Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sony Wins Protracted Fight Over High-Def DVD's

Back in the 1980's Sony and JVC fought a consumer war over hope video tape standards. Sony, which had tried to develop a partnership with Matsushita for home video tape systems in the mid-1970's, chose instead to develop Betamax, a smaller tape format.

JVC was the primary developer and advocate of VHS, and even though most video experts thought Betamax was the better format, JVC eventually won out over Sony, costing Sony billions of dollars in potential revenues and marketing costs.

A similar war has been engaged, albeit on a smaller scale over the past two years in the area of high-definition DVD.

In this case Sony's rival has been Toshiba, which advocated for the HD-DVD format over Sony's Blu-Ray. But unlike the format wars of thirty years ago, in this instance, Sony has emerged as the victor.

Toshiba recently announced that it will no longer produce and market HD-DVD after March, 2008. Already retailers with HD player stocks are beginning to liquidate their remaining inventories.

Although prices may be attractive, there appears to be little reason to pick up one of these players, as most movie studios are expected to stop releasing HD-DVD titles, and all are now in support of Blu-Ray.

Consumers, for the most part, should find the end of this particular format war to be helpful in making a decision to go to a true high-definition format.

Another issue that's helpful is pricing of DVD players on the retail level. In the 1980's it wasn't uncommon for VCR's to cost $500 or more, with high-end models exceeding $1000.

Sony's Blu-Ray disc players, while more expensive than comparable HD-DVD units, are now under $500, and prices can be expected to continue to fall. However, it's likely to take years before Blu-Ray falls into the sub-$100 price level consumers have become accustomed to for standard DVD players.

Sony is usually known for being at the upper end of the retail price scale for most lines of consumer electronics. How widely Blu-Ray will be licensed to other companies, and at what cost, is still an open question.

Blu-Ray discs can also be expected to become more widely available in video rental stores as retailers will no longer have to dedicate shelf space for two competing formats.

With the looming transition to full digital broadcast TV in the U.S. now less than a year away, the ending of High-Def DVD format wars will likely produce a further uptick in the sale of larger digital televisions which have the capability of showing off the advantages of Blu-Ray.

Buyers of Sony's PS3 game systems have Blu-Ray built in, and it can also be expected to help sales in that area. Microsoft, which has reportedly sold hundreds of thousands of HD-DVD add-on players to its Xbox 360 game consoles, has announced it is also pulling the plug on HD-DVD.

Doubt also exists, however, as to how long it will take for consumers to fully embrace Blu-Ray. The reality is that for most homes the standard DVD provides excellent quality, and upconverting DVD players (which now cost as little as $50) provide even better picture quality on large screens.

While Blu-Ray is better still, many will find it hard to swallow Blu-Ray at a time when consumers are moving in droves to purchase pricey digital televisions in an economy otherwise less than stellar.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Web-Based Services Allow Sending Large Files

Two of the biggest improvements in personal computing of the last several years have been the availability and speed increases in high-speed connections, and the rapid increase in the size of low-cost, fast hard drives.

These improvements have helped bring on an explosion in using computers for recording and editing video, downloading music, and storing and editing digital photography.

And in turn, users want to share that media with friends, relatives and business associates via the Web.

Unfortunately, one improvement lagging behind is the size of e-mail attachments, with 20MB usually the largest file size able to be attached, and often less, through most e-mail and Internet providers.

To help supplement that need, a number of providers of large file sending services have appeared in turn over the past several years.

These services allow users to upload files through their sites, which are then stored for a limited time period. In turn, users can select who they want to receive these files, and the recipients receive an e-mail with a link directing them to where the file can be downloaded.

A number of these services offer free limited large file sharing services meant for occasional usage, and offer paid monthly plans for musicians, photographers, artists and others who have a regular need to share large files with clients.

Here are some of the most popular and useful sites allowing users to send large files.

YouSendIt ( YouSendIt is one of the oldest and most popular large file sharing services. YouSendIt's free Lite accounts allow you to send files up to 100MB in size, with a 1GB monthly download limit. Each file can be downloaded up to 100 times. YouSendIt also provides an address book feature, so you can keep track of your friends' and family's email addresses in one location.

Files remain available for 7 days - recipients have a week to download the files you've sent. YouSendIt is also HIPAA Compliant for sending private medical records –details are available on the site.

YouSendIt is also now offering a plug-in for Outlook 2003 and 2007, allowing users to attach large files within standard e-mails while avoiding e-mail server limits.

SendThisFile ( SendThisFile is another popular service. SendThisFile's biggest advantage is that it doesn't limit file sizes. It's free plan is limited in that users only have three days to pick up files, and each file can only be downloaded three times.

Send6 ( This excellent service has recently brought back a free plan to go along with its paid offerings. As the same suggests, Send6 users can send up to six files at one time. Send6 offers pickup confirmation, showing that users received the file desired.

DropSend ( DropSend's free Basic Plan allows users to send files up to 1GB in size five times per month. It also offers a PC and Mac client allowing users to send files directly from the desktop.

Other file sending services worth checking out include SendSpace ( and TransferBigFiles (

I use these services on a regular basis to transfer video, music and other files, and they can be a godsend when the need arises.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Thursday, February 7, 2008

New Tech Means Better Looking CD's and DVD's

You've just spent weeks putting together your favorite vacation or other videos. Or maybe you've created what you think is the greatest music compilation CD of all time. Or you want to add your resume, photos and other information to an audition CD. Or distribute copies of a presentation you've made to a corporate board.

It's occasions like these where grabbing the trusty Sharpie to scribble a title and some information on a burned CD or DVD just isn't enough.

In the past, CD labeling systems usually involved sticky labels and some sort of clumsy application system. If you managed to get the label printed right, getting it applied flat to a CD or DVD wasn't always easy. Then one day in heat or humidity would start to peel the label, which could in turn gum up whatever player tried to digest it.

Fortunately, a new generation of labelers is out there that offers permanence and professional-looking results. If you spend a little time experimenting and trying out different options, you can produce CD's and DVD that have labels worthy of the content inside.

One system that is gaining popularity is LightScribe, developed by HP. LightScribe uses special CD and DVD blanks. After data is burned to the recordable side of the blank, the disc is then flipped over, and the laser is able to burn a silkscreen-style pattern into the LightScribe side of the disc.

The printable side of the disc can contain text, images, designs, or a combination.
For example, you can capture a frame from the video on the disc as a picture, and then add it to the LightScribe label as a background. Add title, date and any other iformation, save the file, and then print the LightScribe label.

Three shades of darkness are available, the longest of which takes 15-30 minutes to produce a completed disc label image. Lighter shades burn faster.

Because of the way LightScribe works, the images and text do not smear or degrade, and there is no ink to buy, only the proper LightScribe blanks.

LightScribe works best with high-contrast black and white images, and most digital photo programs have an option to convert an image to black and white, as well as contrast and brightness controls.

Grayscale images are all that LightScribe can produce, although blanks now come in different background colors to add some variation.

Costs for these blanks have been falling as more manufacturers have started selling LightScribe, to where CD and DVD blanks can be had on sale for as low as 50 cents per piece.

If you don't have a LightScribe drive built into your system (many newer PC's do), fast USB 2.0 external burners are available for as low as $50.

A second system similar to LightScribe is Labelflash. This system also uses a special media to burn text and images to a blue background disc. Because Labelflash isn't as widespread as LightScribe, blanks are harder to find and are more expensive, costing as much as $2. Prices can be expected to fall during 2008 as this newer technology is introduced with more new computers, especially from Gateway.

For those looking for the ultimate results, Espon includes a CD tray and special design and print program with some of its photo and multi-function printers (including the pictured Espon Stylus Photo R280).

Using special printable media, these printers print images and text in full color directly to CD's and DVD's. Epson includes an easy-to-use but powerful design program called Epson Print CD with these printers. The end results are nearly as good, in some cases better, than commercially available CD's and DVD's. Add tray and case inserts and users can produce professional-quality complete packages from a home PC and printer, which cost as little as $100.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at