Sony does it right? My review of the XDCam EX

Normally, I’m rather mean to Sony. Usually, they deserve it. Prepare to have your collective internet minds blown.

The Sony XDcam EX is the best camera you can buy for less than $15,000. It’s my new favorite camera. It’s the first camera in years that I’ve actually wanted to own personally. Read on to find out why. Thanks very much to Pat Hart at AVI Systems for making this camera available to me.


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Drobo followup a few months later

I’ve had my Drobo for about three months now, and I figured it’d be a good time to post some followup thoughts. Here’s the scoop.

The Drobo is the first product from a young company, so I went into it expecting some growing pains. Indeed, there have been a few. But I can happily report that they’ve been resolved and it is now the device I hoped it would be.

The problems have been relatively minor – initially, the disks would never go to sleep (solved by firmware 1.0.2) and there was an occasionally pause when streaming video (fixed by firmware 1.0.3). I also had one scary moment in which I thought I’d lost all of my data – the Drobo refused to mount and OSX threw all sorts of USB errors. After a few hours of churning (and replaying the HFS+ journal) it appeared and all was well.

I’ve used about 810gigs of my available 1.1 terabytes. I’ll need to upgrade drives before too long, which will be a good test of that feature. In the meantime, I’m happy with having a single, redundant, giant drive to dump all of my data onto. It’s allowed me to unify all of my media into a single, giant, iTunes library, which would otherwise have never been possible.

Thumbs up to Drobo then, and onward towards glory.

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Amazon MP3 Service – Apple shouldn’t ignore this one recently launched an MP3 music store, promising DRM-free 256kbit mp3s for less than the cost of an iTunes download. Initially, I didn’t pay much attention, but over the weekend I took the time to browse the service. Apple better not ignore this one.

First, let’s talk about the reasons that I normally ignore non-iTunes stores. First off, prior to this (and eMusic, but eMusic lost me years ago) the alternatives were all reliant on DRM-wrapped Windows Media. That meant no Mac playback, no iPod playback, and therefore, no Colin.

Additionally, most of the other stores have been strictly web-based, which compared with the all-in-one nature of iTunes is cumbersome and obnoxious. Amazon still suffers here, but they’ve done some clever things to work around it. By installing their download-helper application, you can purchase an album with one click, have the files downloaded in a batch and then automatically added to iTunes, with proper cover art and everything. That’s incredibly slick and makes the service far less clunky than having to click a whole load of “download now” links and then drag the files into iTunes.

The selection isn’t at iTunes levels yet, but they’ve got plenty of mainstream artists. Prices are almost universally better than iTunes – most singles are $0.89 and albums are $8.99 or less. I can’t help but wonder whether there’s any profit in this for Amazon.

Yes, buying still takes an extra couple clicks versus iTunes, and the web interface isn’t nearly as slick as iTunes, but saving a few bucks and getting DRM-free music is a pretty nice advantage. For the first time since I gave up CDs, I’m going to consider looking outside of iTunes for music – and I’m a fanboi! So Apple: don’t ignore this one…

Panasonic HPX-500 review

The HPX-500 is the big brother to the stellar HVX-200. There’s a nice review up from a UK site. IT certainly seems to have a lot of benefits, particularly if your workflow can take advantage of the benefits of P2 without the disadvantages. It’s a very affordable step up for the HVX (street price is around $13,000) which makes the cons (lowish-res CCDs, limited manual tweaking) seem less problematic.

iPhone vs Dash

So, I’m not entirely dead. Just mostly.

I’m finally feeling halfway competent enough to write up my thoughts on the iPhone. In doing so, I figured I’d compare it to my previous phone, the T-Mobile Dash (HTC Excalibur).

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Let me begin by pointing out my inherent bias in this discussion – the iPhone was always going to be the God phone in my eyes. That said, it’s not perfect.

Lets start with form factor. The iPhone and the Dash are very similar in size and weight. The Dash is a bit wider, the iPhone is a bit taller. The Dash is a fair svelte device for a smartphone (pre-iPhone), and I’m a huge fan of the rubberized plastic used on the case. The iPhone is far more likely to take an accidental tumble than the Dash. Luckily you’d never be so careless as to put your iPhone in harm’s way.

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Taken strictly as a phone, the Dash is also the winner. Much of this is (I believe) down to the fact that my Dash was a T-mobile device, whereas the iPhone is an AT&T device. I’ve had more dropped calls in a week with my iPhone than in 6 months with my Dash. The Dash was by far the best performing phone I’ve used though, so it’d be tough to match. (Other recent phones I’ve used with T-mobile – Nokia 3230, Nokia 3650, Motorola Razr, Siemens S55, Samsung S105). It’s also worth noting that I live in a cave, where any RF reception is tenuous at best.

What about internet functionality? There’s no comparison. The iPhone is by far the best mobile internet experience I’ve ever had. Having a true and proper web browser in your pocket really is a game-changer. Websites render properly and quickly, and navigation is easy, despite the small screen. Similarly, the Email client is fast and easy to use. The Dash webbrowser was slow and problematic, often locking the phone or refusing to render a page. Similarly, the email client always took ages to pull in my mail, and would often fail to complete the process, leaving my mailbox in funny half-present states.

In terms of net connectivity, the iPhone is the first phone I’ve had with proper, usable Wifi. It’s not something you have to think about – any time you make a data request and the iPhone sees a nearby access point, it asks if you want to join. If you say yes, it connects quickly and without drama. If you say no, it uses EDGE. While EDGE is a bit of a bummer compared to the 3G networks, the iPhone is definitely the fastest EDGE device I’ve used. The iPhone also remembers Wifi access points you’ve visited in the past, and automatically joins them next time you’re in range. Nice.

The other smartphone tools are pretty much par for the course. The calendar is functional, the notes tool is a notes tool, and the contact management is “alright,” – no better than other phones. The touch interface makes it all fun, and I have no complaints about the functionality. A todo feature is sorely missing though, and one would hope it would find its way into a software update.

In terms of media playback, there isn’t any comparison between the two. The Dash had a semi-functional version of Windows Media Player which would display tiny little videos and stuttering audio. The iPhone gives you all the functionality of an iPod, with the addition of a beautiful touch interface and high-res screen.

All in all, the iPhone has met my expectations of what an Apple phone should be. It’s beautiful, intuitive, and does a few things far better than anyone has done before. And, like any Apple device, it is also to some extent defined by its limitations. No iChat, no video capture, no third party applications. It’s a good enough device that I can ignore the limitations for now. Because Apple has the ability to push software updates easily and universally, unlike any phone before, I hope the next few months will reveal an ever-improving iPhone that continues to delight and amaze.

Drobo Rocks

I have made it back from Beijing (woot) and am slowly getting caught up. I want to begin with a review of my Drobo.


It really is as simple as they say. I unboxed it, plugged in three fresh 500 gig SATA drives, turned it on and formatted it. That was it. No setup, configuration, or anything else. As an aside, the drives were only $99 each, on sale at NewEgg. If you’re in the market, keep an eye on the “cheap drive deals” forum at DroboSpace.

Next, I started copying data to the Drobo. While doing so, I popped in a 300 gig drive in the fourth slot. There was no excitement whatsoever – the copy continued, the green light came on and the Volume was suddenly a little bit bigger.

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So, setup is as simple as could be.

Performance is probably the biggest downside of Drobo. If you need crazy thruput, this isn’t the device for you. I’m seeing about 16 Megabytes/second, compared to about 60 megabytes/second on the internal disk. That’s a pretty big difference, but I’m just using the device for archival purposes.

Some folks are also confused by the way it reports free space. The DroboDashboard application (shown above) reports the true disk space of Drobo. However, the OS will report it as a 2 terabyte volume, no matter how large the actual drives are. This is how they’re able to grow and shrink the volume dynamically – they trick the OS a bit. What it means is that you can’t trust the “Free space” report in Finder. There are also lights on the front of Drobo that tell you how much space is available. Not a big downside for me, but some folks might not be so keen.

Another issue that some folks have is noise. Drobo does have an 80mm fan in the back, which runs at varying speeds depending on workload and ambient temperature. For me, it seems pretty quiet, and I certainly can’t hear it over my air conditioner. If you’re one of those silent-workspace types though (still running a Cube?), you won’t be thrilled.

Overall, I’m very impressed. Build quality is nice, with a bunch of high end touches, like magnets to hold the front faceplate on. For a first product from a new company, it all feels very polished.

So, if you’re a person with lots of data to store, without a need for high disk bandwidth, and you want to be able to grow over time, Drobo will make you very happy.

Sony Reader Rocks my World

If you listened to last week’s podcast (yes, we still do them), you heard me go on and on about the Sony Reader. If you didn’t listen though, here’s the gist.

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I stole this photo from the internet

The Sony Reader is a paperback-sized ebook reader (about 1/4″ thick) which uses E-ink technology to display text in a very paper-esq manner. The screen actually displays dots of ink which reflect light, just like normal paper. By using this technology, you get incredible battery life (7000 pages on a charge) and far less eyestrain than with a traditional digital display.

The Reader displays books purchased from the Sony Connect store or any PDF, TXT, RTF, JPG or GIF file. It can also play MP3s. There’s about 100 meg of internal storage, but the Reader has an SD/Memory Stick slot which allows for expansion. I just popped in an $8, 1gig SD card from NewEgg.

I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it. Reading from it is as comfortable (or perhaps more comfortable) than reading paper. It’s such a joy to constantly have a whole collection of books with you. You can easily mark as many pages as you want and jump to them as desired. Text can also be displayed in three different sizes, or rotated into landscape mode. There are multiple page turn buttons as well, to make it comfortable no matter how you hold it.

Downsides? Well, it’s spendy. $350 will get you the Reader, though it comes with $50 in credit at the Sony Connect store, along with another $100 towards “classic” books. The books from the Sony store are generally in the range of 20% cheaper than the dead-tree version, however some titles are closer to 50% off (and a few inexplicably cost more).

Another downside, for some folks at least, is that the screen goes through an odd flash when turning the page. This is because the e-ink has to clear the screen before drawing new text. It doesn’t bug me at all, as I just consider it akin to physically turning a page.

In any case, I love mine and look forward to showing other folks just how good it is. If you want to check one out in person (and you don’t see me on a routine basis), you can find them at some Borders bookstores.