Dish Network to buy Blockbuster for $228 million

by Don Reisinger

Blockbuster has finally found a suitor.

Dish Network announced today that it will be acquiring the movie rental chain for $228 million. The satellite provider participated in a bankruptcy court auction for Blockbuster, making a winning bid of $320 million. With adjustments for cash and inventory, the companies agreed on the final price.

After failing to see the changing times and allowing Netflix’s DVD-By-Mail service to grow under its nose, Blockbuster was met by significant challenges in the rental space. In 2009, a little over a year after it tried to acquire Circuit City for $1 billion, Blockbuster was forced to close nearly 1,000 of its then 7,000 stores. The company hoped that the closures would help it return to profitability, but the efforts failed. Last year, Blockbuster was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange because of its low share price.

In September, Blockbuster was finally forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The company said at the time that it hoped to reduce its $1 billion in debt to $100 million. It offered noteholders equity in the company in exchange for relief on its outstanding debt.

Dish’s winning bid for Blockbuster came less than a couple months after the rental company was courted by a “stalking horse” bidder. The rental chain said at the time that Cobalt Video Holdco offered management $290 million for its U.S. and international operations. The companies agreed to an asset-purchase agreement, which is apparently voided now that Dish has won the auction.

Though Dish didn’t say what its plans are for Blockbuster, the company’s executive vice president of sales, marketing and programming, Tom Cullen, was quick to acknowledge in a statement that the rental chain “faces significant challenges.” Dish’s overall goal, he said, is to “re-establish Blockbuster’s brand as a leader in video entertainment.”

Dish Network expects the Blockbuster deal to close in the second quarter, pending bankruptcy court approval.

Dish declined to comment further on the acquisition. Blockbuster has not immediately responded to request for comment.

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On Line Distribution of Video Content

By Scott Wilkinson • Posted: Apr 1, 2011

Online distribution of video content—especially high-def video—will never float my boat until the bandwidth available to most homes is way faster than it is today. According to, in 2010, South Korea had the fastest average household bandwidth at 22.46 megabits per second, while the US was 30th in the world at 7.78Mbps—that’s less than Latvia (18.02Mbps), Lithuania (15.81Mbps), and Liechtenstein (7.79Mbps). But even in Korea, streaming high-def—not to mention anything with even higher resolution, like 4K or UltraHD—requires some serious compression, which lowers the picture quality dramatically.
An incredible solution to this problem was quietly demonstrated in a hotel suite at CES this year by a company called R2D2 (“Twice the Research, Twice the Development!”). The company’s Hypernet technology bypasses the Internet completely, offering nearly unlimited bandwidth and instantaneous transmissions using the principles of quantum physics. Inventor Leia Organic Skydancer, love child of two spaced-out hippies, is a video artist and musician as well as a physicist and computer scientist who created Hypernet so she could effectively market her own material, including her first project, Music From the Hearts of Hyperspace.

Hypernet uses quantum computers, which were first conceived when it became clear that electronic miniaturization was going to continue unabated. Physicists have started to consider what would happen if the individual elements within an integrated circuit were single atoms or even photons, which led to the concept of the quantum computer. In such a machine, the principles of quantum physics, especially the idea of parallel universes, would affect the computational process. In particular, this could increase the speed of computation immensely, because it would occur in many parallel universes simultaneously.

These ideas inspired Skydancer to develop a prototype machine she calls a hypercomputer. The processing speed is measured in yottahertz (YHz), which is equal to quadrillions of gigahertz, thanks to the massively parallel processing made possible by quantum computing.

To bypass the bottleneck of the Internet, Skydancer needed a new form of telecommunication, and quantum physics provides an answer here, too. It has been known for some time that the law of energy conservation is violated for brief moments in the intergalactic void, where particle density is quite low. Under these conditions, photons and other subatomic particles wink into and out of existence, creating a momentary, virtual electromagnetic field. Cosmologists call this the zero-point quantum field because it occurs at temperatures near absolute zero, which R2D2 engineers refer to as “luke warm.”

Skydancer discovered that these virtual photons allow instantaneous communication via the “metaverse” from which they come and to which they return, because the speed-of-light limit doesn’t apply there. She then invented a quantum modem that sends data through this metaverse by modulating and demodulating the virtual photons.

Because Hypernet accommodates essentially infinite bandwidth, it can support an almost unlimited number of simultaneous, uncompressed audio and video streams. To hold such vast amounts of data, Skydancer developed the hyperdrive, which uses quantum principles to store yottabytes in a physical package the size of a Star Wars action figure. She also wrote some new real-time graphics and audio software called Jabba Hyper Utilization Transfer Technology (HUTT).

The CES demo included full-motion, real-time, UltraHD video of several musicians at different physical locations jamming together. Each one was in a separate window on the screen with none of the herky-jerky effect that we’ve come to expect from current technology. (When one of the musicians began improvising on an unfamiliar instrument, our host explained that it was a han solo.) Then, Skydancer logged onto a prototype hypersite, selected a 100GB movie clip, and downloaded it in under a second. With capabilities like this, Hypernet is bound to replace the old, clunky Internet as quantum computers and modems become widely available. Until then, may the farce be with you!

Sonos ZonePlayer S5

Sonos ZonePlayer S5
Posted: Jan 19, 2011

Price: $399 At A Glance: Single-box solution • Easy setup and operation • Perfect for smaller rooms, garage, and outdoors • Integrates with existing Sonos systems
All-in-One Streaming Solution

Sonos, a leader in low-cost, wholehouse audio, has made it possible to inexpensively stream audio from a computer to multiple A/V systems using one or more of its ZonePlayers. The $399 Sonos S5, the newest ZonePlayer, is completely self-contained. It incorporates its own power supply, amplification, and internal speakers, which allows audio streaming from a wide variety of sources without a dedicated sound system. It can serve as your main (or only) ZonePlayer or as an extension of an existing Sonos system.

When I opened the packing, I immediately thought of Apple. The packaging is compact and well thought out, though not as sleek. The ZonePlayer S5 is super easy to set up and highly intuitive to use. All good criteria to emulate.

Out of the box, the ZonePlayer S5 is a single-molded enclosure with a fixed grille, available in black or white. It’s a sturdy and rugged-looking piece of gear, yet it will fit comfortably and unobtrusively into any décor. Inside the ZonePlayer S5 are two tweeters, two 3-inch midrange drivers, and one 3.5-inch woofer. Each of the five drivers is powered by its own Class D amplifier. The back panel is sparse, with a connection for the supplied AC cable, an Ethernet port, and two 3.5mm jacks for both an external source device input (cable provided) and headphones.

The S5 is the only ZonePlayer that’s portable and can provide music in different parts of the house. I currently have the ZonePlayer S5 in my garage, where I recently built a photography studio. This is the perfect and easiest way to get music in there when I’m shooting. However, if I want to take it outside or in another room, it’s easy to move. The molded enclosure even has a built-in handle that doubles as a bass-reflex port.

If you already have a working home network, it’s extremely simple to add in a Sonos S5 (or any ZonePlayer). If this is the only Sonos device on the network, you’ll need to hook it up via a wired LAN connection using the Ethernet port on the rear panel. If you already have a Sonos system, like I do, the ZonePlayer S5 only needs AC. It will communicate with the other ZonePlayers through the proprietary SonosNet 2.0 wireless mesh network. This allows synchronization between all zones for simultaneous playback. Each zone can play its own music stream, so you can have as many music streams as you have ZonePlayers.

For a ZonePlayer to be installed into your home network, you’ll need to load the Desktop Controller onto your Mac or PC. From here, you set up all your ZonePlayers. This procedure required the most physical work of the setup. My office computer is upstairs, while the ZonePlayer S5 is downstairs in the garage where I have my studio. To recognize the ZonePlayer S5, the software gives me two minutes to press two buttons on the top of the S5. Just a brisk sprint downstairs, and in seconds, the S5 was communicating with my Sonos network.

A 3.5mm jack on the rear of the ZonePlayer S5 lets you connect external sources such as an iPod, iPhone, or portable CD player. In fact, you can hear music from these devices not only in the connected ZonePlayer S5 but on all of your ZonePlayers. Want to listen in solitude or crank it up and not disturb the rest of the family? Sonos also provides a headphone jack (3.5mm), which mutes the internal speakers when headphones are connected.

The Desktop Controller integrates all the music (as referenced files) from your computer and supported hard drives into the Sonos library. You can import playlists from a variety of programs, such as iTunes, Rhapsody, Winamp, Windows Media Player, and Musicmatch.

From the Desktop Controller, you can link zones and create a new music queue. You can do that with external controllers, too. The Sonos Controller 200 works with all ZonePlayers, including the S5. However, I’ve been using Sonos’ iPhone app. For this review of the ZonePlayer S5, I downloaded the new Sonos iPad app and used it to control my Sonos system. The apps are free, while the Controller 200 retails for an additional $299.

The main advantage of the iPad app is that there’s more real estate for you to scroll through your music and create playlists on the fly. While you can certainly do that on the iPhone app, it means moving back and forth between screens.

There are three panels on the iPad app. The right panel shows all your zones and lets you link or separate them. The center panel is your queue. It shows what’s playing and what’s coming up. You can change the order of the songs in the queue or delete them. The third panel lists all of your music sources. From a linked music library, you can pick individual songs to create a playlist on the fly, then save it as a Sonos Playlist. As I mentioned before, you can also import playlists from other programs.

Music Sources
There are a zillion Internet Radio stations to stream, and you can save any number of them as your favorites for faster access. Sonos will also stream several popular music services, including Pandora, Rhapsody, Sirius, Napster, iheartradio,, Wolfgang’s Vault, and more. Many of the subscription services offer a free trial, and if you already have an account from one or more of these services, just log in.

Like all other ZonePlayers, the S5 will stream pretty much any audio format, including uncompressed FLAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, and AIFF files. The company makes one notation with respect to music formats, disclosing the fact it does not support Apple Fairplay, AAC-Enhanced, or WMA Lossless formats. Apple Fairplay DRM-protected songs must be upgraded.

Sonos periodically provides free software updates with new features and additional music services. Remember to register your system, and Sonos will automatically notify you when software updates are available. With the press of one button, your system updates itself.

So how does it sound? It’s darn impressive for a single unit that delivers a stereo signal, although you can pair two ZonePlayer S5s for a wider, more robust stereo image. Audio quality is crisp, clear, and highly intelligible. The ability to tweak the EQ from the iPad app made it a cinch to get a good balance between bass and treble in my 500-square-foot studio. Moreover, it didn’t take a good deal of volume to fill the room, and that’s partially due to the live acoustics in the garage.

While there is a detectable stereo image, I feel the unit best functions as a background music source. I don’t see myself doing any critical music listening with the ZonePlayer S5, but then I don’t believe that’s what it was designed for. Still, I found the music to be engaging, with a clean, clear treble and midrange response. Bass response was exceptionally good for something so small. It was robust and devoid of obvious distortion at higher volumes. Of course, the bit rate of your files will have an effect on audio quality. For MP3 files, I never rip at less than 192 kilobits per second.

The streaming network that Sonos creates is reliable and constant. Not once did I experience dropouts or a freeze in the network. I have only one criticism: To stream, you must not turn off your computer or let it go to sleep. Since I don’t stream music all day long, I just change the computer settings when I’m using any of the ZonePlayers, including the S5. If you play music all day long, that means additional energy costs to keep your computer running all day.

There really is very little to operating the ZonePlayer S5, and once you have it set up, you don’t really have to do anything with the actual unit again (although there is a volume control on the top of the enclosure). You can perform all control and music queueing on one of three external controllers (Controller 200, iPhone, or iPad).

I like the ZonePlayer S5 and saw its potential immediately. Most rooms in a home don’t have a dedicated sound system, and that’s where the ZonePlayer S5 really comes in handy. To have a wholehouse audio system usually means running Cat-5 cable all over the house, installing ceiling speakers in every room, adding expensive distribution amps, and placing control panels in the wall.

If this is your first foray into wholehouse audio and you don’t have dedicated sound systems throughout the house—or the desire or cash to get into a complex and expensive system—the ZonePlayer S5 is a terrific way to start. It’s user-friendly, simple to integrate into an existing home network (I required no assistance), and operable from a variety of devices (some you may already have). I don’t see how you could go wrong with the ZonePlayer S5, or any Sonos ZonePlayer, for its sheer simplicity, performance quality, stability, and cost effectiveness.

Extended Surround Sound: To Boldly Go Beyond 5.1?

Extended surround sound is nothing new. The staple surround sound configuration for movie theaters and home theaters is digitally delivered, discrete 5.1-channel surround sound. But in both arenas there have also been numerous pushes to move beyond that paradigm. In the DVD era we were given a number of options for expanding our surround sound experience toward the back of the room, from the base 5.1-channel paradigm to 6.1- and 7.1-channels. Although only select DVD titles were encoded with extended surround, within a few years virtually every AV receiver and surround processor in existence offered tool sets that would decode these soundtracks- or any 5.1-channel soundtrack- to 6.1- or 7.1-channels on playback. And just about any AVR you look at today will include seven channels of amplification.

5 Things About Google TV

With the ultimate entertainment experience just days (maybe?) away, there are a few things you might want to know.

October 12, 2010 | by Rachel CericolaBack in May, Google announced Google TV, a new platform that combines the goodness of your TV with the web—all of it. Before you try to scoop up what could be the couch potato’s best buddy, there are a few things you should know about Google TV.

1: How is it different? Currently, there are several manufacturers selling HDTVs with branded web apps. Panasonic has VIERA Cast, LG has NetCast, Samsung has Samsung Apps, and so on. While all of those offer additional entertainment from Netflix, Pandora, VUDU, YouTube, and more, they are still limited in how and what they display. That’s where Google TV should shine. Using Google Chrome and Adobe Flash Player 10.1, you can access anything on the web and have it be optimized for TV viewing. However, a lot of content will still be app-based. The company says that Google TV will come preloaded with apps for Netflix, Twitter, CNBC, Pandora, Napster, NBA Game Time, Amazon Video On Demand and Gallery.

2: How do you get it? Google TV will feature apps, just like your smartphone. While we should expect Google TV to be built into future TVs, if you want it now, you’ll need a box like Logitech’s Revue. At present, they are the only company that’s announced a Google TV set-top box. This product will cost $299.

3: When can you get it? Don’t jump into the car just yet. Google has not released an “official” start date for Google TV. However, the Logitech product is expected to ship by the end of October 2010.

4: How do you control it? Logitech’s Revue does come with its own keyboard, with other accessories available. However, you can also use an Android phone or iPhone to control Google TV. These methods also allow voice control. Both could get interesting (or scary!) with multiple phones and viewers.

5: Fling what now? Another unique Google TV feature is “flinging.” If you find a killer photo, video or website on your phone and want to share it with everyone, you can “fling” it from your phone to your TV, at the touch of a button.

For more information on Google TV, check out the official Google TV website.