Less jive in AMD Live

AMD may have been late to RSVP to Microsoft's Media Center party, but its AMD Live initiative is easy to pronounce and easy to understand. Like Intel's VIIV, AMD Live! specifies requirements for processor horsepower and power consumption. It also focuses on personal content, an underutilized asset by PC manufacturers. PCMag,com lays out the software suite, which includes several excellent free Web services from Orb Networks and Streamload, but also some that, while useful, have little to do with multimedia or entertainment, such as Pure Networks' Network Magic and LogMeIn, a competitor to the better-known GoToMyPC from Citrix Online.

Speaking of Orb, Avvenu announced that it can now stream music files from your PC (like Orb) and mirror your files on its servers (like Google Desktop). The latter service will have a $30/year subscription fee. I've been a fan of Avvenu's simplicity, but I'll be interested to see how it handles MP3 files as its organization scheme is not the best.

Maybe it's playing a bit of catch-up, but AMD seems to be keeping pace with Intel on power consumption, the golden criterion cited by Apple in embracing Intel exclusivity. The Mac product line isn't broad enough to leave a lot of room for multiple chip suppliers, but switches aren't unprecedented. Ask IBM.

The bigger they come

Here are more eye-opening juxtapositions between the last round of consoles and this one. Aeorpause has created a size comparison of major consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. Among the surprises are that the PS3 is larger in every dimension than the original Xbox, which was widely criticized for its size, particularly in Japan. Even before seeing this chart, I thought that Wii’s diminutive size would be an advantage in kids’ smaller bedrooms. While the Wii is a bit thicker than Sony’s revised PS2 design, it’s still by far the smallest of the bunch.

Of course, the GameCube was the smallest and least expensive home console of its day and that didn’t translate into market leadership, but the differences seem far more profound in this round, not only in physical size but in Nintendo’s “Blue Ocean” approach. Furthermore, it’s a bit premature to criticize Sony too much; let’s see how the PS3’s power supply compares to the Xbox 360’s.

Samsung Q1 microsite marketing

Samsung's Q1 microsite marks the first time that the rubber has hit the road in terms of UMPC marketing — no vague concept videos here. On a macro level, the phrase "digital freedom" has a solid ring. The site does the best job to date of articulating the form factor's benefits including functionality such as "instant entertainment" (being able to watch videos and photos without having to boot XP) and a microphone that should enable VoIP with appropriate Wi-Fi availability.

On the other hand, "convergence" as a marketing term doesn't represent real benefit to consumers per se and the demonstration of the Q1's ability to switch orientations to accept notes like a Tablet PC features the drawing of a funny face. That doesn't make a strong case for plunking down $1100 and may be the most blatant demonstration of frivolous technology functionality since the tongue-in-cheek Saturday Night Live Macintosh Post-It Note parody.

Windows Me-too Photo

This may be the most difficult sell to come out of Redmond in ages. JPEG works. Its quality is excellent. Flash memory is ludicrously cheap; many consumers will run out of battery life before they run out of storage capacity. And pros are not going to use compressed files. Forget it.

I suppose this team will next move on to tackle Microsoft Wheel.

Nailing a niche

The $4,995 Fortuna's Maestro appears to be an inspired, well thought-out attempt to crack the future of the home theater, at least for the affluent classical music audiophile. It leverages great metacontent to create excellent value-added organization. I also like how the hardware comes free if you buy a collection of 5,000 classical works called The Cornerstone Collection. I have a modest classical music collection (about 50 CDs), but this system is the kind of thing that would entice me to explore the genre more deeply.

Maestro also opens the way for value-added services and, although I understand the rationale for Fortuna wanting to rip consumers' CDs, I don't think it's a very convenient system, even for customers who could easily afford a few dollars per month. I'm also a bit surprised that the company isn't supporting other lossless formats such as FLAC and Apple Lossless. Still, I think this will be a big hit for the custom installer market.

Pulling photos out of a hat

It will be interesting to see where pricing for the Presto photo printing service comes in. I think annual subscriptions are easier to swallow than monthly ones, particularly if a device is going to need consumables like the inkjet "photo mailbox" that Presto is planning. Presto is reminiscent of several previous attempts to entertain the lightly connected elderly or technophobes — WebTV, Cidco's MailStation and Ceiva, which still seems to be kicking around. Presto, though, seems like a product that is more attuned to its target demographic than Ceiva.

Presto's solution doesn't use the Internet, though, which leads me to believe that's using some kind of wireless network, which would be challenging to implement cost-effectively.

Stretching the Web 2.0 bubble

This is a great example of the kind of fringe site with an incomprehensible name that was the beginning of the end for the dotcom boom.

eMusic is still a tough sell

With all the focus on the Napster glasnost and Urge as part of the revamped Wndows Media troika, there's been a lot of discussion on the "closed" nature of iTunes Music Store and how it is the only online iPod-compatible store for music. This has never been the case. Long before the iTunes Music Store and even the iPod were launched, eMusic.com was selling DRM-free music in the nearly universally supported MP3 format. The downside has been that it hasn't been able to attract content from major — or even, it seems, many independent — labels.

I checked out the site for the first time in a while tonight. The layout is clean and easy to navigate, but I had a hard time finding much music I like and the site isn't helping itself posting AMG reviews that say things like this regarding Todd Rundgren And His Friends:

As well-intentioned as this was meant to be, it really doesn't add much to his catalog and essentially just gives session players like Steve Lukather and Kulick's brother, Bruce, a showcase for their talents. But they have already proven their worth on their own recordings, making this a non-essential item for all but dedicated Rundgren collectors.

Editorial integrity is one thing, but you'd never see such a damning review on Amazon.com. Worse, eMusic combines some of the worst of both worlds in charging a subscription fee for a limited number of downloads! In eMusic's defense, those downloads can be used practically anywhere digital music can be played, with no limits on the number of machines on which they can be used. Furthermore, unlike with services such as Napster, the songs won't expire if you cancel your subscription. Still, there's no way I could find enough content on the service to justify a subscription (although I admit I'm not a big fan of live music which is featured heavily), and that would certainly be true for more discriminating consumers.

As usual, some of the gems seem to be among unsigned artists but, if that's your bag, you're better off surfing garageband.com or cdbaby.com.

The new wearables

Depicting cell phones and digital cameras small enough to be worn like overgrown pendants have long been a marketing ploy by technology vendors even though consumers rarely carry them that way. Perhaps they have all striven to escape the "pocket prison" — that valuable real estate that can accommodate only one or two mobile devices. As exercise accessories, we've certainly seen many armbands that can accommodate bantam devices like the lightweight iPod Shuffle or iPod nano (or even their less bantam CD and portable tape playing forebears), but again it is pretty rare to see people wearing these devices outside of a gym or running track.

However, two new technology advances showcased this week show that we are indeed on the precipice of infiltrating technology into the everday. The Nike+Apple Sport Kit is an inexpensive accessory for athletic shoes that sell for as little as $85 while the Abacus 2006 watch appears to be the first one with Microsoft's SPOT technology that isn't conspicuously thick. MSN Direct has other obstacles, such as competing with increasingly savvy cell phones and building a subscription business, but both products represent fresh approaches to data-enabling formerly dumb devices.

Urge’s media is the message

Now that MTV Networks' Urge service is available, consumers will decide whether all of MTV's programming and context will drive them to a subscription model. Because of the editorial intelligence embedded into the service, Urge does an excellent job of enabling music exploration, an area where the iTunes Music Store continues to lag badly. One thing is certain: Windows Media Player 11 is a huge improvement over the previous version and presents music more graphically than iTunes. However, the iRiver clix, while one of the better digital media players from the WMA camp, is no iPod nano killer.

If you're among those who believe that Apple's success in the digital music space has bee due to aggressive advertising and promotion, Urge should certainly give Apple cause for concern as MTV Networks can promote its service around the clock on television for practically nothing.