Roku 2 delivers cheap, easy video streaming

The new Roku 2 family, with standard remote (left) and Bluetooth gaming remote (right).

The last update to Roku’s line of portable streaming video players came in 2010, right as Apple was announcing the all-new Apple TV ( ). Roku’s tiny devices were overshadowed by Apple’s even tinier (though heavier) black box. This year Roku has updated its players yet again, adding features while outdoing the Apple TV with boxes that are smaller and lighter than Apple’s $99 player.

It’s clear that the Roku 2 players—there are three models, ranging in price from $60 to $100—are inspired by the new Apple TV design. They’re slightly taller than the Apple TV, but smaller in the other two dimensions, and lighter.

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Apple axes TV show rentals for iTunes, Apple TV

On Friday, Apple quietly removed the ability to rent TV shows from the iTunes Store. When Apple introduced the reimagined Apple TV in September 2010, the company also began offering television rentals at $1 per episode (first on the Apple TV and later in iTunes itself). But now the rental option for television is gone—and Apple has confirmed to Macworld that it’s gone for good.

An Apple spokesperson told Macworld that “iTunes customers have shown they overwhelmingly prefer buying TV shows,” as opposed to renting them. “iTunes in the Cloud lets customers download and watch their past TV purchases from their iOS devices, Apple TV, Mac or PC, allowing them to enjoy their programming whenever and however they choose.”

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Aluratek Libre Air is a tiny, cool, affordable ebook reader

E-readers don't get much smaller than the 6-ounce Aluratek Libre Air, which measures 6.0 by 4.1 by 0.4 inches. But this tiny package holds a lot of useful technology, including Wi-Fi integration with an online bookstore offering both commercial and free content.

Successor to the Aluratek Libre Pro ( ), which did not support Wi-Fi, the Air immediately distinguishes itself from the pack with its unusual display. The Libre Air has a 5-inch, 480-by-640-pixel reflective-light LCD that does not depend on backlighting and is therefore readable in bright sunlight. And because it’s an LCD, it’s more responsive (no wait or flicker between page turns) than the E Ink screens found in most e-readers.

The Libre Air does not have a touchscreen, though. You navigate through a combination of buttons, including a four-way pad on the center of the front bezel, plus menu, home, and return/back buttons at the center bottom. The pad moves you through menus or lists of items, while the context-sensitive menu button brings up options relative to the current display.

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Opinion: In praise of the iPod classic

Ah, the iPod classic; the neglected member of the iPod family. It bears no clip, it doesn’t run apps, and it’s the only iPod that still uses a fragile, spinning hard drive. But it’s still chugging along like that old Volvo that won’t give up after 150,000 miles. A direct descendant of the very first iPod, the iPod classic still has a Click Wheel controller, and stores a heck of a lot of music.

And that’s where the classic stands out: its capacity. Apple says it can hold up to 40,000 songs, though that number assumes your music is in 128-kbps format, and your songs average four minutes each. Even with the current iTunes Store format—iTunes Plus, or 256 kbps—the classic can still hold 20,000 songs, or 80,000 minutes of music.

That’s 1333 hours, 55.5 days, or nearly eight weeks—or, if you prefer, 500 Grateful Dead shows.

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Jawbone LiveAudio plug-in simulates 3D sound

Owners of Jawbone’s popular Bluetooth Jambox speaker now have an additional way to listen to their music, as the company unveiled a free software update on Tuesday night for the speaker that includes a plug-in called LiveAudio. With LiveAudio, Jawbone aims to recreate the experience of hearing your favorite music live.

“Music is about being in the moment,” Travis Bogard, Jawbone’s vice president of product management and strategy, told Macworld. “Why does it feel different when you’re in person at a concert, versus when you’re listening to music at home played through speakers?” Beyond the obvious answers (the crowd, different instrumentation, and the like), Bogard points to “this other aspect that happens on a human level… You hear things in a three-dimensional space.”

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MP3tunes sees mixed outcome in EMI suit

If a user adds pirated music to an online cloud locker service, is the provider responsible? No, according to a decision made in a New York federal court on Monday.

In the ruling, District Judge William H. Pauley III—of the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York—pronounced that MP3tunes may claim protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for musical works stored on its website or linked to from its sister site, Sideload.com. Known informally as the “safe harbor” provision, the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act provides protection for providers and websites that accidentally infringe on copyright due to user action. (YouTube, among other companies, uses this protection for its day-to-day operations.)

Specifically, the decision refers to music from EMI and the fourteen other record companies and publishers—collectively referred to as EMI—who brought the copyright infringement action against MP3tunes and its founder and CEO Michael Robertson. Some 3189 sound recordings, 562 musical compositions, and 328 images of album cover art were at issue in the lawsuit, filed in 2007.

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Aluratek Libre Touch color e-reader has usability flaws

More and more devices are blurring the lines between ebook reader and tablet, but the Aluratek Libre Touch isn’t one of them. While it does support basic Web browsing, email, and multimedia playback, the Libre Touch is first and foremost an e-reader with a color touchscreen and integration (via Wi-Fi) with an online bookstore. But although its feature list is respectable, usability flaws make the Libre Touch a tough sell, even at its attractive price.

Tall, narrow, and slim (8.0 by 4.9 by 0.5 inches), and reasonably lightweight (just under 12 ounces), the Libre Touch looks like many of the 7-inch readers and tablets we’ve seen lately, with a couple of minor modifications. Its charcoal-gray bezel has three hardware buttons on the right side, including two concealed by the case itself; these are for turning pages forward and back. The third button is a short, vertical silvery bar for returning to the preceding task: If you’re reading a book, for example, pressing that button moves you to the library screen where you selected the book.

On the top edge is the large, silvery power button. Along the bottom edge are, from left to right, a Mini-USB port (for charging the Libre Touch and connecting it to a computer), a MicroSD card slot (if you want more than the internal 4GB of memory), a volume rocker control, and a standard 3.5mm headphone port.

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