Those that have followed me and AndroidSPIN for a while know that I have this crazy obsession, perhaps unhealthy addiction, with storage. Not so much cloud storage, although I do have a number of those accounts spread all over the place as well. More so I have an addiction to physical storage. Be it micro SD […]
The format war. Over the last few decades it has played out across various forms of tech — AC vs DC, VHS vs. Beta — usually with fierce battle lines drawn and millions or even billions of dollars at stake. Recently, none have burned so brightly as the battle of HD DVD vs. Blu-ray (read our blow-by-blow retrospective here). And it brought all the classic elements: Sides were divided between titans of the industry, led by Sony pressing the Blu-ray side and Toshiba backing HD DVD, with the PS3 and Xbox 360 ready to serve with as trojan horses. As if the the stakes weren’t high enough already, the specter of an oncoming internet streaming winter loomed like Game of Throne’s army of White Walkers. So what really happened, and who won in the end?
Looking back to 2005, HDTVs were finally available everywhere, but not everyone had one yet. A study by Leichtman Research Group would put the adoption rate at about 12 percent by the end of the year, and Nintendo even declined to make an HD-ready version of its new game system, the Wii. It was nearly impossible to buy movies in high definition, with cable or satellite broadcasts left as the only easy option. DVD player-based upscaling promised to make movies look better on HDTVs, but couldn’t quite compare with the resolution of the real thing. There was a light on the horizon, however: Sony and Microsoft were both ready to place calculated bets on the “HD Era” of gaming, and the PS3 would even arrive with a Blu-ray player built-in. Microsoft stuck with plain DVDs, but promised an HD DVD add-on for the future.
The consoles’ arrival turned out to to be particularly welcome too. The first dedicated players to ship were crudely designed, made from left-over laptop parts, slow, glitchy and retailed for around $500 (HD DVD) or $1,000 (Blu-ray). At the time, concerns over DRM like the “Image Constraint Token” that could block HD playback on TVs without copyright protected HDMI jacks ruled the day and we weren’t sure 50GB Blu-ray discs would actually appear — neither issue amounted to much. In time, the players got better and cheaper, and after a while, it was actually normal to see new movies released on HD formats alongside DVDs. In the end, Sony’s Blu-ray format eventually prevailed and is still going strong as we speak. But the path to that victory was a costly one for Sony.
The Competitors: Sony vs. Toshiba
On one side, Sony promised its Blu-ray format could handle capacity (50GB) and even interactivity (BD-J) that we’d never seen before. While Toshiba claimed HD DVD could make up the gap in capacity (30GB max) and technology by being cheaper and easier to manufacture with plants that were already making DVDs. As for content, major studio support weighed heavily in Blu-ray’s favor, whereas only Universal stood in favor of HD DVD. I hedged my bets by purchasing both the HD DVD add-on for the Xbox 360 (it was bundled with Heroes season one — a decision I stand by), and a PS3. Considering the content advantage, it’s really no surprise that HD DVD failed as the only viable alternative was some sort of hybrid push that incorporated Blu-ray. That was a gap both LG and Samsung tried and failed to close with hybrid players. Warner Bros. considered making a play for the space with expensive dual-sided discs, but never actually put them on sale.
And the winner is…
Once Warner Bros. dropped support for HD DVD on the eve of CES 2008, the war was over. Sony had successfully pushed Blu-ray into millions of homes with its PS3 trojan horse; this, despite trailing Xbox 360 and Wii in sales during the early days of the console war. Effectively, it was Sony’s decision to make HD discs standard for the PS3, as opposed to an optional add-on, that led to a hardware gap HD DVD could never surmount. Add in the overwhelming studio support on the Blu-ray side, and it’s clear in retrospect that only stubbornness (and a few contractual obligations) kept things going as long as they did. Toshiba threw in the towel just over a month after Warner Bros.’ CES announcement, and the fledgling HD DVD library was rendered obsolete; now mere collector’s items for a scant few.
The price of success
So to the victor goes the spoils, right? Not quite. While Sony’s Blu-ray format prevailed, it never quite turned into the cash cow its backers originally predicted. Blu-ray still hasn’t unseated DVD as the primary physical movie delivery format, and it’s being squeezed out of relevance on the other end by the rise of video on-demand and streaming. This year Sony took a $240 million hit because of “demand for physical media contracting faster than expected,” something that’s not helping its ongoing attempts to dig out of a massive financial hole. It could be worse though, as Toshiba is suffering the indignity of selling Blu-ray players of its own and facing the same declining PC and TV sales that have hit and crippled Sony.
LG and Samsung took a different approach to the format war with (token) attempts to support both sides, and by shifting focus to mobile, have seen significant growth. Microsoft failed to see the HDi interactive tech it contributed to HD DVD catch on, but its Xbox 360 led the video game console sales charts for years — and never once, despite many rumors, appeared with an internal HD DVD drive. Microsoft also jumped on the Netflix streaming fad early in 2008 before even the PS3 and Wii scored access. Now, the Xbox One plays games and movies alike from Blu-ray discs, to go along with cable TV hooks and streaming apps, and it’s almost not weird.
Despite years of rumors it would jump into the format war, Apple never did, and never has. It ran the other way, largely ditching support for optical discs on its machines and to this day, it still doesn’t make a Blu-ray drive for Macs. Its iTunes video on-demand store is a leader in digital movie sales, and the Apple TV hockey puck has ridden a rising tide for streaming boxes to sales of over $1 billion last year. Internet movie services and connected devices are rising rapidly in popularity, with Netflix topping 40 million subscribers and Google’s Chromecast dongle selling “millions” of units.
Sony’s win has its benefits though, and company has definitely turned things around with the PlayStation 4. The console hasn’t ushered in a new format, but it’s enjoying a sales lead that continues to grow. The PS4′s also built with an eye to the future: Sony’s hosting a beta program (PlayStation Now) for streaming games and promising an internet-delivered TV service later this year adding to its Blu-ray movie playback and healthy suite of streaming video apps.
Blu-ray isn’t ready to be written off either, as disc sales continue to grow slowly, and studios pack in digital copies to increase their appeal. The advent of Ultra HD could also be a bonus, as execs have told us a spec bump is being discussed.
So what did we — the consumers who actually buy all this stuff — get?
Unfortunately, the format war separated content for exclusives and caused studios to stagger movie rollouts. Partially as a result even now, some classics (or cult classics) are either still unavailable in HD or are just hitting shelves. Also, copy protection is both as tight as ever, and as ineffective. Movies are consistently available as rips at or before their disc release. And even the PS4 requires a workaround just to enable video capture for games, among other DRM headaches. While schemes like digital copies and Ultraviolet have provided some portability, promised features (managed copy) have never arrived and moving content beyond the disc is still far more complicated than it should be.
On the other hand, we were promised a movie experience at home that finally truly rivaled what’s available in theaters, and I think that bar has been met. The streaming push is bringing set-top boxes that support more than one service, but that doesn’t mean the days of the video format war are over, they’ve just changed battlegrounds. Every delivery service (i.e., Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, cable TV) has its own exclusive content, and it’s nearly impossible to get them all in one place — with the amount of money at risk, it seems we’ll never learn a different way to do this.
[Image credit: Gary Gardiner/Bloomberg via Getty Images, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, ASSOCIATED PRESS, BUILT Images / Alamy]
There’s no shortage of 8-inch Windows tablets on the market right now, but Microsoft and its partners are pushing ahead with plans to shrink the OS even further. A Redmond executive at Computex has just shown off the Toshiba Encore 7: a 7-inch tablet running full Windows 8.1. If you’re thinking that the Windows desktop will be mighty fiddly at this screen-size, then you’re right — it’s only going to be useful as a Plan B when there’s no other way to get into a legacy application, or when you’re hooked up to a keyboard, mouse and bigger display. For regular use, you’d be reliant on the more thumb-friendly Metro UI and apps.
The Encore 7 isn’t actually the first such device we’ve seen (Panasonic has a 7-inch Toughpad, and some smaller brands have had a go too), but it’s likely to be one of the first to go mainstream, especially if it can score a budget price tag. There’s no official pricing or availability yet, but judging from the use of a standard Bay Trail Atom processor, paired with a reported 1GB of RAM and a 1,024 x 600 display resolution, there’s nothing to stop the Encore 7 coming in at well under $200. We’re hoping to get hands-on with the device shortly, but in the meantime our review of the Encore 8 should give you a flavor of what this thing is like.
Lately, Toshiba’s all about multitasking laptops — at CES the company showed off a “5-in-1″ laptop concept with a detachable keyboard, and here at Computex we’re getting a look at the “7-in-1″ Kirabook L93. Like Toshiba’s Satellite Click, the L93 includes a detachable keyboard base, so it works in standard laptop and tablet modes. The L93′s flexible hinge also lets you use the device in display mode, with the base either attached or separated. While it’s arguably another iteration of Toshiba’s Lenovo Yoga-style devices, you do have more modes than ever to flip through.
Even with a perfectly made laptop, the ability to fold it in so many ways is part-gimmick, part-useful (how important is it to use the display propped up without the keyboard attached, really?), and the Kirabook L93′s design is a tad too complicated to be convenient. Re-attaching the keyboard base required the help of two Intel spokespeople in the booth, and in the process one rep’s shirt got caught in the latch mechanism. It’s definitely the sort of thing that would get easier the more you use the device, though, so that design quirk isn’t reason enough to write the product off.
There are a few other strange features, though: there’s a somewhat sticky pointing stick in place of a trackpad, so you’ll definitely want to take advantage of the 13-inch touchscreen. Below the keyboard, there are small right- and left-click buttons, which felt a little stiff when clicking around Windows 8.1. Hey, at least it has a full chiclet-style layout instead of shallow keys with no travel.
The L93 is very thin, and the 2,560 x 1,440, 13.3-inch display looks crisp, though even the maximum brightness seemed a bit dark on the bright showroom floor. Specs aren’t particularly high-end, but they’re enough to get some work done: there’s a 128GB SSD, 8 gigs of RAM and a Core i5 Haswell processor.
Overall, the L93 is an interesting take on the convertible laptop, and those looking for a versatile machine might want to give it a once-over. That said, it’s priced at €1,900 (about $2,600), and so far availability has only been announced for Japan. For now, take a look at our hands-on gallery to get a closer look at the laptop’s many modes.
Filed under: Laptops
Toshiba on Tuesday announced the upcoming availability of its next Android-based tablet, the 7-inch Excite Go. Expected to launch in July, the tablet will carry an affordable $109 price tag. Specifications include Android 4.4 KitKat, a 7-inch 1024×600 display, 8GB internal storage, and a quad-core Intel Atom processor. Other details include a battery with up to 8 hours of general usage, microUSB, microSD expansion card slot (up to 128GB SDXC), and two color options: silver, white.
The last time Toshiba unveiled a bunch of tablets, it paid lip service to cutting-edge specs — things like screen resolution and processing power. This year, it wanted to push the price down low enough that you’d actually buy one. The company just announced two Windows tablets, the 8- and 10-inch Encore 2, along with the Excite Go, a 7-inch Android tablet. And while none of them might be memorable in their own right, they’re all worth a second look, if only because they’re so aggressively inexpensive. The Encore tablets, for instance, start at $200 for the 8-inch and $270 for the 10-inch. And mind you, they basically have the same specs (quad-core Intel Atom processor, 1,280 x 800 screens) as the original 8-inch Encore, which was originally priced at $330. (The 8-incher has been slimmed down, but that’s almost beside the point — it’s all about the price cut.)
Meanwhile, the Excite Go will retail for just $110, making Toshiba one of very few tier-one brands selling an Android tablet for quite that cheap. For the money, you get fresh software (Android KitKat 4.4), with a quad-core Intel Atom processor promising long battery life (up to eight hours, according to Toshiba). It also brings wireless display tech and comes with OfficeSuite Pro (a $15 app) pre-installed. The tablet does have pretty limited storage, with only 16GB of space built in, but even that’s a moot point, as the tablet houses a microSD slot that can accommodate cards as big as 128GB. All told, the biggest tradeoff is the display, which features a piddy 1,024 x 600 resolution. Even then, that’s par for the course at this price, so we can’t get too upset about a few visible pixels. Interested? This goes on sale in early July, as do the new Encore 2 Windows tablets.
Filed under: Tablets
The last time we heard from Toshiba it was doing its annual back-to-school notebook dump. Turns out, the company wasn’t quite through: It just announced a trio of convertible laptops. Of the three, the closest thing to a flagship would be the Satellite Radius, a 15-inch notebook that essentially apes Lenovo’s Yoga line. Which is to say, it has a 360-degree hinge that can be positioned in one of five modes, including notebook, tablet, “Presentation” (upside down, keyboard in), “Audience” (screen out, keyboard tucked under) and “Tabletop,” with the entire machine lying flat on the table. Sound familiar? That’s because it is.
What’s curious is that Toshiba recently showed off something much more innovative: a “5-in-1″ prototype laptop with a snap-off keyboard, making it a cross between a dockable tablet and a Yoga-like convertible. According to Toshiba, that machine is still in development, so if we’re lucky, we might even see it later this year (one can hope). For now, though, the best thing Toshiba has to show in this space feels an awful lot like Lenovo’s offering, just with a bigger screen. If you’re thinking of picking this up ahead of the new school year, the Radius will ship in early July, with prices starting at $926 (in the US, at least, it’ll be sold exclusively at Best Buy). For the money, you get either a Core i5 or 7 processor, 8GB of RAM, up to 1TB of storage space, 802.11ac, Harman Kardon audio and Toshiba’s usual “Sleep & Charge” USB 3.0 port for keeping your other gadgets juiced.
Additionally, Toshiba refreshed the Satellite Click, its tablet/laptop hybrid that came out last year. The new version actually consists of two models, the Click 2 and Click 2 Pro, each of which includes a 13.3-inch screen and bundled keyboard dock. Though their similar names would suggest a family resemblance, the two differ in both design and processing power. As the clearly lower-end device here, the Click 2 makes do with an Intel Pentium processor, 1,366 x 768 resolution, a spinning hard drive (up to 500GB) and kind of a clunky hinge mechanism that requires you to put one hand on the latch and another on the tablet. The Click 2 Pro, meanwhile, steps up to an Intel Core processor, full HD display. 128GB solid-state drive. and a slimmer build designed so that you can un-dock the tablet with one hand. Also, the keyboard dock here will have an optional 500GB hard drive and spare battery – amenities not offered on the lower-end Click 2.
Both machines will ship in late June, according to Toshiba, with the Click 2 priced from $587 and the Click 2 Pro starting at $1,029 (the version with the spare battery/hard drive will cost $1,280). Oh, and everything will be sold exclusively in Best Buy, at least here in the US.
Filed under: Laptops
It looks like neither Qualcomm, Nvidia, Intel or MediaTek will be providing the processors for Google’s upcoming Project Ara. It turns out Toshiba has been partnered with Google ever since the project began to provide the right types of chips for the modular phone that can support the many electric signals being transferred from one slot to the next.
Toshiba say it will provide three different types of chips for the phone, probably varying in speed.
The story is accompanied with the fact that Ara phones will start as cheap as $50, but this is probably for the bare-bones of the phone and will not include any additional parts. Each Ara phone will have 5-10 module slots, probably depending on the size of which one you get. Google did confirm that Ara will come in three sizes, small, medium, and phablet. While we don’t know the exact dimensions of each, we can assume the small will be around 4-4.3 inches, the medium around 4.7-5 inches and phablet around 5.5 inches.
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Microsoft isn’t just supporting White House’s ConnectED education program by lowering the cost of Windows — it’s also giving schools the cash they’ll need to buy Windows PCs. The company is donating $1 billion to make sure that students have the tech they’ll need for both getting online and learning technology skills. The funding comes alongside a new device pricing program that should make the PCs more affordable — to start with, it’s offering sub-$300 systems from Acer, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, Panasonic and Toshiba.
The company isn’t shy about having a commercial incentive behind its generosity; its Education CTO, Cameron Evans, tells CNET that there’s a hope that kids will become loyal Windows fans down the road. However, he adds that any eventual sales are secondary to the more immediate focus on improving education. The influx of cash should reduce the technology gap for less fortunate students, many of whom could miss out on digital learning without a little help.
[Image credit: Getty Images]
It’s easy to find fast storage if you have a big camera, but not so much if you have a very tiny mirrorless cam that uses microSD cards — more often than not, you’re stuck in the slow lane. You won’t be held back for much longer if Toshiba has its way, though. The company has just revealed the first-ever microSD cards to meet the speedy UHS-II spec, giving them the same performance as the quickest full-size SD storage — and up to eight times the write speed of Toshiba’s earlier microSD lineup. Data reads, meanwhile, are nearly three times faster.
The upgrade should help even smaller cameras and smartphones shoot burst photos as quickly as some pro hardware, and 4K video recording will be relatively pain-free. Toshiba is only providing samples of 32GB and 64GB cards to chip and gadget makers at this stage, and you’ll need to check that whatever device you get supports UHS-II before you splurge on the newer flash memory. However, it shouldn’t be long before you can get truly rapid-fire photography from a device that fits in your pocket.