Entries Tagged as 'Digital Media'

Flat Panels

So you decided to get that large flat panel high definition LCD TV for yourself…

That’s so last year.

The new display technology is based on organic light emitting diodes (OLED), and they promise to provide much high contrast images, blacker-black, and way better energy efficiency.

Right now there’s a premium associated with the price; but all that is changing (and changing rapidly).

OLED and related technology are becoming the commodity technology that’s used in computer monitors, televisions, and portable device displays.

Your big-block electronic store might only have one OLED model for every ten LCD models at the moment, but the CES is just around the corner, and manufacturers will be looking for ways to lure consumers to spend more of their hard earned money, and offering them compelling reasons (in the form of phenomenal displays at reasonable prices) to get their share of your paycheck.

Not to far down the road we’ll see PLED, the flexible version — which may finally deliver on the dreams of “LCD Paper”…

To help you understand the new acronyms, here’s a list you might want to familiarize yourself with.

  • OLED = Organic Light Emitting Diode/Device/Display
  • AM OLED = Active Matrix OLED device
  • FOLED = Flexible Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)
  • NOID = Neon Organic Iodine Diode (CDT)
  • PhOLED = Phosphorescent Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)
  • PLED = Polymer Light Emitting Diode (CDT)
  • PM OLED = Passive Matrix OLED device
  • POLED = Patternable organic light-emitting device
  • RCOLED = Resonant Colour Organic Light Emitting Diode
  • SmOLED = Small Molecule Organic Light Emitting Diode (Kodak)
  • SOLED = Stacked Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)
  • TOLED = Transparent Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)

For more information on these technologies, get yourself a snack and beverage and spend a few hours reading the results of an Internet search.

Originally posted 2009-12-19 01:00:36.

Formatting an SD Card

So you like many PC and Mac users (not really an issue if you use *nix and understand what you’re doing) have had a horrible experience trying to format a SD, SD-HC, or SD-XC full size, mini, or micro card for use in your device… fortunately the SD Association, the people who set standards for these cards are offering a free download of a SD card formatted program for Windows and OS-X… just use the link at the bottom of this post and go to their “downloads” section.

And a few things to keep in mind when you go out to purchase a new SD card — look at the speed ratings, the higher the “class” number on the card, the faster it is.  And take a look at the warranty, life-time warranties are always something you’ll use (flash devices have a limited life), but certainly you’ll want to get a reasonable warranty length (just in case you got the lemon off the shelf I missed).

sdcard.org

 

NOTE: There’s also a link on the SD Association to a driver to a driver Microsoft provides which may resolve issues with SD-XC memory cards when using an SD-XC compatible reader/writer.

Originally posted 2011-11-22 02:00:38.

Video Editing on a PC

I purchased a Mac Pro and Final Cut Studio to do my video editing, simply because I felt that PC solutions were just not there.

Adobe Encore is a joke, the only thing it was good for was crashing (and thinning out your wallet).

Sony Vegas was a descent application (and solid), but difficult to use and didn’t seem to expose as much control as I wanted over DVD production.

Times change; and now I’m not as concerned with DVD production as I am with just video editing, and two of my friends have shown interest in video editing and really don’t want to invest in a Mac (there is only one real choice for video editing from Apple, and that’s a Mac Pro, and the combination of the hardware and software is a little scary).

One of my other friends has used Vegas for quite awhile, and he’s been happy with it (of course he’s never done video editing on a Mac).

I’ve decided my project for the next several days will be to evaluate Sony Vega Pro 9.  I’ll try it out on Windows 7 and write a BLOG post that tries to detail the strengths and weaknesses without directly comparing it to Final Cut Studio; though I may use Final Cut Studio as the “standard” for what a high end video editing suite should do.

Originally posted 2010-02-19 01:00:15.

Just Say No To Adorama

I wanted to buy a couple filters for my camera, and I’m fairly picky about just what brand of filter goes on my lens.  My preference is Sunpak and Quantaray (Quantaray is made by Hoya) — both Japanese manufactured, and solid glass construction with multi-coats.

I looked up prices, and found that Amazon had a good price on a Sunpak kit with both of the filters I wanted in it; so I looked at the buy options, Amazon was a little more expensive than a couple of the other vendors they listed, but with free shipping it was just about a wash and I prefer to deal with Amazon and avoid Amazon merchants.  The only problem was, Amazon was out of stock, and of course no way to know how long it would take for them to get stock.

I guess I just wanted to be done with it, so I clicked on the link to buy the item I wanted from Adorama

I have to say,  Adorama was fairly quick about shipping out the filters, and their shipping price was fair; but when I opened the bubble envelope inside was a clear plastic bag with an invoice and two Tiffen filters rather than two Sunpak filters.

  • NOTE:  Tiffen is US made, and they may be believe their manufacturing technology is great; but I’ll pass on it.

At first I thought I’d made a mistake and ordered the wrong thing; but then I noticed I could read the itemized invoice through the plastic bag.  First line on the invoice was a Sunpak filter kit with the Sunpak number; the next line said kit consists of (hmm… Sunpak sells the two lens in a package, the vendor doesn’t assemble it — but I’d have no problem taking two individually packaged Sunpak filters for the price of the kit, provided they were the Sunpak filters that were supposed to be in the kit); the next two lines listed out Tiffen filters, descriptions, and part numbers.

So much for even thinking I’d made a mistake, and so much for even thinking it might have been human error on Adorama’s side.

I don’t have a problem with a vendor being out of stock of an item I ordered; and I don’t have any problem with them substituting an equivalent or better item (with my permission — I get to make the call whether it’s equivalent or better); or advising me that there will be a delay; or refunding my money.  The key really is the vendor needs to contact me and advise me of the situation and the options they’re comfortable with. 

What Adorama did was bait-and-switch; only they didn’t have me participate in the switch so it was just out right fraud.

Personally I don’t do business with companies who think so little of their customers that they believe they can do what ever they want when ever they want…

I, of course, contacted Adorama (still no reply — and we’re moving in on a week).  I contacted Amazon, I’ve actually exchanged email with them twice on this matter, and they’ve ask that I wait until after Monday before they will take any action.  And I’ve contacted my credit card company; who were appalled at a merchant doing what I told them they had done, so I don’t expect having any problems getting a favorable resolution to this.

One of the reasons I felt it would be “OK” to purchase from Adorama (breaking my policy of avoiding Amazon merchants when ever possible) was that Ken Rockwell, who maintains a great web site on photography (and other things) had listed Adorma on his site as a vendor, and I had hoped that they had the same high standards as Ken (he also lists Amazon, B&H Photo Video Pro Audio, J&R, and Ritz Camera /Wolf Camera — all of which I tend to trust).

I’ve ordered a set of Sunpak filters from Amazon, and I’ll just be content to wait until they get them in stock, which will probably happen before Adorama sends me a pre-paid return shipping label.

__________
 
For your reference, I’ve include links to the two Japanese filter manufacturers I prefer (again I find Hoya branded filters expensive, and you can get the exact same product at a lower price by buying a store or generic brand that’s made by Hoya). 
 

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NOTE:

Please read the complete follow up before making any decisions on Adorama.

Originally posted 2009-01-04 12:00:16.

Hardware MPEG2/MPEG4/MPEG4-AVC/H.264 Transcoding

Leadtek Research Inc has release the WinFast PxVC1100 PCIe x1 add-on card which uses four of the Toshiba encode/decode cores  (SpursEngine SE1000 — BXA32110) derived from the joint Sony/Toshiba/IBM alliance (STI) Cell (Cell Broadband Engine Architecture, CBEA) processor (used in the Sony PlayStation 3 game console).

If you’re serious about video encoding this card is way more powerful than leveraging your GPU (nothing stops you from using both).

I couldn’t find a retail price on the PxVC1100; from what I’ve read it was delayed, but should be available in the US soon.  I expect it’ll be fairly expensive since Nikkei WinPC’s benchmark showed a high-def video in MEPG-2 TS format was transcoded to H.264 using the WinFast PxVC1000 about 2.9 times faster than a Core2 Q9650 (3GHz).

If you want to check out other vendors that offer a SpursEngine enhancement, some Toshiba Qosmio laptops and the Thomson-Canopus Firecoder Blu PCIe add-on card are candidates.

Originally posted 2009-01-03 12:00:46.

The Worst Company in America

I’ve long held that one of the best measures of how bad a company is is how much they advertise, particularly direct mail advertising, and how they build their mailing lists.

Clearly we have a winner by this metric…  DirectTV of El Segundo, CA.

Three to four times per week I get a direct mailing from them, and once per week I get an insert in a advertiser newspaper.

Additionally I’ve filed for countless prohibitory orders through the United States Post Office (and I still get as many or more mailings from them).

Obviously there service is so pathetic that they desperately need new customers to replace the ones who bail as soon as their misleading contracts are up.

Today I called Direct TV and attempted to have my address removed from their database — they seemed to have a problem understanding that because they had taken my name and address from the telephone company listings and it was under “Solicitation Prohibited” that they didn’t need my real name to locate the record, and why they needed any name was beyond me (no it wasn’t, they were attempting to collect more demographic information to target even more advertising — they have no intent of removing my address from their database, if they had they would have done it when the United States Postal Service sent them the first prohibitory order over a year ago).

I don’t understand why anyone subscribes to satellite TV services… but then again I don’t understand why couch potatoes sit around watching mindless television programs when they could be doing something constructive with their lives.

Again — those who support unethical companies like DirectTV are part of the problem… and you should be ashamed for enabling them to operate.

Help me help DirectTV go out of business — boycott them and every other company that thinks they can continue to barrage you with direct mailings after you’ve filed with the USPS or requested removal of your address.

Originally posted 2011-01-21 02:00:39.

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.

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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.