DVRs, DMAs and DMRs, meet DTAs

Thomson Consumer Electronics today announced the RCA DTA800, a digital television adapter to prolong the life of analog TV sets that haven’t succumbed to set-top boxes from satellite, cable or IPTV providers. As you can see, it will look great in your living room if you keep it on a mirror-shined green floor.

Speaking of green, Thomson claims that this bringer of broadcasts is energy-efficient. And further speaking of green, Thomson notes that the device should qualify for the two $40 coupons that the federal government will provide to ease the digital transition. Since my main TVs are obediently tethered to TimeWarner Cable awaiting the great Verizon liberation (wait, that just doesn’t sound right), I haven’t had much exposure with over-the-air digital television, but I tried out a PC adapter recently and was delighted with the quality of unprecedented reception in the heart (OK, perhaps an aorta) of New York City. I’ll take two; here’s my gift card from Uncle Sam.

Ryan’s and Ross’s retail revelations

Ryan Block shares that the CompUSA where he had his first job is closing and recounts some of the lowpoints of his time there as he dispenses some consumer advice. My local CompUSA is closing, too, as are all New York stores east of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. I suppose I’m lucky that my neighborhood has a Circuit City, Target, Best Buy, P.C. Richard and two Radio Shacks all within walking distance so it’s usually pretty easy to find the occasional electronic necessity or washing machine. When I moved here, there was a Nobody Beats the Wiz as well. I do wish we had an office supply store a bit closer, though.

My local CompUSA is actually located in a cool triangular extension of a nearby office building, which contributes to a high-tech look. I don’t think its replacement will do the space as much justice. Those familiar with Manhattan might consider it similar to the Sprint store jutting out of the front (side?) of the Flatiron Building, but this is a much larger space with two floors. I’ll try to get a picture before it closes.

In any case, it turns out Ryan and I have something else in common beyond Engadget. My first job was also at a computer retail store , albeit a long-gone small Apple-only dealer of ill repute, not a chain. There’s now a Houston’s restaurant where it once stood. I can assure you that CompUSA is a paragon of business ethics compared to some of the shenanigans that went on there. The store was “featured” on Arnold Diaz’ Shame on You watchdog segment and for reasons that were not the most egregious of its management’s indiscretions.

I also worked in service (and later the store’s very nice training facility) although I only occasionally took in machines. I mostly did repairs and installations (TOPS anyone?). Two of the senior service guys were an odd couple if ever there was one — a brash and boastful Army reservist and and a quiet sarcastic French sophisticate.

One of my favorite exchanges took place when the former was strutting around the department and crowed, “I’m good at everythng I try!” The other muttered under his breath, “Have you ever tried shutting up?”

Print and chute

In Engadget, Conrad Quilty-Harper covers the promising blueChute Bluetooth-enabled electronic ink prototype by E Ink, which developed the display technology for the Sony Reader. Conrad notes that the device overview says that potential advanced functionality for the display would depend on “software which probably won’t ever get written.” Now there is some fine evangelism! Or perhaps the advanced technologists have enlisted Marvin, the depressed android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to write their promotional copy.

In any case, the point is taken, but this technology needs to crawl before it can sprint with wireless widgets. Were it inexpensive enough, a simple printer driver would probably be all that would be needed to transfer hundreds of pages of information to such a device.

Ineffective “truth” in advertising

I saw a Google ad today that took me to Danny’s Scam Review, which links to two, er, questionable sites. (Hmm, let’s see, they use the same exact floating banner as Danny’s Scan Review. Could they possibly be related?) Anyway, the noteworthy part is when “Danny” writes, “I was scammed by 37 different ‘get rich quick schemes’ and I lost over $4800 in 3 months.”

Right, that’s just the type of savvy individual from which I’m eager to take advice.

Point and shoo, disposables

Vivitar’s forthcoming waterproof camera has pretty weak specs (why is the SD card limited to 1 GB?) and a deisgn aesthetic a bit reminiscent of the late KBGear’s JamCam for kids, but a cheap waterproof camera may be just the thing to address one of the last refuges of disposable cameras — the casual underwater photographer on vacation. We’ll see if the image quality is up to it. At $233, it’s not there yet, but at $99, many consumers might just take the plunge, so to speak. That price would also put it below many underwater casings for more popular offerings.

From TGDaily via Engadget

Who’s watching the watchmakers?

I’m delighted to see that my college friend, fellow former Cornell Daily Sun columnist, author and economics commentator Daniel Gross is. (I’ve been, too.) Dan runs some numbers in Slate and determines that the market for functional wristwear is on the decline. Indeed, the humble watch is often overlooked when thinking about competition among portable multifunction gadgets, especially cell phones, that have more glamorous cannibalistic features such as playing digital music and games, taking video and even GPS capabilities.

Dan focuses attention on Fossil, in particular its now somewhat ironically named Relic brand of basic timepieces. Dan provides a strong case that — unlike with digital cameras, iPods or DS Lites — cell phones and their tethered digital rivals may indeed be cleaning the clock of watches.

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Palm vs. the iPhone

John Markoff writes in The New York Times (registration required) that Palm has brought on former Apple engineer and Pixo founder Paul Mercer to work on “a new line of products”. The Times’ take is that this is in direct response to the iPhone. This could well be correct, or it could be the long-awaited “third category” of product to spring from Jef Hawkins’ mind. It’s certainly wise to take any new competitive threat seriously, particularly one from a company with the design expertise and marketplace momentum of Apple, but I find the Times’ characterization of “shaking up the cellphone industry” premature despite Apple’s claim of handset reinvention.

In any case, what needs shaping up is the Treo form factor, which appears on the shelf as a chubby Blackberry alternative. Treo pressure is coming from the sudden wave of popularity enjoyed by cheap Windows Mobile smartphones such as the Q, Blackjack and Dash. Differentiation from these workalikes is more important than matching the iPhone’s new directions.

Putting Palm in HP’s hands

Forbes runs through the usual suspects in terms of which company is best-positioned to snatch up Palm, which has met only with busy signals in its quest to find a permanent owner. Nokia seems to be the mindshare front-runner but I’d be surprised if the global market share leader broke with its strong Symbian support. Besides, like Palm, Nokia has taken heat for the relative girth of its handsets.

In fact, I don’t like the fit for any of the big handset guys. However, HP would be a complementary new owner. HP understands platforms. Unlike Dell with its channel conflict dilemma, HP is already in the smartphone market. And HP has a strong digital lifestyle position from which it could scale down the Treo platform, accelerating the path Palm is already on and must must pursue to compete with inexpensive smartphones from Samsung, RIM and others. Garnet OS and Windows Mobile also still retain strong PC ties — which makes sense for HP. In short, Palm would round out HP’s “three screen” strategy.

Cornice switching to flash memory

I missed this story a few weeks ago about miniature hard disk maker Cornice allegedly losing investor interest, but it’s not surprising. The iPod nano replacing the mini was the milestone in the demise of the 1″ and smaller hard drive for portable products and of course flash price-performance improves constantly.

Seagate and other manufacturers put on a brave face about hard drives continuing to reign where maximum capacity or best price-performance is key, but in a few years the SSD is going to be as strong a competitor in the laptop market as flash is now in the digital audio player and — more significantly — cell phone market.

Today I need a relatively large hard drive to store my digital music collection, but flash price-performance is growing faster than my music collection is.

Bluetooth: Sony’s new Memory Stick

This week Sony unveiled more of its lineup for 2007, including a number of traditional audio products such as boomboxes and a variety of shelf systems that can use Bluetooth to stream audio from a cell phone or Sony Network Walkman. Bluetooth has also been shown as an option for Sony’s digital media port on its receivers and new Bravia (nee DreamSystem) home theater systems.

It’s good to see Sony getting a jump on Bluetooth for home A/V integration. The company arrived late to the iPod speaker dock game, ceding much of that market to the likes of Bose and Altec Lansing, but has an opportunity to capitalize on A2DP Bluetooth audio. Bluetooth is a standard, of course, but implementation of it has had a disproportionate share of incompatibilities. A cheap example is the Fossil/Sony Ericsson Bluetooth Caller ID watches, so there’s room for optimization, particularly with Sony Ericsson mobiles.

Since Bluetooth audio is streamed, it avoids some of the messy DRM file transfer issues on memory cards. Meanwhile, the memory card format wars have reached detente, with Sony supporting SD in more products such as the PlayStation 3, Sony Reader, and of course Vaio PCs.

Speaking of Bluetooth stereo audio, I believe Apple will support it in the iPhone even though it has been reluctant to do so in the iPod. The competition here is too great and Apple has traditionally executed well on standards such as USB, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in Macs. Consider it another carrot for today’s iPod user.