

Cingular broadens its mobile-messaging reach. Click here to read more.

The V557 makes available a number of additional consumer data services through Cingular's EDGE (Enhanced Data Global Evolution) network, including MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) for sending images, music and other multimedia files.

The Motorola for Cingular handset supports POP3 for access to your e-mail accounts. It also enables instant messaging through IM Wireless Village, which offers interoperability between various instant messaging platforms.

The phone features an integrated VGA camera with zoom, brightness adjustment and picture caller ID. In addition, it has video recording and playback capabilities, according to the release.

The V557 is currently available at Cingular Wireless retail stores throughout the country. It retails for about $99.99 with a two-year service agreement and $50 mail-in rebate.


Sony offers new CDs, MP3s for recalled discs

The company is responding to widespread security worries over copy protection technology contained on 52 albums released over the last year. When put in a Windows-based computer's CD player, the discs install antipiracy technology on a hard drive that exposes the PC to the risk of viruses and other hacker attacks.

Sony said on Friday that customers who have purchased any of the affected CDs can mail the discs back to the company using instructions found on the record label's Web site. Once they have sent in the discs, customers will also be provided with a link to download MP3s of the songs on the album.

"Sony BMG is reviewing all aspects of its content protection initiatives to be sure that they are secure and user-friendly for consumers," the company said in a statement. "As the company develops new initiatives, it will continue to seek new ways to meet consumers' demands for flexibility in how they listen to music, while protecting intellectual-property rights."

The recall of 4.7 million compact discs, along with the exchange offer for the roughly 2.1 million discs sold with the copy protection technology included, is an expensive step for a record company that has been battered by criticism online and in other media for the past two weeks.

The copy protection software, created by British company First 4 Internet, hid traces of itself on hard drives using a powerful programming tool called a "rootkit," a technique sometimes used by virus writers to similarly mask the presence of an infection on a PC.

Because of flaws in the rootkit, Sony's software was left open enough such that other, malicious software could take advantage of its presence on a computer to hide itself. Several pieces of malicious software have already appeared online that piggyback on the copy protection to vanish in a PC, opening the computer to outside attacks.

Security researchers have found flaws not only in the original First 4 Internet software, but also in an uninstaller tool temporarily distributed by Sony that could directly allow an attacker access to a PC.

The Sony exchange offer is immediately available, and the company will pay all shipping charges in both directions, it said. Discs are already being pulled off retail shelves and are no longer available at online stores, including


Thursday, November 17, 2005

MIT Is Crafting Cheap -- But Invaluable -- Laptops

A riddle: What has the durability of a sneaker, the smarts of a computer, the color scheme of a lunchbox and the potential to alter almost everything about the way schoolchildren in the developing world learn?

The answer: well, nothing yet.

But now, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they're close to creating a device that would fulfill this ambitious vision -- a tough, kid-friendly laptop that could be sold to poor countries for $100.

A prototype of this computer will be unveiled Wednesday at a U.N. conference in Tunisia. Its designers concede that the prototype is still missing some crucial features, such as a cheap display screen and a hand crank that would provide power.

But high expectations are already standard.

"It will change . . . the way children everywhere think about themselves in relation to the world," said Seymour Papert, a professor emeritus of education and media technology at MIT, believing that the result may be less violence and dissension as kids plug into education and international culture.

The laptop project has garnered some doubters, who wonder how useful its wireless connections will be in villages where access to the Internet is expensive or nonexistent. Some have also expressed concern about whether, despite their distinctive coloring, millions of the laptops will really get to and remain in the hands of children.

The leaders of the "$100 Laptop Initiative" said they wanted a machine that would substitute -- at one stroke -- for computers, textbooks, libraries, maps and movies that may be missing from poor children's lives.

"None of that's there in an African village," Papert said. "How can we give it to them?"

Some of the tools were already there. The designers decided to use "open source" software because it meant fewer problems with licensing fees, and they were able to get a cheap processor similar to those in home computers. The $100 laptops probably will sacrifice some of the memory that Americans are used to, designers said.

The display screen was more problematic. In regular laptops, that alone can be worth much more than $100. For this laptop, the display needed to be much cheaper -- around $35 -- and it needed to do more, including switch to read vertically like the page of a book.

"We call that the 'Curl up in a bed' mode," and it's crucial to a child using the computer outside school, said Kenneth Jewell, an "envisioner" at Design Continuum, the firm in West Newton, Mass., that was hired to design the laptop's exterior.

Even the color was a question. Designers didn't want something that screamed "for little kids only," out of fear that teenagers would reject the laptops as uncool. But they did want something distinctive enough to deter adults from stealing and selling them.

"What we wanted to do is basically design in a social stigma," said Kevin Young, another Design Continuum employee. "When you see the laptop, you automatically associate it with education," he said, a quality that designers hope will make it as unattractive to thieves as a yellow school bus.

The product of all this will be made public at the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society, when Secretary General Kofi Annan and MIT Media Lab Chairman Nicholas Negroponte unveil a green-and-yellow computer with a sheath of black rubber around its edges.

Some elements still aren't ready. The screen on this prototype will still be of the old, expensive type, and the hand crank will be for show only. The hope is to solve these problems and begin production of the laptops by late 2006.

The laptop designers are confident, noting that they have already heard some interest from the education ministries in Brazil and Thailand. Negroponte -- the brother of National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte -- said there will be a good way to see the device's impact on the lives of poor children.

Their "first English word will be 'Google,' " he wrote in an e-mail.


Monday, November 14, 2005

AOL, Warner to Bring Old TV Shows Online

Dozens of old television shows including "Welcome Back Kotter" will be available online and free-of-charge under a deal between America Online Inc. and Warner Bros.

In the latest alternative to traditional TV viewing, a new broadband network called In2TV will be launched in early 2006 by AOL and Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution, the companies said Monday.

Besides the TV shows, In2TV will include games, polls and other interactive features.

"Welcome Back Kotter," "Sisters" and "Growing Pains" are among the 30 series to be offered initially. They will be grouped on channels by genre, including comedy, drama, animation, sci-fi and horror, action-adventure and "vintage TV."

In2TV plans to offer more than 100 TV series and at least 300 episodes per month in the first year, the companies said.

The shows will be delivered through AOL Video on Demand, AOL Video Search and AOL Television. At the time of launch, the programs will be available exclusively on AOL and will not be in syndication on TV, AOL official said.

Some of the shows will be offered in a new video format, "AOL Hi-Q," that AOL promises will offer DVD quality on a full computer screen. Users will be directed to a plug-in to install the technology on their computer.

The shows will include advertising, although it's not certain at this point how it will be displayed. Alternatives include an ad that streams before the programming starts or ads at the traditional commercial breaks when the shows aired on television.

In2TV will offer an early test of whether consumers can be persuaded to watch longer-form programming on their computer screens. Currently, much successful Internet programming runs only a few minutes long on the theory that many viewers don't have the patience to sit through longer shows at their desktop or laptop.

About 35 million U.S. homes now have broadband access, compared to 110 million homes with TV. About half of those Internet users say they have watched video online, according to industry analysts.

Several alternates to traditional TV viewing have been announced in recent weeks, including a deal between Apple Computer Inc. and Walt Disney Co. that makes reruns of "Lost" and other programs available as individual $1.99 downloads for viewing on computers or video-capable iPods.


IBM holds on to Top500 supercomputer lead

IBM Corp. retained its lead of the Top500 list of supercomputers with its BlueGene/L System installed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif. The system topped the twice-yearly list of the fastest computers in the world for the third consecutive time and is likely to remain number one for some time since its size doubled earlier this year.

The list, the twenty-sixth to be issued, was due to be announced Monday at the Supercomputing conference (SC05) taking place in Seattle through Friday.

There was some shakeup among the global top ten supercomputers with new entrants displacing some incumbents on June’s list.

Cray Inc. notched up one new system and one revamped system, while IBM and Dell Inc. had one new system apiece in the top ten. Two IBM eServer Blue Gene systems on June’s list dropped off the top ten — the Blue Protein supercomputer at the Computational Biology Research Center in Japan and a Blue Gene machine at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. Also exiting the top ten was the Thunder supercomputer at the Lawrence Livermore laboratory based on Intel Corp.’s Itanium 2 processors.

IBM’s Blue Gene/L was measured with a Linpack benchmark performance of 280.6 teraflops. A teraflop is one trillion mathematical calculations per second.

In second position to the BlueGene/L was IBM’s Watson Blue Gene (WBG) eServer system which the company installed at its Thomas J. Watson Research Center in June with a performance of 91.3 teraflops. New in at number three was the ASCI Purple system built by IBM and based on its pSeries 575 server, which is also installed at the Lawrence Livermore lab. It was measured at 63.4 teraflops.

Silicon Graphics Inc.’s Columbia system at the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, Calif., slipped from June’s third position to fourth place with 51.9 teraflops.

The DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories had two newly installed systems at number five and six on the list, Thunderbird, a Dell Inc. PowerEdge-based system just edging ahead of Red Storm, a revamped Cray machine with maximum performances of 38.3 teraflops and 36.2 teraflops respectively.

NEC Corp.’s Earth Simulator in Yokohama, Japan, which topped the Top500 list for five consecutive times until IBM displaced it a year ago, was in seventh position with a performance of 35.9 teraflops, a slip from June’s number four position.

In eighth position was another IBM machine, the fastest computer in Europe, the MareNostrum at the Barcelona Supercomputer Center in Spain, with a performance of 27.9 teraflops. The MareNostrum was number five on June’s Top500 list. After that came another IBM eServer BlueGene machine, owned by Astron and run at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands with a performance of 27.4 teraflops. In tenth position was another new entry, a Cray machine at the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the U.S. with a performance of 20.5 teraflops.

IBM had the most supercomputers on the list with 43.8 percent, followed by Hewlett-Packard Co., with 33.8 percent of all systems, though the latter had no showing in the top ten list.

Two-thirds of the Top500 machines are powered by Intel’s chips, with 81 of the 333 systems using the chip giant’s EM64T-based processors. IBM’s Power chips appeared in 73 systems. Intel’s rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) had processors in 55 systems, more than doubling its standing on the last list put out in June.

Geographically speaking, the U.S. dominates the list, accounting for 305 of the Top500 supercomputers, trailed by Europe with 100 systems and Asia with 66 machines. Germany, which had been the leading European supercomputer country with 40 systems on June’s Top500 list, only had 24 systems on the new list. with the U.K. becoming the number-one European player with 41 systems up from June’s 32 systems.

The Top500 list was compiled by Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC)/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim, Germany, and Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


New Xbox Will Debut With 18 New Games

Microsoft Corp. said Monday it will offer 18 Xbox 360 games when the new version of its video game console hits store shelves in North America next week.

Standard editions of launch titles, including "Kameo: Elements of Power" and "Project Gotham Racing 3," will sell for $50 — the same as most games for the original Xbox.

The Redmond-based software company will also offer 13 Xbox accessories, including faceplates that can be tacked on to the front of a console to personalize it.

Other accessories, like a wireless controller and a 20-gigabyte hard drive, come standard in the fully loaded $400 console and are sold separately for a scaled-back version that will sell for $300.

Over the weekend, Microsoft announced that Xbox 360 users will be able to play "Halo," "Halo 2" and about 200 other games designed for the original Xbox, which came out in the fall of 2001.

Microsoft has said it expects to sell up to 3 million Xbox 360 consoles within 90 days of its North American launch Nov. 22.

The North American debut will be followed by a Dec. 2 launch in Europe and a Dec. 10 launch in Japan.

Sony's PlayStation 2 has slightly more than half of the worldwide market for the most recently available consoles, compared with about 34 percent for the first Xbox and 15 percent for Nintendo Co.'s GameCube, according to Gartner Inc., an industry research group.


Sunday, November 13, 2005


International Business Machines, a worldwide leader in technology innovation, has announced a new and affordable 3D video system that works with normal DLP (Digital Light Processing) televisions. Before now, 3D video systems would set you back at least $1,800 while the price of IBM’s new system is expected to be only $1000 – if only a grand sounds cheap to you.

This “black box” device can be connected to any DLP projector or television via the common VESA (Video Experts Standards Association) 3 pin stereo connector.

IBM demonstrated the new system on a 50-inch, flat-screen Texas Instruments rear-projection digital television at the 22nd annual Flat Information Displays conference held in San Francisco this month.

"This was on the drawing board for about two years and now we're at the conceptual proof-of-concept stage. We are here to look for a manufacturing partner to bring the technology to market," said Jim Santoro, a technology license program manager from IBM's office in Poughkeepsie near IBM’s corporate headquarters in Armonk, New York.

IBM tends to develop cutting edge technology and then license it to third party manufactures rather than build and sell finished products. This strategy allows them to keep pouring funds in to basic research and cutting edge technology. It also permits wide dissemination of it’s technologies throughout the industry increasing chances for permanent adoption over competing technologies.

Exact details concerning the 3D technology – still unnamed – were not forthcoming, but the company spokesperson said it was compatible with OpenGL and Direct Draw – both software components of the Microsoft Windows operating system that allow programmers to manipulate video for computer games.

While 3D monitors and projectors have been around for a few years, IBM’s approach is the first to use a single projector to simulate both left and right views needed to form 3D image. Normal 3D units need two projectors.

IBM has managed to alternate the video frames to give the appearance of double projectors without the added cost. This means adding video frames – lots of them. While normal “live” video is 30 frames per second, this device processes 144fps. First you see the frames from the left and then the right perspective giving the image an authentic three dimensional look.

While technical details are scare, the device obviously uses some serious video processing hardware to build the 3D image: 144fps video is far beyond the capacity of almost all computer graphics cards.

On the downside, you still need 3D glasses to correctly view the image and practically no video is shot in 3D as it requires more expensive cameras, but as price drops and general interest rises, this is sure to change.

Some sports TV networks have expressed interest in filming NFL games in 3D. To shoot in 3D, TV networks would need to install expensive 3D cameras and image processing hardware.

The OpenGL and Direct Draw compatibility is definitely aimed at software developers who make games – computer gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry. Imagine being able to play Halo 2 in 3D – VERY cool. The technology also lends its self to the creation of high end presentation software – think 3D Power Point.

While this technology is definitely more economical than current models and its PC compatibility may usher in a host of 3D games, it still may become obsolete with the introduction of the holy grail of 3D displays – inexpensive models that do not require funky glasses. Now that would truly be something.


What's Slowing Down Your PC?

A new computer right out of the box is an engineering marvel. Programs and files load with lightning speed. Unfortunately, computers do not remain in this pristine condition very long. You do not notice it at first, but usually sooner rather than later that peppy performance is gone.

Why do computers slow down? There is no single answer; a combination of factors contributes to the gradual degradation of a computer's performance. The causes fall into three categories. The first is hardware design. The second is virus and spyware infiltration.

The third is caused by some of the remedies applied to cure the first two causes.

We looked at some of the key ways Windows PCs get bogged down. We will tell you about disk fragmentation, conflicting DLLs, registry issues, viruses and spyware, and other things that can cause the processor to sputter. Once the causes are exposed, we will explore the most popular cures.

Hardware Issues

Over time, files on the hard disk get spread out. Known as fragmentation, this scattering is caused by adding programs, deleting programs, and modifying files. All contribute to the clutter on the hard drive that develops with continued use of the computer.

Hard disks are designed to store data in predetermined clusters of storage space. Smaller files leave unusable "free space" within these areas, and oversize files are split into numerous clusters. These stored file segments become more fragmented as the hard drive absorbs data.

The more fragmented stored files become on the hard drive, the longer it takes the reading apparatus to pull together all of the data and assemble them in their original order. Similarly, when more data is written to a fragmented hard drive, it takes longer to find enough unused clusters to store the data segments.

This problem often is compounded by physical defects on the hard drive's surface. Hard drives can develop bad sectors that slow down performance and make file saving difficult or impossible.

Drained Resources

Almost as deadly to a computer's performance as a cluttered hard drive is a lengthy list of start-up programs. This problem often starts at the factory, where the manufacturer bundles numerous programs as part of a marketing campaign or licensing agreement with software makers.

Many of the installed programs are configured to start when the computer boots, even if the consumer does not want these programs to run. Often, special utilities that enhance features in software or hardware components run in the background. Most consumers, however, have no idea that these programs are running because the software does not show up on the screen. But they might show an icon in the system tray, where they sit idly waiting to be discovered.

These programs take a large bite out of system resources. The more programs that run at one time, the greater the drain on system resources. Typically, a computer should have 85 percent to 90 percent of its total memory available for use after the computer starts. Too many programs running at start-up, however, can drain those memory resources to as little as 50 percent before the user opens any real programs like a word processor or a Web browser.

Software and Malware Galore

Some of the biggest causes of sluggish computer performance are spyware programs running in the background and adware that causes Web browsers to slow to a crawl. The term "spyware" refers to any software that runs meddlesome tasks such as displaying ads, collecting personal information, or reconfiguring the computer, usually without the user's consent or knowledge.

The term "adware" refers to programs that are specifically advertiser-supported, and "malware" is software that interferes with the functions of other applications, like viruses, worms, or Trojans.

To defend against these onslaughts, computers also are burdened by antivirus and antispyware programs, in addition to other intrusion-protection software such as firewalls and e-mail spam filters.

These defensive measures can slow down computer performance by as much as 15 percent, according to some analysts.

"Computer slowdown is caused by many factors, including malicious software running in the background and 'heavy' securityRelevant Products/Services from Messagelabs solutions that drain system performance," said Leon Rishniw, vice president of engineering for computer security firm CloudMark.

He said the two largest causes of PC slowdown are forgotten third-party utilities and spyware. "Many of the popular third-party applications floating around, such as the peer-to-peer programs of dubious quality, not only install with spyware but also consist of multiple components that are difficult to remove," said Rishniw.

Clearing the Clutter

One of the easiest cures for sluggish PCs caused by an aging hard drive is included in the Windows operating system. Microsoft'sRelevant Products/Services from Microsoft own Disk Defragmenter and Disk Cleanup utilities are located in the Start menu under Accessories/System Tools.

Disk Cleanup checks the hard drive for unnecessary programs and other clutter, such as temporary Internet files. Running this clean-up program at least once a month will keep free space on the hard drive available to speed up file access.

Disk Defragmenter is a very reliable program. It analyzes the condition of the hard drive and optimizes folders and files. When the file shuffling is completed, the hard drive is reorganized so that files are stored in contiguous clusters, speeding up computer performance tremendously.

Monitor the hard drive fragmentation ratio weekly. When Disk Defragmenter shows the drive is fragmented more than 10 percent, click the Defrag button. Plan on doing this at the end of the work day. Given the size of today's hard drives, the fixing process can take several hours.

Other Strategies

Other cures are available as third-party software applications. Symantec's Latest News about Symantec Norton SystemWorks 2006 ($69.99) is a suite of computer maintenance tools that picks up where Microsoft's built-in utilities leave off. It includes programs that defrag the hard drive, remove outdated Windows Registry entries and fix DLL files that can cause system conflicts that slow down performance.

Raxco Software's PerfectDisk 7.0 ($39.95) defrags hard drives and goes one step further. It also consolidates the free space that defragging creates on the hard drive. This helps to keep the hard drive running uncluttered for longer periods of time.

One of the most useful self-maintenance tasks is to clear out unused programs before defragging the hard drive. Go to your Control Panel and select the Add/Remove function. Scroll down the list and highlight programs that are never used. Click the Remove button.

Just as important as ridding the hard drive of unneeded applications is stopping programs from running at start-up that you don't use. To do this, click on the Run link in the Start menu and type: msconfig. Then click the OK button.

This command launches the built-in system configuration tool. Click on the Start Up tab and scroll down the list of programs, clicking the check box to remove the undesired programs. When finished, click the OK box.

When the computer reboots, only the programs still marked with a check will load. If you discover that you need or want a disabled program to load each time the computer starts, just repeat the process and click the check box for the desired program.

There are a few items that you absolutely need, including ScanRegistry, TaskMonitor, SystemTray, and LoadPowerProfile. Of course, you do not want to disable the antivirus program or the Internet security or firewall program, either.

Fighting Malware

Virus and spyware programs are almost impossible to avoid without protective software tools. Antivirus programs are very successful in catching viruses and eradicating them. Only run one program of this kind because two or more will drain resources and will interfere with the other programs.

But spyware is a much more complex process. Spyware is more difficult to spot and remove. Many software products take different approaches, and it is very common for one antispyware program to miss one or more infections while another product finds the spyware. To be safe, you should run more than one of these applications.

"As more and more average users utilize their home PC as a gateway to their bank account and other financial management tools, spyware creators will be presented with an increasingly juicer target from which they can harvest data," said CloudMark's Rishniw. "Clean-up tools are important, but by the time users need them, their personal data has already been compromised."

To minimize that risk and to speed up sluggish computers bogged down from spyware, scan for infections at least once daily.

Spyware Treatment

Two of the more well-known and well-regarded free programs are SpyBot Search and Destroy and Lavasoft's Ad-Aware. Both of these gems are regularly updated with the latest spyware definitions.

Both programs run when you launch them so they do not consume system resources continuously. Spybot, however, can be configured to hook in to system components to block spyware intrusions even when the scan engine is not actively searching for spyware.

SpySweeper by Webroot ($29.95) runs in the background and hooks in to system components for real-time protection against spyware attacks.

Microsoft AntiSpyware Beta 1 is currently free. It provides real-time protection and is based on a very popular product acquired by Microsoft from Giant Software.

Tenebril's SpyCatcher ($29.95) provides real-time spyware protection and claims to stop next-generation, mutating spyware. It also blocks reinstallation of aggressive spyware.

One of the newest product trends is an all-in-one suite that protects against virus and spyware infections and provides firewall protection forbroadband Latest News about Broadband Internet access. The advantage to this software approach is that all the updates are performed at the same time and there is just one product to use.

ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6.0 ($69.95) and Panda Platinum Internet Security 2005 ($79.95) are two of the newest products that provide these all-in-one protections.


360 to play 200+ Xbox games

After playing coy for months about the Xbox 360's backwards compatibility, Microsoft has finally come clean. The software behemoth announced late Friday that over 200 games from its current-generation console will play on its next-generation console.

As one might expect, Microsoft has made sure all the top Xbox games are supported, including Halo and Halo 2, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I and II, Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Black, and the three Grand Theft Autos: III, Vice City and San Andreas. A total of 212 Xbox games will be playable on the 360 at launch, though Microsoft says that number will increase.

Friday also brought good news to Xbox Live addicts. Any of the backwards-compatible games will be playable cross-platform between the Xbox 360 and Xbox over Xbox Live. That means would-be Master Chiefs with a 360 can still own their friends playing on current-generation consoles--although the former will see the carnage in higher resolution.

However, there is a catch. To play an Xbox game on the 360, players must first insert the current-gen game into a next-gen console hooked up to Xbox Live. The system will check if the console has the latest emulation software. If not, it will automatically download said software, install it on the 360, restart, and load the original Xbox game. Obviously, a 360 hard drive--which comes with the Halo and Halo 2 software preinstalled--is required to store the backwards-compatibility software.

For 360 owners who either can't or won't log onto Xbox Live, Microsoft offers two other solutions. First, they can go to, download the emulators, burn them onto a CD, and then insert said CD into the 360, which will auto-install the software. The other option is to order a free CD from which will be mailed to the requestor for a "nominal" fee. However, the CD will be mailed out for free to Japanese 360 owners.


Nintendo: Revolution will be cheapest next-gen console

The Revolution remains the most mysterious of the three next-generation consoles. With only the barest of system specs, and no tech demos, little is known about the device--or what is so "revolutionary" about it. So far, its most innovative features are a unique controller and repeated statements by its maker, Nintendo, that it will appeal to a vast untapped market of nongamers.

Today, though, one of Nintendo's most public faces said the Revolution will also stand out from its competition for another big reason: price. Speaking to CNN/Money correspondent Chris Morris, Reggie Fils-Aime, executive vice president of sales and marketing, predicted that the Revolution would be cheaper than both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

"Value has been a key card for us this generation, and we'll continue to play it," Fils-Aime told Morris. "Do I expect us to be at a lower price point than our competition? Yes, I do. Have we determined a price yet? No, we haven't."

How low will Nintendo go? It's hard to tell. Rumors of a $199 Revolution are running rampant in forums, though there is nothing concrete to support such an assumption. However, it would have to be below the only known next-gen price points. Microsoft is selling two Xbox 360 SKUs--the no-frills $299 "core" Xbox and the $399 standard model with hard drive and wireless remote.

In his interview with Morris, Fils-Aime also reiterated that the Revolution will not support high-definition televisions. "What we'll offer in terms of gameplay and approachability will more than make up for the lack of HD," he said. Both Microsoft and Sony are making much of the 360 and PS3's HD capabilities.

Fils-Aime also implied that the DS will see redesigns, just as the Game Boy Advance has. "As soon as [the DS] was launched, we started looking at ways to tweak it visually," he told Morris.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Halo gets new look for Xbox 360

The guys from Bungie have finally given some more detail on why Halo and Halo 2 will be the first things players will want to play on Microsoft's Xbox 360.

This is news to be appended to their previous announcement that there would be something new in the Halo games that would encourage players to continue playing them on the next-gen console. The good news for Halo fans is that, as said on Bungie's site, "the hardware in the 360 can do a lot of nifty stuff, and specifically in the cases of Halo and Halo 2, it can display the graphics in wide screen, at 720p, with full scene anti-aliasing." Good news for fans with an interest in playing Halo at high resolutions until the release of Halo 3.

Better still, this won't require a new copy of Halo and while we all knew (the power of positive thinking) this, it's nice to see it written up that, "The "new" version of Halo or Halo 2 is simply the disk you have already. Pop it into your 360 and it'll load up just like before." Sounds like something I could just about manage.

The only question that remains is how Halo would look with the resolution cranked up and anti-aliasing applied. The word is that, "it doesn't look kludgy, artifacty or smeary like an upscanning DVD player. The best way to describe it is that both games look like they're running on a PC at those resolutions." Neologism has never sounded so backwards compatible.

Certainly good news for the Xbox 360 camp, with gloomy shadows cast over the PS3's backwards compatibility this can only mean more converts for Microsoft in the next-gen console race.


Happy First Birthday, Firefox

Popular open-source browser hit the open market a year ago today. Firefox is celebrating with a slew of data proclaiming its maturation in the world of Web browsing.

When Firefox was introduced to the masses, Mozilla Foundation President Mitchell Baker called it a major milestone. He declared that millions of people would "be able to enjoy a better Web experience."

Baker's prophesy was at least partially true. Firefox 1.0 was downloaded more than 10 million times in its first month and more than 100 million times in the first year -- in more than 20 languages. In just a few weeks, Firefox 1.5 will try to bring at least 100 million more users to the Mozilla camp.
The Firefox Hype

By December 2004, Mozilla was in full hype mode with the Mozilla Foundation publishing a two-page advocacy ad in the New York Times to raise awareness and promote adoption.

The ad asked, "Are you fed up with your Web browser?" Two months later, the number of downloads climbed from 11 million to 25 million.

"Microsoft restarting Internet Web Hosting and Web Design services from the original domain name registrar, Network Solutions. Explorer development says a lot about Firefox," Jupiter Research Analyst Joe Wilcox told LinuxInsider. "Microsoft might have started doing that anyway because Windows Vista development was cranking up, but I do think there was some relationship between the events."

Analysts said Web site operators also took notice, understanding that they could not limit development to suit Internet Explorer as they had done in the past. Then there's the buzz around Web 2.0.

"Web 2.0 and the idea that services and software Get your FREE Oracle Database Software Kit today! will be delivered through the browser over the Internet rather than just from the desktop is emerging," Wilcox said. "Whether it was intentional or not, Firefox is definitely part of that whole phenomenon."


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Digital Doctor: More questions answered

Many viewers are confused about the impending switchover from analogue TV to digital, due to take place between 2008 and 2012.

What will the changeover mean for licence fee payers? Will it mean buying a new television? And how much will it cost?

BBC News' resident Digital Doctor is on hand to deal with your queries, and returns to deal with a second batch of your questions.

Question: I bought a digital TV in 2003, which enables me to view digital channels without having a digital box. However, I cannot view digital channels (such as E4, ITV3 and ITV4) that have been introduced since I bought the TV. Is there anything I can do to receive them?
Martha, London

Digital Doctor: You will need to tell your TV to re-scan for new channels. Since 2003, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky have all added new services to Freeview, and the channel numbers changed last month. For instructions on re-scanning your TV, check your manual, or consult your manufacturer.

Question: Will the analogue switch-off affect my analogue radios?
Howard Gilbert, London

Digital Doctor: No. While switching-off analogue (FM and AM) radio remains a possibility, no date for it has yet been set.

Question: As someone who is not prepared to spend money buying a set-top box (I have only just got a television, and will be perfectly happy not to use it for live programmes), would I have to pay a licence fee for my television once the switchover has happened, if I am only going to be using it for watching videos/DVDs?
Jo, Bristol, UK

Digital Doctor: You will still need a licence if you use equipment to receive or record television transmissions, including a TV, video recorder, set-top box, or a computer with a TV card. Contact TV Licensing for details about individual cases.

Question: Will Sky retain the current monopoly with Channels 4 and 5 over satellite? You can buy receivers now, but they are not compatible with the Sky card which is needed to get these two basic, supposedly national channels. We cant get Five through the aerial here either. Freeview is also not available. Cable is not likely to be either. I dont live in the middle of nowhere - I'm 15 miles outside Manchester
Cheryl, Derbyshire

Digital Doctor: Sorry, this is a long reply which needs a bit of history to it. When the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five joined the digital satellite service, all had a contract which meant Sky encoded their signals to stop them from "leaking" outside the UK, and also to ensure the right regional TV services went to the right place. This meant digital satellite viewers needed a decoder card to watch the main UK channels.

But the BBC pulled out of its deal with Sky in 2003, meaning all BBC services can now be watched without a card. ITV announced earlier this year it was pulling out of its own deal, and the two broadcasters are joining forces to offer a free satellite TV service, Freesat, along the lines of Freeview.

This leaves Channel 4 and Five still in the Sky deal. Channel 4 found itself in trouble with some satellite viewers when they found they needed a Sky Digital subscription to watch More4 when it launched last month. Freeview viewers can watch E4 and More4 for nothing, while satellite viewers have to sign up to Sky Digital.

Whether this situation continues is down to whether Channel 4 continues with its contract with Sky. Channel 4 recently joined the consortium which owns Freeview, and clearly the BBC and ITV would like it to join their Freesat service. It is not known what Channel 4's plans are, though.

Five's plans are less clear, although both Channel 4 and Five are already on the "Freesat from Sky" free satellite service - even if E4 and More4 are not.


BizTalk launches, depending on how you define launch

Although Microsoft "launched" BizTalk Server 2006 on Monday, the business process-management software itself may not be finally ready until the middle of next year.

Traditionally, the launch event is the denouement of Microsoft's product development cycle. There are beta versions, then release candidates, and at some point Microsoft gives it the final stamp of approval and it goes "gold master" and is released to manufacturing. Such was the case with both SQL Server and Visual Studio, which also were touted on Monday.

But despite being launched today, the new version of BizTalk won't even hit the Beta 2 stage until later this year.

"Because all these products have been developed together... It made sense from our point of view to launch them together," said Robert Wahbe, general manager of the connected systems division that includes BizTalk.

Final release of BizTalk, originally slated for the first quarter of next year, is now slated for some time in the first half of the year.

Now, in fairness, while it has taken five years for Microsoft to update SQL Server, the current release of BizTalk is fairly recent, having come out last year.

Customers who want to peek at the new product can certainly download a prerelease "community technology preview" version. However, for customers who are considering BizTalk, Wahbe suggests they move to the current version, BizTalk 2004.

Unlike past versions, in which it was hard to move older BizTalk projects onto a new version of the server software, the new software will accommodate older projects without a hitch, Wahbe promised.

One of the other changes Microsoft is making is that it is bundling in the "adaptors" necessary for BizTalk to talk to other enterprise software, such as SAP. Typically such products have been paid add-ons.

"It really simplifies the licensing of the product," Wahbe said. Earlier this year, Microsoft bought eight such adapters from iWay, one of its partners.


Study: AMD chips edge past Intel in retail PC sales

Chip-making underdog Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) edged past Intel Corp. last month in supplying processors for the U.S. retail PC market, according to a study by research firm Current Analysis Inc.

Intel has a firm hold on the overall number-one chip supplier spot for all U.S. consumer PCs, thanks in part to its exclusive deal with direct-selling powerhouse Dell Inc. Still, AMD’s October milestone illustrates the progress it has made in eating away at Intel’s dominance.

Current Analysis, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., collects its data by surveying major U.S. consumer-electronics retailers. In October, AMD processors were in 49.8 percent of the PCs those retailers sold, compared with a 48.5 percent share for Intel.

AMD brushed past Intel in desktop sales in September. An uptick in its notebook sales as well in October gave it the overall edge over Intel for that month, according to the report.

“AMD did the unthinkable by surpassing Intel in October. Continuing to hold this lead in the holiday season would be a colossal win for the company,” Current Analysis Director of Research Matt Sargent said in a written statement accompanying the firm’s report.

While AMD gained a slight upper hand on market share, Intel is still the clear revenue winner, thanks to the higher average selling price of Intel-based PCs. Intel’s revenue share of retail PC sales in October was 57.6 percent to AMD’s 40.1 percent, according to Current Analysis’ research.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

All go for giant comms satellite

The six-tonne UK-built craft was carried aloft by a Zenit-3SL rocket at approximately 1345 GMT on Tuesday.

The launch had twice been postponed after a software glitch stopped the countdown sequence on Saturday.

Inmarsat-4 F2 is designed to improve broadband and 3G communications, principally in the Americas.

It is the second of three satellites; the first, which covers most of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Indian Ocean, was launched from Cape Canaveral in March.

This one will improve and extend communications across South America, most of North America, the Atlantic Ocean and part of the Pacific Ocean.

The two satellites will support the London-based sat-com Inmarsat company's global broadband network, BGan.

Their onboard technology is designed to allow people to set up virtual offices anywhere around the world via high-speed broadband connections and new 3G phone technology.

The satellites offer "broadband for a mobile planet", says Inmarsat chief operating officer Michael Butler. Those set to benefit include business travellers, disaster relief workers and journalists.

The spacecraft, each the size of a London bus, should continue functioning for about 15 years. They were built largely at the EADS-Astrium facilities in Stevenage and Portsmouth, UK.

The Inmarsat-4 F2 was launched from waters close to Kiritimati (Christmas Island) on the equator.

It used the innovative Sea Launch system, which employs a converted oil drilling platform as a launch pad. The pad is moved into position from its California base.

Sea Launch is a joint venture between American, Russian, Ukrainian and Norwegian companies.