So they want to make DVR as useless as DVD? FANTASTIC!

Via Ars:

US television network ABC is concerned about losing ad revenue to DVR-loving, ad-skipping consumers, and it has a plan to stem the bleeding—deactivate the DVR fast forward button.

Yes, we just adore those annoying unskippable sections of DVD that prevent you from watching the part you actually want to watch until you’ve sat through whatever attention-taxing crap the DVD producer has tacked onto the start of their movie/series/whatever, and we’d be happy to make the same accommodation for DVR.

No, really. It’s not insane – it’s a TV Executive.

Should make that into a t-shirt.

Food for thought: How many years away is IPTV, and how many years of slow, painful death will the major TV networks endure before being snapped up by IPTV providers?

At the moment, you could create a la carte network programming using an RSS feed and BitTorrent; if there was some way of actually micropaying the creator for the right to use the content, I’d set up a network myself.

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

SED will make SpongBo SAD

SpongBo has written a number of posts about his search for the ultimate LCD TV. He finally bought the Sony Bravia. Good for him. He tells me that he enjoys his new TV.

I have news that will end all that.

At CES 2006, Toshiba unveiled working prototypes of their new SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display) televisions. Toshiba reckons that they will have the first SED TV’s in shops before the end of the year. Why would you want a SED? Ask IGN:

So how does it all work? SED sets use 6,220,800 electron emitters – or one for each color per pixel, to be precise – which cause red, blue and green phosphors to glow. That may not mean much to most, but the results will definitely matter. Toshiba’s CES 2006 SED sets featured the deepest black levels we have ever seen on any television, including CRT – and these televisions are as flat as any plasma! Consider this: the typical plasma set sports a contrast ratio of 3000:1, but Toshiba’s prototype SEDs offer a whopping 10,000:1 contrast ratio for truly unparallelled color and accuracy.

This sounds pretty good, the contrast is three times as good as a plasma. But these are prototypes, Toshiba promises that the final shipping SED’s will have 100,000:1 contrast! Apparently they are cheaper to mass-produce than LCD or plasma. Compelling.

For pics:

pinkjoint, shifty, SED, TV, LCD, Plasma, ces 2006

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
  3. S-VIDEO
  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)

Intervideo WinDVD and Media Center 2005: Experience

WinDVD 7, on Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. Update Rollup 2 is applied, but everything applies pre-UR2 anyway.

Using Australian Free-To-Air Digital TV via an Avermedia A16A.

The Good

Good de-interlacing, better than PureVideo
Excellent image quality
Supports HD without any noticeable problems so far
Doesn’t stress the CPU too much (Radeon 9550 @ 1360×768).

The Meh

Few tweakable options available directly. I couldn’t find them, anyway.

The Bad

Subtitles on DVDs can be iffy – where subtitles appear for only part of the movie, they often don’t display. If they don’t display, enabling the DVD’s in-built subtitles from the DVD menu, playing a little, then turning them off gets them working.

Sometimes can’t watch Live TV while it’s recording – you have to go via Recorded TV, and play the recording. Might not be a WinDVD thing, but it’s worth mentioning.

A WinDVD thing: Resuming Play speed after fast forward/rewind is flakey (skip works fine), and you often end up with a “can’t play the stream” decoder error. Just hit Stop and then Play.

Pinkjoint, spongbo, mce, mce2005, media center

LCD TV Hunt Over: Got Irony? I Bought The BRAVIA V-Series.

I know, I whined about the frame rate in store. Funny, isn’t it?

Yep, I bought a BRAVIA V-Series 32-incher. Baseline: very happy with it. The 32 inch model is a perfect size replacement for the 68cm 4:3 TV with side speakers – it fits snugly into the same area, but provides a much wider and only-very-slightly-reduced-in-height picture. When not watching TV, it’s a really good monitor for web browsing at a distance, a far cry from the S-video-to-composite quality of the old TV, fantastic as a TV though it was.

I figured I could tweak out the frame rate issues, but they haven’t been an issue with “PC Mode” – the VGA input.

Wasn’t all flat water, though: I had a bit of a fight on my hands getting the RADEON 9550 in my Media Centre to talk to it.

See, Sony in their consumer-focused wisdom (cheap shot, but they deserve it) figured that the BRAVIAs didn’t need DVI. There’s VGA on all models, and HDMI only on the V series, and darn it, that should be good enough. I wondered if some pointy haired manager thought that not offering DVI would somehow curb piracy – for whatever reason, it ain’t there.

So instead of offering DVI, with the image quality benefit that the digital transfer typically entails over VGA, you get to try your luck with a DVI to HDMI converter cable. And at least in my case, some combination of the ATI RADEON and the Sony seemingly misreporting its native resolution as 1900×1200 causes my 1360×768 native (well, close enough to it) res to get squashed into the centre of the screen, with a massive wasted area.

And even that was an improvement, because with the original set of RADEON drivers I tried, I’d get nothing – just an occasional purple flash (or continued flashing on occasion), and a glimpse of the screen it should have been showing, then nothing. The RADEON CATALYST 5.11 drivers seemed to fix that particular aspect, but then you have to deal with the RADEON 9XXX series’ dislike for DVI in general (feeling like my Apple Cinema Display experiences all over again…). VGA: no probs.

So, long story short, I’m using a VGA cable until I can replace the RADEON with an Nvidia 6600 and try again with the HDMI->DVI cable. Sigh.

Anyway – there’s no appreciable interference with the VGA cable (certainly not at 6 feet, and not detectable up close either), but I want my digtal output. I was skeptical of DVI being a huge improvement over VGA until I got a monitor with dual inputs – then it was night and day.

And finally, I have a TV that the MCE Remote can do the single-button-on-or-off thing with – the old telly needed to have a channel selected to switch on.

More whining to follow as I find more stuff out. But it kicks ass as a telly so far.

Pinkjoint, spongbo, Bravia, LCD, LCD TV, MCE