THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
How are software publishers dealing with the problem of enticing customers to buy paid upgrades to their apps? Well, one way is to offer so many compelling new features that you can't afford to pass it by. Another is, of course, to charge for an update required for compatibility to a new OS, as Microsoft once did with the transition to OS X, but there's usually a feature or two to justify the price of admission.
One solution is just to rent rather than sell you the software. That way you pay, and pay, and pay again until you decide you don't want to use the app, or pick another product. Now Microsoft's option with Office 365 is a hybrid approach, where you can buy the app as you do now, or subscribe and get value-added features that include cloud storage.
Adobe's move is more drastic. While the last version of the Creative Suite (CS6) will continue to be sold and supported with maintenance updates, if you want to take advantage of the latest and greatest features for Photoshop, InDesign and the rest of the suite, you will have to subscribe to the Creative Cloud. Now Adobe has given users of CS3 or later a cheaper path for the first year, after which individuals will have to pay $50 per month or $600 per year for the rest of their lives.
As you might expect, Adobe's Creative Cloud scheme was front and center on this weekend's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we presented Peter Cohen, co-host of the "Angry Mac Bastards" radio show and Executive Editor for The Loop, to discuss the question of whether we want to buy or rent software, using Adobe's decision to move development of their content creative apps to the Creative Cloud as a prime example.
You'll also learned how to preserve your digital memories with Greg Scoblete, co-author of a new eBook, "From Fleeting to Forever: A Guide to Enjoying and Preserving Your Digital Photos and Videos," who explained how to make sense of your growing library of digital photos and videos.
We'll also featured Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, who detailed the "7 Ways to Give Back on Twitter and Facebook," and the "10 Best Apps for Bathroom Breaks." You also heard about the results of the magazine's tests of Samsung's flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris return to the nuts and bolts fundamentals of flying saucers by presenting Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), who discusses the key UFO cases that he outlined during his presentation before the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure, and his opinions about what the government might really know about the UFO mystery.
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.
DO YOU HATE APPLE?
In fact, do you hate any company? Do you hate Microsoft if you're a Mac user, or Samsung if you prefer the iPhone and iPad? What about hating Ford if you prefer a Honda, or Mercedes-Benz if there's an Audi in your driveway?
Does it even make sense to despise the company whose products you don't buy? Well, maybe you might if you once bought something from a company and were dissatisfied. But is that any reason to despise them? What a waste of energy!
But that didn't stop a certain financial publication from publishing a blog that listed "10 reasons to hate Apple." The writer in question claims to have received all sorts of attacks from people who didn't appreciate it when he wrote anything that would be perceived as favorable to Apple, but the initial version of his list is perfectly silly.
The first is that "Apple is arrogant," largely because the company believes that its products are best. But you could say the same thing about any company that delivers a product with pride. I'm sure Microsoft believes that Windows 8 is the greatest personal computer operating system ever, and that, if we give them a break, we'll come to accept that oh-so-obvious fact. But, yes, they are already making changes for Windows "Blue."
Moving on to the second complaint, which is to some extent a myth, there's the claim that "Apple is closed." Really? Well, yes the iOS is a closed system when it comes to building apps for it. Apple must approve any submission, and they can withdraw approval at any time. Some developers claim that their stuff is being rejected for arbitrary reasons, but with 800,000 apps to chose from, it does appear that the vast majority of submissions are being accepted. It's also true that Apple has embraced a number of open standards, such as HTML5 instead of Adobe Flash; the latter is obviously a proprietary system.
But what about the Xbox gaming console? Isn't that a closed system too? But if you don't like an Xbox, go to Sony or Nintendo. If you don't like the iOS, choose Android, Windows Phone or even BlackBerry. Why does it even matter?
Door number three suggests "Apple wants total dominance," which could be true except for the fact that the Mac never had a majority share of the market, and in the twilight of the PC era, still won't. The iPhone has done remarkably well in rising up from zero, but it's also clear that Apple will never fill every little segment of the market, which means you may end up going elsewhere.
We also learn that "Apple is greedy." Hello! What about Microsoft, Samsung, or any company that exists to make a profit?
The next argument has it that "Apple's stuff is overpriced," but is the $199 you spend on a subsidized iPhone 5 more than the $199 you spend on a subsidized Samsung Galaxy S4? Apple tends to play in the midrange to high-end of a market, which is where most of the profits are made. Sure they can sell cheap stuff at cheap prices, and earn little or nothing. But aside from Amazon, how many companies live long and prosper without a decent profit?
The next argument uses the Maps fiasco to suggest that "Apple's stuff doesn't work." This flies in the face of most reports of product reliability that put Apple at or near the top of the heap. Apple software has problems from time to time, and some of their gear suffers from premature failure. But compare that to any other tech company, and you'll see they are but one of many.
Only two more of the remaining 10 reasons are worth a comment One is that, by choosing Tim Cook to succeed Steve Jobs, "Apple has lost its mojo." So "Apple is doomed" because of the death of Jobs, figuring that there's nobody left at Apple who has the guts and the ability to innovate, and turn an untapped market upside down. Nobody else.
Now it's easy to find some measure of reality behind all these reasons, even though they tend to repeat old myths. There are loads of ways you can criticize Apple, as even devoted followers of the company know full well. To me, however, it's an excise in futility, and I realize the author of those talking points was probably being facetious. But too many media pundits take this stuff seriously. Some people just need a life.
THE ZVOX Z-BASE 580: SURROUND SOUND IN A SINGLE BOX
Here's the score: You know that the sound your TV produces isn't so good, and that pretty much applies to the vast majority of sets except for a handful of special models, such as the $5,000 Bose VideoWave II Entertainment System. An otherwise ordinary 46-inch LCD set with LED backlit display, the Bose sports a tricked out audio system that's designed to provide a faux surround sound experience without having to install a separate multiple speaker system.
But you don't have to spend such a princely sum to get good sound for your set. There are loads of options that cost well below one thousand dollars that will deliver a credible audio experience for both music and blockbuster action films.
Even though it ordinarily takes at least five speakers, plus a subwoofer, to deliver a decent approximation of the surround sound experience you receive in a movie theater, there are alternatives that promise to get you at least part of the way there, with fewer boxes. Some companies offer a 2.1 system, which means two speakers and a single subwoofer, which employ digital audio trickery to simulate surround sound.
If space in your TV room, be it a living room, bedroom or basement, is at a premium, the multiple speaker system may just be too much to handle. Sure, you can reduce cable clutter with wireless rear speakers, but that still might not suit your room decor. But there are also sound systems that promise to do it all with a single box, known as a sound bar, which contain multiple speakers spread across the unit that rely on even more sophisticated digital audio trickery to do their thing. Some of these systems are sold with a separate subwoofer, wired or otherwise, which enhances bass.
The ZVOX Z-Base 580, available for a street price of $499, serves double duty, both as a single box system, and as a convenient base for most any high definition TV weighing up to 160 pounds. Just by means of comparison, the 55-inch Vizio E551D-A0 that I'm currently reviewing weighs just shy of 54 pounds with the stand installed. So it was a comfortable fit.
The Z-Base 580 is definitely equipped to rock on. The unit contains five 3.25-inch "main" speakers with a long-throw design. The low-end of the frequency spectrum is handled by a pair of 6.5-inch subwoofers in ported enclosures. ZVOX uses bi-amping to feed the bass directly to the subwoofers. For techno geeks who care about such things, it's a Class D digital amplifier with a 120 watt rating. Frequency response is specified at 34 Hz – 20 kHz, and several reviews have confirmed the specs are very realistic.
What this means is that you get a wide frequency range, lacking only the very lowest bass fundamentals, in a 36-inch wide box that weighs a fairly hefty 33 pounds. ZVOX's proprietary PhaseCue II circuitry provides the faux surround sound effect. The company isn't claiming you get the full equivalent of a genuine 5.1system from this feature, but it "is capable of generating a wonderful and engaging virtual surround experience." There are actually three virtual surround settings, with choice number two offering the best compromise for general listening.
Setup is relatively quick. You place the Z-Base 580 on a regular TV stand, and, in turn, center the TV on the 580. No, you won't hear any cracking and straining. The medium density fiberboard cabinet is perfectly capable of handling the weight without straining. There are inputs at the rear for analog and digital audio cables, plus the power cord. A tiny remote control completes the package.
The only difficulty I encountered was programing a Logitech Harmony 900 universal remote to support the Z-Base 580's remote. Logitech's interface is not well designed, and I had to engage in a few trial and error exercises before things mated up nicely.
When it comes to actually delivering a credible theater audio experience, the Z-Base 580 acquits itself well. As I said, it's not real surround sound, but it comes fairly close. I played a few Blu-ray movies, including 2009's "Star Trek" from J.J. Abrams, and Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises," and I was able to hear the appropriate ambiance to the sides and sometimes at the rear of the room in which the TV was installed. There were the appropriate thumping effects on deep bass, with just a trace of boom on some notes. Mid-range and treble were clear, crisp, and surprisingly natural. Music reproduction was quite good for what is a relatively small system.
As sound bases and soundbars go, The Z-Base 580 is priced on the high-end of medium, but it's a bargain. It's not just well-built and simple to set up, but manages to deliver a reasonable amount of the true moviegoing audio environment in your own home. You can order direct from the company, and benefit from a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you're not satisfied. But if you carefully tailor your expectations, you will definitely want to keep it.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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