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Listening to music over your computer’s stock speakers usually leaves a lot to be desired (at best). Today, Pioneer launched a pair of new audiophile-enticing networked audio players designed to wirelessly stream your digital tunes via Bluetooth A2DP, DLNA 1.5 and Apple’s AirPlay technology.
Color us a little bit confused, but isn't the market for multi-media computer speakers dead? That's what we were led to believe when Klipsch quit coming out with new computer speaker sets and Logitech appearing content to sell its Z-5500 system until the end of time. Then all of sudden Logitech came out with a new speaker system, the Z906 (read our review here), and now Pioneer is getting in on the action with its new S-MM301 and S-MM751RU computer speaker systems.
B&W was first out of the gate with third-party support for Apple’s AirPlay technology in its new Zeppelin Air speaker dock (read our reviewed here). Now Pioneer is jumping on the bandwagon with a new and relatively inexpensive network- and AirPlay-ready A/V receiver, their model number VSX-1021-K.
In addition to AirPlay support, Pioneer has come up several other very impressive innovations that will make this receiver extremely easy to set up, master, and use on a day-to-day basis. We'll have to wait for a review unit before we can pass judgment on issues such as audio quality, of course.
It might be easier to list out the features not included with Pioneer's new Blu-ray 3D players, but where would be the fun in that? First shown off the 2010 CEDIA Expo, Pioneer's BDP-430, BDP-41FD, and BDP-43FD are now shipping. Here's some of what they include:
3D Blu-ray support
Wi-Fi (with optional dongle)
Expanded continue mode
iControl AV remote app for iOS devices
DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD
Pioneer says its PureCinema technology will upconvert standard definition video sources to 1080p. Also included is 36-bit Deep Color support.
The BDP-430, BDP-41FD, and BDP-43FD are available now for $300, $400, and $500, respectively.
Innovate or die is a definite theme emerging from this year’s CES, and nowhere is this more apparent than with car navigation systems. In-car satnav is the ultimate uni-tasker, and now that smartphones are capable of doing this, they’re falling out of favor. Pioneer hopes to alter this trend a bit with the introduction of the AVIC-X920BT, a true multi-tasking beast.
The AVIC-X920BT is a double-DIN head unit that bundles together satnav, radio/CD, and iPod connectivity (via USB), voice recognition, and the first implementation of Pandora Internet radio. It has a 6.1-inch WXVGA screen (800 x 600 pixels), 3D graphics acceleration, DVD play-back, built-in Bluetooth, 4 GB of internal memory, an micro-SD card slot, and Pioneer’s proprietary MusicSphere interface. (MusicSphere has an iTunes plug-in for analyzing music libraries and creating specialized playlists based on certain musical attributes.) The AVIC-X920BT is also satellite radio-ready.
The navigation system uses the Tele Atlas with coverage of the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii), and Canada. It contains over 12 million points of interest, and uses an enhanced voice recognition system for input. It also has an ECO Driving feature that makes use of driving status reports when routing, to reduce environmental impact. (Companion PC software, AVIC FEEDS, will provide detailed information on trips, including an analysis of driving habits, which are used to generate suggestions on how to improve fuel efficiency.)
The AVIC-X920BT will be available in April, and will have a suggested retail price of $1,200.
The technology is built around a high speed camera, running at 154 frames per second, which captures finger position and movement in 3D, and translates it, using a “Lucas-Kanade Algorithm”, into actions. For example, rather than tapping a screen, a user could tap air to type or dial a phone number. And to scroll through a list of pictures or contact entries would require a similar swipe through the air--no touching the phone required.
Tim Hornyak, writing on the Crave Gadget Blog for Cnet, says this example of a “gestural interface” follows work by MIT (SixthSense), Toshiba, and Pioneer. Still, it raises the question: what’s the point? Touchscreens, while at times greasy, work well enough to get the job done. Like VHS beat out Beta, a more sophisticated interface technology won’t win out by virtue of its technical superiority--it has to fulfill a distinctly perceived purpose. Wagging your finger at your iPhone doesn’t seem to be a compelling enough reason.
Still, as we begin to place greater demands on mobile devices, it may be possible that the 2D world of the touchscreen will need replacement. In that case, a 3D option, such as this one, may well make an appearance in the marketplace.
In our July issue, we reviewed OWC’s Mercury Pro 8x Blu-ray External and found the drive’s performance puzzling. In short, the Mercury Pro’s BD-R write speeds belied its 8x rating, with the drive taking nearly an hour to fill a 25GB disc with data, compared with the 22-plus minutes it took LG’s 6x GBW-H20L. It got us wondering whether the issues were more the fault of OWC’s external enclosure or the Pioneer 8x Blu-ray drive at its heart.
This month we were able to answer that question as we tested Pioneer’s BDR-2203, the same drive used in the Mercury Pro. We immediately cut to the chase, testing the BDR-2203’s BD-R write performance. While the Mercury Pro was incompatible with the Nero DiscSpeed app we use for our optical drive tests—forcing us to use Nero 8’s Burn Express instead—the BDR-2203 had no such problems. Using DiscSpeed along with 4x Verbatim media, the drive wrote 22.5GB of data to a BD-R disc in 14:56 (min:sec)—a Lab record!—maintaining 8x speeds through much of the job. With rewriteable media, the drive’s performance wasn’t quite as impressive. The BDR-2203 held a steady 2x speed when filling a 25GB BD-RE disc, for a time of 45:35, much like the Mercury Pro—and 15 percent slower than the LG GBW-H20L’s BD-RE write time.
While the news of the 400GB Pioneer disc isn’t necessarily new, the fact that it’s made it to production is. Just today at the IT Month fair in Taiwan, Pioneer announced that their 400GB Blu-ray disc would be hitting mass production sometime in 2010.
The disc’s ability to pack so much storage is all thanks to a breakthrough in the material used to create reflective layers. According to Pioneer High Fidelity Taiwan, this also allows the pick-up head of the disc to match that of current Blu-ray technology, allowing the discs to be played using current drives.
Pioneer’s plan to release the disc to the public in 2010 is followed swiftly by the release of rewritable discs in 2010-2012. Though, 1TB discs will quickly follow in 2013, according to the current roadmap.
Pioneer has to be feeling giddy following its most recent court victory. Pioneer had accused Samsung of willfully infringing on two of its patents -- U.S. Patent Numbers 5,182,489 and 5,640,068 -- covering plasma display technology. It took an eight-day trial to convince Hon. David J. Folsom in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall, who awarded Pioneer with a $59 million verdict, part of which covers lost profits and royalties.
"We are very pleased with the jury's finding," says Mr. Baxter of McKool Smith, the firm who represented Pioneer. "This was a complicated case and we were fortunate to have jurors that closely examined the facts before reaching their verdict."
And fortunate Pioneer was. The jury ruled in favor of the company on every count brought against Samsung. Not surprisingly, Samsung has yet to comment on the ruling.