I Am Becoming A Digital Man

 General Ranting, Music, Random Ranting  Comments Off on I Am Becoming A Digital Man
Sep 132013

I am a collector of media, I love arranging it in whatever form it takes. I plan occasional weekends around pulling my movie or music collection down and performing the collector’s ritual. I dust each case off carefully, verify it indeed holds a disc, that it is the correct disc, that all potential disc are there and that they are safe in their plastic confines. I then check the computer database to verify everything is in order and continue to the next disc. I do this over and over again, sometimes thousands of times before I begin placing them back into the order I have deemed appropriate this time around.

pileofcdsThe act of holding, cataloging, and organizing media is an important part of my world, it relaxes me, it is one part of my life that I alone control. This brings me to the changes that I, as a collector can no longer dismiss or ignore. Physical media is going the way of the horse and cart. With the exception of vinyl, which is enjoying a splendid resurgence, movies and music will soon only be available as a computer file. On one hand, I do enjoy the seemingly limitless tagging options digital files provide my OCD brain but, I can’t touch it, I can’t read the liner notes, or place them in a great line on a wall so all that see it are in awe.

In truth I adjusted to digital long ago, in fact way ahead of most folks, but where I differ is in how I went digital. I still buy a CD when it is available because it just feels right. Then I rip it with Exact Audio Copy (EAC) into FLAC format for my home systems and then a second MP3 copy for iPod use in our cars. The physical disc goes onto a shelf where it will reside for the rest of its life. On rare occasions, I do pull them down and flip through the liner notes again but in truth, I have moved fully into the digital age.

It is convenient and I believe when proper care in selecting and setting up equipment is taken, it sounds as good or better than CD for a long list of reasons I will have to save for another time. FLAC is my chosen lossless format and it seems to be the closest to becoming the standard. The limited capability MP3 provides has been the biggest reason I haven’t just moved to downloading everything. I find it fine for my car or background listening but it falls apart in critical listening situations. The exception to this is any current pop music or massively over compressed rock being perpetrated on the public today.

I do have an extensive SACD and DVD-Audio collection as well but have not ripped the hi-res content to digital, I actually drop them into the OPPO when I want to hear them. These formats are on their last legs and have been for years. The advent of Hi-Res audio downloads from places like HDTracks.com has caught my attention but the selection is just too slim right now. It is making headway though and I have found myself purchasing more all the time. One thing I dislike about HDTracks however is their lack of a coming soon database. I order my music online so I pre-order many discs only to find it available on HDTracks the same day. They lost the sale and I feel cheated, implement a full releasing soon list HDTracks!

One last word on Hi-Res, I do hear a difference on my main systems and I don’t care if you do or not. That said, I can only pray that the musicians going back to the superior, old analog recording methods have an impact on the people who buy music. I know caring about sound quality places me in a small group of people but the huge gains made around vinyl give me hope. The same can be said of the tremendous growth in the high-end headphone market, someone cares and I hope the labels are listening. There is money to be made in high quality recordings and with no media format wars to dilute sales it seems like a no brainer.

I don’t see the death of vinyl any time soon and it will be the last physical format for music in the future. Perhaps I will be saved from the future by a technology almost as old as recorded sound itself. How has digital music changed your music habits?

Introducing The Historic Music Series

 General Ranting, Music, Music Review  Comments Off on Introducing The Historic Music Series
Aug 052013

gary-davis-bill-smithI love to find and write about new musicians. I believe that supporting the blues, funk, and soul bands that still exist is important and I am thrilled at the resurgence of popularity they are currently enjoying. When I have so much new material to digest, it gets difficult to get back to the beginning, to where it all started.

I will soon be starting a series of reviews and discussions about classic albums from history, the great albums and the people behind them. I encourage you all to leave your comments and make the discussion your own. If you have an album that stands out in your mind, let us know or better yet, open up that word processing program and do your own review. We will be happy to publish your work and that goes for any of you, we always consider submissions and love to hear what you think.

Netflix Customers Outraged at Price Hike

 Blu-Ray, Budget, Computers and Technology, DVD, General Ranting  Comments Off on Netflix Customers Outraged at Price Hike
Jul 132011

If Netflix had filed Tuesday’s price-hike news in a movie genre, it would be either drama or horror.

U.S. customers of the DVD-by-mail and Web-streaming service are storming the Internet to protest Netflix’s plan to increase the prices of its most popular packages.

“The changes you guys have made in the last 4-6 months have turned me from a serious Netflix Geek into considering cancellation. It’s a damn shame,” wrote a customer named Justin Block, one of almost 6,000 commenters on Netflix’s blog.

Netflix’s Facebook page attracted more than 28,000 comments as of Wednesday morning, most of them critical of the move. And thousands of consumers were voicing complaints under #DearNetflix on Twitter.

Netflix has adjusted its offerings, separating physical disc mailings from Internet video. DVD-only subscriptions start at $7.99 per month, the same price as a streaming-only plan. But a monthly plan that combines physical DVDs with Web streaming costs almost $16 — a 60% price increase.

For prospective customers, the new pricing structure went into effect on Tuesday. For current subscribers, the rates will change on September 1.

Netflix, which did not respond to a request for comment, outlined the adjustment in a company blog post. In the message, a spokeswoman was very upbeat, describing each plan as “a terrific value.”

Commenters weren’t as enthusiastic.

“The only way that this is terrific for the customer is if you plan to offer your entire collection available for streaming,” wrote Scotty Fagaly, a self-described longtime customer whose comment was “liked” more than 4,800 times. “Otherwise, this is just yet another way to choke more change out of your customers.”

Netflix has more than 23 million subscribers. The company has a very popular online streaming program that’s available on dozens of electronic devices, including computers, video-game systems, television set-top boxes, smartphones and tablets.

In Canada, Netflix offers only the streaming service, not the DVD mailings.

However, the streaming program’s convenience and ubiquity is sometimes overshadowed by its dearth of quality movies available for streaming, relative to those contained in Netflix’s extensive DVD catalog.

“I realize Netflix cannot stream what the studios do not allow, but this is a disparity that really should be acknowledged in the price scheme,” wrote Travis McClain, a decade-long Netflix subscriber who felt compelled to express his frustrations on the company’s website.

The price hike came shortly after Sony Pictures Entertainment pulled its films from Netflix’s streaming program last month — a move Netflix maintains is “temporary.”

Rivals Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and other online subscription programs have failed to match the size of Netflix’s catalog.

However, Netflix can’t fall asleep on the couch. The cost to license from Hollywood is likely to increase substantially as deals expire and Netflix gains more influence on the studios’ businesses, analysts say.

As a workaround, Netflix plans to ink exclusive licensing deals with high-profile producers, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said at a technology conference last month. For starters, the company will broadcast “House of Cards,” a show starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher, maker of “Fight Club” and “The Social Network.”

Media executives have not been bashful in their recent panning of Netflix.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts wasn’t convinced about Netflix’s impact on the industry, he said at a recent event hosted by Fortune magazine. Likewise, Jeffrey Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner, which is working on competing initiatives with HBO Go and TV Everywhere, likened Netflix to the unthreatening Albanian army. Time Warner also owns CNN.

In this case, Netflix is likely in search of additional revenue to offset the growing bandwidth and infrastructure costs, analysts say.

Until now, customers have been getting streaming services at a bargain, said Robert Levitan, the CEO of Pando Networks, a firm that provides streaming software to gaming companies and previously to NBC Universal.

“Consumers have an unlimited appetite for consuming streaming right now,” Levitan said. “We all tend to think, as consumers, that we just click ‘play,’ and it comes down. We don’t realize the physical and financial costs of serving that data.”

Among many consumers, Netflix is beloved. The company has ranked No. 1 for customer satisfaction in four consecutive years, according to surveys by market research firm ForeSee Results. But Amazon.com, which recently launched its own video-streaming service, narrowly edged Netflix in the most recent annual survey.

Mr. HDMI’s Wild Ride

 General Ranting, Home Theater, Home Theater Equipment  Comments Off on Mr. HDMI’s Wild Ride
May 112010

Adding new equipment is supposed to be fun, exciting, and if done well, an improvement. I recently upgraded most of my system, new Epson 9500ub projector, Emotiva XPA-3 for the fronts, UPA-2 for the rears and the long anticipated UMC-1 pre/pro. For those of you familiar with the rocky start of the UMC-1, I haven’t had many problems; it has been more of a learning curve. I will be doing a full review of the UMC-1 in the next few weeks.

This is about HDMI, something that sounds so perfect for this hobby, a single cable that handles every connection. I have waited for several years to upgrade to HDMI, I didn’t have a real need or an HDMI capable receiver, so I used alternative connection methods. Now I am ready to step into the modern world and boy am I… terribly disappointed.

HDMI is supposed to simplify my life, clean up the rats nest behind the component stand, and allow everything to communicate in an effort to make things work. It is so simple in theory, it’s a damn cable, you plug it in to each component and pass glorious 1080p images and Dolby TrueHD sound. If only it worked as advertised.

I was ready to blame everything on the UMC-1, and I will admit, it hasn’t made things easier but it isn’t the culprit. Despite every manufacturers promise that their components adhere to the rigorous specifications of HDMI , in this case HDMI 1.3, they don’t play nice with each other. Sony plays nice with Sony, Samsung plays nice with Samsung, but when you start to mix and match within a complicated system it all falls apart.

I set everything up and tested, it was all working beautifully, I basked in the brilliant sound of my Magnepan 1.6qr fronts while streaming FLAC. My wife was out of town and I was confident we would sit down and enjoy a movie when she got home. The first attempt was with my DirecTv HR21-100 DVR. I mashed the remote button and everything came to life, that was the end of my enthusiasm as the picture cut in and out, sound squawked occasionally from each speaker. No matter of playing got it to work until I did a reset on the DVR. After the 10 minute reboot cycle, everything was fine, it played nice but I could see the frustration in my wife’s eyes. This was not something she was willing to tackle on her own.

After considerable research I found that when you place the DVR in standby it continues to output video through HDMI. When turned back on it doesn’t perform a proper handshake and you get a pink image and odd behavior in general. Now I have to leave it on all the time. That doesn’t make me feel all green, even my strict adherence to recycling doesn’t make up for leaving the DVR on 24-7.

I have now convinced my wife that everything is working, the problem has been found and we will be able to enjoy our new Blu-Ray copy of Paul Simon’s Library of Congress show. Again, everything fired up, the flashing lights on the front of the rack were impressive, then the picture and sound vanished, the components all groaned and crackled as they fought to make nice with each other. The picture and sound returned, for a minute and the cycle started again. This continued through the show and ruined what was supposed to be a night we had waited for. My wife’s face said it all, I, the all knowing guru of home theater had let her down. The medals on my shirt were removed, the halo around my head vanished, and I sighed. I had let her down.

I played and researched, swapped cables, swore, tested, retested, swore some more, researched, tested, and swore, and so on. Every time I think it is working, it fails me when I need it most, when the woman I love, and who trusts me to make anything with a power cord easy for her to use.

I bypassed the UMC-1 for testing purposes and quickly found the video problems still existed. HDMI sounds great, it should be great but the manufacturers have fucked things up to the point that it only works in the simplest systems, if at all. I know many people that have no problems with HDMI, most connecting components directly to a TV. I have found HDMI problems discussed with every receiver, pre/pro, from every manufacturer. Unless you get lucky, you are eventually going to have an HDMI induced problem.

So what is a guy to do, component cable and analog multi-channel are an option but using component cables will be an issue soon because of the new copyright restrictions, no more HD over component. The simple fact is that manufacturers need to get their act together and ensure everything works with every other thing. I am hoping I get things figured out soon but I have my doubts.

DVD and Blu-Ray Extras Fall Short

 Blu-Ray, DVD, General Ranting  Comments Off on DVD and Blu-Ray Extras Fall Short
Apr 102009

Extras, included with DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray have seriously
lost their luster, at least for me. In the early days of DVD, I would wade
through the extras, including the commentaries as if the movie itself simply
didn’t justify the purchase without them. I eagerly purchased the multiple disc
versions and watched in astonishment when others selected the single disc
version, geez, anyone can see that 2 discs are better than one.

More than a decade later I simply don’t care, I watch the
movie and remove the disc from the player with very few exceptions. The
exceptions are when I know there is a great gag reel or short movie, like the
squirrel in the Ice Age movies or the penguins from Madagascar. I admit, I
can’t get enough of the penguins, or the squirrel, or any number of Shrek sing
along shorts. These my friends are the rare exception to the rule.

Blu-Ray (and once upon a time HD-DVD) promised to provide a
huge leap forward in the extras department, BD Live removed the limitations
that disc space once  enforced, so why
then am I still so severely underwhelmed by the extras? Easy, they suck, they
have no imagination and outside of the rare exception, they, oh I already said

There are commentaries I must have, all of which are found
on the excellent Criterion versions, these guys know how to spruce up a movie.
Kevin Smith commentaries are also worth a listen just for the laughs. The vast
majority of commentaries however are worthless, they might as well mike up one
of my dogs, the sloppy licking sounds would be far more entertaining and
provide more information.

Gag reels should give us a few laughs, hence the term gag
reel. Somewhere along the line the need to include extras lost focus and the
gag reel is now more likely to make us gag than laugh. While not a great piece
of cinematic art, Marley & Me should have been able to piece together a
good or even great reel. I was saddened by its complete lack of funny however.

There is one gag reel I must mention as excelling, once
again, not a great cinematic treasure but one of my biggest guilty pleasures. Armageddon’s
criterion 2 disc set has the funniest reel I have ever seen. Bruce Willis and
Billy Bob Thornton  are a couple of very
funny guys, give this one a chance, you won’t regret it.

Blu-Ray is a huge improvement in picture and audio, so why
is it failing so miserably at delivering the interactive extras it promised us?
Lack of creativity is the best I have been able to come up with but I am sure
there is an accountant behind the scenes who hasn’t laughed in 20 years and
would prefer to keep the rest of us from doing so as well.

Studios, are you listening? Give us something to smile
about, show us the awe and wonder you promised. We love the improved picture
and sound but for the extra bucks to get the Blu-Ray disc, well, give us something
that really blows our socks off.