Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

12 September 2005
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)

--Review: ADS USB 2.0 SimpleTouch HD Kit

--Reallusion Annouces Dev Program for Mobile Phones

--New Logitech QuickCam Does 3D Avatars

--eMagin Shows 3DVisor
--InterVideo WinDVD 7 Supports Interactive Features

--Partnership Introduces Students to Careers in Interactive Audio
--Web Development with Rails

--Sony Announces Six New PSP Titles
--Midway Acquires N.A. Pub Rights to Earth 2160

--Kagan Forecasts 59% of TV Households Will Be ITV-Equipped by 2009

--@Last Software Announces SketchUp User Conference

F.Y.I. --About Spectrum



Review: ADS USB 2.0 SimpleTouch HD Kit
By David Duberman

Just as you can never be too thin or too rich (well, except for Leona Helmsley), you can never have too much hard drive capacity. Whether you're working with digital video or just performing backups (you do back up your data regularly, don't you?), it never hurts to have a few extra hundred gigabytes on tap. Certainly, you can use today's cheap, reliable DVD writers and media for offline storage, but there's nothing as fast and convenient, once you've maxed out your PC's internal hard-drive connections, as a nice, big, external drive.

You can buy external USB 2.0 hard drives at your friendly neighborhood chain electronics store, but for a sizable disk you'll probably pay a premium, and take it from me: You'll want a sizable disk. A few months ago I purchased a plug-in 80GB Hammer unit at a reasonable price, but very quickly ran out of room. Then I got hold of the ADS USB 2.0 SimpleTouch HD Kit, added a 300GB hard drive that bought on the Web for under $150 (I've seen them for less than that since), and haven't looked back.

Installation is a snap. You unscrew the case, attach the drive with supplied mounting hardware and cabling, replace the case, connect the USB cable to your computer and the power cable to an outlet, and you're ready to go. Well, almost. One convenience of the store-bought unit is that the drive comes preformatted, so you can start using it as soon as you boot up. With the do-it-yourself setup, you have to format it using Windows' Disk Management tool, and with a big drive, it can take a while. Fortunately, it needs to be done only once; start it before you go to lunch, and when you come back it's ready.

I noted a few other slight differences between the Hammer drive and the ADS enclosure. The former's power switch is on the front, which is convenient because you probably don't want to keep it turned on all the time. With the ADS, you have to reach around the back. Second, the Hammer unit has a separately switched fan, but the ADS doesn't. But even with the monster 300GB drive running for hours, the ADS barely gets warm, so a fan doesn't seem to be necessary. On the plus side, the ADS enclosure's busy light is very bright, so there's no mistaking when the drive is active. And in both cases, the external drive isn't quite as fast as the internal ones, but that's because of the limitations of USB; it's still plenty fast.

The ADS comes with some software that stays resident once installed and looks for the press of a special button (i.e., SimpleTouch) on the back of the drive case. You can set the software to respond to your touch by either running a program (no thanks, I'd rather do it the normal way) or backing up a folder to the external drive. This seems convenient, but it actually isn't, because once you've done a backup, you have to change the location; if the destination is already there, the SimpleTouch software simply fails. And forget about incremental backups; this software is strictly basic. Frankly, it's easier and more reliable just to do it yourself or get some dedicated backup software.

So if you have any experience at all with compute hardware, or know someone who does, I recommend the do-it-yourself route; the ADS unit is decently priced and works fine. Give it a try; you'll save a few bucks and get the satisfaction of creating a custom backup drive yourself.




Reallusion Annouces Dev Program for Mobile Phones

Following Reallusion's release of its new Certified Content Developer (CCD) program at the recent Siggraph conference in Los Angeles, the company has announced their first release of a major licensed character. The interactive avatar for mobile phones is based on basketball player Tracy McGrady and was designed by GenPlay Games of Milpitas, Calif., in three days by a single developer.

Designed to be used by graphics professionals, independent artists and developer groups, Reallusion's CCD program provides developers with Reallusion's proprietary development tools and 3ds Max plug-ins. Once created, certified content for mobile phones and PCs is marketed to end users and OEMs through Reallusion and their partners, with the artists collecting up to a 50% commission on the sale of their content.

Reallusion has three main products for the CCD program. First, developers can create "Character Packs" for CyClone, a new software program used to create personalized 3D avatars and character animation. Developers can also create "Image Packs" for Reallusion's CrazyTalk facial animation software. Finally, the WOW Machine gives developers access to "WOWScreens" 3ds Max plug-ins, allowing developers to export personalized 3D characters and objects to mobile phones. Once certified, all content created for any of Reallusion's products can be sold on the company's online store.

Reallusion says its software is currently installed in over 26 million handsets and PCs worldwide, and projects a year-end penetration of over 32 million.

For a limited time, developers can visit http://www.reallusion.com/developer to fill out an application and download a free 45-day developer license of the Reallusion 3D Studio Max plug-in suite (a $1,495.00 value). The plug-ins export artist creations into files ready to load into Reallusion's popular animation software and mobile phones.

More information about Reallusion's CCD Program and WOWScreens can be found at http://www.reallusion.com/developer/default.html. WOWScreens can be purchased directly from Reallusion or selected carriers.



New Logitech QuickCam Does 3D Avatars

Logitech last week unveiled its redesigned $100 QuickCam for Notebooks Pro Webcam, featuring new Webcam technology in a compact design. The Webcam body itself is 2 3/8-inches tall, less than 1-inch wide and 3/8-inches deep. It contains a 1.3-megapixel sensor and also features Logitech RightLight technology, said to enhance video performance in a variety of lighting conditions; Logitech RightSound technology with acoustic echo-cancellation software; and Logitech Video Effects software, enabling people to transform themselves into animated characters or wear animated accessories as they use their Webcams for live video communications.

The first-of-its-kind Logitech Video Effects software enables people to completely transform their image into three-dimensional animated characters, called avatars, whose expressions and movements precisely mimic people's facial expressions. People can also use the software to add animated accessories, such as eyeglasses, to their on-screen image. Logitech Video Effects software works with all popular Webcam applications, including MSN Messenger Video Conversation, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and Yahoo! Messenger.



eMagin Shows 3DVisor

eMagin Corporation, a developer of virtual imaging technologies, demonstrated its new, $900 Z800 3DVisor, which displays color, 3D video, last week at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin. The U.S. company announced the product earlier this year and began shipping to consumers in early July.

Based on eMagin's OLED (organic light-emitting diode) microdisplays and optics, the 3DVisor delivers high-color, high-contrast imagery equivalent to a 105-inch screen viewed at twelve feet, in stereovision. The 3DVisor's high-speed head tracking enables 360-degree viewing. Completing this experience is an integrated audio system with high-fidelity ear buds and a built-in, noise-canceling microphone. The unit requires a standard USB port and is said to extend a laptop's battery life over using the standard backlit laptop screen.

"The Z800 3DVisor illustrates the potential for virtual imaging," said Susan Jones, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, eMagin Corporation. "While computer games are now the primary 3D surround environments, this technology could allow 3D entertainment - programming that can be viewed from any angle, at any time.

"Learning can move into simulated environments. Grade school students in Europe could experience the Amazon rain forest in full 3D, 'walking through' a completely new environment, without leaving their schools." She also outlined ways in which virtual imaging could extend the work desk across a virtual desktop with many open windows, each accessible by a glance.

At the heart of the Z800 3DVisor, eMagin's active matrix OLED (organic light-emitting diode) microdisplays deliver high speed, high-resolution (800 X 3 X 600), high-color imagery for near-eye applications. Because OLED materials emit light, the displays are thinner and lighter than conventional LCDs, and they require less power, permitting this product to be created without a need for added battery packs or power adapters. OLED microdisplays offer higher contrast and a wider dispersion of light, making them more comfortable to view and usable for near-eye applications. eMagin's 3D OLED microdisplays recognize and deliver left-eye and right-eye stereovision signals. Color pixel data is buffered under each pixel site, eliminating flicker and smear.



InterVideo WinDVD 7 Supports Interactive Features

InterVideo, a provider of multimedia solutions to tier-one consumer electronics and PC manufacturers, announced last week that WinDVD 7 is the first product to support DivX 6 and the new DivX Media Format. WinDVD 7 is the latest release of InterVideo's universal DVD player, which recently surpassed a milestone of more than 125 million copies shipped worldwide.

InterVideo, a DivX-licensed software partner, has worked closely with DivX to create video and audio editing, creation and playback software products that will enable users to take advantage of the new multimedia features embedded in DivX 6 and the new DivX Media Format. In addition to home theater-quality playback of DVDs, WinDVD 7 will now be able to display video files encoded with the advanced features of the DivX Media Format, including subtitles, multiple audio tracks, interactive menus, and chapters.

WinDVD is prepared to support HDTV and H.264 playback, also known as MPEG-4 Part 10. In addition, WinDVD leverages both PC/CE convergence together by providing users with home networking interoperability with UPnP playback and the new DivX Media Format. By combining DivX 6 with WinDVD, viewers will reportedly have more convenience and control over their video files from the Internet and will also be able to playback high-quality files with interactive menus.

Future InterVideo releases enhanced with DivX 6 support include the latest version of DVD Copy, which will provide users with the tools necessary to create their own files with DivX Media Format features. The upcoming release of DVD Copy will incorporate the ability to archive, burn, convert, and download videos over the internet by providing the URL and selecting the video to copy. In addition, this burning application enables users to create files with features of the DivX Media Format including multiple audio tracks, and interactive menus.

For more information on DivX 6 and the DivX Media Format, visit www.divx.com/divx. To learn more about WinDVD 7 and other InterVideo products, visit www.InterVideo.com.



Partnership Introduces Students to Careers in Interactive Audio

Electronic Arts and the Grammy Foundation recently announced Grammy Pro Session: Video Game Music And Sound Design. The series gives students an insider's view into careers in the music industry. On Oct. 17 at EA's Los Angeles studio, 60 high school students will inaugurate the first-ever Pro Session focused on game music and sound. The session is designed to bring high school music students closer to a career in interactive entertainment by taking them behind the scenes to learn about the creative process and gain practical experience in music composition and non-linear sound design for videogames.

The session curriculum will introduce students to the philosophies and logic of interactive sound design and composition. Using EA's WWII-inspired action game Medal of Honor European Assault and the simulation game The Sims 2 as the backbone of the curriculum, students will compose two minutes of nonlinear music and interactive sound that will be played in an EA game environment. The students will engage with EA's music authors and engineers. While at EA, students will receive advice and constructive feedback on their projects from Neil Young, VP and GM of EALA, Steve Schnur, worldwide executive of music and music marketing at EA, Erik Kraber, lead sound designer at EA, and special guest Michael Giacchino, whose music composition credits include Medal of Honor, as well as TV shows, "Lost", "Alias" and the motion picture The Incredibles.

The first Grammy Pro Session: Video Game Music And Sound Design is open to local L.A.-area schools and Grammy Signature Schools. Any student that seeks to participate online can find more information at (www.grammyintheschools.com) by selecting the Pro Sessions link.

Over the course of the year, additional Pro Sessions will be held in Orlando, Fla., Vancouver, B.C., San Francisco and Chicago.


Web Development with Rails

Ruby on Rails is a new approach to Web development that reportedly eases the process of creating rich, sophisticated, and maintainable Web applications. Agile Web Development with Rails: A Pragmatic Guide (Pragmatic Bookshelf, US $34.95, 0-9766940-0-X) is the first book to cover Rails, and it's proving to be very popular: the first printing sold out by the time it hit the streets.

Using this book, readers will:

The book was written by leaders in the field: As one of the authors of The Agile Manifesto, Dave Thomas understands agility. As the author of Programming Ruby he understands Ruby and how to describe writing Ruby applications. David Heinemeier Hansson is the creator of the Rails framework. Leon Breedt wrote the Web services component of Rails. Mike Clark is an international expert on testing techniques. Thomas Fuchs contributed much of the AJAX support for Rails. Andreas Schwarz wrote the online manual on security for Rails. This is the dream team for writing not just the first Rails book, but the definitive Rails book.

Agile Web Development with Rails: A Pragmatic Guide by Dave Thomas and David Heinemeier Hansson with Leon Breedt, Mike Clark, Thomas Fuchs, and Andreas Schwarz ISBN 0-9766940-0-X, 570 pages, $34.95 US, $48.95 CA, softcover. Pragmatic Bookshelf titles are distributed to bookstores internationally by O'Reilly Media.

Sample chapters, table of contents, and more information is available at: http://www.pragmaticprogrammer.com/press_releases/rails.html



Sony Announces Six New PSP Titles

Sony Computer Entertainment America is hoping for a brisk holiday season for its PSP (PlayStationPortable) system with six new first-party titles scheduled for release before the end of the year. The new titles are as follows:

Medievil Resurrection: Available September 13 -- Rated T
Developed by Cambridge Studios, MediEvil Resurrection is an action-adventure game inspired by the PS one franchise. Players follow the role of Sir Daniel Fortesque and embark on a series of events to defeat the evil Sorcerer Zarok. The game takes place numerous levels and gameplay locations, supported with various characters, unique enemies, weapons, and mini-games that take place in the realm of Gallowmere. Featuring wireless multi-player connectivity via ad-hoc and "game-sharing," players can compete head-to-head in various arcade-style mini games and share both a game trailer and demo of WipeOut: Pure to another player respectively.

Gretzky NHL '06: Available October 4 -- Rated E
Features a new Wayne vs. Wayne Mode, where gamers have the chance to skate with "The Great One" and earn the ability to employ five playable versions of Gretzky on the ice at once. Two new modes exclusive to the PSP, 3-on-3 Countdown Mode and NHL Showdown Mode, offer a quick arcade-style experience. Returning features include Quick Game, Exhibition and Season Modes, the Gretzky Challenge, and for gamers on the go, multiplayer gameplay locally or across the nation.

NBA '06: Available October 4 -- Rated E
Running at 60 frames per second, NBA '06 includes two new mini-games, Dodgeball and Horse, which let gamers step away from traditional 5-on-5 basketball action and engage in some classic schoolyard battles. A new virtual trading card system allows gamers to collect virtual cards with freeze-frame snapshots of highlight-reel plays and exchange them with friends via Ad Hoc mode. In addition, NBA '06 for the PSP features the "Clutch" Shooting Mechanism and a simplified play- calling system, while team and opponent A.I. have been improved. Supporting up to two players via wireless multiplayer connectivity during gameplay and in mini-games, players can select any of the 41 authentic NBA teams.

The Con: Available October 18 -- Rated T
The Con is a 3D fighting game that takes place in an underworld of illegal fighting tournaments and high-stakes gambling. During fights, players can throw 'fake' punches or take a dive to tilt the odds and con everyone to ensure a wealthy payoff. Players train their fighter in five different brawling disciplines to fight solo or in a team of three in story mode where their ability to build up their team and implementing match-up strategy plays a big role. In addition, utilizing wireless multi-player connectivity via ad-hoc mode, as well as the "game-sharing" mode, The Con allows players to compete in various head-to-head fighting matches, as well as share a demo version of the game with friends.

SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals: Fireteam Bravo: Available November 8 -- Rating Pending
Created in association with the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command, the title offers new single-player and wireless multiplayer gaming missions. Players complete 14 international single-player missions, including in Chile, which is a unique area of operation only available in the PSP release. After successfully completing a level, players can replay the mission in a new way through the "Instant Action" option, with different objectives, enemy and object placement.

Kngdom of Paradise: Available November 15 -- Rating Pending
Kingdom of Paradise is an action-RPG title in which the player takes the role of a young warrior outcast named Shinbu. When one of the five martial clans attempts to disrupt a peaceful balance of power within the land of Ohka, Shinbu seeks to defend his clan and restore equal power to the five clans that once ruled the world. With more than 20 hours of gameplay, players will venture through vast, living worlds and battle mythical enemies in a quest to restore peace to Ohka. More than 150 sword attack styles are available and players can create unique fighting combos by customizing sword attacks and moves gained throughout the game. In Ad Hoc mode, custom-created sword skills can be shared with friends and players can battle in one-on-one matches. Special skills and defensive items, along with an exclusive sword, are available to download via Infrastructure mode.



Midway Acquires N.A. Pub Rights to Earth 2160

Midway Games has secured the U.S. and Canadian publishing rights for Earth2160, the sequel in the Earth series of real-time strategy (RTS) titles. The game is scheduled to be published in the U.S. and Canada this November for the PC.

Developed by Reality Pump Studios, Earth2160 sees conflict arise as the remnants of the Eurasian Dynasty, Lunar Corporation and United Civilized States terraform Mars following Earth's destruction. As the civilizations independently rebuild, a group of imprisoned alien renegades is awakened from suspended animation. The groups must either battle it out or band together as they try and survive the new alien threat.

Earth2160 takes advantage of new pixel and vertex shaders, said to give the game a look and feel that is ahead of other RTS titles running on more traditional graphics engines. With volumetric shading and high-dynamic range lighting, Earth2160's graphics bring a new level of detail to the RTS genre.

In addition to standard RTS features such as resource acquisition, base building and destruction of enemy bases, Earth2160 also allows players to play adventure-style missions. Modular construction allows players to customize buildings and units, creating various ways for players to wage war. Virtual Agents are available to assist the player in specific tasks on the battlefield or to act as managers dealing with construction, resources or research; letting the player concentrate on other aspects of the game for an experience tailored to the individual gamer's style.




Kagan Forecasts 59% of TV Households Will Be ITV-Equipped by 2009

A new study from Kagan Research projects that 69 million digital subscribers will be equipped with interactive platforms by 2009, accounting for more than half the TV households in the U.S.

Growing competition for video customers has focused cable operators, satellite operators and telco carriers on developing interactive services capable of generating revenue, reducing churn and providing differentiation in the marketplace.

"The debate over the future of interactive TV has shifted from if there is a marketplace to what applications should be introduced first and how quickly," reports Kagan senior analyst Ian Olgeirson.

State of Interactive TV 2005 provides a view of the ITV sector and offers five-year revenue projections for three categories Kagan forecasts will contribute most significantly to the sector's outlook: TV-based gaming, television commerce, and interactive or direct response advertising. While the revenue outlook for these types of interactivity is limited when compared to VOD and DVR technologies, the three categories outlined in the report will help drive subscribers to the platform and are expected to generate significant incremental revenue.

Kagan estimates total revenue for electronic transactions conducted via games, television or t-commerce and interactive advertising will reach $2.4 bil. by the year 2009.

The interactive services segment will also contribute to the bottom line for cable, DBS and telcos. Kagan estimates interactive services will generate $780 mil. in operator revenue by 2009.

State of Interactive TV 2005 outlines the enabled universe on three levels, starting with projecting growth of digital subscribers; then delineating the outlook for the installed base of digital set-top boxes; and finally forecasting the potential for interactive software-enabled set-top boxes. The three layers form a five-year profile for interactive capability in the U.S. market and define the footprint upon which services can be launched.

The study also includes operator profiles for the major U.S. providers of multichannel video packages and how they intend to deliver ITV services. Profiled companies include Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Cox, Insight, Time Warner, DirectTV and EchoStar.

For table of contents and more information on State of Interactive TV 2005 visit www.kagan.com



@Last Software Announces SketchUp User Conference

@Last Software, Inc., maker of SketchUp software, is hosting the first SketchUp user conference entitled 3D Base Camp. The conference will be held October 5-7, 2005, in Boulder, Colorado, and will highlight a workshop by Michael Ashbridge and Wes Thierry of Google Earth. The keynote address will be delivered by author and publisher Stewart Brand.

3D Base Camp will feature discussions of new directions in design. Architects, designers and other professionals from around the world will experience over 20 interactive learning sessions that merge applications with specialists, allow maximization of SketchUp skills and offer an open platform for idea exploration. Attendees will be able to work individually with SketchUp experts in the SketchUp Workshop. The workshop is a walk-in lab and will be open for over 14 hours over all three days.

The session entitled Earth 101 is one of the most anticipated workshops of the conference. Experts from Google will show how SketchUp can be used with Google Earth to create buildings, bridges and other structures and then position those structures anywhere on the globe to view them in context.

"This is truly mind-blowing stuff," says Mark Limber, Director of Development -- New Markets for @Last Software. "Imagine modeling your house and placing it on your specific building site. Together, Google Earth and SketchUp help us realize the dream of delivering 3D for everyone."

Thursday will feature a keynote address given by Brand, the author of "How Buildings Learn," which explores vernacular adaptations in architecture, and the more recent, "The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility." He has been called "the least recognized, most influential thinker," in spatial design. His colorful career has contributed to progress of ideas in the fields of ecology, architecture and technology.

For more information and to register for the 2005 3D Base Camp, visit http://www.sketchup.com. 3D Base Camp is taking place at the St. Julien Hotel and Spa in downtown Boulder.



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