Iriver E10 – Not Good

When buying a non-Ipod device, there are certain things I look for in a portable music player:

  • Syncs with Windows Media Player
  • Plays Windows Media DRM encrypted files (yeah, I own a few)
  • Has a standard mini USB 2.0 socket for charging and transfer (hell, I’ll settle for 1.1)
  • Doesn’t require loads of custom software to work properly

That’s my list. So far, just about every device I’ve tried has been wanting in some key way.

My girlfriend doesn’t have such a list. She bought an E10 on the recommendation of a sales guy that said it was a “Flash player” – it’s not, it’s a microdrive player that has Macromedia Flash installed. Great.

My near-rabid frothing at the mouth convinced her to keep it, to prove that I was wrong and it wasn’t a horrible and random purchasing mistake on her part. Cow. But of course, when it breaks or screws up or is generally crappy and unusable, it’s not her that has to fix it. Ohhhh, no.

On its own, the Iriver E10 is probably a competent mass storage device that happens to be able to play media files, if you don’t mind a file browser interface.

But as a music player, and as part of the overall Iriver experience/package, it’s a piece of the warmest, steamiest, most unadulterated crap you’ll ever find anywhere. You just won’t find out until after you’ve bought it, so don’t.

Why does The Iriver Experience Suck So Much?

Syncs with Windows Media Player: No
First cab off the rank, and it’s already a killer. No Media Player integration. Crappy app required for song, playlist and artist management.

I decided I’d try to rectify this- and I’d try a web search to kick off with. Well, not much around the net on the E10, so let’s go to the manufacturer’s website.

In no small part, the Iriver website is so poor it’s practically unusable. First impressions are positive, with lots of animation and fly-out things, but you quickly realize that these are pretty much the only effort expended on the site, and they’re Flash-based, making tabbed browsing hard-to-impossible. And there seem to be generic tutorials for devices that probably aren’t sold any more linked right off the top page of the site. For God’s sake Iriver, please just implement the site in real HTML, and then try to make the smallest sections possible pretty with Flash.

Once you’ve got a couple of independently-navigated browsers open to the Iriver site, you try to search for something you’re interested in: say, E10 Windows Media Player.

Nothing. Sod all.

If you painstakingly work your way through the cumbersome search interface, you’re eventually left with a list of one thing – “product manual” available. Nothing about how you’re supposed to sync the device with Windows Media Player. No firmware options at all. Reading widely in the torturous forum, you get the impression you’re after something called MTP, for which firmware seems to exist for every other Iriver device but yours.

The forum requires registration, doesn’t offer RSS feeds, looks to have a near-zero useful response rate, and bluntly: fuck that.

So we’re going to have to install the Itunes-y Iriver Plus2, which is pointless because I’ve already got Media Player and Media Center and Itunes installed, and I don’t need another goddamn music management application for a specific device. I will be watching it like a hawk.

Plays Windows Media DRM Files: Who knows?

I would bet vast sums of money on “no”, because WMP doesn’t even consider it a real device.

Has a Standard Mini USB Connector: No

The little bastard has a proprietary flat-and-wide-something-to-USB cable. It comes with one cable. Lose the cable, you’re screwed. Just hanging around at a friend’s house and need a charge? Can’t do it without the cable.

Why anyone would put a non-standard USB socket in a device this size is just beyond me. It boggles the mind. You have a universal standard that can be used with anything, and instead you slap a proprietary interface on it that makes it no good to anyone. Come ON!

Doesn’t Require Loads Of Custom Software To Work Properly: No

Perhaps not quite the vehement “no” of the others, but the fact is that it doesn’t work properly (eg, you can’t sort by artist or album or playlist) unless you install The Crappy Software.

Conclusion

I really hope that it fails within the week and we can take it back. In my humble opinion, it’s a lemon.

pinkjoint, iriver, e10, iriver e10, portable music players, hdd music players, mp3 players

A New MCE2005 Rollup for April 2006!

It’s not Update Rollup 3, but it’s at least a cumulative update for Update Rollup 2.

Auto Updates users may have this already, but if not, there’s a new list of fixes in it. As an Aussie Digital TV user, none of the fixes reminded me of any past experiences (which is good), and it cuts down on the WindowsUpdate patching required for a new MCE box by at least one reboot, so I’m quite happy with that. However, I didn’t see a fix for the outstanding major pain-in-the-ass Program Guide problem.

Since the Xbox 360 extender update, I now get little DTV icons as well as the HD icons next to program guide listings for the IceTV stuff – not sure who did what, but it’s working pretty well with the Xbox 360 so far.

Bigpond Movies and Windows Media Centre

I mentioned in my last post that the BigpondMovies downloads can be viewed with any WMV+DRM-capable viewer, but it turns out there’s a caveat too, especially when used with Media Centre (Media Center for our friends from the US).

What I did:
I thought it’d be a good idea to add the Bigpond Movies download folder to the My Videos area of MCE. The “Purchased” folder under My Videos now contains all the downloads that cost me anything.

It’s not an ideal solution: you don’t see the movie title as the filename (just a five-digit number for each in my case), but the Video Info reported the title properly, and the license restrictions.

What happened:
xXx didn’t generate a thumbnail through MCE, but played fine. I watched it on the same day I added the folder to the MCE view, so I could watch it through MCE… and it worked just like the other MCE videos do (except a little slower to fast-forward and rewind, probably due to the Windows Media DRM overhead).
Kung Fu Hustle did manage to somehow get a thumbnail created, but when I went to watch it two days later, it didn’t play, and MCE dutifully reported that the license had expired the day before. I hadn’t (knowingly) played it…

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Me too. For those that aren’t, here’s what I think happened:
Somehow, MCE managed to open Kung Fu Hustle to decode enough to build the thumbnail. But… the problem with that is that it counts against the “you just watched this movie” license granted by Bigpond, so the automatic act of getting a thumbnail from the file starts the “you have 24 hours to watch this movie” timer.

I’m not upset, because a) I was doing something that probably wasn’t tested anyway, and b) my budget for just trying it out was $10, and I got arguably $5 value from xXx (artistic merit aside), so it was a worthwhile test run. If I’d used the Download Manager program to launch it (presumably in Windows Media Player), I’m sure I wouldn’t have had the same problem.

But a word to the crazy, ambitious and wicked: if you’re going to hook up the downloads folder to MCE2005, don’t open the folder until you’re ready to watch everything in it!

spongbo, pinkjoint, movies on demand, bigpond, bigpondmovies

Bigpond Movies Downloads – First Impressions

The other day, BigpondMovies (they have a mail-based DVD service as well, but I’m only interested in digital downloads) reached my personal tipping point for the amount of content I was actually interested in, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Ten bucks later, I had Kung Fu Hustle and xXx (the Vin Diesel movie – AFAIK, no porn on BigpondMovies yet!) queued for a download, and a day after that, I was ready to watch them.

Movies you rent are downloadable for a week, and have a one day viewing period applied to them. There’s also a selection of Television shows, which I haven’t yet tried; they seem to be around $3 per episode.

The quality of the movies seems roughly equivalent to a same-size DivX encoding; it’s definitely on the good side of watchable, but it’s not quite (good) DVD quality, at least for XXX, which I’m watching at the moment.

Bigpond supply a Media Manager application to download and watch movies, though the movies are in WMV format and so can be viewed by anything Windows Media (with DRM) compatible. It seemed to work quite well in Media Center, though it’s not directly integrated. More on that later…?

When downloading a movie, it seems to use regular HTTP, no torrents or meshes, just a nice, fat server. It took 2 hours to download a 1.5 hour movie on IInet DSL (not DSL2+), which seems fine to me. Bigpond suggest downloading overnight; either way seems fine.

I managed to delete one of the downloads before it was finished, and there wasn’t an obvious way through the UI or the site to “reclaim” the download; I emailed the help alias, and the next day, my download was restored, which was good.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with the download service so far. More when I work out how to do more cool things with it…

My New MCE Doesn’t Like AMD Cool and Quiet

I upgraded from my last little box to a new monster of a thing (that I’m really going to have to work out how to cool more quietly).

This involved going from a P4 3.2 HT socket 478 to an Athlon64 3500+, probably pre-Venice core, and an Nvidia 6600 PCIe from a Radeon 9550.

Everything is seemingly fine, most of the time. But add a little too much load, and stuff starts going wrong. Playback of Recorded TV gets little artifacts. Changing the channel on the second tuner (Avermedia A16A tuners) sometimes causes a recording to jump at that point. Motherboard is a Gigabyte GA-K8N, and I installed the Nvidia Nforce4 IDE drivers along with the chipset stuff. While I’m asking – is it just me, or are Athlons on Nforce weaker for IO than Intels?.

AMD reckon it should work – their tech note is mainly about synthetic benchmarking (PDF). But if Task Manager gets confused easily, I’m thinking other apps might too.

With Always On set, it works pretty damn perfectly, all the time. With Minimal Power Management, if the box gets a little stressed, it doesn’t “warm up” fast enough to cope.

Now it might be that the decoders or codecs or whatever else has a problem with CnQ… at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Perhaps Windows Vista will allow me to configure the power profile before recording a show…

pinkjoint, media center, mce, mce 2005, spongbo

Old-Style TV Connectors

TV Connectors. Everybody loves ’em.

Personally, I never even bothered thinking about them.

If you’re just interested in what connector gives you the best image quality, skip straight to the Cheat Sheet at the end of the article.

But as it turns out, there are benefits to getting the type of connector configured optimally – even on older TVs. My older TV is a good one, but it only has SCART inputs. I thought this was a drawback, but…

…SCART is pretty much the mother of all connectors. It supports COMPOSITE, S-VIDEO and COMPONENT inputs inamongst its plethora of pins. SCART to SCART cabling is probably optimal, but the connector format supports just about every type of common analog connection with an appropriate adapter.

I set about looking at options to connect my Xbox with Advanced AV Pack (does Composite and S-Video outs, plus 2x RCA and SPDIF output for sound) to my SCART telly to get better image quality than the composite to SCART adapter included with the Xbox itself.

Lowest in the food chain (we’re not going to talk about the RF option) is the venerable COMPOSITE connector – the one yellow RCA jack (hi-fi audio style) connector option, using one cable for video. This pushes all picture information down the one cable, and often has a noticeable diagonal refresh pattern associated with it. This is what you end up using if you use the Xbox’s included SCART adapter.

Next up, S-VIDEO, sometimes called SVHS. S-Video is actually comprised of two channels – in layman’s terms, a brightness and a colour channel, and uses one of those plugs that looks like a PS/2 keyboard connector. It looks better than COMPOSITE, but not as good as higher-end COMPONENT video. Because it splits the image into multiple component signals, it is considered a form of component video.

Then, there are the triple-cable COMPONENT options, which further split the picture elements into even more channels (called Y, Pb, Pr), for the ultimate analog picture experience (not counting VGA). DVD players, high-end TVs and so on use this type of connector, alternatively heading into DVI/HDMI territory (which is digital, and thus cheating for the purposes of this discussion).

The Xbox HD pack (which gets the box working in 720p or something, and provides component outputs) was withdrawn from sale in Australia due to incompatibilities with Aussie HDTV formats (I think the story went), so it’s really hard to find them here. I picked up a SCART adapter with an S-Video connector from Dick Smith’s for $15, and plugged it in alongside the composite->SCART connector. No more diagonal refresh pattern now – the image (while still interlaced) is really solid.

One thing that did have to change was that the TV (a Grundig) showed the S-Video signal as black and white, until I identified that connector as being “SVHS” in its DialogCenter(TM). Then, colour and better fidelity. Mmm. Fidelity.

Cheat Sheet

In order of worst to best picture quality:

  1. RF/Antenna
  2. COMPOSITE
  3. S-VIDEO
  4. COMPONENT
  5. SCART (when SCART->SCART is used, otherwise, as good as the worst connection, eg, SCART->COMPOSITE = COMPOSITE)
  6. VGA (aging PC monitor standard)
  7. DVI (digital format)
  8. HDMI (higher-bandwidth digital)