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Posts Tagged ‘Audio’

Is Physical Media Dead?

Netflix now allows users to stream some media right to their computers and televisions

Netflix now allows users to stream some media right to their computers and televisions

The idea is not new. For the last few years, experts have been predicting that eventually all forms of physical media will cease to exist. While the technology has come a long way over the recent years, there is still a lot of growing room for digital media to become to major player in entertainment.

What is it?

Physical media is what it sounds like, media that is stored on some sort of disc or instrument that can be physically handled. An example is a CD, DVD, Cassette Tape, or Blu-Ray. (Anyone remember the LaserDisc? I think they are used to reflect the sun off the Earth now.)

Digital media is files that are stored on a computer or some sort of memory storage device. Examples are MP3s, WMAs, MPEGs, etc.

What’s the problem?

For starters, the problem with digital media is the quality. A typical MP3 is encoded in such a way that it reduces the file size (the average .mp3 is around 5mb) and therefore reduces some of the quality of the recording; this process is called compression. For comparison, a 5mb MP3 file would probably equate to close to 80mb or 90mb if ripped directly off a disc.

TV and movies run into the same issue. A standard DVD uses somewhere around 9gigabytes of data. Blu-Ray’s use even more space. Even with today’s average hard drive storage capacity climbing higher and higher, it seems impractical and even impossible to have hundreds of movies in digital storage without a quite noticeable degradation in quality.

Another problem is speed. No one wants to make a purchase or rental of a movie and have to wait hours to watch it. Yet, that is the average time it takes to download a full DVD-quality movie when purchased online. Sure, Netflix rentals take longer than that being that it uses standard snail-mail, but users have already grown accustomed to the order ahead of time system.

The third problem surrounding digital media is transferability. Many forms of digital media have some kind of DRM, digital rights management, software that is designed to work only under specific environments. This severely limits the ability to bring a movie somewhere or let someone borrow it.

What’s the solution?

And yet, even with all the negatives surrounding “going digital” the movement continues to grow. Many have already proclaimed Blu-Ray as dead. Certain online services such as Netflix, iTunes, and Video on Demand have begun offering digital media at near Blu-Ray full HD quality. These services are not without their own share of problems, however.

I think that the battle for the emergence of the digital medium depends on these three factors, in this order:

Availability – How many titles are offered and are they full quailty? (For example, Netflix has a very narrow list of movies available for streaming.)

Transferability – Can I take a movie I purchased and play it on another machine or at someone else’s residence?

Speed – Will broadband speeds reach a level where downloading a movie is fast or nearly instantaneous?

My Take

I think in order for digital media to flourish and become the industry standard, there needs to be a dictatorship of distribution. Just like the format wars of the past, people will never be fully receptive of a new technology until everyone has access to it. I should be able to purchase a movie, have access to the movie at any time, and get full quality.

Personally, I do not think that streaming video is going to be the solution. Look at all those poor helpless moms and dads who have to drive across the country with screaming kids because the copy of High School Musical 7 – College is for Singers is only streamable.

What I envision is something similar to our iPods and digital music players. All our movies will be stored on one, easy to transport device. All one has to do is simply hook up that device to a television and away we go. Full movie. All menus and special features included. And so the MPAA does not throw a fit, these movies can play only from this device, so a copy-paste on my buddy’s computer does not make a duplication.

Conclusion

Do I think physical media is dead? Not at all.

Do I think physical media is dying? Not quite yet.

Do I think physical media is 70 year old smoker who never worked out in his entire life? Absolutely, I do.

I think eventually we will make a switch to a digital only format. In this article I spoke mostly about movies. I think music is the leader of this trend. CD sales are at an all time low and the leading cause for the decline is an increase in online sales. I think eventually we’ll see movies head in this direction, but we are not there yet.

I leave you with this. Two months ago, I made the decision to purchase my first album on iTunes. I was still purchasing CDs, but because of my current travel situation, I had no where to store the CDs. I realized that 99% of the time I was listening to digital formats of my music and the CDs were merely keepsakes. Since that first purchase, I am close to 10 digital album purchases and zero physical CD purchases.

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First Impression: Ultimate Ears 700

Size does matter. Especially in the consumer electronics industry. That is what makes the Ultimate Ears 700 so appealing. On paper, you have a super-powerful dual-driver headset that is housed in a casing that is smaller than the ear-tip itself.

Earbuds are all the rage these days. Most audiophiles have sworn them off because of their lackluster sound performance compared to the headphones that make wearers look like the Napster logo. Ultimate Ears 700 is supposed to be a closer gap to those massive cans.

Does it deliver?

So far, absolutely. I have only had these babies for around a day which is hardly enough time to break them in. However, I can already tell the Ultimate Ears 700 have far superior bass support than any other earbud I have ever owned. The small design of the driver makes them lightweight and the buds virtually “disappear” when in the ear and can be worn for hours.

I have never understood an audiophile’s claim that MP3s are inferior to CDs or even analogue, but for the first time the Ultimate Ears 700 have brought me closer to understanding. The high performance of these ‘buds easily enhanced imperfections in the encoding. I guess that can be looked at as a negative, but it is hard to label an imperfection from being too good.

I will whip up a more refined review in the near future. For now, I am too busy re-ripping all music in a higher quality format.