Wednesday, March 26, 2008

For Blu-Ray read MiniDisc

MiniDisc, a Recap.

Sony’s ability to make technologically perfect own goals is remarkable. Sometimes a fickle public boots one of the Japanese giant’s invention marvels into touch. Sony introduced the MiniDisc in 1992 with JVC, Panasonic and others granted licences, a legacy of Betamax’s failure. MiniDisc’s ‘killer application’ saw a CD’s worth of music fit on a disc smaller than a coaster. Except MiniDisc was not portable music’s future. Record company support, including pre-recorded MiniDisc albums, was minimal, strangling MiniDisc at birth. As MiniDisc gurgled its death rattle, MP3, P2P and digital downloads arrived. Sony’s latest Magnum Opus was consigned to tech history.


Only enthusiasts and audio professionals now use MiniDisc, but it does have another purpose: - a warning to Blu-ray. Sony fixed the external support issue with Blu-ray backed by Hollywood big guns Twentieth Century Fox among others. With the emergence of Internet Protocol TV, whopping Terabyte hard drives and movie digital downloads, Blu-Ray’s time may already be borrowed though. One CEO of a hard disk firm has already stated the war is not between HD-DVD and Blu-ray. That was just a battle to see who would be the flag bearer for physical distribution. The war is between that method of audiovisual distribution and electronic downloading. Already Blu-ray is shooting itself in the foot with launch players, apart from PS3, not compatible with new developments such as downloading Internet content. These features will come with machines known as profile 2.0 to be released later this year. This however adds to the confusion, which will put mass consumers off adopting the format. In the meantime with Terabyte drives now available and Microsoft’s plan to launch HDTV and HD movie downloads, the infrastructure is already being built to provide a knockout blow for electronic distribution against physical media. The killer punch will come when the Internet has the power to cope with simultaneous movie downloads, ISP’s get a cut of the profits and therefore remove bandwidth caps and Apple or another company creates eMovies. That day has not come yet but as more and more people get swept up in digital downloading, surely physical is so last century?

As for those who argue against digital downloading: - have an iPod? Throw it out. Buy your CD players back.

Blu-ray is MiniDisc part two. MP3 is a lossy audio format, near CD quality but not the pinnacle. Even so that is a red herring argument as most people do not notice or indeed care about a pinnacle of performance in audio and the same is with visual. Yes, you might be able to see a blade of grass in Run Fatboy Run clearer than you could before, or on 1080p compared to 720p, but the fact is if you are noticing that you are not really watching the film. You are fiddling with your pants at your tech set up and how mass market is that? None. MiniDisc was the same, better quality than MP3 but nobody bit. iTunes = mass market. Digital downloads. The very thing too complicated for the mass market according to some commentators. Right. So Apple has invested a small sum in iTunes and the iPhone for what? Japes? MP3 players fit in your pocket. No moving parts. Connect to your computer. Oh wait what about viruses? Another potential argument against movie downloading, well anybody running scared of viruses with audio downloads. Nope. What I will agree with is the net infrastructure and an iTunes type interface is not there yet. But the hard disks are.

1TB. A year ago unfathomable. So who knows, next year 2TB plus? Take 100 movies round somebody’s house (as if), they will be the same size if not more than a HDD. One last thing on this reliability of HDD versus discs. Discs scratch. How reliable is that? HDD have no moving parts, surely less to go wrong and therefore more reliable than a machine that has optical drives and spinning discs? I have had several viruses on my computer but my data has survived, why? Different drives;- rebooted from disc, wiped the C drive, sure, but my data was on a partition drive or external drive. So come on, who wants to make money out there tech heads? Sort out movie downloading and you can relax in the Cayman Islands.

MiniDisc Credit: Jon Dowland/flickr

Blu-ray Credit: everyone's idle/flickr

Terabyte drive Credit:elliotcable flickr

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Quantum Leap into Tomorrow’s World

Hands up those who do not use computer technology. Ok, put them down, I can see you took your hands off the keyboard…. or your mouse. Computer technology has grown exponentially. Life without a computer or a device with computer applications is unthinkable. A day without a mobile phone or email can leave a poor person feeling baffled and confused. Some say this is a condition known as MAD COWS (Mobile Distress and Computer Operator Withdrawal Symptoms)…With a suitable phone and digital television set-up you can even record your favourite programs whilst in the car.

This growth may seem alarming. However this is not the case. Computer specifications from RAM storage to hard drive capacity have increased along the same graph that predicts the ability for computer chip makers to double the number of transistors on an integrated circuit board every two years. Commonly known in the computer industry as Moore’s Law this growth in computing ability is actually predictable. Recently though, there have been murmurs that the Law might become a busted flush. As an industry commandment such an event is unthinkable and has led to more extreme ways to keep pace. One method using conventional technology is chip-stacking. Essentially, this moves chip layout from a flat plane into three dimensions and by grouping chips together like tower blocks, reduce the distance information travels between them 1000 times. This method of compacting allows a smaller chip size whilst increasing performance. These 3-D chips are due to be in production this year.

Yet still Silicon Valley tremors with the fear that the Law will run out, either due to the inability to get small enough, or innovations finally being exhausted. In addition to chip-stacking there are five more avenues being explored to keep to the self-fulfilling target of exponential transistor growth. One of these is straying into nanotechnology with the potential endgame identified by Moore himself, as the atomic level in three or four generations.

This is where everything twists and divergent paths emerge. The holy grail of many tech heads is the all-in-one device. Some could point to the iPhone as the grandfather of such a pocket marvel. A phone, computer with wireless access and full office applications, portable entertainment including Digital TV, camera and video recorder all the size of a credit card. The problem with Moore’s Law is it is a theoretical ideal. Translated into the real world most people struggle to keep up, as indeed does software and usage of all those circuit components. That’s why multi function devices are on the rise. They tap into the rest of the components on an integrated circuit board that are usually passive within the system under Moore’s Law.

There is the other path. Which stands, akin to Kilimanjaro, over the current plane of computer physics. Scientists are already working on versions of the behemoth in their labs. Terrifyingly, one of the scientists involved in the experimental builds said that if one of these new computers were operational now, on the Internet, nothing would be safe as the encryption algorithms would be next to useless. They are quantum computers. By harnessing the power of quantum mechanics bits become qubits. Where a bit used to be 1 or 0 a qubit can be 1, 0 or 1/0, unleashing computing power that can solve problems, which take an almost infinite time on current computers, in seconds.

However, those of you suddenly closing your Paypal accounts relax. A practical quantum system is in the time scale of decades away and home quantum computers will be some time after that. So those missing pounds from your account really were spent on buying some late night, alcohol induced, must have off eBay.

The gauntlet has been thrown down as to what to do with all the power possible. 1TB hard disk space is now available so in the future a convergence of quantum technology applications and multifunctional systems…

leaves a headache, trying to imagine the kind of machine humming away in our pockets or indeed what we would need it for. The advertising campaign could be simple though: Technology beyond our evolutionary capability.

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    Under rigorous examination I suppose I am a considerate, intelligent, humorous type of person