New digital cameras trounce 35mm

Finally! I’d suspected that tests of the Canon EOS-1D (11 megapixel) and the Kodak DCS Pro 14n (14 mgapixel) would finally put the digital vs. 35mm argument to rest, and they have — the new cameras easily beat 35mm in terms of noise/grain (by a lot) and resolution (by a little, for now).

Norman Koren discusses this in his great series, “Understanding Image Sharpness”. Part 7 of the series discuss sharpness/detail in the context of digital cameras and 35mm film. I learned a lot that’s going to be useful when I eventually trade up from my Norman Koren article

DCMA: Evil for all, even worse for Mac/Linux users

TidBITS (a venerable Mac-focused weekly newsletter) is running a wonderful summary of the issues around the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

…it’s been used to jail programmers, threaten professors, and censor publications, and because of it, foreign scientists have avoided traveling to the U.S. and prominent researchers have withheld their work. […] …the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the DMCA chills free expression and scientific research, jeopardizes fair use, and impedes competition and innovation. In short, this is a law that only the companies who paid for it could love. […] However, the DMCA is merely one link in a chain that’s being used by the Content Cartel and many others to restrict access to the shared cultural heritage of the world, and in the process, extract money from our pockets, stifle innovation and competition, and protect entrenched interests.

The article is also filled with great links, which everybody involved in digital media should read and understand before content distribution becomes a closed system that you may not be allowed to participate in (especially if you’re using a “rebel” OS). | “The Evil That Is The DCMA”

AOL's new streaming technology

Today AOL Time Warner introduced Broadband Radio@AOL, a broadband radio service built on Yet Another Proprietary Streaming Format. This YAPSF is called “Ultravox”, and was apparently developed in large part by the folks who created Winamp (AOL acquired Nullsoft in 1999).

This isn’t a good sign for AOL, since it reveals to investors that they’ve been wasting money developing proprietary technologies when they could’ve used almost any standard or proprietary streaming format for this product. But this is a huge blow to RealNetworks, as AOL is (was?) one of their most prominant partners. I’ve said for years that RealNetworks’ ultimate fate was to be aquired by AOL, but it looks like AOL doesn’t need them anymore. Does anyone? | Link

SVG 1.1 and Mobile SVG graduate to "Proposed Recommendations"

The W3C has announced that SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) 1.1 and Mobile SVG have become Proposed Recommendations.

SVG can be thought of as Flash, but re-imagined as an open standard based on XML and JavaScript. SVG 1.1 is basically a cleanup of 1.0, and “modularizes” the standard into reusable building blocks — not terribly exciting except for the repackaging that it enables. Mobile SVG is an example of that repackaging, and consists of two SVG profiles (SVG Tiny and SVG Basic) optimized for cellphones and PDAs.

In related news, the SVG Working Group has released the first public Working Draft of SVG 1.2. That release will address issues such as integration with other XML “stuff” (like SMIL and XForms), DOM (Document Object Model) enhancements, text wrapping, printing, streaming (allowing devices to render SVG without keeping an in-memory DOM for the data, for example), and painting and rendering enhancements.

SVG hasn’t made a dent as a media format so far, but that will change. When it does, Adobe (who’s embraced SVG like Apple has MPEG-4) will be the clear SVG authoring leader. This will leave Macromedia playing catch-up with Flash authoring tools rejiggered to output SVG. Although Macromedia continues to advance Flash with things like video, it’s ultimately lipstick on a pig, and hopefully they’ll start thinking about supporting standards other than HTML before Flash is remembered as fondly as Cinepak. | SVG 1.1 | Mobile SVG | SVG 1.2 Working Draft

Is Macintosh losing ground as a digital media client?

An article on News.com today discusses how most pay-to-play (and many free) content services don’t support Macintosh. As is the case with many of News.com’s articles about digital media, the reporters are a little too lazy or uninformed to follow up on some of the most interesting bits.

For example, the story quotes Movielink CEO James Ramo as saying that Movielink doesn’t support Macintosh because they haven’t found a DRM that works on the platform. But (as noted in the article) RealNetworks offers RealOne SuperPass for Mac OS X, which means that RealNetworks’ Macintosh player does include the RealSystem DRM. So why is James blaming RealNetworks for their lack of Mac support? And does RealNetworks care that their most visible customer is blaming them for their lack of execution? Its inexcusible that the reporters didn’t make the connection and follow up.

Also, the reporters quote Apple VP Phil Schiller as saying that Apple hasn’t moved on DRM because of customer experience issues. But later in the article the writers claim that Apple “has shied away from DRM for technical reasons”. The reporters should’ve seen and followed up on the contradiction.

Finally, the reporters claim that MPEG-4 has “a DRM-shaped hole”. It’s not clear whether they made this up or whether this is something Apple told them, but they make it sound as if Phil told them this. The reality is that MPEG-4’s IPMP means that MPEG-4 vendors are responsible for filling in their own DRM-shaped holes. Everyone technology reporter knows that the chance to ask Apple about their hole only comes along once in a great while… | News.com article

MusicNet and Pressplay sign the last of the big boys

Today, MusicNet announced that they’ve signed Sony and Universal for their service. On Wendesday, Pressplay announced that they’d scored a license from Warner. As of today, then, the score is:

MusicNet: BMG, EMI, Warner Music (the three founders), Sony Music and Universal.

Pressplay: Sony Music, Universal (the two founders), BMG, EMI and Warner Music.

So everybody has everybody’s content (the labels continue to license their content to others to avoid the ineffectual but inconvenient Justice Department actions), and the services have figured out that they’re going to need to support CD burning and MP3 player portability if they want people to give them $10 every month.

Susan Kevorkian, an IDC analyst, said that IDC figures that there are half a million subscribers in total for all paying music subscription services. Kazaa, in contrast, has about 10 million users in the U.S. | News.com story

Roxio purchases Napster's remains for $5 million

Roxio, known mainly for its CD-burning software, is getting its fingers into as many pies as possible before that core business is completely commoditized by OS vendors. (Toast remains useful if you’re making hybrid CDs for commercial products, but otherwise I find that the stuff that comes with Mac OS X and Windows XP do everything I need.)

This morning, Roxio announced that it’s buying the assets (but not the outstanding liabilities, of course) of bankrupt file-sharing service Napster. Basically, this means they’re buying Napster’s file-trading client/server software and promising t-shirt business.

Once the transaction is approved by the bankrupcy courrt, Roxio president and CEO Chris Gorog promised that he will “provide consumers and investors with a strategic vision of how Napster will expand Roxio’s role in the digital-media landscape, and enhance our offerings to consumers”. Duh. As if we haven’t figured out that the plan is to monetize music-related file-trading.

Can they do it? No. They’ll be going up against MusicNet and Pressplay, ventures owned by the labels themselves. Although I have no doubt that labels will license their content to Roxio (if just to avoid accusations that the services are a duopoly), it’s unlikely that they’re going to let Roxio gain a significant foothold in digital music distribution. This smells like a “bet the company” move, and I’m betting against them. | Roxio press release

Philips, Sony scoop up InterTrust for $453 million

Today, the DRM landscape is much, much different than it was yesterday. Philips and Sony have purchased the most important independent player in DRM technologies, and will be licensing its technologies to others.

This is the start of the DRM shakeout, folks, and here’s how it’s going to play out.

Fidelio (the holding company that Philips and Sony formed to purchase InterTrust) will offer reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing of the Rights|System DRM technologies. Microsoft will continue to maintain their own DRM, but Philips and Sony will turn up the heat on the patent infringement suit that InterTrust brought against Microsoft in April 2001. Meanwhile, most other industry leaders — Apple being one of the first — will announce support for these technologies by mid-2003, and support them in products by the end of 2003. Everyone else will follow, the smaller DRM players will disappear, and within five years we’ll have forgotten the complete mess that DRM is for content developers and consumers today. | Reuters story | InterTrust press release

Film Gimp masters space and time

Film Gimp is a video painting and rotoscoping tool — the third-dimension brother to Gimp, which is a popular open source alternative to Photoshop. Given Film Gimp’s adoption by and contributions from the special effects industry, this may spell the end of high-priced, low-volume commercial competitors like Pinnacle’s Commotion.

According to DesktopLinux.com, programmers at studios like ILM, Imageworks, Rhythm & Hues and Sony Pictures are contributing to its development. Interestingly, one of the original sponsors of Film Gimp development was Silicon Grail, which was acquired by Apple. | DesktopLinux.com article | Film Gimp project page