New Approach From Intel for the “Cord Cutters” – Intel is testing a new set-top box service in Oregon called OnCue. It is their first consumer product in a long time and is designed to break up the cable and satellite TV services which 90% of U.S. households now have, by delivering subscription TV over the Internet. If it can cut deals with the many cable TV networks it hopes to launch in various cities later this year. So far the whole project is rather secret. It will presumably have a variety of cable channels similar to what the cable services offer, and online video services such as Netflix, MLB TV, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube. You won’t be able to pick and choose the channels and services you want, though Intel says they will have customized “bundles.” They claim that OnCue will be sharper, simpler and more sensible than what the cable services offer. Intel promises a better interface. Unfortunately, although the price of the set-top box has not been revealed as yet, Intel says its rates will be comparable to cable subscriptions. So it won’t provide a solution to the inflated rates of cable and satellite services. Intel hopes to target the “cord cutters” class of TV viewers who find what they want online and over the air (OTA) rather than from expensive cable services. If it is a success, OnCue could create a new revenue stream for Intel and a new market for its chips – since the sales of desktop and even laptop computers have plummeted.
Sony and CEA Beat the Drum for Hi-Res Audio – Sony held a big press conference in New York City featuring Herbie Hancock and their wanting to expand the appeal of hi-res audio playback. Sony has introduced new audio products said to take the confusion out of hi-res playback: their $799 USB DAC/amp to connect to computers, a mini-component $999 hard-drive music player/amp, and a component-sized $1999 hard-drive music player. In the fall two of the existing Sony ES-series AV receivers will get firmware upgrades to expand their selection to include all the codecs supported by the new components: that is, 24-bit PCM at sampling rates of 44.1K, 48K, 88.2K, 96K, 176.4K and 192K. Plus DSD, MP3, WAV, AIFF, WMA, AAC, FLAC, ALEC, ATRAC and ATRAC Advanced Lossless. The two music players feature a DSD remastering engine to upscale music files to double-DSD quality, and they also come with HAP music transfer software, enabling computers to automatically copy music files to the players when new files are added to the computer. Both players also have Ethernet and Wi-Fi.
The Consumer Electronics Association says it plays to expand its efforts to behalf of hi-res audio. CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro said “The time is right for our organization to explore new avenues to help promote this exciting audio technology.” He said he expects HRA technology will soon have a strong presence. Hi-res audio will among the categories to be promoted at the January 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. AudioQuest, iRiver, and music labels Warner and Universal are also involved in the expanded support for hi-res audio. In general, hi-res audio has found only niche interest among consumers, in spite of sound quality being the most important component of a quality audio experience for nine in ten consumers. Hopefully these efforts will change that.
Worst-Sounding Audio Products – In a switch on the usual component review ploy, CNET and The Audiophliac have selected two of the worst-sounding audio products. And we’re not surprised at the choices. First are the Apple white ear buds that come with all iPods and iPhones—horrible, and ruining the hearing of many young people all over the world. Next is the Gateway HTiB that came out in 2003 at $500—worthless. They also mentioned the crappy sound of most TVs if you don’t set up a separate audio system for them.