It’s been kind of a madcap week, but we finally put together a great episode on May 23rd. The Washington Post’s Rob Pegoraro joined us to talk about consumer electronics. During the conversation, he hit hard on the silly methods the movie industry has devised in their initial rounds of legal downloads (see the commentary below for my opinions on the matter). It was clear to both of us that there is no way this schemes will take off without some common sense on the part of the entertainment industry. Well, they do know how to waste $150 million on a bad motion picture, so they are capable of anything.
The episode also included an interview with Macworld writer and security expert Kirk McElhearn, who separated fact from fiction when it comes to alleged new malware threats for the Mac OS. Take it from me, a lot of what you have read is pure nonsense, and it was great to get the real skinny. In addition, musician Roger Adler returned to talk about a free support program he’s providing for visitors to the macsales.com site. If you want to set up your own recording studio on a budget and get pro results, Roger can help you.
As to our other show, “The Paracast,” on May 23rd, we’re featuring Sean David Morton, who claims to be a psychic, remote viewer, and astute observer of the political scene. Whether or not you agree with what he has to say, I think you’ll find him hugely entertaining.
And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, iPod accessories, memory upgrades, network music players, video tuner/recorders, software and books. More great prizes will be offered in the weeks to come.
If you haven’t heard our program, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives or download the Podcast version. Enjoy.
After spending roughly 10 days with Apple’s latest professional desktop, my opinion stands: This is a superb note-book computer and desktop replacement. But let’s look at the details.
Apple’s transition to Intel processors is moving at a fever clip, and the biggest MacBook Pro shipped roughly three weeks after the 15.4-inch version. This was sufficient to get a handle on some early production issues, such as excessive heat and a strange whine that seemed to emerge, spirit-like, from the processor.
In case you’re wondering, that mysterious SMC firmware update that appeared in the Software Update panel for early adopters of the MacBook Pro reputedly fixes the heat issue, by allowing the cooling fans to run more efficiently. Apple’s information about the update is oblique, saying that “The SMC Firmware Update addresses boot issues with the MacBook Pro.” Well, I don’t see where that changes the operation of the cooling fans, but I’m not a design engineer, so what do I know?
The 17-inch MacBook Pro may already have that update, however, because it runs no hotter than the 1.5GHz 17-inch PowerBook G4 it replaced. It also retains the best of the earlier models, such as a smooth, fluid keyboard and large trackpad. The tech specs represent the top-of-the-line for existing Intel-based Mac technology, including a 2.16GHz Core Duo processor, a single 1GB RAM module, 120GB Serial ATA drive, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics chip with 256MB of video memory, a dual-layer SuperDrive, three USB 2.0 ports, both FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 ports, and the ability to drive Apple’s gorgeous 30-inch Cinema Display.
The entire package is roughly an inch thick and weighs 6.8 pounds. This may seem a hefty load, until you look at the specs for Windows-based note-books with similar features. Talk about aching shoulders! But despite the lighter weight, a big note-book can be an acquired taste. If you travel a lot, it makes more difficult to lug around the airport terminals, and setting it up on the standard pull-down tray in an airplane seat may be inconvenient. You risk annoying fellow passengers, I suppose, though I’ve never had any complaints.
But I’m a fan of big screens, and the native resolution of 1680×1050 is sufficient for desktop publishing, graphics and video editing. To think that those 22-inch CRT displays of old struggled to display much smaller desktops with reasonable resolution, and we regarded them as standard-bearers. The MacBook Pro’s image is bright, even with sunlight shining through the window in my bedroom, and razor sharp. I don’t have have to concern myself, for example, with struggling to read the tiny text, such as in the editing panel of the WordPress interface I’m using to write this review.
As with the prior model, the ports are conveniently situated at the left and right ends. The left side sports two USB ports, the audio ports and the MagSafe power connector. The rest of your connection options lie at the right. To think you once had to pull down a flap at the rear of an Apple note-book for such things.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on the performance measurements of Intel-based Macs, you’ll see that they run fairly close, largely differentiated by processor speed and graphics hardware. They are similar to that of a twin processor Power Mac G5 in many respects, and are somewhat faster with certain native Universal applications. When it comes to the Rosetta emulation environment, just cut that speed in half.
But there is one more major factor that isn’t mentioned too often, and that’s dual-channel memory. If you put in identical RAM modules in the two slots, you will see a slight performance boost. When it comes to Adobe Photoshop and other applications that won’t make the Universal transition until next year, you need all the help you can get.
However, don’t assume that performance under Rosetta will be necessarily poor. That’s really not so, because you need to compare it to what your older Mac was capable of. For example, Photoshop’s rendering capability on the 17-inch MacBook Pro is fairly close to that of a 1.5GHz PowerBook G4. That’s not so bad, and unless you’re working all day long with images with megabyte sizes in the dual and triple digits, this is nothing to be concerned about.
The next equation is battery life. Just what should you expect from this powerful monster? That’s a good question, but don’t believe those claims of five or six hours under normal use. If you just let the computer sit there, it’ll probably last that long, but as soon as you actually try to do some real work, such as writing a document in Microsoft Word, surfing the Internet or, worse, playing a DVD, battery life will dip dramatically. While I haven’t done any deep benchmarking, you should expect a good three hours under normal conditions. This is no better nor worse than the 17-inch PowerBook and on a par with Windows note-books with similar performance capabilities, so I wouldn’t be so concerned. It would be nice, however, if Apple would find a way to explore some more advanced battery technologies to improve lasting power.
At the end of the day, the 17-inch MacBook Pro is a worthy successor to the original versions. With Universal software, performance is awesome, and it’s more than acceptable for emulated applications. At $2,799, it may seem somewhat pricey, but when you start optioning a Dell or an HP with similar capabilities, you’ll realize quickly enough that it’s surprisingly affordable.
The ultimate dream for movie fans is to be able to download the flick you want at full resolution, in a reasonable amount of time. But don’t expect it to happen any time soon. A lot of factors need to converge, and one of them has become a political football in Congress. When they get involved, all bets are off.
Now it would seem that we are already part way there. After all, Apple’s iTunes Music Store already offers TV shows, videos and one or two movies. Unfortunately, these are strictly low-resolution, essentially on a par with VHS video. It looks great on an iPod with video, passable on a normal-sized computer display, and strictly awful on those fabulous widescreen high definition televisons.
But you’ve got to regard it as just a first foray into what’s going to be a lengthy process. At the same time, cable and TV networks, and even a handful of separate services, are also offering video downloads of one sort or another. But the process needs lots of work.
Take the movie studios that offer a small number of titles for download at highly inflated prices with particularly onerous DRM requirements. You can’t even copy them to a DVD on your computer, and the prices are actually higher than what you’d pay for a movie DVD at your favorite electronics outlet. It doesn’t make sense to you? Well, when it coms to the Hollywood mentality, all bets are off. You sometimes wonder just what they might be drinking or inhaling at all those pitch meetings to make them so out of touch with reality.
On the other side of the coin, there’s the issue of just how much bandwidth will be needed to handle millions and millions of gigabyte-sized downloads. Will the Internet come to a screetching halt? Well, the telecom companies want you to think that it will, because they are obsessed with the possibility of charging the major Web portals extra money for preferred access.
The theory is that they are going to have to build bigger data pipes to handle all this stuff, and someone has to pay for these investments. They forget, of course, that you and I already pay for Internet access, and if you want more bandwidth, your monthly bill goes up. Also read the fine print of the service contract you agreed to when you signed up with your ISP. More than likely, there’s a provision that addresses excessive use. If you spend too much time online downloading and uploading huge files, they might pull the plug or insist you sign up for a more expensive account to compensate for your “abuse” of their service.
As for those big portals, such as AOL, Google, MSN, Yahoo and all the rest, they already pay huge sums to maintain their networks to handle billions upon billions of hits. If they need to sent more data your way, they must expand their facilities to accommodate your needs. And the ISPs want to charge them extra, too? Talk about double dipping.
Even worse, there’s the danger of creating a two-tier system, which means that smaller companies that don’t have enough money to pay for privileged access will end up at the end of the food chain. Consider the plight of the startup firm, the one that is created in a college dorm or garage. That’s how Google and Yahoo began, and how would they have prospered if they needed to pay special fees for Internet access?
Now this is a fairly simplistic way of describing the issue. Congress will be busy debating both sides, when it isn’t tied up with more urgent issues, such as immigration and other matters.
In the end, though, the ability for you to download high definition movies may depend on how this all sorts out. That, alas, isn’t something that’s going to be resolved overnight, and it may take a few years for things to settle down. Let’s only hope that the interests of the consumer aren’t forgotten in the process.
THE FINAL WORD
The Mac Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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