Entries Tagged as 'Media'

The Media Home

It may come as a shock to you, but computers are here to stay, and there’s at least one in almost every home in the country.

Computers in the home are becoming a “fabric” around which we build and manage our lives, our communications, and our entertainment to enumerate just a few critical areas.

But, almost nothing plays nicely together… and that’s a real problem for the average consumer who’s never figured out how to set the clock on their microwave oven!

A sleepy little company in Redmond, Washington introduced a product they call “Windows Home Server”… it’s really not a revolutionary product, it’s more just a repackaging of technology they already had — it’s just designed to be easy to install and maintain; and it’s targeted at the home market (much like Small Business Server was to the small business without an IT staff).

Why has Microsoft targeted a product like this at the home market?

Easy — he who defines the fabric of the home network is most likely to reap the rewards in controlling the devices the consumer buys for them.

Microsoft has tried for years to get low end versions of Windows into just about everything (Windows CE, Windows Mobile, etc)… and the Microsoft Home Server is another attempt at that.

Now since we have cell phones, music players, video players, navigation systems, and a host of other things built on top of Windows, Microsoft is making the move to make everything work together — well, at least sort of work together (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve deleted the partnership between my phone and my PC to get them to sync).

But the key is here, they will target the consumer, and the consumer will most likely purchase additional hardware and software that is “certified” to work.

Certainly Microsoft isn’t the only company chasing after control of the infrastructure; but they are one of the biggest… and certainly wisdom would suggest that you not put yourself firmly in the cross hairs of a market segment Microsoft is targeting.

Bottom line is, keep your eyes open for a host of products for the home that leverage off of Microsoft core technology that attempt to bring the average consumer into the digital media era.

Originally posted 2008-06-05 01:10:52.

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.

Google TV

Let me preface this post with the fact that I have not seen a Google TV device; I’ve only read about them and watched several video posts, so I’m not speaking from personal experience.

Google TV promises to be a “next generation” experience in media delivery to the home; and since based on Android and will leverage off of the Android Market Place it will have great potential to do virtually anything and everything.

Potential — that’s a good word for it; because it’s not quite here yet, and it’s very expensive to get in on the ground floor.

Consider that the price tag for a Google TV device is $299.00 (Logitech Revue)  when compared to the Western Digital Live TV Plus at $99.00.

Admittedly, they are radically different devices; but at the moment the WD TV probably provides most of the features you’re looking for today in home entertainment… and I’m sure one could argue that the Logitech Revue will grow and evolve with Google TV.  To that I’d say — are you crazy?  This is a hi-tech toy, you’ll be able to buy a device that does twice as much at half the price in a year… there is no “future” for consumer devices like this — you buy for today, and unfortunately end up discarding it tomorrow.

The really sad thing about Google TV is there’s really no technical reason that they don’t have a $99.00 device, or at least a $149.00 device on the market today… in my view this is a market that you don’t want to charge too much early on, you want to stimulate early adoption to make sure that you’re in total control of what might be an emerging market nitch today, but will eventually be the future of entertainment.

Personally I’ll hold off on Google TV for the time being… I’ll let the service mature, and the devices become affordable – for the moment I’m happy with the capabilities of my WD Live TV Plus and just keep an old laptop near my viewing area for the things it can’t do.

And, who knows, you might start seeing your cable and satellite providers offering Google TV enabled set top boxes in the very near future.

Google TV on Wikipedia

Google TV on Google

Google TV

Originally posted 2010-11-05 02:00:44.

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.


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.


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).


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.

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.

WD TV Live Plus – Network Media Player

I purchased the WD TV Live Plus about a month ago from Amazon (good price, free shipping, great return policy if you need it)… I looked at several other alternatives including the Seagate FreeAgent Theatre, Roku Digital Video Player, and Apple TV.

Rather than high light the weaknesses I perceived in the other devices, let me underscore the abilities that I felt were compelling in the WD TV Live Plus, but let me start by listing the minimum requirements.

  • support full HD (1080)
  • support component video (I have one older panel that doesn’t support HDCP)
  • support TOSLINK and/or SPDIF digital sound
  • support HDMI (video plus audio)
  • support Netflix streaming
  • support media from local sources

Additionally there were a few more items on my wish list

  • not require any proprietary software installation (ie iTunes)
  • support MPEG2, MPEG4, h.264 plus as many other CODECs as possible
  • support audio
  • support browsing SMB/CIFs shares
  • support media servers
  • straight forward user interface
  • reputable vendor with reasonable support and updates

The WD TV Live Plus (don’t be confused by the other models WD offers — only the high end one supports Netflix) did everything I required, and everything I wanted — plus it has features beyond what I care about.

Let me start by saying I unpacked the device, plugged it in, and it worked — I didn’t need to read the manual, I didn’t need to change any settings, I didn’t need to do anything to play local media off of file shares or media servers.  The only thing I had to do to play Netflix through the device was type in the device registration code on my account screen online and it was up and running.

I cannot say that the device is perfect; but I can say that it works as well as any set top box I’ve ever used (including cable boxes, satellite receivers, U-Verse IP-TV, and HPCs).

Like all those devices you’ll get sputters on occasion (though I’ve never seen any issues with playing local media that is properly encoded), but a quick power cycle (the power button on the device actually seems to do a reboot of the device — but unplugging the AC adapter is always a sure fire way of resetting the device).

My Netflix queue started with well over 100 items in it; I’m actually watching items in the queue faster than I’m adding new items to it… it’s just so easy to watch, and so comfortable.  You kick back on the sofa and watch a movie as you’re writing a BLOG post (like I’m doing now).

I really like this device, and I’ll buy a second one for the panel in the bedroom, but I’m hoping that WD will reduce the price to be a little more competitive, and I hope that they continue to update the firmware and improve the device.

For the moment, I recommend you read the information on Western Digital’s web site – that will help to answer questions you might have.  I found that downloading and reviewing the user manual was actually the fastest way to answer most of my questions.  You can also read many other articles about the various media players available — but always keep in mind when you read the opinions of others that they are looking at the device for their needs with their perspective… consider what they say more than their conclusions.

And keep in mind, buy it from Amazon and if it doesn’t meet your expectations the return is as easy a printing a return label with the click of a button and dropping it at the post office.

WD TV Live Plus

WD TV Live Plus

Originally posted 2010-10-16 02:00:43.

Microsoft Live Essentials

With Windows 7 Microsoft has removed email, instant messaging, address book, calendaring,  and movie maker from the Windows install.  If you run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor it will direct you to Live.com (a Microsoft) site for tools that will add back these features to Windows.

Live.com has offered most all of these tools in one form or another for over a year; and for quite some time now the entire suite of tools.

I’ll just quickly list the features:

  • Live Messanger
  • Live Call
  • Live Mail
  • Live Writer
  • Live Photo Gallery
  • Live Movie Maker
  • Live Toolbar
  • Live Family Saftey

Live Messanger is the replacement for Windows Messanger, MSN Messanger it’s substantially the same as what ever Microsoft messanger you might use — with an updated look and feel and of course, new features.

Live Call is Microsoft’s entry into the voice communications market.  I’ve never used it, so I can’t really comment on it.

Live Mail is the replacement for Outlook Express and Windows Mail (for you Vista users).  It somewhat resembles both of it’s predecessors, but carries forward many of the refinements from Windows Mail; and introduces a number of “bugs” that had been stomped out long ago in the code line (I reported several during the BETA — they still haven’t been fixed, and I expect until they annoy someone on the Live Mail team they won’t be).  On feature that has been added that many will find useful is the ability to interface with Hot Mail/MSN Mail/Live Mail web mail directly (at no cost).

Live Writer is a WYSIWYG editor for BLOGing.  It interfaces to Live BLOGs as well as a number of blogging engines and web sites.

Live Photo Gallery is Microsoft’s attempt to get some of the media sharing market.  I don’t use it, but I’m sure they’ve figured out some way to make money from it (like all the others).

Live Movie Maker is the replacement for Windows Movie Maker.  I haven’t used it.  The previous software might be fine for novices; but I prefer to use Final Cut Studio on my Mac; so I don’t think my opinion of this software is relevant to the target audience.

Live Toolbar is like most toolbars, a waste.  Whether it’s invasive like most of them or not I can’t say — I have no need for toolbars; and you probably don’t either.

Live Family Saftey is designed to limit access to questionable internet sites and content.  I’ve never used it; but I would guess like most it errors on the side of caution.

There is also a Microsoft Office Outlook Connector, and Office Live Add-In which provide access to Live features directly from Microsoft Office (why?) that you can read about on your own.

Overall, many of the “free” tools in Microsoft Live Essentials are probably well worth the small amount of time and energy to download and install.  One note, make sure you uncheck the items you don’t want (you can add them later if you change your mind) and pay close attention to the attemp to change (and lock) your browser’s home page and search tool.

Microsoft Live Essentials

Originally posted 2009-11-22 01:00:50.

Amazon Cuts Price of WD TV Live Plus

Amazon has reduced the price of the WD TV Live Plus Network Media Player to $99.99 (ships free)… the old price ($119.99) was one of the biggest stumbling blocks to me recommending this as a solution for watching media on your TV… now with the price exactly the same as the Apple TV and more in line with similar Roku devices — I’m going to give the WD TV Live Plus a BUY recommendation (make sure you get the WD TV Live Plus, the other models aren’t as capable).

You can read my earlier remarks titled WD TV Live Plus – Network Media Player.

WD TV Live Plus on Amazon