US Library of Congress legalized jailbreaking

By Mike on 12:32 pm

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Got an iPhone, but want to run apps on it that aren't approved by Apple. A Library of Congress ruling in the US will now allow you to do it legally, thanks to a DMCA exception.

According to Engadget, the government body summed up the ruling saying "computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset."

So what does this mean for the average user. Basically, Apple and other phone companies can't sue you for jailbraking your phone. They can't stop you from putting unapproved apps on it either, at least through legal channels. However, they can still use DRM to try and prevent you from doing it. They can also sue if you distribute their code in an unapproved way. Apple et al also aren't required to open their platforms for you.

Regardless, it's a small step in making embedded tablets and smart phones more open.

Image courtesy of

Kinect priced & dated, Slim Arcade 360 launches next month

By Mike on 12:16 pm

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$149 big ones. That's how much Microsoft's Kinect motion controller will cost. The company is also rolling out the Xbox 360 S Arcade in August. The system will come with 4gb of storage and will retail for $199 as expected. Microsoft says its otherwise identical to the 250gb model except it will have a matte finish. The company confirmed that it does have an expansion bay, though hard drives for the new slim are not yet available.

Microsoft also announced a Kinect bundle. For $299 you'll get the motion controller, 360 S Arcade, and Kinect Adventures game. It will launch on November 4th. The stand-alone Kinect camera will be available on the same day.

Via Joystiq

Netflix coming to Canada

By Mike on 10:29 pm

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According to their Twitter account, Netflix will be launching their video streaming service in Canada this fall. So far not much is known so far. However, we can expect that devices that can stream Netflix in the US will do so here. That includes the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, the iPad, Windows and Mac PCs, and some Blu-ray players. The company has created a website where Canadians can sigh up for information as it becomes available. The exact release date has yet to be announced.

Apple puts a band-aid on iPhone 4's antenna issues

By Mike on 2:00 pm

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Apple has 'solved' the iPhone 4's signal problems. Announced at this afternoon's press conference, the company will be providing free cases for iPhone 4 customers up until September 30th. You'll be apple to apply on Apple's website starting next week. Jobs said that customers will get their choice of case.

Steve Jobs continued to deny they knew about the issue while the phone was still in development. He also lashed out at the media, saying Apple's own findings "didn't jive" with what was being reported. He said most current smartphones they tested, including the popular Blackberry, have the same issue when held incorrectly. However, reporters in the audience said they couldn't replicate it.

Jobs went on to say only 0.55% of owners, which is still 16,500 by my count, have complained to AppleCare about antenna issues. He did admit call drops were higher than the 3GS but only marginally. Somewhere in the ballpark of 1 in 100.

Apple went on to clarify their return policy, saying any iPhone 4 could be returned within 30 days. No questions asked and no restocking fees.

They also say that the iPhone 4 will launch internationally, including Canada, on July 30th. The elusive white model will be released at the same time.

Cole's Notes version of Jobs speech below.

1:09: Jobs says they've only known about the issue for 22 days

1:10: Claims problem isn't unique to iPhone 4. Claims Blackberries have the same issue.

1:14: Says a whole bunch of other phones have the same issue when gripped in the wrong spot.

1:15: Says the signal problem was made to appear more dramatic by the bar display problem.

1:17: Confirms Apple engineers knew the signal would drop, but didn't think it would be an issue.

1:18: Continues reinforcing that all smartphones have this issue. Funny how previous iPhone models didn't.

1:19: Claims only 0.5% of iPhone 4 customers have called AppleCare to complain about antenna issues.

1:20: Says this "doesn't jive" with media reports.

1:21: Claims iPhone 4 return rates are only 1.7%, less than the 6% for the 3GS.

1:25: Confirms IP4 drops more calls than the 3GS, but it's still only about 1 in 100.

1:28: Says problem only affects a small number of users. Claims he's gotten thousands of emails from happy customers.

1:29: Pokes fun at media

1:29: Recommends everyone update to iOS 4.0.1

1:30: EVERYONE OFFERED A FREE CASE. Refund for those who already bought a bumper.

1:30: Deal good until September 30th

1:31: Users will have a choice of cases.

1:31: Apply on Apple's website for one starting late next week

1:31: Offers 30 day return policy with no restocking fees if you're still unhappy with the phone, case or no.

1:32: They're looking into problems with the proximity sensor. Says it's software related.

1:32: White phone will ship by end of this month.

1:33: iPhone 4 will launch internationally in 17 countries on July 30th

1:37: Claims they're still working on the problem and this isn't a band-aid.

Image courtesy of Aussie Satellite.

Today's music is crap, and here's why

By Mike on 6:35 pm

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Vinyl records from the 60s and 70s actually do sound better than today's CDs. Audiophiles aren't imagining it. It's not because of the technical limits of a CD, or tube versus transistor amplifiers. It has more to do with how the music was recorded and edited. It's what many music aficionados call the "Loudness War".

The loudness of music has been increasing over the past few decades. Audio engineers have been steadily bumping up the volumes of tracks. How big of a difference is it? Well, you can test this one out yourself.

I took three different versions of Something by The Beatles from three separate albums and compared the waveform. How high the wave is (it's peaks) show how loud the audio is.

This first version is from the original 1969 Abby Road vinyl album.

This second version from the 1990 re-release of Abby Road on Compact Disc.

The final version is from the 2000 compilation album The Beatles "1".

Over the past 30 years, the volume of the same song has increased by roughly a factor of eight. All using the same master recording. Now here's the problem. When you adjust the gain (volume) digitally, you can't add data, you can only take it away. Audio quality is lost whenever this is done.

Typically, the raw audio would be recorded at the same level as the first track, then they'd boost it to the level of the third. It creates a distortion called clipping. More punchy sounds are lost when this is done, making the entire track sound more muted. Individual instruments become harder to recognize. It ends up destroying the music.

Audio engineer Matt Mayfield explains how this works.

So why has the recording industry done this if it's ruining their product. There's a couple of reasons. People seem to prefer loud music out of the box. It's a marketing gimmick. Secondly, most people listen to their tunes on portable audio players. These have weak amplifiers built in, and they usually come with cheap headphones. Loudness gives it the illusion of sounding better.

It really becomes a problem if you use higher end headphones, or hi-fi home systems. You can pump your tunes out as loudly as you want on these systems because they're boosting an electrical signal, not a sound wave or digital waveform. It doesn't effect the quality. But the loudness is still there, and the distortion becomes vary obvious. It's why so many audio devices now come with dynamic normalizers. These automatically level tracks to the same volume so you don't blow your ears off when switching songs.

It's rare to come across music today that isn't over-processed for loudness. Even LPs have this problem because they're made from same loud audio tracks. Only high end LPs seem to avoid this problem. If you truly appreciate music, that's unfortunately the only way to go.

Caption image courtesy of XO Wave.

Apple to Consumer Reports: Sod off

By Mike on 11:35 pm

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Apple was hit with more devastating news today over the iPhone 4's antenna woes. In order to boost reception, Apple integrated the phone's two antenna's into the outside of the case. Many complained about the phone dropping calls when the two are touched together. The problem is particularly bad for lefties.

In a major blow, Consumer Reports removed the iPhone 4 from their recommended products list. Independent testing confirmed users aren't imagining the antenna problem. Every phone they tested suffered major drops in signal strength when the two antennas were held together. The product testing magazine says it will only restore its recommendation if Apple fixes the problem for free. In the mean time, they suggested putting tape over the contact point.

Apple's response has been muted. However, users noted that the company pulled any mentions of Consumer Reports' findings from their support forums.

With iPhone 4's Canadian launch just weeks away, it will be interesting to see how consumers react to the bad press.

Image courtesy of the USGS. Video courtesy of Consumer Reports.

Buying an Xbox vs. PS3 without the BS

By Mike on 10:53 am

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Asking a group of gamers "Xbox or PS3" is like asking a group of car guys "Ford or Chevy." You're going to get a lot of different answers since both camps have their devoted fanboys. It's a complicated decision, especially now since a the Red Ring of Death and programming difficulties for both systems have largely been solved. So let's take a look at this from a practical standpoint to see which console you should be buying.

I don't have a lot to spend
Get an Xbox 360. The system retails for $199 but often goes on sale for less. In fact at the time of writing, old Arcade units are selling for $149 in advance of the Slim Arcade. The 360 also has a good library of discounted games since it's been around longer.

I don't have an HDTV
Get an Xbox 360. The Playstation 3 is really geared towards a high definition experience and it just isn't the same in SD. The 360 on the other hand is a good DVD player and games still look excellent in SD.

I want to use my system as part of a home theatre
Get a Playstation 3. The PS3's Blu-ray player is still one of the best in its price range. It also does an excellent job upscaling DVDs. Furthermore, it features built in photo and video editors similar to Apple's iMovie and iPhoto, making it easy to organize your collections. While media streaming features are a bit lacking, the system makes up for it with it's own video store. The PS3 is also somewhat quieter than the 360.

I play mostly online games
Get an Xbox 360. Xbox Live does cost money but offers a superior online gaming experience. PSN is good but still somewhat rudimentary.

I play mostly single player games
It's a tie. Test out some of the different games on both systems to make this decision. Both have an excellent line up of single player titles ranging from casual to hardcore.

I want casual and family friendly games
Get an Xbox 360. You really should be looking at the Wii in this case but the 360 does have a lot more family friendly games than it's competitor. Xbox Live Arcade has lots of great casual and family friendly titles for download. The PS3 on the other hand is heavily focused on intermediate to hardcore teen and adult gamers.

I already have a capable gaming PC
Get a Playstation 3. Most 360 games eventually get ported to PC, are available for direct download, and are usually much cheaper. The PS3 has an excellent line-up of exclusive titles that tend to be more highly rated than the 360's exclusives. The PC is also arguably better than both for online gaming. If you have a capable, modern gaming PC, there's absolutely no point in getting a 360.

I want to store a lot of stuff on my console
Get a Playstation 3. If you have a lot of videos and music to store, the hard drive can easily be upgraded. In theory, the PS3 can support up to 1tb with an external drive connected to it via eSATA, or up to 500gb for an internal drive. The PS3 doesn't use expensive proprietary drives like the 360 does. Consider it if you want to store a lot of HD videos or downloadable games locally.

I like to download games
Get an Xbox 360. The Playstation store is sorely neglected. There's a lot of DLC on there but not a lot of full games. The Xbox Live Marketplace has a wide variety of titles you can purchase.

I want to play foreign games
Get a Playstation 3. The Xbox is region locked, meaning certain games are tied to certain areas. Japanese games won't work in American consoles. The PS3 on the other hand isn't officially region locked. Sony could do it but so far hasn't. It's unlikely they will. Therefore, those Japanese games will work here. Many Blu-ray movies also aren't region locked, though some are. Therefore the PS3 might be a good choice if you're a foreign film buff.