First Animatrix episode available for download

The marketeers behind The Matrix have always made effective use of digital media (the web, great QuickTime trailers) in their Matrix-related marketing efforts.

The machine is now gearing up for the on-two punch of The Matix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. As the second major marketing effort of the launch campaign (the first was the trailer shown during the Superbowl), they’ve released the first episode of the anime-style companion to The Matrix, The Animatrix, on the web. The first four hits are free, sometime after which the entire nine episodes series (season?) will be available on DVD.

The largest (640×272) version weighs in at a hefty 140+ MB, so start those downloads now…

JVC to ship first HD DV camcorder in May

JVC has announced that they will be shipping the first high-definition camcorder for consumers, the GR-HD1. It will be launched in Japan in early March, and is scheduled to ship in May for only 3,500.

The GR-HD1 supports 3 recording modes — HD, SD and DV. HD mode records 750/30p (1280×720/30 progressive fps) video, SD mode records 525p wide (16:9) video, and DV mode records traditional DV. The camera uses MPEG-2 to get traditional recording times for HD content on miniDV tapes.

I don’t know about consumers, but this camera could be huge for independent filmmaking.

64-bit microprocessor roundup

I think I’ve already proclaimed 2003 to be the Year of MPEG-4 and the Year of recordable DVD. But did I mention that it’s also the Year of the 64-bit microprocessor? No? Okay, then…

A site called Real World Technologies just published the third in a series of technical roundups on 64-bit processors. If SPECfp_base2000 means something to you, you’ll probably find it an interesting read.

For my money, the most interesting story on the Wintel side of the world is how AMD forced Intel to change their 64-bit strategy. Intel originally tried to escape its x86 instruction set with Itanium (a.k.a. “Titanium”), which was not compatible with today’s 32-bit processors and would require new versions of all of your software (including your operating system). AMD saw Intel apparently giving up on the x86 franchise, and took the logical route of creating 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set (dubbed x86-64) for their 64-bit processor effort. Now, Intel has been forced to eat AMD’s dirty snow with an x86-64 processor of their own, and Itanium will find long-term success only on servers, if anywhere.

On the other side of the world, the great news for Mac users is that IBM’s PowerPC 970 — we’ll just call it the G5doesn’t suck. This thing’s going to come just in time:

The G4 and G4+ processors Apple currently uses in its Macintosh line of desktop and laptop computers are hopelessly out-muscled by the latest x86 processors from Intel and AMD. Worst yet, the growing use of [Intel’s] SSE [instructions] in multimedia and content creation software has put a slow leak in Apple’s competitive life preserver, the Altivec SIMD PowerPC instruction set extension. By some strange coincidence IBM has announced it was developing the PowerPC 970, a desktop class processor based on the POWER4 microarchitecture and extended with Altivec support.

Unfortunately, even if IBM can produce 2 GHz processors, the G5 will not be able to match the fastest Pentium 4 available right now.

10,000 CD-ROMs donated to (dumped on?) Internet Archive

Unless you’ve developed Macromedia Director titles, you may not know that their runtime license requires content developers to give Macromedia two copies of every Director-based title. (Similarly, Apple’s license requires two copies of every title that uses QuickTime.)

Internet Archive is an amazing site that’s the home of the Wayback Machine — an archive of the web that lets you surf over 10 billion pages in the fourth dimension (you must try if you haven’t before) — and other great projects.

Recently, Macromedia boosted the Internet Archive’s Software Archive department with over 10,000 Director-based CD-ROM titles. They’re now trying to figure out how to best preserve them for the long-term. [via Slashdot]

HDTV to get critical mass in 2003?

David Pogue wrote a good “Where’s HDTV?” interview with Gary Merson (senior video editor for The Perfect Vision magazine, and author and publisher of the HDTV Insider newsletter) for the New York Times.

The three major networks are broadcasting the vast majority of their prime time shows in HDTV. This week, for example, CBS will broadcast 19 of its 22 prime-time hours in HDTV. The networks have announced that David Letterman and Conan O’Brien’s shows will join Jay Leno in HDTV. Major sporting events and programs will also be in HDTV, including The Academy Awards, The Grammys, US Open Tennis, Basketball, Monday Night Football, and many more. Even the WB is offering shows in HD.

Also currently in HD almost 24 hours a day: HBO, Discovery HD Theater, HD Net and Showtime. (You can get these either by satellite or, within several months, cable.) Additional HD channels coming on board this year: Cinemax, ESPN, three more HD Net Channels (movies, sports, entertainment), The Hallmark Channel and Bravo HD.

HD-DVD is another critical piece of the puzzle, but I’m happy to see that there’s so much HDTV content out there. [via JD’s Blog]

Next-gen DVD: There can be only one (standard)

The DVD Forum has announced that they’ll be choosing the video codec for the next-generation, high-definition DVD standard (tentatively called HD-DVD) by March. Here are the four options in the running:

AVC Also known as H.264, this is the next MPEG-4 video codec. It was created by The Joint Video Team (JVT), which is a cooperative effort of VCEG (the ITU’s Video Coding Experts Group) and MPEG (the ISO’s Moving Pictures Experts Group).

MPEG-4 Video This option is the Advanced Simple Profile flavor of the current MPEG-4 video codec. It’s not competitive with AVC or Windows Media Video 9

MPEG-2 with “enhancement layer” The current generation of DVD uses MPEG-2. This enhancement to MPEG-2 adds a complementary bitstream that makes it more suitable for HD-DVD.

Windows Media Video 9 This is Microsoft’s proprietary video codec, which is derived from MPEG-4 Video.

The DVD Forum’s technical working group has successfully used all three codecs to encode 9 GB of high-definition test content onto a two-layer DVD at bitrates as low as 7 Mbits/sec.

An anonymous source told EE Times that Windows Media Video 9 “doesn’t stand a chance politically” even though it’s technically adequate, and that many chip vendors believe that AVC will win out over an enhanced MPEG-2. This means that — for the first time — content developers may be able to use the same video codec to target mobile devices, PCs, and consumer electronics.

Gibson's peripheral vision

MaGIC (an acronym of the forced-feeling Media-accelerated Global Information Carrier, “Magic” from now on) is a music networking technology that Gibson Labs has been working on for almost three years. As an example of its potential, imagine a Magic guitar transmitting audio (one channel per string) and control information (the state of knobs, whammy bars, etc.) to a Magic amp digitally over ordinary (i.e. cheap) Ethernet cables. Sweet!

MIDI information can also be sent over Magic — a Gigabit Ethernet-based Magic connection is 32,000 times faster than a 31,250 bits per second MIDI connection — and it seems like Magic has the potential to revolutionize the industry at least as much as MIDI has. But according to Art Thompson, a senior editor of GuitarPlayer magazine, pooh-poohs it.

The mainstream guitar player doesn’t have the slightest interest in this.

I’m pretty sure that even guitarists completely uninterested in technology per se are very interested in eliminating hum and other unwanted noise (not to mention the deafness-inducing side effects of connecting a guitar to an amp without turning down the volume first). And ultimately, of course, guitarists won’t “choose” a digital interconnect standard any more than they chose the analog standard — it’s more about industry adoption and momentum.

The current version of the Magic specification supports up to thirty-two 32-bit bidirectional audio channels with sample rates up to 192 kHz and latencies as low as 250 microseconds. The spec is available online, and can be licensed royalty-free for 10 years.

The only missed opportunity I can see is that Gibson used a UDP-like packet format rather than just using UDP. (Image a guitar auto-finding potential amps using Rendezvous, etc.)

The opening of the XBox

It’s no secret that, unlike other gaming consoles, the XBox is basically a PC that Microsoft loses money on with every sale (analysts estimate $125 per unit). Since its introduction, there’s been tension between Microsoft (who naturally wants to keep the XBox a closed platform) and folks who see the XBox’s potential as a great and inexpensive platform (which won’t be running Windows, of course) for more than just games and DVDs.

Until now, hackers have focused on patching Microsoft’s XBox BIOS. Now, a company called OzXChip has introduced a new XBox modchip that comes with an open-source Linux BIOS (which can be “flashed” with an update merely by inserting a CD) preinstalled. Linux distributions that will work on this configuration are nearly ready for release. And that means that XBox shizzle is about to hit the fizzle, my peoples. [via Slashdot]

Sewer-bots bring us broadband

As one increasingly-popular solution to the “last mile” problem in major urban areas, $750,000 robots are laying fiber in the sewers in cities all over the world. Seems almost poetic, considering all of the crap that goes out over the internet. | USA Today story |New York Times story (free registration required) | Standardization News story on sewer-bot standards | Japan Sewer Optical Fiber Technological Association (JSOFTA) whitepaper

Liquid Audio evaporates

Following the recent resignation of CEO and founder Gerry Kearby, and the failure of a proposed merger with CD/DVD distributor Alliance Entertainment, Liquid Audio is throwing in the towel. The best part of their announcement comes at the end.

Liquid Audio, Inc. is a leading provider of software, infrastructure and services for the secure digital delivery of media over the Internet. The Liquid Audio solution gives content owners, Web sites and companies the ability to publish, syndicate and securely sell digital media online with copy protection and copyright management. Using the Liquid Player software, available for free download at www.liquidaudio.com, consumers can preview and purchase downloadable music from hundreds of affiliate Web sites in the Liquid Music Network.

Makes you wonder how they lasted this long, eh?

At it’s peak in Nov ’99, Liquid Audio had a market capitalization of over $1 billion. On 10/22, an investor had offered to buy Liquid Audio for $3 per share — just shy of $68 million. Now, shareholders will receive a disbursement of $2.50 per share. And the major labels sing, “Another one bites the dust-uh.” | Liquid Audio press release