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  • Newsletter Issue #698

    April 15th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    If I ever wondered whether my suggestion to ignore so-called industry analysts was the right approach, this week I became certain. In the wake of reports from IDC and Gartner showing Mac sales for the March quarter either falling by nearly 7.5% or rising by a similar amount, it was clear that the margin for error is unacceptably wide.

    I wonder what would happen if we put representatives from these two firms in the same room and asked them to explain their varying sales estimates. It will be even more interesting once Apple releases the quarterly finances for the March quarter later this month. Then we'll see who is right and who is way, way off. In any case, overall predictions for Mac sales from other industry watchers range from a sharp loss to a modest gain. So there you go.

    Maybe someone will take me up on that suggestion to put up a site rating the accuracy of industry analyst claims. Give them a rating! That's the ticket.

    Now on this weekend's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, co-host of the "Angry Mac Bastards" radio show and Executive Editor for The Loop, who covered such subjects as the sharp drop in PC sales, the contradictory reports of Mac sales, and what it all means to the tech industry.

    You learned about the latest and greatest high definition TV technology from Carlos Angulo, Marketing Manager of the HDTV division of Vizio. This interview was set up after Vizio sent me one of their 55-inch inch "Theater 3D" sets, the E551D-A0, for review, and thus it was a fascinating discussion. If you ever wondered about some of those arcane terms describing features in flat panel sets, Angulo will help you make sense of it all.

    We also featured Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, who added his own views as to why PC sales are dropping, the problems with Windows 8, and then talked about the latest and greatest Android smartphones.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present award-winning investigative reporter and UFO investigator George Knapp, co-author of "Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah." Knapp has investigated the strange occurrences at the Skinwalker Ranch in Utah, and he has also covered the unusual claims surrounding Area 51, not to mention such eccentric UFO-related personalities as Bob Lazar.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We're taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.

    COMING TO GRIPS WITH THE NEW PC INDUSTRY

    The other day, one commentator suggested that the early dream of Steve Jobs for Apple to control the PC industry was finally coming to pass in the years after his passing. It all began in 2010, with the release of the iPad to a highly skeptical audience.

    Now up until the iPad arrived, the prevailing opinion had it that the Mac would continue to make gains against the Windows platform. Apple would get a double-digit global market share some day, but it would never grow high enough to displace Microsoft. Well, at least until the PC was no longer a serious factor in the tech business.

    But it appears that Microsoft's inevitable decline has come faster than industry analysts expected, but you know what I think about their predictions. In any case, it has become more and more evident that people just aren't replacing their old PCs as quickly as they used to. Windows 8 has provided no incentive whatever, except to avoid it like the plague.

    In the old days, it was not uncommon to replace the family or office PC every few years. On the Windows platform, it would often coincide with a major refresh of Microsoft's OS. Since Apple releases new OS versions with far more frequency, the alignment was not as certain. It would usually coincide with the release of new hardware, which is an event in the Mac universe. In PC land, there are so many barely differentiated models, it doesn't make a difference.

    It's also true that PCs have become far more powerful and affordable than they used to be. That an app can launch a few seconds faster, or a game yields are few more frames per second, may not be sufficient to make you want to upgrade. If your computer isn't falling apart, why buy a new one? But this is also true of paid software upgrades, and you can see where both Adobe and Microsoft are struggling harder and harder to entice you to buy an upgrade when a current version is perfectly serviceable. These days, both companies are touting cloud-based subscription services, where you never stop paying to keep access to your software.

    Of course, when a company no longer supports the older version, you may have little choice but to upgrade, unless you are keeping an older Mac or PC on hand, and support doesn't matter.

    While the question of whether Macs are still growing or not won't be known until Apple releases March quarterly figures later this month, the ax has fallen on the Windows side of the ledger. Regardless of which survey you believe, the PC has become a relic of a bygone era. These days, it's all about the latest and greatest iOS or Android smartphone, or the next iPad.

    Indeed, if you regard the iPad or a competitive tablet as a PC, and you should, Apple suddenly vaults to the very top of the PC business in terms of the share of any individual company. One estimate it had it that, with tablets in the mix, the Windows platform has a 60% market share rather than over 90%, and those numbers are fated to rapidly fall in the next few years.

    So we have this unexpected situation where the hopes and dreams of Steve Jobs about the future of the PC are finally being realized. He also said that the PC has become the pickup truck designed to do the heavy lifting, while the tablet, specifically the iPad, is taking on more and more of the work a PC used to do. You see them everywhere, in homes, businesses, and in the field.

    The trends are obvious. Microsoft might be fighting tooth and nail to keep Windows 8 going, to pursue their misguided goal of a PC+ environment. But it also appears that it's a losing battle. Unless Microsoft changes really fast, they will become a relic of the past far more quickly than anyone may have anticipated. Will they learn before it's too late?

    FIRST LOOK: IS 3D TV VIABLE?

    In the wake of the amazing success of James Cameron's sci-fi epic, "Avatar" in 2009, 3D gained a new lease on life in the motion picture industry. Hardly a day passed where a new 3D film was announced, while some older films were quickly moved to the post-production houses to add that extra dimension. In passing, a film that's actually made in 3D, rather than having it added later, supposedly delivers a more realistic effect.

    Now I do have to tell you that Mrs. Steinberg and I did watch "Avatar" in 3D when it came out. Fortunately, Cameron concentrated on realism more than ping-pong effects, and the end result was far more enjoyable. However, the motion captured digital images of the alien beings still conveyed the feeling that I was watching a cartoon. The effect is less apparent when you see the 2D version, particularly on your own TV.

    With sales of new TVs flattening, and prices falling, the TV makers were clearly anxious to find a way to infuse the new sets with some sort of 3D technology, hoping that customers would flock to the stores to buy the higher-cost models. The first 3D sets appeared almost within months, at sharply higher prices, but few customers responded. Nowadays, you can buy a 3D set from any major manufacturer for hardly more than the cost of a regular set. The cost of adding that third dimension has dropped real fast.

    When you buy a 3D set, you will be choosing from one of two technologies that impact the type of glasses you need. The active or active shutter type puts electronic decoding technology into the glasses, which means they can be fairly expensive. Some sets don't even come with glasses, and when they do you usually get just two. So you are forced to buy them separately at prices that typically range from $50 to over $160, depending on the brand. Since they are battery-operated, you have to remember to recharge or replace the batteries before the next viewing session. And while the price may not be so expensive, imagine having to serve the needs of a large nuclear family, or a setting where lots of friends want to get in on the fun.

    The other technology, which Vizio calls "Theater 3D," and is also referred to as "Cinema 3D" or "RealD," uses passive glasses with polarized lenses, the same type you get at the multiplex when you watch a 3D film. You can also buy them really cheap. I saw a set of four at Best Buy for $29.99. But there's also the incentive for TV makers to ship a few with their new sets.

    Now in theory active shutter glasses may allow you to tilt your head more, reducing the "head in a vice" feeling, while passive sets typically offer a lower resolution picture. Depending on the design, fast-moving objects may appear blurrier with passive glasses. But the proof is in the pudding, and the differences between the two technologies are not as severe as they used to be. In other words, the TV makers are figuring out how to coax the best images from their chosen technology. So all things being equal, passive may be the best way to go, at least until they perfect an affordable method of delivering a 3D TV that doesn't require glasses.

    Regardless, some people get headaches from watching 3D for an extended period of time, so keep that as a point of reference in case you choose to dive in. It's also true that the multidimensional effect is sharply diminished if you are watching the picture from an angle, which may cause problems for larger families or where the viewers can't sit closely together.

    Now the 55-inch Vizio E551D-A0 that I've been testing comes with two pairs of passive 3D glasses. Vizio also sent along one of their $129.99 VBR337 3D Blu-ray players so I could get the full experience, along with a copy of  "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted."

    All right, I'm not a huge fan of cartoons, but I wanted to give the Vizio's Theater 3D feature its maiden voyage, and I was suitably impressed with the results. As soon as the 3D Blu-ray disc began to play, the TV put up a message asking if I wanted to watch 3D, to which I selected Yes with the OK button on the remote. In moments, I was whisked to center stage at a movie theater while seated in a darkened master bedroom. Even with the 3D glasses on, the picture was bright and surprisingly crisp. It was easy to become immersed in the multidimensional action scenes, although a trailer and the first few minutes of the film were relatively free of eye-popping excesses.

    Now I've not had a chance to spend much face time with other 3D sets yet, so I cannot tell you that the Vizio does it any better. But the effect was surely impressive enough to make me want to rent a few 3D discs to put the feature through its paces. Mrs. Steinberg put on the second pair of glasses for a few seconds before getting back to more important chores, and she also heaped praise on the visual impact.

    Update: It's a sure thing, though, that the ability to get 3D in a really affordable set may indeed save the format. 3D films are still coming out with decent regularity. The potential 3D blockbusters for this coming summer include "Iron Man 3," which is being released on May 3, and "Star Trek Into Darkness," which arrives on May 17, and the Superman reboot, "Man of Steel," due June 14.

    I was previously misinformed about "Man of Steel," but the Warner Brothers site devoted to the upcoming movie clearly states that it will be exhibited in 3D and IMAX 3D.

    Will I become an avid 3D fan? I don't know yet; I need some more time to decide, and it would help if there was more content from which to choose.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #698”

    1. dfs says:

      Two comments: a.) The fact that 3-D movies are not doing well at the box office doesn't bode well for 3-D TV. And the amount of media available to see on one of those units isn't a very compelling reason to buy one, especially for people without children (since so much of the available 3-D movies appear to be kidflix). b.) Yes, some analysts have suggested there is a connection between public resistance to Windows 8 and tumbling PC sales. But I read somewhere another possible explanation: simply that computers have gotten so good, and can so greatly outperform the demands a typical user puts on them, that the need to replace them so often is going away. Makes sense to me: it would be very unrealistic to expect that the three-year life-cycle to which we have grown accustomed to is going to last forever. Sooner or later, a computer is going to be viewed more as a long-term purchase, more like, say, a television. Maybe we're reaching that point already. My iMac is approaching its third birthday and I'm still so happy with it that I have no plans on replacing it soon. Maybe I'm typical of a lot of users.

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on April 15th, 2013 at 6:43 AM:

      @dfs, The jury is definitely out on 3D. But it won't be long before it is just another feature on all TVs -- it's coming close all the time. Regardless, if it's a great film, it'll succeed with or without 3D.

      Windows 8 and PC sales? Well the former isn't helping, but I have already raised the good enough argument for hte one you have.

      Peace,
      Gene

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