Up from the deep: Torrance, CA-based Wherehouse Entertainment announced last week that it will purchase Blockbuster Music from Viacom Inc. for $115 million. The merged operation will have 598 stores throughout North America, second only to Minnesota-based Musicland. The deal comes at the end of a prolonged slump for the music industry, one that was particularly hard for Blockbuster.
Enhanced Compact Discs (ECDs) are one of a host of hybrids and mutations popping up in the garden of digital infotainment. Many ECDs have added biographical text, still pictures, short video clips, and garish graphics to bulk up the content of basic music CDs. Others provide links to fan clubs, to an artist's website, or to the record label's home page. Most such efforts could be categorized as "art for art's sake"---experimental projects undertaken without any clear idea as to how the finished product will be used. "Value added" is usually the justification, but rarely the result.
Some products inspire unwavering loyalty among their owners: Gibson's "Les Paul" Guitars, for example, or Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Only a handful of audio manufacturers have been lucky enough for their products to attain this kind of cult status. McIntosh is perhaps premier among them. Individual products---Audio Research preamps, Marantz tuners, Linn turntables---also have deservedly loyal and sizable followings.
Protection for the creative community or job security for lawyers? These are but two of many interpretations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which won approval by voice vote in the US House of Representatives August 4. The bill will implement into US law the treaties signed by 157 signatories at the World Intellectual Properties Organization conference in Geneva in December 1996. A separate version was passed by the Senate in May. Differences between the two must be ironed out before a final version can be signed into law by President Clinton.
The intentional deafening of monkeys by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco has provoked a strongly worded protest by Paul McCartney. In a letter dated July 6, McCartney complained to UCSF Chancellor Michael Bishop that "there can be no excuse for inflicting such misery" on animals used in such experiments. The letter was the latest salvo fired in a controversy going back to early February.
In the children's fable, Chicken Little, the archetypal alarmist, induced fear and panic in his community by running amok and shouting, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" The hysterical fowl has many relatives among journalists and economists, who regularly issue dire warnings about the forthcoming Year 2000 problem.
As digital distribution grows, the protection of copyrighted material---music, film, video, photographic images, paintings, drawings, and text---becomes ever more important. Tied to this are widespread concerns about maintaining security during online transactions---keeping credit-card numbers and customers' identities hidden from would-be thieves.
The DAC performance envelope has been pushed further by Burr-Brown Corporation. The Tucson semiconductor company has just announced the commercial release of its new PCM-1704, an ultra-high-quality digital/analog converter chip boasting a 120dB signal/noise ratio. The new chip supersedes the company's PCM-1702, a DAC found in many high-end products and widely considered the state of the art.
Canton, MA-based Tweeter Home Entertainment Group (NASDAQ: TWTR) has gone public. Last Thursday, July 16, the East Coast audio and video retailer launched an initial public stock offering of 2.71 million shares at an offering price of $17/share.