As expected, the Recording Industry Association of America held a press conference last week to announce the formation of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) which hopes to develop internet downloading technologies for music. The move comes after a rough year for the music business who has seen thousands of unauthorized websites offer copyrighted material for free using the MP3 audio format.
The recent success of online retailers---especially when launching initial public offerings---has been phenomenal. In the past two years, Internet shopping has taken off in a big way, and shows no indication of slowing down. Technology trendwatcher Forrester Research predicts that worldwide Internet commerce will hit the $3.2 trillion mark within four years, accounting for 5% of all commerce.
When going up against the consumer electronics industry, the Recording Industry Association of America has no problem keeping the upstarts in their place. In fact, with recent battles over DAT and CD-R, they appear able to kill or mortally wound entire formats at will. But fighting within the computer universe is a whole new story, as recently proved by the RIAA's stumble with Diamond Multimedia and their portable MP3 device (see related stories).
Last week's Vote! question about vibration control garnered one of the most interesting groups of comments from readers so far. Everything from bicycle tires to bubble wrap is being employed in audiophile homes around the world in an attempt to subdue the dreaded curse of the shakes.
For any good battle, it helps to have several key ingredients. First, there has to be an underlying conflict that cannot be settled with diplomatic ease---it is especially important that both combatants covet the same property. Second, each side has to set a propaganda machine in motion to create the appearance of a noble struggle for the good of "the people" that transcends the simple fight for turf control. Third, the outcome of such a battle should have implications stretching far into the future. And finally, these days it helps if the press notices.
Over three quarters of a million readers served! With several million "page views" and dozens of millions of "hits" in the past 365 days, the Stereophile website has continued to grow steadily, with a record number of folks visiting practically every week. We've also dished out over 300 news articles---practically an article each day---covering everything audio, from important new-technology announcements to the demise and then rebirth of several legendary brands.
We'd been playing phone tag for a couple of weeks, but Paul McGowan was finally tethered to a handset as he explained to me a product from his "new" company, the reincarnation of PS Audio. "Everything you've ever wanted in a power conditioner---times 10---with none of the drawbacks!" McGowan could hardly contain himself while pitching his latest brainstorm. He certainly had an intriguing idea, but the path from founder of PS Audio back in the late '70s to Genesis Technologies and back again was nearly as interesting.
It's well known among designers of power amplifiers that the class-A and -A/B amplifiers (referred to as linear amplifiers) used in the majority of car, home, PC, and pro audio systems are notoriously inefficient. They can consume vast amounts of power and yet waste most of it---as much as 80% or more---as heat. They require large power supplies and massive heatsinks, which drive up system weight, size, and cost. On the other hand, class-D amplifiers, using Pulse Width Modulation switching technologies, have good power efficiency but sometimes questionable audio fidelity. (The Spectron designs are possibly the exceptions here.) Class-D amps are used mostly in battery-powered applications in which sound quality might be considered secondary to battery life.
In the world of computer operating systems, you've got commercial products from Microsoft, Apple, Be, Sun, and others in one corner, and open-source products like Linux in the other. The commercial products are released to the public as finished products (at least until the next "bug fix" is ready), usually for a fee, and their core software code is protected much like the recipe for Coca-Cola. If you don't work for the company producing the official version, then it's hands off.
The WebNoize three-day conference took place last week in Los Angeles, mixing record-company executives with Internet geeks, all trying to find profitable ways to distribute music online. Tom Roli, publisher of the Webnoize website, set the tone for the event, stating that "the industry is facing great change and uncertainty due to emerging technologies, shifting global markets, and media revolutions."