Friday, September 30, 2005


My ancient Sony-Ericsson P800 is too old to work on this Phobile device from Firebox. 50 Euro for a recycled phone handset and a cable. Brilliant marketing. OK, we strayed off topic here. Have a nice weekend.

Radio in a Crisis?

There is going to be another natural disaster. Someday, Some place. It may be the result of a tidal wave, or a medical crew trying to deal with an outbreak of human-bird flu viruses).

New Orleans, Sri Lanka, Banda Aceh.... the list goes on about how people need radio to recover from natural disasters. It is the lifeline when the phones go off as well as the power. After the tsuanami (remember that?) , local radio in places like Banda Aceh has been of great assistance in helping people to restore their faith in humanity and rebuild their lives. I am currently gathering information of "lessons learned", following up on several projects that started immediately following the Dec 26th Tsunami. Radio stations (and receivers) were donated by several organisations around the world, but what lessons have been learned now that some of these stations have been on the air for around 3-6 months. It is clear that from the people I have spoken to so far that stations need to be purely digital on the production side (i.e. computers instead of Mini-Disc), but good old-fashioned analogue on the distribution side (FM transmitters and simple FM wind-up radios).

The Red Cross and other disaster relief agencies have food-parcels stored in strategic locations around the world, ready to respond when the disaster strikes. But I have not seen "FM Radio Station" kits on stand-by, i.e. a complete FM station and, say, 5000 wind-up FM radios ready to go into an area to keep people informed as to what is happening and who is looking for who.

I am working on several "kits" that would be used to set up emergency FM stations after a natural disaster. It needs to be robust - but also cheap and no frills. After some experimentation, I am convinced that the simple analogue mixing desk from Mackie ( their 1220) is one of the best solutions - a mixing console for 738 Euros including local taxes in the Netherlands. It plugs straight into the wall (no transformer bricks) and works on anything between 100-240 volts, ideal if it has to work from a generator.

On the transmitter front, I have been impressed with Veronica transmitters (for really local work) and the BW Broadcast range of transmitters. The transmitters need to rugged but simple to maintain. I like the fact that if the power transistor in the BW range of FM transmitters should fail, it can simply be unscrewed by anyone and soldering needed. It's more like replacing a fuse.

If you built these units into some strong flight cases , you should still be able to build an FM station to go for under Euros 9000. I am interested in other peoples' experiences too. Please add a comment below or drop me a line

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Only Sony?

I've said it before in other public forums, Panasonic - but especially Sony - are becoming dinosaurs in many sectors of the consumer electronics and broadcast industry. It is the smaller companies that are perceived as innovative. Sony showed in IFA Berlin that it has seriously lost its way. Like the buttons on some of the PSP controllers, they are stuck. In Berlin, Sony chucked some technology into a darkened room and hoped that the public would find a context for it. They sure don't understand it. Sony has persisted with its own in-house standards like ATRAC audio compression, when the outside world was screaming MP3. I'm keeping their fall 2005 catalogue as an example of how NOT to get concepts over to the public....every "new" technology feature is given its own brand name. People do not write this down and then go to the store with a list of techno brand names.

In the broadcast world, Sony has been a very traditional production company concentrating on television. They are very poor at integrating their solutions with other platforms - like new media and radio. They are much too expensive for what they deliver. I would argue their only contribution to radio production was the Sony Pro cassette recorder and a great pair of closed headphones. Sony Minidisc has been a great example of a fragile consumer technology misused by freelancers to try and work to professional standards. If you have Minidiscs, make sure you copy off the contents to another media (e.g. hard-disk) as soon as possible. Ten years from now you are not going to find a minidisc player to play this stuff back. Remember 5 1/4 inch floppy discs? By stating that the new Walkman Phones will not support ATRAC music formats, Sony effectively killed the Minidisc in March of this year. BBC reports that Sony shares have lost two thirds of their value. In Thursday's trading, its share price fell 2.2%. I am curious to see what Sir Howard Stringer will do to put them back on the map - like no other.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

4096 x 2160 pixel resolution - HD cinema

Bit off topic I know, but in terms of digital projectors, Sony stole the show at IBC by building a theatre in the middle of hall 9 and showing film clips from, amongst others, Mystic India (a recent IMAX film). The depth and emotional impact of the picture was abosolutely superb. And they got the sound right too. Great show. Wonder when my local cinema here might invest in such equipment? 2020-2025?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Panasonic 2600 series of rechargeables

What's this? Yes it is a 2600 mAh AA rechargeable battery! Capacity of rechargeable cells has been gradually creeping up with the popularity of (thirsty) digital cameras and flash recorders.

In Europe, sales of rechargeables are up 73% in volume over the last 12 months. Panasonic is claiming it has increased the capacity of the AA size cells by 10% over it rivals. In addition, the new and improved chargers keep up with the evolution towards increased battery capacity and a shorter charging cycle. I bought some 2500's in the US in June, but 2600 is indeed new. That extra capacity over the older 1800 mAh types is noticeable - also in wireless microphones. I notice that the new types of Ni-MH batteries hold their charge quite well too (i.e. a number of weeks).

One important fact too - the battery blister pack is easy to open. I have had to take some products back to the duty-free at Schiphol airport because I could NOT open the blister seal without a knife - guess what - not allowed in airports these days. Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 16, 2005

Propaganda Podcasting Software

I have been playing with various demos of podcasting software for the PC. This one, called Propaganda, is the best I have found so far, especially if you "produce" your podcast (i.e. mix tracks afterwards, add music beds, etc. It looks polished and professional and copes with MP3 and WAV files. In short, it is worth the 50 US dollar download. The demo works without restrictions, except there is a audio banner ad every few minutes to say you are using the trial version. This software also posts your podcast to the host automatically.

Edirol - Noisy for voice recordings

The new R1
Several companies have come with MP-3 or MPEG-2 recorders designed for radio journalists. They are all based on the use of flash memory. This is the latest from a US company called EdiRol and is sold through the music trade (shops that sell guitar amplifiers and the like).

The US$440 unit (street price in the US) includes two electret mics, a 64MB Compact Flash card, an optical-output jack, and 9 recording modes from 64kbps MP3 to 24-bit linear WAV. It can transfer a max-resolution 60 minute recording (908MB) to a PC over USB-2 in around 3 minutes.

I tried one for a morning in August 2005 - but I was disappointed that the input circuitry for the microphone was not that sensitive. It would be great if I wanted to record a guitar, but not a podcast interview. In short, I was disappointed. Anyone had similar experiences?

Marantz PMD-660

This is probably one of the best portable flash recorders for reporters on the market at the moment - I think it is more robust that the Flashman and it is surprisingly light. The device works off 4 AA cells and the compact flash memory cards that you find in most camera stores. The older (and larger) 670 is infact older and - to my mind at least - a bit too heavy for average reporting. The 660 would be my choice. Price? The Dutch importer Niehoff wants 610 Euros (ex 19% VAT) for one.

There is also a special remote control cable called the Marantz RC600N-XLR which fits onto any microphone and allows you to make markers on the recording as you go along. A LED gives the status of the recording, with an orange colour being a warning that the recording is peaking. This cable (without the microphone) costs 125 Euros (ex VAT). That must be a world record for a 1.6 metre cable and a switch. Stuff the markers, for that price I'll use a notepad!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Parrot - for 1000 Euro

Youcom is a Delft based equipment manufacturer which has concentrated on the European radio market for several years. At IBC this year, they launched a prototype of what they called Parrot, a small unit that clips to your belt and sends better quality audio via Bluetooth through your mobile phone. This unit is unique in also sending a data version of the last recording over the GPRS network with the push of one button. The data system of the mobile is slow - one minute of audio takes 5 minutes to upload to a server at the radio station. But the resulting audio quality is much better than using a mobile phone live in transmission. No fixed price at IBC or delivery date. Early 2006 and around 1000 Euros were the indication.

Antics Outside the Studio

As an independent producer, I want to save as much money on studio time, so preparation is the key.

And when it comes to planning it looks like the people from Antics have taken a leaf out of a game my daughters are playing...Sims 2.

You use the software to draw your own story boards, place the cameras and then work out camera angles. The software runs on most PCs working at 3 GHz and costs around 900 Euros. The company is working on an improved version with the BBC which should be out in January. Well worth investigating if your planning to shoot action or drama. It is also a great piece of kit for training television students.

Great Animations from Gizmoz

It is clear that animation has a big future…just look at the success of Shrek2 and Madagascar. On the new media side, I think people forget how popular programmes like MSN messenger are…there around 140 million users worldwide.

Now look what one company has done to combine the emoticons used to convey emotion in messages with one of the world’s best graphics engines used for broadcast television. The Israeli company of Gizmoz has worked with the graphics company VIZRT to produce a production tool allowing you to make your own version of spitting image - in a matter of minutes. They took two shots of my face, one from the front, the other from the side. From that they generate a 3D image and put this into the VIZRT graphics engine. The next thing you know you're in a panel game with George Bush, Elvis or whoever.

The same company is beta testing an add-on to Yahoo!, ICQ, AOL AIM, MSN and Skype Instant Messenger users to animate emoticons.

I-Pal Personal PVR

Portable screens are getting better. Archos, a French company, have a number of portable players out there which are aimed at the consumer. The AV700 has a 7 inch screen - though I prefere the slightly smaller AV500 which has a better screen resolution. Both devices make my AV300 obsolete in the extreme.

But the best picture at the IBC show was on another device. The UK company of Electronic Visuals showed their I-Pal (the EV7010), which is a portable video recorder retailing at around 500 pounds sterling. It was clearly the best portable screen at the show - at that size (7 inch screen).

The unit has a 20 GB hard drive and converts video input into MPEG-4 format. Did an excellent job of displaying JPEGS too.

LED Projector for 700 Euro

I’d like to share some screen news …starting with a rather unusual projector Wim Van der Hoeven of Mitsubishi Electric in The Netherlands showed me something they’re planning for Christmas for 700 Euro…

It's an LED projector, one of the first of its kind. It weighs 500 grams and uses DLP technology. This bulb is designed to last 10,000 hours. Unlike conventional projectors, this one has no fan - because it doesn't get hot. The snag at the moment is that the projector needs a really dark room since it only produced 15 Lumens of light. But it is great for small screen presentations for a group. The battery clips onto the bottom of the unit and goes for about 2 hours between charges. I think 5 years from now, most of the projectors we’ll see will be driven by LEDs not lamps.

Sony beats the rattle out of Sennheiser

Here is a recommendation to go for the new Sony UTX-P1 wireless microphone set, instead of the Sennheiser SKP 30U which is a very similar miniature plug-on transmitter. The Sony device is new, the Sennheiser equivalent has been around for about 18 months.

Sennheiser's blurb says that "any cabled microphone (even condenser microphones) can be instantly converted to RF wireless operation - simply by plugging the transmitter into the microphone connector." That is misleading. The microphone needs to have a metal casing, since the transmitter uses the metal case of the microphone as an antenna. And the locking ring at the bottom is certainly not suitable for all Sennheiser micrphones. If you start to rely on the strength of the spring inside the XLR-3 connector on the Sennheiser (made by Neutrik AG so I was told), then you will be sorely disappointed after a few months standard use - the microphone starts to rattle on the end of the transmitter creating annoying rattle noise.

I think that’s a design fault, but the manufacturers don’t agree with me - and were extremely unhelpful at IBC, making out that this was not a problem. Curiously the Sennheiser UK site says there is now a 10 year guarantee on these components, - but only for products purchased after August 1st 2005....oh what a shame I do not qualify.

I’m going to test the Sony version to see if it is any better. In the meantime, I'm looking for alternatives to Sennheiser.

Wind-Up Radios - 10 Years On

Both in Berlin (IFA) and Amsterdam (IBC) I saw some new wind-up radios. This week is actually historic because 10 years ago on Monday Trevor Baylis, of what was called Baygen (Baylis Generators) launched his first wind-up radio at IBC. He used the same spring you find inside a car safety belt to power his sets. The radios were made in Capetown, South Africa for quite a years by a factory employing mainly disabled people. However import tariffs and duties inside Africa meant that it soon became un-economic to continue to make the wind-up radios in Capetown. At that point, Trevor and the Freeplay organisation parted company.

Now the spring method seems to have been replaced by a wind-up battery charger in most variations….people like Grundig North America (now branded as Eton), make one….I like this range of radios because it comes with a set of chords to charge the phone with the radio, as well as having an inbuilt light.


The Tangogroup, who now own the Freeplay licence told me last month they are launching a wind-up DAB radio called DEVO in October 2005. I have only got a picture. One 60 second wind will work for an hour on FM, but only 3-5 minutes on DAB. If it is true they should do a deal with Telsell and market it alongside the body trainers!

Urban Fox at IBC 2005

On Saturday Sept 9th, as part of the What Caught My Eye series at IBC, Christina Fox did an excellent look at building a professional production kit for video producers. She’s putting up her selection of kit later this week at I really recommend you look at that. She runs excellent, very reasonabl-priced training sessions for those who aspire to do professional video productions. The website contains some useful hints and news too.

I have built a similar list of kit on these pages that tries to complement Christina’s list, but then more for people working with audio, either for radio, podcasting, or audio for video for TV or the web.

T-20 Recorder from I-River

The I-river 700 series, which people like Adam Curry use for soundscape podcasts is dead.

The T-20 is the new device to replace it, which looks like it will have an external microphone input as well as "line-in". The photo is think it is big....infact the unit is the size of stick of gum and the USB connector slides inside out of the way. I see that Engadget is reporting the units are starting to appear in the US now.

I bought one of the first T-20's on September 9th. It cost me 170 Euro for the 1 GB version. The built-in microphone is actually quite good. You can record 18 hours at the highest quality.

BUT.... the controls are very confusing to operate, especially when the thing is hanging round your neck. This is clearly an MP3 player where someone has added on a few extra bits to make it record. I would vote the older version as much better.

It is still very difficult to get information out of I-river and dealers tend to stock other brands around here. For that reason, I would not recommend this unit to friends.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

IBC -Thanks for visiting

Chances are that you were one of the 106 people who turned up to Room L on Monday to see the session 'What Caught My Eye' on gadgets. I will be posting the presentation, with the links to the companies concerned in the course of this week. Please check back for that, and mark this blog in your list of favorites. You can also subscribe using RSS with most of the popular readers, so when updates come, you will get an e-mail with the contents of the post.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Grundig Name Becomes Eton...

That picture I posted yesterday? It is the exhaust of a Porsche, which was the inspiration for a new line of radios being marketed by the Eton Corporation, formerly Grundig of North America. They have designed a radio which actually fits into a subwoofer, with the knobs doubling for both volume and tuning as well as being the "tweeters". The radio does sound terrific - costs around 300 Us dollars in the States.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Samson C01U - USB Condenser Microphone.

Now this looks like something for serious podcasters - a USB mike. It costs around 200 US dollars.

The US manufacturer Samson claims the C01U USB Studio Condenser Mic is the first affordable studio condenser mic with a USB interface.

Seamless integration was the idea, and it was obtained by creating a studio condenser microphone that can be plugged into any computer with no in/out boxes, no expensive computer pre-amps, just a USB cable. The C01U condenser microphone is based on the C01. It features a 19mm internal shock mounted diaphragm with a cardioid pick up pattern ensuring studio quality recordings. The C01U works perfectly on any computer, Mac or PC, and with any DAW software program. It immediately solves a huge problem for users of many laptops, many of which have no other input method for audio devices. The mic also opens up possibilities for anyone who records audio - from Podcasters, radio reporters, students, and business people adding audio files to websites and multimedia presentations.

Posted by Picasa

Can you guess what this is? Answer tomorrow Posted by Picasa

Onkyo Stuff & Nonsense

So why is this nonsense? Onkyo is trying to sell you "gold plated" cables as if this will do anything to the encoding quality of the original MP3. It is like putting a golden steering wheel on a SMART. What is the point? Posted by Picasa