Haven't gotten that holiday shopping wrapped up just yet? Amazon.com, the world's largest online retailer, has plenty of stuff to sell and on Thursday launched a Best of Digital store full of items it recommends.
As the name would suggest, the items for sale in Amazon's Best of Digital store aren't physical goods. The store, which is a section of Amazon's website, has for sale mp3 music files, not CDs; downloadable movies, not DVDs or Blu-ray discs. Apps, games, magazines, e-books (for Amazon's Kindle e-reader, of course) and software for home PCs are on the list as well.
Launching such a store after the start of Hanukkah and so close to Christmas might seem like odd timing, but "historically, Christmas Day is the largest day of digital sales on Amazon.com, followed by Dec. 26," Amazon said in a statement.
"Last year, from Christmas Eve through Dec. 30, Amazon customers purchased over three times more digital content, including Kindle books, magazines, movies, TV shows music, and digital games as compared to the weekly average for the year," the company said.
Not at all a coincidence, all the digital items (except for the PC software) for sale in the Best of Digital store can be read, watched, listened to, played and used on Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet.
"With the introduction of Kindle Fire this season, millions more customers will be shopping for new digital content," Craig Pape, Amazon's director of music, said in the statement. "This year we're making it easier and more convenient than ever to get all the content they want."
Hooman Khalili first got the idea to make a feature film shot entirely on a smartphone in January 2010. A little less than two years later, his film "Olive," shot on a Nokia N8, is going to be shown in a Los Angeles theater for a week.
That's not bad considering how hard it is for indie films to get a theatrical release these days.
But if you're thinking, "Maybe I should shoot a movie on my smartphone too," be forewarned: It's not as simple as it sounds. At least not yet.
"There was a lot of things making this nearly impossible for us," said Khalili.
The Nokia N8 shoots in high resolution, but before Khalili and his crew could start filming, they had to hack the phone to turn off the auto focus and the auto zoom.
"The camera thinks it knows what you want to focus on, but it doesn't know," he said.
They tried to pay professional camera makers to build a 35-millimeter camera that would work with the phone, but they were turned down everywhere.
Eventually Khalili and his team built what they needed from scratch, dismantling a 1940s-era movie camera to figure out how it should be done. And when it came time to attach the camera to the phone, the best they could come up with was double-sided tape.
The one overhead shot in the movie was made by putting the phone in a remote-control helicopter and hoping for the best.
Still, Khalili and his crew tried to keep the shoot as professional as possible. There were makeup artists and location scouts. Actress Gena Rowlands was involved. Khalili said the film cost less than $500,000 to make. He was hoping to get funding from Nokia but got turned down. Instead he got the cash from Chris Kelly, former chief privacy officer of Facebook.
Pre-production on "Olive" started in April of this year, and the actual shoot lasted five weeks. In order to make the deadline to submit the film to Sundance, the filmmakers edited it in nine days.
"We didn't leave room even for an accidental sick day," Khalili said. "If anything had gone wrong it would have thrown everything off."
Khalili, who is trying to raise $300,000 on Kickstarter to promote the film, is hoping to submit it for Oscar consideration. In order to do that he needed to get the film into theaters before the end of the year. On Thursday he persuaded Laemmle's Fallbrook 7 in West Hills to screen the movie for one week, beginning Dec. 16.
As for the film itself -- Khalili has made the first five minutes available online. It's billed as a film about a little girl who "transforms the lives of three people without speaking one word."
Vivid Entertainment is bringing porn to Google TV.
The Los Angeles adult entertainment company launched its Vivid for Google TV channel on Monday as "the first TV app designed to make sexually explicit content available through the new Google TV set-top device."
Until this point, Google hasn't has any adult channels on Google TV though users can surf anything on the web through Google TV's built-in web browser.
Steven Hirsch, Vivid's co-founder and co-chairman, said in a statement that the new Google TV channel is "a central part of our making Vivid available everywhere concept, which gives fans unified access to our content through their personal computers, mobile devices, tablets, television sets and DVD players."
Vivid's streaming channel will broadcast, in high definition "award-winning adult movies, celebrity sex tapes, XXX parodies of popular superheroes, educational videos and other content," to those ages 18 and older who also subscribe to the company's website.
Hirsch also noted that Vivid is looking to bring similar content to other Internet TV platforms, although he didn't name others.
"We spent more than a year developing a code base for a robust, stand-alone Internet-TV channel with a friendly interface for the consumer that can be used with the current Google TV technology and other Internet protocol presentation methods now in development," he said.
Google TV has had a tough time catching on with consumers since its launch more than a year ago, and the online search giant is looking to reboot its efforts with a new platform based on its hugely successful Android operating system for phones and tablets.
[Updated 12:44 p.m.: A Google spokesman emailed this statement to the Technology blog regarding sexually explicit video on Google TV:
We will respect the parental controls of devices connected to Google TV. So if you have controls set up through your set-top box or through a V-Chip, those controls will continue to work for TV content shown through Google TV. Users will also be able to implement Safe Search on the Google TV browser (Chrome), and the Safe Search setting will extend to Internet content shown in Google TV search results. In addition, users will have the ability to lock out access to the browser on Google TV through a 4-digit PIN code for access control.]
Sony is making a bet that it can succeed where others have failed -- TVs strapped to your head.
The Japanese consumer electronics giant has begun selling the Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer, a viewfinder-looking gadget that sells for $799.99 and will arrive to retailers next week.
The HMZ-T1 is the product of a prototype head-mounted personal 3-D TV shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. When I first saw the prototype at CES, visions of Cyclops from the X-Men and Geordi La Forge from Star Trek were the first things that popped into my mind.
Quickly after that, I thought of the many failed attempts to sell consumers personal TVs and 3-D viewers over the years. Much of the mainstream has not shown a want or need for something like Nintendo's Virtual Boy.
On Thursday, Sony spokesman Aaron Levine stopped by the Los Angeles Times to give us a bit of hands-on time with the HMZ-T1.
I tried it out for about 20 minutes and I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed watching a 3-D trailer for the new "Amazing Spider-Man" movie (the trailer was on a Blu-ray disc) and playing Gran Turismo 5 in 3-D on the PlayStation 3 into which the headset was plugged.
Frankly, the idea of having a small TV set in front of my eyes was one I thought I wouldn't enjoy at all. But, in my brief time with the TMZ-1, the experience was novel, enjoyable and not bothersome as I expected. The picture was clear, the 3-D was crisp and colors were bright. I'm not a big fan of 3-D TVs -- the glasses can be uncomfortable and the picture often looks dim. So far, this was a different experience altogether.
A few colleagues who also gave the headset a shot weren't as impressed and described a slight feeling of "car sickness" from playing Gran Turismo with the headset on. This isn't a product for everyone based on experience alone, not to mention that $800 price tag.
I'll have to reserve any final judgments on the HMZ-T1 before Sony sends over a review unit and I can put the device through its paces, watch a full-length film or two and play more PlayStation games.
It should be noted though, that the HMZ-T1 can display 2-D and 3-D video in 720p high-definition and features two tiny 0.7-inch OLED screens (one for each eye) and a set of headphones pumping audio in 5.1 surround sound into your ears.
Sony formally launched the HMZ-T1 on Thursday, just before Levine stopped by The Times, not at one of its Sony Style stores but at a local Southern California retailer, Video and Audio Center, in Lawndale.
Video and Audio Center spokesman Tom Campbell said it spawned a line of more than 100 "looky loos and early adopters."
Neither Sony officials nor Campbell would say just how many of the headsets have been sold so far, but the first HMZ-T1 did sell at Video and Audio Center on Thursday.
Sony wouldn't leave the HMZ-T1 with us, but a review unit is coming soon, so stay tuned into the Technology blog for a deeper look at the Personal 3D Viewer.
Until then, feel free to sound off in the comments and share your impressions so far.
Do you think this is the type of product that will ever catch on with consumers? Is $800 a fair price for a such a new device? Would you be willing to try and watch TV, a movie or play video games on such a headset, particularly for an extended period of time?
The movie will be a 70-minute unedited interview with Steve Jobs, conducted by tech journalist and former Apple Inc. employee Robert X. Cringely, from 1995 when Steve Jobs was still CEO of NeXT Computer and Pixar.
Cringely taped the interview for the PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds, but "less than 10 minutes were used" in the film "and the other 59 minutes were lost forever when the master tapes disappeared in shipping."
Well, that is, until they were found in London recently, according to a statement from Landmark.
"An unedited copy of the entire Jobs interview was discovered recently in London," the company said. "Restored and improved, yet completely original and unedited."
Check out the post over on our sister blog Company Town for an interview Times reporter Joe Flint conducted with Cringley about "Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview."
According to Landmark, the film will play in the following cities and theaters in its cinema chain:
NEW YORK –Sunshine
LOS ANGELES – Regent
SAN FRANCISCO – Opera Plaza
BERKELEY – Shattuck
PALO ALTO – Aquarius ** this venue will be only a seven-day engagement, Nov. 16-22
SEATTLE – Metro
SAN DIEGO – Hillcrest
DENVER – Esquire
DALLAS – Magnolia
HOUSTON – River Oaks
CHICAGO – Century
INDIANAPOLIS – Keystone
BOSTON – Kendall
PHILADELPHIA – Ritz Bourse
WASHINGON, D.C. – E Street
BALTIMORE – Harbor East
ATLANTA – Midtown
MILWAUKEE – Oriental
In the film, Jobs criticizes Microsoft "for making bad products," Landmark said, calling the interview "candid, controversial, and funny."
So, how did the interview-turned-film land in theaters so quickly? Cringley knows Dallas Mavericks and HD Net owner Mark Cuban and told him about the once-lost recording. Cuban and his business partner Todd Wagner own the company 2929 Entertainment, which owns Landmark.
"Cringely had the compelling content, and Cuban the means to present it," Landmark said. "It is being rushed into theatres to allow audiences to witness a key moment with one of the most important figures of our time."
Photo: Steve Jobs on Aug. 14, 1995, then chairman and chief executive of NeXT Computer Inc., proudly unveils NeXT's WebObjects software at the Object World Expo in San Francisco. Credit: Court Mast/NeXT Computer Inc./AP Photo
Amazon.com is set to host a media event on Wednesday morning in New York City, and the expectation is that the world's largest online retailer will be unveiling its long-rumored Google Android-based Kindle tablet.
On Monday, Amazon announced a beefing-up of its Amazon Prime service, with the addition of more than 11,000 older movies and TV shows from Fox added to the catalog. Among the newly added titles are shows such as "Arrested Development," "The X-Files" and "24," as well as films such as "Office Space," "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
The move is aimed at bolstering the appeal of Amazon Prime, which offers online streaming of a catalog of TV shows and movies to those who pay a the $79.99 annual fee, which also gives subscribers free two-day shipping from Amazon.
Rumors have also been circulating that with the release of the Amazon tablet, the company could add an e-book rental service to Amazon Prime as well.
The Amazon tablet, which is expected to carry the Kindle name used on the Seattle-based company's e-readers thus far, is rumored to cost about $250 and feature a 7-inch touchscreen, which would make it smaller and about half the price of an entry-level Apple iPad, the current tablet sales leader.
Of course, the Amazon tablet is expected to be integrated with Amazon's services, such as Amazon Prime for shopping and streaming, Kindle for books, its MP3 store and Cloud Player for music, and its Amazon Appstore for Android for apps.
Facebook's F8 developer conference takes place today, kicking-off with a keynote speech from Mark Zuckerberg later this morning, and we'll be there covering the big event.
For weeks rumors have run a bit wild as to what Zuckerberg, Facebook's co-founder and chief executive, will have to say at this year's conference, which is widely anticipated as the social networking giant's most important so far.
Facebook is expected to announce a set of products and tools aimed at getting users to consume and share more media in the social network.
The expectation is that this will at least mean that Facebook will launch some sort of music service, probably with partners already in the online music space such as Pandora, Spotify or MOG.
Facebook could even do the same type of partnerships with content distributors for movies and TV shows, and even books. And, of course, being Facebook, the rumor is that you would share what you're doing/listening to/watching/reading with your Facebook friends.
Recently, Facebook has made a number of changes to its News Feed, installing a real-time "ticker" that displays what a user's friends are doing as they do it.
The world's largest social network, with some 750 million users, also added the ability to subscribe to other users' wall posts without having to "friend" them and it improved the ease with which users can group friends into lists -- two moves made somewhat in response to its rivals Google+ and Twitter.
The changes, particularly in the way the news feed works and the introduction of the ticker, have left some Facebook users ... well ... ticked off. But the changes could seem less irritating to if Facebook makes the announcements it is widely expected to make.
How will F8 play out? Will Facebook become a competitor to YouTube, iTunes and maybe even Netflix or Amazon? Or will it team with any of those major players to get users to spend more of their time online within its site? Could we finally see a Facebook iPad app?
We'll be at F8 blogging each announcement, so stay tuned.
Now, finally, the MAGs have taken the leap from the silver screen into the real world. The self-lacing feature depicted in the 1989 movie is gone, but the MAG will get the movie version's LED-electroluminescent glowing Nike logos.
Most sneaker-heads, however, will never be able to get their hands on a pair.
Nike has produced a limited run of 1,500 pairs of the MAG. Each will be auctioned on EBay at nikemag.eBay.com, and all of the "net proceeds" will go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation to help fight Parkinson's disease, according to Nike. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991.
The auction kicks off at tonight at 8:30 p.m. and will end Sept. 18, with 150 pairs sold through EBay each day.
But the tech-related fundraising around the shoe doesn't end there.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojciki, who co-founded the DNA-testing company 23andMe, have agreed to match all donations to the Michael J. Fox Foundation -- up to $50 million -- through the end of 2012, according to the blog Nice Kicks.
Michael J. Fox is also set to appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" tonight to talk about the release of the Nike MAG and the fundraising for his foundation, Nice Kicks said.
In the film "Back to the Future Part II," Fox wears the shoes when his character, Marty McFly, travels to the year 2015. Hopefully we'll see a general release of the Nike MAG in four years, at lower prices than the EBay auction will conjure up.
What do you think about the Nike MAG and the fundraising? For sneaker geeks and lovers of the Back to the Future trilogy, does the shoe live up to the hype? Should Mattel follow Nike and produce Marty McFly's "Back to the Future Part II" hover board? Sound off in the comments.
Pottermore, a Harry Potter website, has begun a competition to choose its first million users, who will receive early access ahead of other fans of the book and movie franchise.
Harry Potter fans will have one opportunity each day for the rest of the week to complete the Magical Quill Challenge and gain early access to Pottermore, a website where fans can relive the Harry Potter stories.
Each day the website will feature a new clue from any of the Harry Potter books that, if answered correctly, will direct users to a partner website where he or she must find the Magical Quill. Once found, the user will be able to register for Pottermore, but they must complete the process fast as only a certain number of early access accounts will be available each day. Monday's quota, for example, has already been filled. The competition began Sunday and ends Saturday.
"The Magical Quill has been devised to select a lucky million people who will get in early to the website. It tells you whether you are 'magical' or not," a press release said.
Pottermore was announced by Potter creator J.K. Rowling last month, who described it as a "unique online reading experience," and it is the first big thing to happen to Harry Potter since the completion of the seven books in 2008 and the final film in the franchise earlier this month. The website will be the first to sell eBook versions of the Harry Potter books.
The full launch of Pottermore will happen in October while the people who succeed in the challenge will gain their beta access anytime between mid-August and the end of September, according to the press release.
The Pottermore beta is complete, but the press release for the competition said the website will use its beta period to test, refine and add any final touches.
The epic battle between a British prop maker and Lucasfilm Ltd. over who has the right to sell Stormtrooper helmets has come to an end.
The five-year war, which took place not in a galaxy far, far away but rather in the legal courts of both America and Britain, began in 2006. That's when Andrew Ainsworth, designer and maker of the original Stormtrooper helmets featured in the classic "Star Wars" movies, began selling replica helmets cast from the original 1976 molds over the Internet. Lucasfilm tried to stop him, saying the helmets were protected by copyright laws.
On Wednesday a British court ruled that while Ainsworth cannot sell the helmets in America, he may continue to make and sell helmets in England.
It all came down to whether the helmets are sculptures, which would make them works of art and therefore covered by British copyright law, or whether they were props and not artwork, which would mean they are covered by a shorter copyright period that has now expired.
Lucasfilm lamented that the court had upheld an "anomaly of British copyright law under which the creative and highly artistic works made for use in films — which are protected by the copyright laws of virtually every other country in the world — may not be entitled to copyright protection in the U.K."
Ainsworth's Stormtrooper helmets, which he sells for as much as 500 British pounds on his website originalstormtroopers.com, do look pretty cool, but we're lamenting that they don't have any of the capabilities we imagined them to have when they were in the films.
Go on Wookieepedia, the Star Wars Wiki, and you'll find that these helmets should have a ton of functionality including advanced breathing filters (which act as protection against chemical and biological attacks, as well as toxins), cooling and atmosphere control systems, and "HUD displaying targeting reticule and weapon information." Ainsworth's helmets, with their hand-painted frown and single ear screw, might look authentic, but they're straight-up white 2.5-mm high-impact styrene.