Entries Tagged as 'Digital Media'

So you want to be in pictures…

Or rather should I say that you want to be able to play “moving pictures” on your computer…

You computer may have come with software for playing back video, DVDs, etc — or the operating system version you installed might support some formats; but eventually you’re going to reach a point where you want to play something that you don’t have support for and you might not feel like spending a lot of money.

There are two major issues with playing back media:

  1. Your computer needs software that is able to decode the audio and the video portions of the media; and
  2. Your computer needs software that is able to “break apart” the audio from the video.

The first piece of software is call a “decoder” — or often times a codec.  And you’ll hear things like MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264, etc for video and things like AC3, AAC, PCM, DTS, MP3, etc for audio.

The second piece of software is called a mux (specifically for play back a de-mux) — and those take particular containers and split them into the separate audio and video streams.  The file extension generally tell you about the “envelope” the data is contained in, or how it was muxed.  Some standards mux specifications, but even when the audio/video standard includes a way to mux the data, it might be in a richer envelope that supports alternate audio streams, alternate video streams, hyperlinks, closed captions, multiple languages, etc.

A growing open standard for containing audio and video is the Matroska format.  It’s generally designated as .mkv for audio/video files and .mka for audio files.

It’s a rich standard well supported on Windows, OS-X, and *nix platforms.

For more information visit the Matroska Offical Homepage:

You’ll not only find information on the Matroska format, but links to many free tools to help you play back that audio and video format you’re having trouble with.

Originally posted 2008-12-14 01:00:52.

NoFlix

Perhaps NetFlix should consider changing their name to NoFlix.

I can’t get over companies that charge for services, fail to deliver the services they promise, and then tell you that they’re not going to refund you a penny.

Yep — that appears to be NetFlix’s policy. I’m waiting on confirmation from Reed Hastings NetFlix CEO (I’ll follow up with anything I receive, if I receive anything) — but that’s what I was told by Sean Callaghan today after I called because NetFlix was down (unable to stream to any of my multitude of NetFlix enabled devices — or any of my friends either) for quite some time.

I was told it was due to a “service outage” beyond NetFlix’s control.

But let me provide a few more highlights of my call. When the agent I spoke with proved to be unable (or unwilling) to resolve any issue I was having — I requested a supervisor. Originally I was told that he was a supervisor and he did not have any manager there. That was then modified to be that he would not escalate the call (suggesting there were actually at least one manager there), and when that change was questioned he again modified the statement along the lines of there was no reason to escalate the call because he had answered my questions. Of course, he was apparently to say anything he wanted since he also told me that NetFlix does not record customer service calls when I ask him. That one statement really does say it all… I don’t think there’s much I can add.

Also, I pointed out — this evening was the only time this month I had cared to watch a movie (I think I had demonstrated NetFlix streaming on my Droid for maybe 3 minutes total — but I don’t really consider that using the service)… and I had no NetFlix DVD in the house, so I expected to be able to sit back and enjoy a movie via the “unlimited” streaming service I paid for each and every month from NetFlix (even though I rarely use it).

Well… not only do I have to say I find NetFlix’s service questionable, but when you consider how difficult they make it to contact them on an issue (NetFlix enabled devices aren’t even an option to report an issue to them) — how long they expect you to stay on hold, and how completely inept their customer service staff impressed me as being — I see no reason why I’d want to send them any of my money, much less putting up with them almost doubling the cost of what I have in a month (which I might add will be four times what I paid when I first signed up for NetFlix, not all that long ago).

I would say that the only thing the agent on the phone was able to do competently was cancel my account; but even that he proved to be inept at — and failed to tell me before doing so that NetFlix wasn’t going to refund anything for unused service.

It’s a joke — and the customer service agent couldn’t reference me to anything that provided information support his claim that NetFlix wasn’t going to refund any of my service fees (even though over one third of my bill cycle remains).

Then I tried to access both there “Terms of Use” and their “Privacy Policy” through both links in the emails they send and the footer on their web site as was presented with “The page isn’t redirecting properly” — I guess yet another “service outage” that was beyond their control.

I’ve closed the virtual card number I used to pay for NetFlix services; and I’ve filed a charge back dispute with Citibank… if they decide not to reverse the charges to my account; well, then I guess I can eliminate a credit card from my wallet as well.

Personally I’m tired of companies promising to provide services, then continually increasing the charges, decreasing the services, and feeling like they have no responsibility to actually fulfill their commitments to customers.

I can say this categorically — I will never use NetFlix again. Amazon provides similar services at better prices, and I have great faith that Amazon will work very hard to meet the expectations they set for their customers… and if they fail, I’m betting you won’t even have to ask for a refund, they’ll be one step ahead of you.

Most every one I know is canceling their NetFlix service before the rate increase in September, and that was my intent anyway — but as of today, I live in a NetFlix free zone, and encourage everyone to ban those red envelops from their mailbox and streaming services from their devices and computers — support a company that deserves your business and watch yet another failure shrivel away and die.

Originally posted 2011-07-22 02:00:36.

Upgrading Drive Firmware

First, if you’re not having problems with your drive (unless it’s brand new, has no data on it, and you don’t have an issue returning it to the place of purchase or manufacturer) DO NOT DO IT.

Second, make sure you give yourself plenty of time, don’t try and do it quickly, or in between other commitments.  Do it when it’s quiet.  Make sure you have a UPS on your computer and that the weather is clear (so that there’s no likelihood of power outages).

Third, run the drive diagnostics from the manufacturer first.  If the drive shows it’s having problems — return it to the manufacturer for replacement (most manufacturers will do advance replacement at no charge with a credit card; that gives you a drive to migrate your data onto, and a shipping container to return the failing drive in).

Fourth, many manufacturers support upgrading firmware directly from Windows (a few from other operating systems).  I high recommend you choose the bootable CD approach — that way there’s no question whether or not you have something installed on your computer that might interfere.  And if you’re using SATA I recommend you set your computer to SATA IDE/Legacy mode to insure that the upgrade (and diagnostics) don’t have any issues with your SATA controller (IDE/Legacy as opposed to SATA/Native, SATA/RAID, SATA/AHCI — different BIOS manufacturers will call it by a different term, but it’s the lowest setting for the controller, likely it’s what the default was).

Fifth, make sure you obtain the firmware update only from the manufacturer’s web site; and make sure that it is for your drive; and that it’s recommended as a general installation or specifically addresses an issue you’re having.

Sixth, make sure you read and follow the manufacturer’s procedure for updating firmware.

Seventh, power off your drive before you attempt to use it after updating the firmware.  Most drives will not use the newer firmware until they are power-cycled; some drives just flat out won’t work until they’ve been “hard reset”.

Hopefully all goes well, but many drives become a brick if your firmware upgrade fails; a few can revert to the previous firmware and keep on running.  If you have problems, contact the manufacturer, most drives under warranty can be replaced — but data recovery is not included.

NOTE:

Upgrading drive firmware may also change the first several sectors of the drive; I highly recommend that you backup the drive before upgrading the firmware.

Originally posted 2010-02-09 01:00:56.

bada boom… bada bing…

Elemental Technologies, Inc in Portland Oregon showed a new type of video encoder at CES 2009 — they call it badaboom — it’s build on top of Vidia’s CUDA interface to their GPUs and largely uses GPU resources rather than CPU resources to encode (or re-encode actually) video.

You can download a free thirty use trial from their web site and test it for yourself.

Here are my impressions of it.

I did a few test encodes and played with the options quite a bit, and while I think it has a great deal of potential, it misses on quite a few points.

First, it’s fairly easy to use — and you’ll get something decent out of it even if you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.

It can read unencrypted DVD, the contents of a VIDEO_TS folder on your hard disk, any media file that you have a DirectShow decoder for.

I tried this on an nVideo 8600GT, 8800GTS, 9500GT, 9800GT, and 9800GTX.  The 9500GT performed much slower than the other four cards (yeah, you could have guess that from just the Vista ratings)…

I saw about 54fps doing SD video and about 12fps doing HD… my Q9400 and Q9300 can do roughly that with a good encoder.  In all fairness, using the GPUs to encode my PCs were extremely responsive, something I can’t say when using my CPUs to encode.  Of course if you compare price of a CPU to a high end GPU — you would probably be better off spending your money on the CPU.

For $30 it wouldn’t be a bad option to have a GPU based encoder.

However (you knew it was coming)…

I can hardly call v1.1.1 a final product — and to their credit they offer free upgrades until they release v2, which they say will be about a year off.

Here’s what it doesn’t do.

Sound:

It doesn’t handle multi-channel sound, so you’re going to loose your 5.1 Dolby or DTS on your DVD movies; it does a stereo or mono mix-down of your sound.  So until it allow you to encode your multi-channel sound in AAC or to preserve your AC3 or DTS sound without touching it I’d say it’s not a contender.

It also can’t handle multiple audio tracks.  To this this it would really need to support MKV containers.

Video:

It doesn’t properly detect source video size nor does it handle letterbox crops.  This isn’t that advanced of a feature — and why they think they need to upscale the video is beyond me.  If the source was only 704×480 it’s not going to look any better scaling it up to 1920×1080… it should be encoded at the same size as the source and the playback and upscale it.  Plus many DVD are letterbox, and there’s no reason to encode those black bars, they should be cropped out (either automatically or allow a user to set the crop regions).

Subtitles:

It doesn’t handle even a single subtitle stream.

Menus & Navigation:

Doesn’t preserve any of the menus and navigation from the DVD, but I didn’t really expect it to since there’s no MPEG4 player I know of that would be able to use the navigation stream.

__________

Personally I think at the moment Hand Brake and Fair Use Wizard are better products; but they don’t use your GPU, they use your CPU.  I do think that over time badaboom will improve; and the upside is apparently you get thirty uses every time they change the version (though you’re going to have to live with their logo in the lower left hand corner).

In closing, I wasn’t compelled to pull my credit card out and buy it; I’ll certainly wait until at least the sound issue is corrected.

Originally posted 2009-02-23 01:00:09.

Google Music – Beta

Google has launched their cloud based streaming music service as a beta; you can request an invitation (using a Gmail account) via the link below.

What does it get you?

Well, up to 20,000 songs in your cloud storage; play back support on most Android devices; play back support from a browser; and an upload program that will sync your library to the cloud.

Not bad for free.

Apple provides a similar service for $25 per year; there’s no limit to the amount of music you can store.  The main differences being that there’s no Android support (basically devices iTunes supports is supported), and Apple actually finger prints the files and serves their iTune version of the music rather than your copy (likely at a higher bit rate — they, of course, don’t incur the storage overhead).

Amazon provides a similar service for $20 per year (you also get some storage for other files); and there’s no limit to the amount of music you can store, but you might find their uploader is a little less friendly to use (OK — to be fair it’s been updated since I tested it — so maybe not).

You can play with the free 5GB version of the Amazon service and decide if you like it, and it’s worth the $20 (I was hoping they’d just bundle it into Prime — but if they’re serious about Hulu they really need to start Al-a-cart charges for services, or Prime is going to have to go up).

Anyway, if you have an Android device, I highly recommend you go ahead and request an invite to the Google Music Beta — you can try the Amazon out as well… if you have an iOS device, you’re probably stuck with the Apple solution (but you’re an Apple customer, so you’re used to having to shell out money for everything).

Also, the Amazon tablets will reportedly ship with a free Prime subscription, possibly a free year of cloud storage might be thrown in as well (that’s speculation on my part).

http://music.google.com/about/

Originally posted 2011-09-10 02:00:28.

Display Resolutions, Aspect Ratio…

When you go shopping for a new display for your computer or for entertainment viewing, here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind.

The reference resolutions for each of the “standards” are:

  • SD (NTSC), 480i = 720×480
  • ED (NTSC), 480p = 720×40
  • HD, 720p = 1280×720
  • HD, 1080i = 1280×1080, 1440×1080, or 1920×1080
  • HD, 1080p = 1920×1080

However, the aspect rations commonly used are:

  • 4:3 (SDTV)
  • 16:9 (HDTV)
  • 1.33:1 (Academy Standard)
  • 1.78:1 (Academy Flat)
  • 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Scope prior to 1970)
  • 2.39:1 (Anamorphic Scope — Panavision/Cinemascope)

Both 1280×720 and 1920×1080 are 16:9 resolution… so if that’s what the material was originally shot in you’re fine; HOWEVER, it’s very uncommon to find any modern movie of note (or any “action” movie for the last 20+ years) that is 16:9.  The bottom line is you’re going to see black bars on the side or top and bottom when you watch “movies” most of the time — or you’re going to have your display stretch (distort) the image to fill the screen.

Originally posted 2008-12-16 12:00:47.

Video Encoding

A little over a year ago one of my friends with a Mac wanted to get into re-encoding video; I knew about the tools to do it on a PC, but none of the tools really had a OS-X port at that time, so I set out on a quest to find tools that could enable a person who didn’t know much about video encoding to accomplish it.

One of the first tools I stumbled on was HandBrake; it was an Open Source project leveraging off of a number of other Open Source products intended on creating a cross platform suite of tools for video encoding that was reasonably straight forward to use and produced reasonable good results.

Well, the version I tested was a near total failure… but the project showed promise and I keep tabs on it for quite some time.

Over the past year it’s steadily improved.  In fact, I’m probably being a little hard on it, since right after I played with an early version a much improved version was available that did work, and did allow my friend to accomplish what he wanted.

Last month HandBrake released a new version — a much improved version.

With Windows, OS-X, and Linux versions you can try out HandBrake for yourself and see the results.

I did two separate tests (and for some reason I always use the same two DVD titles — Saving Private Ryan, and Lord of the Rings — the reason is that both movies have a wide range of  video type from near still images to sweeping panoramic views to everything in motion (blowing up)…

I had two separate machines (a Q9300 and a Q9400 both with 8GB of DDR2) doing the encodes, and did both normal and high profiles; one test was H.264 into a MPEG4 container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track; the other was H.264 into a MKV container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track in addition to AC3 5.1 pass-through and Dolby Surround pass-through with [soft] subtitles.

For the high profiles: Lord of the Rings took a little over three hours; Saving Private Ryan took just under two and a half hours — so don’t get in a hurry, in fact, run it over night and don’t bother the computer(s).

The high profile achieved about a 2:1 reduction in size; the normal profile achieved about a 4:1 reduction in size.  The high profile’s video was stunning, the normal profile’s video was acceptable.  The AAC audio was acceptable; the AC3 5.1 was identical to the source, and in perfect sync.

There are a number of advantages to keeping your video in a MPEG4 or MKV container verses a DVD image… it’s much easier to catalog and play, and of course it’s smaller (well, you could keep the MPEG2-TS in a MKV and it would be identically sized, but I see little reason for that).

The downside of RIPping your DVDs is that you lose the navigation stream and the extra material.  Do you care???

HandBrake will read source material in just about any format imaginable (and in almost any container as well)… you can take a look at it’s capabilities and features online.

I’ve got some VCR capture streams in DV video that I’m encoding now — trying a few of the more advanced settings in HandBrake to see how it works (well, that’s not really testing HandBrake, that’s testing the H.264 encoder).  My expectation is that once I get the settings right, it will do a fine job; but with video captures you should never expect the first try to be the best (well, I’m never that lucky).

While HandBrake is very easy to use, your ability to get really good results from it is going to partially depend on how willing you are to learn a little about video re-encoding (which will require a little reading and a little experimentation).   But that said, NO product is going to magically just do the right thing in every case…

Overall I would say that HandBrake is one of the best video encoders you’re going to find, and you cannot beat the price — FREE!

Here’s some additional notes.

For Windows 7 you will want to download the DivX trial and just install the MKV splitter (nothing else is needed) so that Windows 7 can play media in a MKV container using it’s native CODECs.

With Windows Media Play 12 and Media Center I haven’t figured out how to switch audio streams; so make sure you encode with the audio stream you want as a default as the first stream.  With Media Player Classic and Media Player Classic Home Cinema it’s easy to select the audio stream.  Also, Windows Media Player will not render AC3 pass-through streams, it will just pass them through the SPDIF/Toslink to your receiver — so you won’t get any sound if you’re trying to play it on your PC.

Don’t delete any of your source material until you are certain that you are happy with the results; and you might want to backup your source material and keep it for six months or so just to be sure (yeah — I know it’s big; but a DVD will fit on a DVD).

Handbrake

Originally posted 2009-12-17 01:00:07.

Google TV — Post Notes

Just a follow up to my Google TV post… the Logitech Revue Google TV box’s price has been slashed to $99, and it will be updated to run Honeycomb and support a host of new apps.

While the current version isn’t compelling, the new price just might be — at least when Honeycomb actually ships on the Revue and you can do something useful (like run Google Music perhaps).

 

Google TV

Originally posted 2011-08-12 02:00:00.

HDX Media Player

I ran across this site while reading on the web.  The HDX 1000 and HDX 900 look like they could be interesting devices to hookup to your high definition panel to give you options in how you acquire and manage your content.

I haven’t played with one, so all I have to go by is what’s on the web site.

http://www.hdx1080.com/

Originally posted 2008-11-13 12:00:36.

Cloud Storage

 There are tons of free (and paid) cloud storage services… and you can use more than one of them (I actually use all of the following myself).

 

Amazon

Amazon changes their cloud storage option fairly often, currently it’s 5GB free with 250 songs — the subscription for storage and music storage are separate now.

 

Box

50GB of storage.  Works with Windows, Max, Android, and iOS – plus there are several other apps that allow easy migration of files to Box.

 

DropBox 

2GB of storage plus an extra 500MB for using the above link to sign up (there are other bonuses you can get as well).    Works with Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and BlackBerry.

 

GoogleDrive

If you have a Google GMail account (or Google App account) you already have this, just sign in to activate it.  Works with Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS — probably others as well.  The storage amount you get seems to vary based on when you sign up.  NOTE:  Google Music is stored separately.

 

SkyDrive

If you have an MSN, HotMail, Live or any other Microsoft hosted/provided account you already have access to it.  Works with Windows, Android, iOS — probably others as well.  The storage amount you get seems to vary based on when you sign up.

 

Ubuntu One

5GB of storage, plus an extra 500MB for using the above link to sign up.  Works with Windows, Mac, Ubuntu (Linux), Android, and iOS – plus can be used automatically to store large Thunderbird attachments (great if you’re sending the same attachment to several people).

Originally posted 2013-08-27 11:10:21.