Sundance 2015 Film Review: Cronies

I don't want to talk about race. Doing so would limit the discussion around Cronies, the Spike Lee-produced entry at Sundance 2015, to a debate about stereotypes, racism and culture. To be fair, all these elements are baked into the script, written by director Michael J. Larnell, who is also a student of Lee's at NYU.

The true meat of the story, however, is found in a friendship between three men entering adulthood. Shot in black and white with flashbacks in color, the film draws influence from La Haine, She's Gotta Have It, and the unbridled camaraderie of Stand by Me.

The central character is Louis (George Sample III), who has been friends with Jack (Zurich Buckner) since childhood. The narrative is propelled by the inherent rivalry between Jack and Andrew (Brian Kowalski), the newbie to the trio. Andrew is forced to prove himself to Jack and, simultaneously, the old friendship between Lewis and Jack is undergoing growing pains.

The strain on the older friendship provokes unexpected twists and turns in the plot. Larnell uses several different urban-drama tropes to encourage certain audience expectations, then promptly undermines the clichés with nuanced performances and less drama. The whole scenario feels much more honest than those found in a lot of similar films, touching on loyalty, betrayal and coming of age in a tough urban culture.


They are completely different movies in almost every other sense, but the pacing and ambitious indie spirit of Cronies reminds me of one of the most famous films to debut at Sundance, Clerks. They're both buddy flicks. Larnell's shots are just long enough to feel contemplative, but not so long as to force unnecessary drama. Most of the shots are relatively static, with a tiny hint of handheld wobble, and simple panning, if any movement at all. As a result, the whole film is wonderfully understated. Larnell and cinematographer Federico Cesca utilize a pseudo-documentary style that makes the film feel true to life. One of the characters is an interviewer whose name we never learn, and whom we never get to see, even when Jack challenges his neutrality by attempting to turn the camera on him. 

Although loaded with symbolism, Cronies manages to avoid being heavy-handed. The characters represent a changing (and unchanging) cultural landscape through the specificity and intimacy of their personal conflicts. Larnell doesn't homogenize his characters at all, yet the message of the film reinforces the belief that we are bonded more through socioeconomics and choice than by the color of our skin. Cronies does this beautifully in part by skirting the topic of race until the very end of the film, when Andrew finally shares his thoughts on the topic in a brief, humorous and self-aware discussion with the interviewer of this pseudo-documentary. In this, there is hope.

Watch our video interview with Cronies director Michael J. Larnell »

So You Want to Make a Movie


This is the first in a series of blog entries on cleverly creating cinema—starting with the screenplay.

Is This Script Worth Filming?
Yeah yeah, your script is brilliant. But is it? If you wrote it, it could be pure grade-A manure and you would still think it's epic. You're too invested. Good scripts are fairly rare, even among the ones handled by agents. In fact, during the boom years from the early 1990s until 2007, fewer than 200 spec scripts were bought each year. Consider that number in relation to the fact that each year hundreds of thousands of scripts are written. 

In 2009, only 67 spec scripts were bought. That dropped to 55 the following year. The studios had bought too many scripts to develop during the boom years, and they've been developing in house ideas, as well as contracting with major property houses like Marvel and DC Comics. Let's be realistic: The likelihood of you selling a script to a studio for big bucks and retaining any kind of participation is about as likely as likely as Harvey Weinstein asking me to friend him on Facebook. While that could happen, it's not going to.

So how do you recognize a good script? Learn from the experts. Ron Howard is a guy who really knows a good story, and he testified to the value of concepts advanced by script expert Linda Seger in her Making a Good Script Great book and seminar series. You can take more advice from award-winning screenwriter Tracy Keenan Wynn, who taught me screenwriting. He said, “Don't even think about getting coverage from family or friends. They will either be overly critical or say what they think you want to hear. In either case, they don't know what they're talking about.” He also said: “Writing is rewriting. No, it's much worse than that—it's killing your babies.” Some of the best scenes you will ever write may have to be discarded because they don't serve the script as a whole. 

The good news is that the trend in script purchases has been slowly reversing over the last three years. But it's still a tough road. For example, Jason Scoggins reports that 132 Scripts sold in 2012. That's not just studio deals, but every script known to have been sold to anybody. Drama was out of style at only about 8% of sales. Buyers are looking for wow factor, which explains why 27% of sales were thrillers, 22% action-adventure, and 21% allegedly comedies. Add to that another 11% for the sci-fi fans and 10% for the horror genre. If you're interested in more of that kind of info, you can go deeper with this analysis by writer-producer Erik Bork.  

Okay, then. Why are so many bad movies made? Because many studio executives with greenlight authority wouldn't know a great script if it bit them in the ass. Not all of them, now, but a few. They tend to get caught up in the hype surrounding a given script. Someone famous for buying crap was Jeff Zucker, the former head of NBCU. He allegedly bought, and canceled, more awful shows than possibly anyone in the history of TV, and drove NBC to the bottom of the charts in the process. I think he has no feel for quality and was seduced by trendy hype from friends who had certain conflicts of interest. But that is another story. Hype is not your thing.

Now, guys like Harvey Weinstein? They know a good script when they see it. Suffice it to say that you want to find out if the studios would be interested in making your movie. The following suggestion will serve you well in several ways…first to see if it's good enough for the big boys to consider and is it good enough for you to consider.

Still from Barton Fink

Still from Barton Fink

Why Do You Not Want Any Studio to Make Your Movie?
I will be brief. Unless you are well established, or the hot writer of the moment, you are not likely to get a studio deal that you will be happy with. Sure, your script may be filmed. But not, most likely, until it has been ripped apart and put back together by committee. You won't recognize it. That's just the reality. You are unlikely to have any control whatsoever, because you will have signed over all rights. And, usually, the studio will not want you around while they kill your baby. If you sold your script for a dollar and a promise of back-end participation, you are unlikely to see anything from the deal due to what's widely thought to be creative bookkeeping on the part of the studios.

These are good reasons for you to make your own film. Nobody else will give it the attention and love that you will. But only do it if you have the talent for it. Otherwise, you could end up broke and depressed and disillusioned.  We do not want that.

Seek Professional Help
To find out if your script is worth making as a big-budget film, Start by getting coverage. What is coverage? It's having your script read by professionals who know what a good script is. They recognize a viable story, well-told, and they are in a position to recommend the script to industry professionals. I spent a year providing script coverage in Beverly Hills for a literary agent who handled scripts as well as books. I read too many scripts.

It was a difficult job because so many scripts were so crappy. I felt like an intestinal polyp mired in … well, you get the picture. We have a three-word code in the business: pass, consider, recommend. Out of my first 100 scripts, I stamped pass on 92 of them. That's not because I'm a hard-ass, but because they were just awful. I stamped consider on six and recommend on only two. Out of 100. I was paid $125.00 each and it was not worth it!

Be prepared to be disappointed, but you should get professional coverage, and that means getting your script read by someone who knows good scripts. Here are a few places that are very reasonably priced—cheaper than I am, anyway—and yet these readers are pros, having read for top agents and studios. In any case, you'll get an honest, objective opinion from a person who is aware of the current scene and has no axes to grind with you. Here are a few places for you to check out. If you can afford it, check more than one place, as each piece of coverage is but one professional's opinion:

  1. If you're looking for very reasonable pricing (under $100), the coverage service from is worth a look. It's an inexpensive starting place.
  2. More comprehensive service is a little more expensive, but offers many services such as story analysis, premium coverage with more than one reader's opinions, and a whole development bundle for those of you with a story idea and no clue how to write the script. They will run you through a process similar to that used in script development at the studios. Pricing for different types of coverage ranges from $100 on the low end to $800 for full coverage from multiple readers. This is a professional bunch working with script-tracking site The Tracking Board, called Launch Pad.
  3. Here is a more expensive (and, I suspect, more thorough) script coverage option from a very experienced pro, Lynne Pembroke. This will not be an anonymous read, but you'll get Lynne's honest opinion; someone with a serious reputation. She offers a number of services but I recommend her Screenplay Rewrite Analysis Package, which starts at $185 for a 120-page script.
  4. Use your research skills and Google to see if there are better options out there for you.

Learn to Recognize Good Writing
Ultimately you have to become your own expert, and I'm going to recommend two YouTube resources to teach yourself what to look for. One is legendary and the other is up-and-coming. There will be more on this in my post on directing. First, Nina Foch is the authority on how to direct actors, but more than that, she talks about what an actor needs from the script to give a great performance. Second is Darious J. Britt. I know you never heard of him, and worse, he's a young kid. But this is no ordinary kid. Watch his short piece on “How to Avoid Overacting,” below. Subscribe to his channel.

Make It Yourself
​Let's assume your writing is good enough to earn a “consider” stamp or better. I still recommend that you don't go through the heartache of submitting to the studios unless that is your dream.

The bottom line? Don't start making your movie until you know you have a worthy property. Why? Because making a movie is like having a baby—if it were an elephant.

Stay Tuned
This series of blogs is about becoming a clever filmmaker. Of course you already think you are a clever film maker, or you wouldn't be reading this. Right? Obviously, you've read the best-regarded books out there on filmmaking. I expect that as a minimum.

Okay. I want to help you become even more clever. Since we've already talked about financing some time ago (here and here), I'll have upcoming blogs on really clever ways to cast your film with outstanding talent, and then tips on directing actors. It's not as easy as you might expect. Perhaps the most important we'll look into clever ways to get your film distributed. I mean we're all crazy dreamers being in this business in the first place, let's make the best of it.

Best till next blog where we will look at casting your film…cleverly.


10 Ways to Look at the Oscar Nominations

I say there are two kinds of people in this world — people who believe that the Oscars are a reliable indicator of quality filmmaking, and people who regard them as a congratulatory and vaguely embarrassing act of naked self-promotion on the part of Hollywood. OK, there's a fairly broad spectrum of opinion in the middle, but mostly I'm betting that you lean one way or another. And either way, if you find yourself nominated for one, or even seriously in the running, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to stay blasé about the prospect. No matter how you feel about them, the Oscars offer a fascinating look at how Hollywood feels about itself. It's like a long-running series of journal entries that records for posterity what Academy members found most impressive about filmmaking in any given year—not to mention what kind of campaign tactics might be used to influence their votes in years to come. So what do today's Oscar nominations tell us?

Michael Keaton and Naomi Watts in Birdman

Hollywood Loves a Mirror
If you're looking for Oscars, you could do a lot worse than making your movie about movies, music, or the theater. The backstage intrigue of Birdman and Whiplash follows in the footsteps of other contemporary Best Picture winners that look at the art of performance — ArgoThe Artist, and Shakespeare in Love all mined similar territory.

Steve Carell in <i>Foxcatcher</i>

When In Doubt, Wow ’Em with a Prosthetic
Oscar loves a transformation. So it's no wonder that Steve Carell won a nomination for a role in Foxcatcher that required him to spend two hours in make-up every day and wear a fake nose. Of course, the part also represents a departure from his usual role as a comic, which can only help his chances. Nicole Kidman won her one and only Oscar to date for The Hours, in which she donned her own fake schnozz to play Virginia Woolf. Carell has a good shot at following in those, uh, nose-steps.

Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, and Tony Revolori in The Grand Budapest Hotel

December Is a Wasteful Prestige-Movie Pile-Up
The end-of-year Oscar-qualifying run is a ritual for award hopefuls, and this year no fewer than nine Oscar-contending movies opened between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day. But Oscar nominations were led by The Grand Budapest Hotel, which hit theaters back in March, and Birdman, which made its film festival debuts in August on the way to an October theatrical release. Both films earned nine nominations. With eight nominations, The Imitation Game was close behind. That film opened in November, but benefited (like Birdman) from a long, buzz-building festival run in the fall. American Sniper did well, but other Christmas releases like Big Eyes, Selma, Unbroken, and Into the Woods came up short. Oscars aside, is it really healthy for the industry to shoehorn so many movies aimed at thoughtful, quality-seeking audiences into December?

David Oyelowe and ensemble in Selma

Screeners Matter
One of the most critically acclaimed and even topical movies of the year, Selma, was nearly shut out of the Oscars — an odd situation, especially when you consider that one of the only two nominations it earned was for the top award of Best Picture. (The other was Best Original Song.) Selma, an intense, well-acted, and moving biopic of a beloved American figure, is exactly the kind of movie you'd expect the Academy to go for. So what happened? It's true that Selma's chances were hurt by a controversy over the film's treatment of President Johnson, whom it portrays as reluctant to push for voting-rights legislation in the immediate aftermath of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. But it may have been more severely damaged by Paramount's failure to get screeners in the hands of the Guild members who help drive voting in categories like Best Actor and Best Director. According to Variety, DVDs of the film weren't ready until December 18, too late for SAG voting in any case, and were only sent to AMPAS and BAFTA members. If studios want Oscars, they need to have their movies ready to screen early and often.

Capt_America2-XBS6120_021185_v006.1036 (Custom)

Marvel Movies Are Driving Innovative VFX Work
In the one Oscar category that tends to recognize blockbuster motion pictures, Visual Effects, the results are dominated by superhero movies. And not just any superhero movies. Three out of five of the VFX nominees — Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: Days of Future Past — are Marvel movies. And they earned recognition in a tough field, crowding out big-ticket contenders including Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. In fact, of director Peter Jackson's six J.R.R. Tolkien movies, this is the first and only one to fail to pick up a nomination for its VFX work. With Avengers: Age of UltronAnt Man, and The Fantastic Four on tap for 2015, it seems like Marvel movies are positioned to shoot for at least another two nominations next year. After that? Ball's in your court, Batman v Superman.

Roger Deakins with Angelina Jolie on the set of Unbroken

We Love Roger Deakins. Just Not Quite Enough.
Amazingly, Unbroken has earned Roger Deakins his 12th Academy Award nomination. More unbelievably, he has never won. That's right — according to Oscar, Deakins is the most consistently excellent living cinematographer never to have done the best shooting in a given year. Actually, the best explanation is probably that the nominees for this category are actually selected by the Academy's cinematography branch, while the winners are selected by a full Academy vote, and it's cinematographers who are most likely to gravitate to Deakins' work. He has three ASC Awards under his belt, after all, compared to his zero Oscars. By the way, Deakins is not the most-nominated cinematographer to never get an Oscar. That dubious honor goes to the late George J. Folsey, who earned 13 nominations between the years of 1932/1933 (when he was nominated for Reunion in Vienna) and 1963 (The Balcony). What about the title of most Oscar-nominated cinematographer ever? That one is shared by Leon Shamroy and Charles B. Lang Jr., both of whom earned 18 nominations. Shamroy translated all that recognition into four wins, while Lang won the Oscar only once, for A Farewell to Arms (1932).

Jennifer Aniston in <i>Cake</i>

You Can't Force a Nomination
Many observers thought Jennifer Aniston had locked up an Oscar nomination for her role in Cake, following an unusually aggressive awards-season campaign that drew the attention of boosters and detractors alike. But Aniston was left off the Oscars shortlist this morning — conventional wisdom has it that she lost her spot to Marion Cotillard, who got a mostly unexpected nomination for her lead role in Two Days, One Night, a Belgian film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. No offense to Aniston, but recognizing Cotillard's performance proves that the Academy is, at least at times, well capable of ignoring the pundits and looking beyond the U.S. movie industry.

Chadwick Boseman in <i>Get On Up</i>

Maybe It Was a Bad Year for Black Actors … and Maybe It Wasn't
2015 is only the third time in the last 20 years that all 20 nominees in performance categories have been white. This seems worth remarking on partly because it illustrates how fragile the idea of diversity in Hollywood filmmaking really is—recognition for just one or two films can really tip the balance. Imagine that Selma had been finished a month earlier, so that Paramount could have promoted it more strongly to SAG members and gotten a nomination for David Oyelowo's performance as Martin Luther King. Or that director Tate Taylor's unconventional James Brown biopic Get On Up (his follow-up to Best Picture nominee The Help) had earned enough critical praise to make Chadwick Boseman and Nelsan Ellis (and perhaps Viola Davis) contenders in the acting categories. You can't trust the Academy to tell the whole story.

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in <i>Interstellar</i>

Yeah, We Can Hear Matthew McConaughey Just Fine, Thank You Very Much
2015's biggest controversy in theatrical exhibition turned out not to be the decision to open Interstellar early in theaters that could stay play film prints. Instead, it was the film's sound that had some viewers complaining that dialogue had been rendered inaudible in the thunderous mix. It was never clear how much the griping online translated to dissatisfaction among the larger moviegoing audience, but at least one movie theater actually posted a sign in the lobby insisting that "all of our sound equipment is functioning properly" and that "This is how [Interstellar] is supposed to sound," an apparent response to complaints. Movie sound professionals, however, don't hear a problem. The film's Academy Award nominations for sound editing and sound mixing will serve as a historical record of the cinema sound community's feelings about Interstellar's sound mix.

Ben Affleck and David Fincher shooting <i>Gone Girl</i>

Being the World's Most Tech-Savvy, Detail-Oriented, Envelope-Pushing Perfectionist Director in Hollywood Won't Necessarily Get You an Oscar Nomination, Even When Your Film Makes $350 Million Worldwide and Has an 88 Percent Approval Rating at, Plus a Best Actress Nomination
Sorry, man. #teamfincher

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For the First Time, All of the Oscar Nominees Will Be Announced Live on TV, Webcast

Good news for cinematographers, film editors, VFX artists and other behind-the-scenes, below-the-line creative talent — for the first time ever, the traditional early-morning announcement of Oscar nominees will include all categories.

That's right. When the program begins at 5:30 a.m. PT / 8:30 a.m. ET this Thursday, presenters Alfonso Cuarón and J.J. Abrams will start by announcing nominees in 11 categories including film editing, sound, and VFX. Eight minutes later, Chris Pine and AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs will announce nominees in the remaining 13 categories, including cinematography alongside the awards for performance, direction, screenwriting and Best Picture.

Roger Deakins with Angelina Jolie on the set of Unbroken

So you won't need to go online immediately just to figure out whether Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, CBE, (pictured, above, with director Angelina Jolie) earned an astonishing twelfth Oscar nomination for his work on Unbroken. The world will know if William Goldenberg is competing with himself once again, this time for editing both Unbroken and The Imitation Game. And the move should give a well-deserved boost to the Oscars' "technical categories," including increased visibilty for popular titles like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 that aren't likely to compete for acting, direction, or screenplay honors.

More than 400 members of the press are expected to cover the nomination announcement in person, and both segments will reportedly be carried live on ABC's Good Morning America. If you're nowhere near a TV, the Academy said the announcement will also be carred at its website:

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CES 2015: Top 10 Tech Takeaways

CES may be a consumer technology show, but there's a lot going on this year that's helping put consumer gear on the cutting edge of the market. In case you didn't make it out to Vegas for the annual confab, here's a summary of some of the major developments this year. We'll steer clear of the powered rollerskates, the connected toothbrush, and the bizarre smart belt that loosens or tightens depending on how much you had for dinner. Instead, we'll concentrate on video screens, computer hardware, and other developments that may have the biggest ramifications for production, post-production, and, yes, consumption of movies, TV, and more.


OLED is squaring off against quantum-dot LCD.
For a while, it looked like OLED was going to be the next big thing in consumer TVs. Now, it's far from a sure thing — within the last year or so, Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung have all abandoned plans to push into OLED production in a big way. That leaves LG as the single biggest marketer of OLED screens, which are best-known for achieving much deeper black levels and wider viewing angles than their LCD counterparts. At CES, LG introduced seven different 4K OLED TVs, ranging in sice from 55 to 77 inches. But the mood was a little tense, with CNet reporting that LG took public swipes at the quantum-dot LCD backlighting technology favored by Samsung. And Samsung, in turn, is said to have cast doubt on LG's ability to deliver the quantum-dot sets that it has promised in March. That's a problem because OLED panels still command too high a price to be a truly mass-market item — the new sets haven't been priced yet, but LG's previously announced 77-inch 4K curved OLED screen, the 77EG9700, has an MSRP of $25,000. (Compare that to Samsung's HU9000 series 78-inch 4K TV that lists for $9,000.) Further Reading: War of the words at CES over what's best for TV [CNet]

4K is set to be the new mainstream.
Ultra High Definition officially became A Thing in Hollywood with the formation of the UHD Alliance. The coalition of companies — including studios, consumer electronics manufacturers, and others — plans to set standards for 4K and higher resolution, HDR, expanded color gamuts, and "immersive 3D audio." Presumably the UHDA will also be looking at delivery mechanisms for all those improvements in picture and sound, and that's why UHDA member company Panasonic brought what it described as the world's first 4K Blu-ray player to CES. Panasonic's prototype Ultra HD Blu-ray player features support for UHD video at up to 10-bit and 60p, HDR, BT.2020 color, and H.265 compression peaking at 100 Mbps. But it's anybody's guess as to whether Ultra HD Blu-ray discs will ever see the light of day. Much more attention was paid at the show to 4K support from companies like Netflix, Roku, and Vimeo. With options for 4K LCD TVs expanding, prices dropping, and at least a steady trickle of content being made available, 4K is becoming the new HD. Not to be outdone, Samsung had an 8K TV prototype on hand that included glasses-free 3D, which makes the most of the available resolution. Further Reading: Hollywood Studios, Consumer Electronics Brands, Content Distributors, Post-Production and Technology Companies Announce UHD Alliance [Press Release] | Panasonic shows off first 4K Blu-ray player, but can discs survive another standard transition? [ExtremeTech] | Samsung's 110-inch 8K glassesless 3DTV is beautiful and awful [Gizmodo]


Virtual reality is still not a reality.
2015 is widely expected to be the year of VR gear like the hotly anticipated Oculus Rift 3D headset, but reporters at CES have been underwhelmed. "Gadget makers, having promised for years to bring a truly fantastic VR game to market, appear not to be there yet," griped the New York Post. Engadget called the Oculus Rift's still unannounced ship date "the elephant in the room" and complained that "to date, we've seen zero input solutions for VR that are worth anything." More and more content creators are getting busy creating virtual worlds for the emerging VR platform—but it's hard to tell whether a consumer version will be released in time for the next holiday selling season. Further Reading: Virtual reality headsets still a virtual disappointment [New York Post] | The challenges ahead for Oculus VR as it creates the consumer rift [Engadget]

Drones: the next generation.
The new darling of adventurous airborne cinematographers everywhere is also a compelling consumer product, given the enduring popular fascination with remote-control vehicles. Drones weren't anything like the hottest product on the CES show floor, but they had their moments in the spotlight. GoPro founder and CEO Nick Woodman spoke at a CES dinner event last night and came this close to confirming that his company was working on its own camera drone. Instead, he sounded a cautionary note regarding efforts to regulate drone flight. "There needs to be some regulation to keep it safe, but we need room to allow the industry to blossom," he said, according to a report. "It's easy to focus on how things can go wrong, but we need to make sure we allow things to go right. A drone with a GoPro is much safer than a helicopter with a crew and a large, heavy camera." Meanwhile, DJI showcased some of the applications that have been created using the SDK it released last year, including one from Pix4D that turns a drone into a measuring tool for mapping purposes and another from PixiePath that allows multiple drones to be controlled simultaneously. Further Reading: GoPro CEO talks drones, innovation and the future at CES [Forbes] | DJI wants you to develop software for their drones [Popular Science]


Type-C may finally be USB done right.
One of the more innocuous standards that emerged at CES is the USB Type-C connector, which improves on previous generations of USB in important ways. First, it's reversible, which means you no longer have to check the alignment of your cable every single time you plug in a USB device to make sure you're not sticking it in upside-down. Second, it's part of the USB 3.1 spec, which doubles the maximum transfer rate to 10 Gbps. And finally, it can deliver up to 100 watts of power. It's starting to show up on components like motherboards and tablet computers, according to PCWorld — and it's the only data connectivity on those rumored redesigned MacBook Airs. Further Reading: The reversible USB Type-C connector is turning heads at CES [PCWorld]

The camera car of the future may be driverless.
It was the year of the driverless car at CES, even though self-piloting automotive technology still looks to be about five years out. Luxury brands like Mercedes Benz and Tesla Motors will likely be among the first to bring autonomous cars to market, while Ford CEO Mark Fields told The Wall Street Journal he's more interested in making an affordable version of what will initially be very high-end technology. Stunt performers probably don't like the technology any more than heli pilots like camera drones, but the potential benefits on a movie shoot are pretty compelling — imagine a camera vehicle that could keep in perfect speed-sync with the hero car, or get ridiculously close to the action without putting a human driver in peril. Further Reading: Ford chief says mass-market autonomous vehicle is priority [The Wall Street Journal]

Intel Compute Stick

Computers get smaller.
Dell got a lot of press for its new XPS 13 laptop, which uses a new thin-bezel design that maximizes the space available for a 13-inch screen in a form factor that's more typical of an 11-inch computer. It's an Ultrabook, not a full-on PC workstation, but for everyday PC tasks, it offers a bigger screen in a smaller form factor than before. And if you want a computer you can carry around in your pocket, check out the new Intel Compute Stick. For $149, you get an HDMI stick with an Atom Z3735F Bay Trail processor, 2 GB of RAM, and 32 GB of flash storage running Windows 8.1 For $89, the Linux version has 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of built-in storage. Depending on how much video-crunching power it actually has, this might just be workable as a cheap, universal playback solution. You'll have to bring your own input device, but with the Metro interface on Windows 8.1, a Bluetooth mouse should work well. Big drawback? You need to power it via MicroUSB. It's supposed to show up in March. Further Reading: Dell blows us away with their near bezel-less XPS 13 Ultrabook [Windows Central] | Intel introduces Compute Stick with Atom quad-core CPU [ZDNet]

Solid-state storage gets speedier.
The big evolutionary change in SSDs is the move from the SATA interface to PCIe, which allows new drives like the just-announced Samsung SM951 drive to reach read speeds of more than 2,000 MB/sec and write speeds of more than 1,500 MB/sec on PCIe 3.0 — around four times faster than SATA-based SSDs. That will pay dividends inside laptop cases, where the smaller eSATA-based SSDs leave more space for other components, like the always-important battery. On the desktop side, Kingston introduced the HyperX Predator PCIe SSD, which is bootable via standard AHCI drivers and boasts read speeds of up to 1,400 MB/sec and write speeds of up to 1,000 MB/sec on PCIe 2.0. Further Reading: Samsung's ludicrously fast PCIe SSD uses almost no power in standby mode [PCWorld] | Kingston unleashes its first PCIe SSD with 1.4 Gbps speed [ComputerWorld]


Sports fans finally get a viable cord-cutting option.
It's long been a fact of life: if you want ESPN, you've got to get cable TV. Until now. This week, Dish announced that it's new Sling TV web service will allow subscribers to watch ESPN and ESPN 2, along with a handful of other cable channels, online for $20/month. Another one of cable TV's biggest guns, HBO, recently announced that it will soon be available as an a la carte service that will be especially attractive to viewers who crave Game of Thrones and Girls but not much else their local provider has on offer. Are these two offerings harbingers of the future of television? Almost certainly, yes. But don't expect the transition to be painless—subscribers to online streaming services will still have to buy their bandwidth somewhere, and the relationship between bandwidth-hungry content providers like Netflix and the nation's ISPs (which are often the cable companies themselves) hasn't always been completely friendly. HBO, in particular, will have a lot of infrastructure to build out as it starts serving customers directly, rather than through the traditional industry middleman. These are early days, but it's hard to see this particular trend reversing. Further Reading: Dish's new Sling TV Internet TV service starts at $20, features ESPN, Disney Channel, CNN, TNT, and other channels [CNet]

Wait a minute—Apple wasn't even at CES!
Apple has a way of becoming part of any consumer electronics conversation, especially given the dominance of its iOS devices and the sci-fi appeal of the upcoming Apple Watch. But despite the company's absence from Vegas and the lack of any product announcements, Apple was still the talk of the town, thanks to widely reported rumors this week about a new, single-port USB Type-C redesign for the MacBook Air and a possible March launch for the company's aforementioned timepiece. No wonder Apple doesn't have a booth at either CES or NAB, given that everyone's speculating about what they're up to, regardless. Further Reading: Apple's next major Mac revealed [9to5Mac] | Apple Watch launch expected in March [9to5Mac]

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