Author Archive

RIAA Calls Jobs’ DRM Plea Doubleplusgood

Hiding behind its own well-tuned reality distortion field, the RIAA has twisted Steve Jobs’ railing against DRM into an offer for the industry to license Apple’s DRM solution – and they applaud it! Wait…am I missing something? Oh, no…it’s just the RIAA doing what it does best: spinning fact and reality to benefit their interests.

Thanks, Ken

The World According to Richard received a shout-out today on Ken Ray’s macinfun podcast, Mac OS Ken. Thanks, dude. You ROCK!

An e-mail message to Ben Woods

I just read your article about the RIAA’s crying over CD prices. I’m not one to defend the RIAA on anything – especially their absurd argument about CD prices. CD prices were, however, MUCH higher when they were introduced. This isn’t surprising – it was entirely new technology, and the initial production costs were very high. The initial CDs typically cost about $24.95! Seriously. I bought a few when they first came out, and it was a significant investment. That said, this happens with all media. Even blank, recordable discs were astronomical when they were first available; now they cost just a few cents apiece. It would probably be interesting to consider the cost trends of vinyl and cassette “albums” over their respective lives. Or an even more telling trend—the consumer-driven drop in initial release price of DVDs. Once listed at $34.95, DVD titles are now introduced at street prices of around $15. And now we’re seeing high introductory prices again with high definition disc formats. This is basic economics! When is someone with the necessary clout going to finally debunk the RIAA’s desperate arguments and claims about the recording industry? I am so sick of their whining….

The BUI* Gallery

One of my technology passions is the analysis and improvement of user interface design. It’s truly amazing, with all of the tools, standards, and examples out there how many developers manage to produce software that delivers truly horrible user experiences. Finally, I’ve created a gallery to display the various examples of bad user interfaces I’ve encountered and collected over time. This is a collaborative effort with a close friend and colleague who shares my passion and appreciation for these abominations. We hope you enjoy and learn from our efforts.

* bad user interface

Logitech Harmony 550 Universal Remote

I’ve been trying to like the newer Harmony remotes that Logitech has released. Really…I have. When I saw the Harmony 550 on store shelves, I had to give it a try. Essentially, the Logitech Harmony 550 Universal Remote is a somewhat (but perhaps not significantly enough-) improved version of the budget-minded Harmony 520. Borrowing from the Harmony Xbox 360 remote, Logitech smartly improved the arrangement, feel, and sensitivity of most of the buttons on this device. It’s also a more sturdy device. While the 520 seemed a bit flimsy, this remote has a nice, solid feel to it.

The Logitech Harmony 550 (center) side-by-side(-by-side) with the Harmony Remote for Xbox 360 (left) and the Harmony 520 (right)

Side-by-side, the 520 (center, above) looks significantly like the 520 remote with six additional buttons: Page Up, Page Down, Sound, Display, A and B. Additionally, Mute and Prev have been relocated down below the volume and channel buttons, respectively. Let me address these changes separately:

  • Page Up and Page Down. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. When nearly every consumer device uses the channel up and down buttons to scroll through the guide or menu by one full page, why is it necessary to have separate Page Up and Page Down buttons on this remote? And why are they arranged horizontally, instead of vertically? The biggest mistake here, though, may be that locating these buttons immediately above the navigation pad puts critical buttons – like Guide, Info, Exit, and Menu – even further from the navigation controls. Argh!
  • Sound and Display. Most Harmony remotes support auxiliary custom menus, intended to tweak the sound and display aspects of your selected activity. For example, when watching a DVD, you might want to switch between your a/v receiver’s various sound fields or adjust your TV’s aspect ratio. The Sound and Display menus allow you to expose those commands in separate menus on the LCD screen. By adding the Sound and Display buttons at the bottom of this device, Logitech reintroduces this feature to this line of remotes. I think this is a good thing, though I probably would have placed the buttons closer to the LCD screen (since they, ultimately, change the commands available there).
  • A and B. While I’m sure some people will applaud the addition of generic programmable buttons to this remote, I’m not a big fan. I buy the harmony because it’s easy to use. I think obscurities like A and B detract from this remote’s simplicity. Besides, isn’t that what the LCD screen is for?
  • Mute and Prev. I like their new location and I like their shape and size, taken directly from Logitech’s 360 remote. Win, win.

In general, most of the buttons on this remote feel better than those on the 520. They’re rubberized like on the 360 remote, and they don’t have that extra resistance I complained about on the 520. Even the navigation pad and the volume/channel buttons are easier to use, but I still do not like the incorporation of the volume and channel buttons into the bezel that surrounds the navigation pad – a trend that Logitech seems to have embraced entirely. In general, the keys are responsive. That said, the default delay the remote uses between sending IR codes may make this remote seem sluggish. Scrolling through recorded items on my TiVo (down, down, down, down, …) there was a noticeable delay between when the remote sent each code. As a result, the remote lags behind, and it’s easy to under- or over-navigate, since you’re not controlling your devices in real time. When talking with a Logitech representative at CES, I was assured that this can be customized, but it requires digging pretty deep into the innards of their configuration software.

Speaking of which, Logitech has released yet another version of the Harmony Remote software. We’re up to version 7 now. Again, I ask WHY? You don’t need this software. All you need are the plug-ins that allow your browser to communicate with and download data from their online configuration tool. Install the software so those are installed on your system, but I recommend just going to their configuration site at http://members.harmonyremote.com/ and logging on. Just be sure to use Internet Explorer or Netscape [yeah, I know…Netscape; what are they thinking?]. Oh yeah, and why would I want the Harmony software running in my tray every time I start Windows? By default, the Harmony Setup program adds the Harmony configuration software to your Startup folder. This is completely unnecessary, so I always remove it. Instead, just remember to run the app before you connect the remote to your PC with the supplied USB cable.

Finally, I’ll note that the backlighting on this remote is much better than on the 520, but it’s still a bit inconsistent. Unfortunately, the backlight does not stay lit unless you press Activity, Glow, or one of the LCD function buttons. Pressing any other button simply illuminates the remote for the duration of the button press…which isn’t so helpful. The blue backlighting is appealing, but it doesn’t provide sufficient contrast for the LCD screen, making the text on the screen somewhat difficult to read.

My vote? Well, there are some nice improvements here, but I returned the 550 earlier this week. This device still doesn’t live up to some of Harmony’s earlier models in terms of ease of use and ergonomic design. Between my issues with this particular volume/channel button design, the layout of other key buttons, and the annoying lag in sending consecutive commands, this remote just wasn’t doing it for me.

Feedback for tvguide.com

You know how your own publication has jeered at the networks for BLARING commercials, while they (the networks) claim that they can’t do anything about it? We all know that they can, of course…do something about it. Even I know how to normalize audio across multiple sources. Well shame on you, TV Guide. Not only do the pre-roll commercials you run on tvguide.com’s Videos section SCREAM at an unreasonable volume, but you’ve also prevented visitors from pausing the commercials, you’ve prevented visitors from changing the volume of the commercial*, and you completely ignore visitors’ volume selection for videos, reverting to the previously-mentioned unreasonable volume when playing each new commercial. Seriously? Tonight was my first and last visit to your new Videos section.

*It’s worth mentioning how poorly you’ve implemented the volume control for commercials. I’ve noticed that you don’t actually prevent me from attempting to change the volume. Indeed, I can click the volume icon and move the slider. In response, however, not only do you not change the volume, but you pop up another browser window that, in some browsers, displays an error message. Sloppy. Really sloppy. Your customers expect and deserve better.


I encountered problems when I attempted to submit this feedback online at tvguide.com. The customer support section requires that you select a feedback category [note that it doesn’t tell you this…it just requires it]. Since there isn’t a category appropriate for web site or online video content, I didn’t select one. In Internet Explorer, I received this error:
We are having a technical problem. Please try later.

In Firefox, absolutely nothing happens when you click Submit. Nothing – categories selected or not. Nice error-checking, team…very nice.

2007 Consumer Electronics Show coverage for CNET

At CES this week, I created two short photo blogs for CNET, available here and here. Additionally, you can see the two video reviews I did for CNET: one with Molly Wood on the Moxi Multi-room HD Digitial Media Recorder and one with Veronica Belmont on the SideLink remote control for Windows Vista Media Center.

For CNET’s complete coverage of the 2007 Consumer Electronic Show, visit http://ces.cnet.com.

Feature Suggestions for TiVo

I have HD TiVo (Series 3). I wish it would:

  1. Display the caller ID information for incoming calls. Your most direct competitor – Windows Media Center – already offers caller ID support.
  2. Allow me to watch content from TiVo Series 2 devices elsewhere in my home. There’s no reason that transferring external content to the HD device would jeopardize the digital content on the HD device.
  3. Provide me with the subscription content like TiVoCast, Rocketboom, etc. Series 2 devices can do it – why not Series 3?
  4. Let me know the remaining storage space and alert me know when a show is in immediate danger of being deleted. Again, Media Center can do it.
  5. Give me an option to avoid recording two scheduled programs at once during typical viewing hours. Dual tuner is great, but if TiVo schedules two recordings at the same time, I still can’t watch anything else. With an option that avoided simultaneous recording when possible, TiVo could attempt to schedule other showings of an episode at an alternate time.

Xbox 360 HD DVD Player

I didn’t think I’d pick a side so early in the ongoing high-definition video disc format wars, but with Microsoft’s introduction of the add-on HD DVD player for the Xbox 360, I couldn’t resist. The Xbox 360 HD DVD Player is a USB device that plugs into your existing Xbox 360 game console, further expanding the 360’s home theater capabilities. But the hook for me was the price point: $199.99. So…for significantly less than any other high definition disc player, you’re ready for next-generation DVD video.

What You Get. The Xbox 360 HD DVD player comes with the drive, a separate power brick, the necessary power and USB cables, and (for a limited time) a copy of Peter Jackson’s King Kong on HD-DVD and the Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote. Together, the disc and remote carry a retail value of about $70, so you’re really only paying about $130 for the HD DVD player itself. One more time, for effect: you are getting an HD DVD player for just $130!

What You Need. Clearly, I’m not suggesting that you can add HD-DVD playback to any high definition home theater system for under $200. This player is designed to connect to your existing Xbox 360 game console; and for HD quality video, you’ll need to invest in an Xbox 360 HD cable system (for somewhere between $20 and $60 – but that’s a 360 upgrade you should absolutely have already). That said, many industrious consumers have already discovered that with the right drivers and software, you can use the Xbox 360 HD DVD player as an external HD DVD (read-only) drive on your Mac or PC.

The Bad News. So far, I only have a few gripes with the drive. First, I don’t like the form factor. The drive shares the book-like form of the game console itself, though it’s somewhat smaller and apparently only designed to lay flat, as opposed to the console’s ability to stand upright on it’s end. This makes it difficult to stack or configure the devices near each other in any way that seems natural. I’d have preferred a piggy-back design that clamped onto the side of the console itself.

Second, the 360 differentiates your add-on HD DVD tray from its own built-in disc tray by splitting the graphical on-screen eject button into two halves. Rather than representing the drives separately, this seems somewhat convoluted and is further complicated by the fact that the Eject function on the 360 remote seems to only function with the internal drive.

Finally, I wish the drive and the console were smart enough to turn on and start playing when an HD DVD disc is inserted into the drive. With the system powered down, the Eject button on the add-on unit’s face still functions. While this allows you to insert a disc while your XBox console is off, the system isn’t smart enough to turn on when the drive detects the inserted disc. Hopefully, this is something that can be addressed in future software and firmware updates.

Why HD DVD. Did I mention the price? Seriously, with the widespread adoption of the Xbox 360 game console, many homes have a ridiculously-low adoption cost of under $200. No other player can come close. Of course, the PS3 will play Blu-Ray discs, but good luck finding a console in the near future. Or good games. There are many other reasons to like HD DVD, including superior use of available compression technology (currently, HD DVD discs use Microsoft’s VC-1 codec), transparent menu overlays on movies in play, available hybrid DVD/HD DVD discs that are backward compatible with existing hardware and software, and overall better hardware availability. HD DVD also employs a consumer-friendly copy protection scheme that is designed to allow consumers to extract the content of their discs to a home media server. Plus, as of the Christmas 2006 shopping season, HD DVD appears to be winning the battle – at least by the numbers.

Why Not Blu-ray? First off, it’s yet another proprietary format introduced by Sony in direct competition with the industry heir apparent. Beta, anyone? MiniDisc? SACD? I am genuinely sick and tired of Sony bucking the industry with its own unique solutions that muddy the waters, confuse consumers, and ultimately damage technology adoption for an entire market. And did I mention, it’s Sony? Sony…the purveyor of desktop root kits in the name of protecting the intellectual property of musicians. Then there’s the hardware. All of the Blu-ray hardware costs more than the comparable available HD DVD hardware. Why? And while ultimately capable of storing far more data…who cares? You don’t need all that extra storage with the new compression codecs supported by these discs.

For me, the choice is obvious. I want HD DVD to win this format war, but we’ll just have to see how it really plays out. In the meantime, I’ll be requesting HD DVDs from Netflix and buying only DVD/HD DVD hybrid discs…just to be safe.

A letter to D-Link

To Whom It May Concern:

$25 worth of hardware. Seriously?

Please find enclosed one (1) mounting kit, previously missing from my shipment to you when I exchanged my “defective” D-Link 8-Port gigabit desktop switch (DGS-1008D) under RMA number CS-135234. Per your cross-shipment agreement—which stated that I would be billed “standard replacement pricing” for missing parts—my credit card was charged $25 for the missing mounting kit. Now that I have found the mounting kit, I am returning it, too, hoping that you will refund the difference to my card.

Unfortunately, my product exchange experience with this network switch has pushed me away from D-Link completely, and I am now strategically replacing my home network switches with those from another leading brand. Let me outline the facts that led to this:

  • In the early part of 2006, I purchased three new network D-Link Gigabit switches, upgrading all of the fast Ethernet (100 Mbps) switches on my home network.
  • In May 2006, I called D-Link technical support to explain a problem that I was experiencing with the new D-Link switch to which my network laser printer was attached. Specifically, whenever the printer awakened from power-saving mode, the D-Link Gigabit switch would restart itself, dropping the network link to all of the connected computers and running through its startup diagnostic cycle. Your technical support desk was unable to help me—they had no record of such a problem with the switch and questioned whether there was anything wrong with the switch itself. Nonetheless, I was given the option to exchange the unit through your Return Merchandize Authorization process, so I did. With no other option at my disposal, I agreed to accept a $199.99 charge if I did not return the original product within 15 days of your sending its replacement. It’s worth noting that the product retailed for about $100.
  • With a reminder message from D-Link, I installed the new unit that had arrived and returned my original device. Unfortunately, I failed to notice the small heat-sealed plastic bag with what you refer to as the mounting kit. To clarify, the mounting kit in question consists of two screws and two plastic wall anchors. In a few days I was notified that I was being charged $25 for the missing mounting kit. Twenty-five dollars! That’s really your “standard replacement pricing” for two screws and two plastic wall anchors?!? It’s worth noting that the cost of these components at my local hardware store is under $1.50, including tax. I checked.
  • The new unit suffered the same problem as the original. Each time my printer spun up from sleeping, the switch would reset. Ultimately, I decided to start replacing my D-Link switches with another brand. These work fine.

The epilogue to my story takes place two months ago, when I stumbled upon the D-Link Gigabit switch in question on Amazon.com. Reading the numerous customer reviews, I found that the problem I had experienced with the switch is quite common. Numerous customers report that the D-Link 1008D switch was extremely sensitive to power surges and habitually resets itself when printers or other devices draw extra amps at startup. How odd that D-Link’s own technical support folks didn’t know this.

Regretfully,

Richard
Former D-Link customer

cc: The World According to Richard (my blog)


It is now February 2007, and I have not yet received any feedback from this letter. No correspondence and – though not surprising – no reimbursement. Maybe I should have insured the envelope for $25.