Archive for the ‘Movies and TV’ Category

Hulu Plus Is a Minus

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

I have grown weary of broadcast television. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I think the realization that a one-hour TV program contained about 18 minutes of advertising might have been a contributing factor. Wasting almost a third of my TV watching life by way of commercials is crazy.

My favorite medium for watching television programming these days continues to be the Apple TV. The Apple TV gets me crisp, commercial free television shows for around $1.99 per episode ($2.99 for HD, but I’ve not found that to be worthwhile for TV shows – some movies yes, but not TV series).

$1.99 isn’t really that expensive, but I’ve kept my eyes out for lower cost Internet-based video programming options. I’ve tried Netflix, but found the streaming to be too temperamental, resulting in lots of chunky low-resolution video. I had also tried, which had full episodes of a number of TV shows, albeit with short commercial interruptions strung out during the show, which I found annoying.

Hulu Plus - "More" of a lot of things, some not so good

Hulu Plus - "More" of a lot of things, some not so good

So, when I got notice that I could participate in the new Hulu Plus service, which promised a much greater selection of programming, as well as iPad support, I figured I’d give it a try.

I used a special link, had to enter credit card information so I could have the privilege of paying $9.99 for my first month of use, and got my Hulu account upgrade to Hulu Plus.

The very first thing I discovered is that, contrary to my expectations, Hulu Plus does nothing to remove the annoying commercials in the shows they offer. I tried several different programs, and all included “Limited Commercial Programming” (according to the voice over and notice when you first open a show in Hulu Plus). Strike One.

I decided to try and bull through past this annoyance, and chose to watch “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”, a six-part series about British Chef Jamie Oliver and his effort to get the most obese town in the U.S. to eat healthier.

I managed to get through the first two episodes using the free iPad Hulu Plus app, and found the quality of the video and audio pretty decent for streaming video. However, when I started watching the third episode – about four minutes into it, my iPad screen suddenly went blank and featured an ominous start-up Apple logo. I tried for several minutes to get the iPad to respond in some fashion, frantically perusing support sites, but after about 10 minutes the iPad came back to life on its own. Figuring it was just a random, rare quirk, I restarted the show I was watching in the Hulu Plus app only to have the iPad crash, again, at exactly the same point.

This time, however, the iPad did not come back to life after 10 minutes. I was about to attempt a full restore on the iPad (that would have sucked) when it regained its senses – half an hour after it crashed.

The best I can guess is that the Hulu Plus app went into some sort of crash loop and finally worked its way out of the loop before crashing back to the iPad home screen.

Properly written software should not effectively disable a computing device as thoroughly as Hulu Plus tanked my iPad. Strike Two.

I went and reported the iPad crash to Hulu as well as complained about the incessant advertising. I must say they were prompt to respond, although I really didn’t groove with the answers.

Here’s what I heard back about the advertising:

Thanks for writing, and I certainly understand where you’re coming from. I’d like to take a minute to explain why we have ads in a subscription service.

The ads on Hulu Plus allow us to keep the monthly price of the service as low as possible while offering a broader, deeper selection of content. While we understand users may want to pay for an ad-free experience, we aim to bring you a higher quality of content with a minimal amount of ads. If you’re watching Hulu Plus on a TV or mobile device, the ad experience for each device should be optimized for quality and effectiveness. We hope you find that the ad experience on Hulu Plus is similar to our classic Hulu service: much lower than what you’d experience while watching normal television.

I don’t want normal television anymore, so I don’t compare Hulu Plus to normal television. And I’m really not interested in an optimized and effective “ad experience”, thank you very much. I want a “no advertising experience”, and I’d even be willing to pay a bit more for that if the content available was broad enough.

And regarding the crash:

Thank you for your email. I’m sorry to hear you’re having problems with Hulu Plus on the iPad. I fired up the iPad here in the office and forwarded to the spot in the episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I tried it a few times and I wasn’t able to replicate the error you are seeing. I’m streaming over wifi – were you streaming over wifi as well or 3G? Also, have you tried watching the show again since the two times you got the error?

Let me know what you find. I look forward to your response.

Very responsive, but I’m a bit gun shy about using Hulu Plus on the iPad, and I really don’t care to watch Hulu Plus on my PC, even the one in the living room attached to the TV, because of those darned commercials. (And, for the record, I was using WiFi and didn’t fast forward to the point of the crash, but instead let the show rerun from the beginning.)

I didn’t want to wait for Strike Three, whatever it might turn out to be, so I cancelled my Hulu Plus subscription a few minutes ago. Maybe when Hulu Extra Plus with no advertising comes out for $14.99 or even $19.99/month, I might reconsider.

For now, I’ll let Hulu Plus share the “advertising experience” with someone else.

Amazon’s Media Downloads – MP3s and Unbox

Monday, April 14th, 2008

When Amazon first announced they were going to be offering music without digital rights management (DRM) last year, I cheered, but didn’t do much else about it. However, while on an eight-week stint in a hotel in San Diego (which ended about two weeks ago) I decided to expand my music library, and checked out the Amazon MP3 download service. And I think it’s excellent. And Amazon’s DRMed Unbox video service isn’t too bad either.

The library of music content at Amazon is very extensive, with even brand new content available upon release by the record labels. And the prices aren’t too bad either – generally cheaper than the same music at iTunes, especially when you buy music by the album. I found album prices running from $7.99 to $9.99 typically.

To download a purchased album in MP3 format you need to install a small program from Amazon which actually performs the download, and, as I understand it, tags the MP3 files as being sold to you as the purchaser (presumably so that if you share them they can tag you for it). The Amazon MP3 downloader also lets you specify where to store the downloaded music, and you can also tell it to automatically add the newly download music to your iTunes or Windows Media Player libraries (but not both).

All the MP3s are encoded at 256Kbps, and sound great. Definitely a painless way to download music with no restrictions on your personal use of the files, unlike original iTunes songs. And, you can run the MP3s on any music player, whereas even the DRM-free iTunes downloads need to be converted into MP3 from Apple’s proprietary AAC format first.

As for video downloads, Amazon offers their Amazon Unbox service. This, sadly is DRMed, which makes it a pain to use, as you cannot convert the downloaded video into an MP4 file that you can play on an iPod, among other restrictions. Also, Unbox content is limited to either the machine you download the video on (for rentals) or you can designate two machines for “purchased” (not rented) content. Unbox works only on Windows-based PCs or on TiVo devices with current firmware.

Prices are the Amazon Unbox service are on par with iTunes – TV shows for $1.99 typically, and movies for around $9.99-14.99 (purchase) and less if rented. And, of course, some content not available at iTunes is available for legal downloadable viewing via Amazon Unbox and vice-versa. For example, we found Battlestar Galactica Season 4 on Amazon Unbox after not finding it on iTunes.

As with the MP3 downloads, the Amazon Unbox service requires the installation of a program on your PC. That program acts both as the video player and downloader, and does a pretty decent job. Visual artifacts in BSG4’s first episode were negligible on our 61” DLP display, and sound quality was excellent (and appeared to offer surround sound queues to our receiver unlike our experience with iTunes content on the Apple TV). Also, with at least the BSG4 shows we downloaded, we were able to start watching before the entire show had downloaded, so less planning required. We haven’t tested it with movies yet, and there doesn’t appear to be a separate category for HD content either.

The Amazon Unbox service, in addition to having less content (at least for what we’re interested in at this point), also has very strict requirements with respect to country of download. While iTunes lets a user with a U.S. billing address download content no matter where they happen to be in the world at the time of download, Amazon Unbox is very specific about the fact that downloads are only possible while physically in the U.S. This is similar to the restrictions imposed by the various TV networks on viewing past TV shows.

As I’ve stated before, I’m not thrilled with DRM because it makes you dependent on the vagaries and policies of the DRM provider, and you could well find yourself cut off from your content one day because of that. However, where it relates to content I am likely to only use once, like TV shows and movie rentals, I have less of an issue with it. I listen to my music library daily, so that needs to be DRM-free, but video does not – and if I want to watch a particular movie in the future, I can either buy it on physical media or rent it again.

I give the Amazon MP3 download service a 9.0 out 10.0 and the Amazon Unbox service a 7.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale. The only way I can see to improve the Amazon MP3 service is to have a more complete library of all music and audio content available (some of the music I was looking for was not available in MP3 form, but they do have an excellent collection). The Amazon Unbox service needs more content, including HD content, and less restrictive use of content – I’d like to be able to play it on my iPod and not have to have a “Plays For Sure” compatible device (which Unbox does support for purchased content).

Apple TV Invades My Bedroom

Monday, April 14th, 2008

I recently purchased the new Apple TV with the 160GB internal storage drive as a way to get movies and other iTunes video content into my bedroom. My living room has an HP Digital Entertainment System PC, on which I can play iTunes videos, as well as video from other on-line sources, incidentally, which is why I didn’t need the Apple TV there.

The Apple TV was a breeze to install, as I opted for the direct-wired Ethernet connection instead of connecting to my slower WiFi network. The iTunes software installation on my notebook immediately recognized the Apple TV and started moving content over to it as well.

One glitch I ran into was that the iTunes synchronization did not copy my entire music library over to the Apple TV unit – only the last week’s worth of new music (courtesy of Amazon’s MP3 download service, which I like better than that of iTunes). Turns out the only way to force the copy of all my music over to the Apple TV was to highlight my entire library and “mark” each item (via the right-mouse-button context menu). Once I did that and resynchronized, everything moved over properly.

Video playback on the Apple TV is pretty good for regular TV shows – I have it connected to a 32” LCD panel via HDMI, and the visual compression artifacts were negligible on episodes of New Amsterdam, Reaper, and Supernatural. We also took advantage last night of the ability to rent and watch high definition (HD) movies, selecting Jodie Foster’s The Brave One as our test subject.

The movie took about 5 hours to download over our 2MBps connection. We had purchased it on Saturday evening in order to view it Sunday night, so the download time wasn’t a problem. It should be noted that some TV programming can be watched a minute or two into the download, instead of having to wait for the entire show to download, by the way.

The HD quality of the rented movie was very good – I could not discern any artifacts. The only disappointment other than the weak ending of the movie itself was that there was no embedded surround sound in the film. I don’t know if this is a normal situation or limited to just the movie we selected.

All the ordering and downloading can be done directly via the Apple TV, or also on the associated PC running iTunes. And you do need to have a Mac or PC to get the Apple TV running, incidentally. To order via the Apple TV, just enter your iTunes account information and password via the cool little remote control.

The cost for the HD rental was $4.99 ($3.99 for the non-HD version), which allows the movie to stay on your Apple TV (the only platform it will play on) for up to 30 days, and once you start watching the movie, you have 24 hours to finish it. Not unreasonable considering you don’t have to drive to the rental store to get the movie, but more expensive than a service like NetFlix if you’re an avid movie watcher.

From our perspective, it’s a lot cheaper than buying the movie on Blu-ray Disc, especially considering it wasn’t that great a movie (although Jodie Foster’s performance was pretty good).

The Apple TV, in addition to being a music and video jukebox, also offers photo storage and a related slideshow mode, and also has a YouTube viewing option where you can look at the most recent, most viewed, most popular, and searched for YouTube videos. Nice distraction, although it also serves as a reminder of how inane 99% of YouTube content can really be.

The current price of the Apple TV 160GB model is $329, and you must have a usable Internet connection, a local area network, and iTunes-capable personal computer to make it work.

My only technical annoyance with the Apple TV hardware is that is on all the time, and it runs hot. You can shut down (i.e. put in stand-by) the video output section (which is a major heat generator) of the Apple TV by pointing the remote control at the Apple TV, and then holding down the “play” button for six seconds, but this was not documented anywhere obvious. I stumbled across this tip during a Google search about the subject.

In terms of content, iTunes has a great selection of movies and TV shows, but frustratingly iTunes does not have everything I want to watch – shows like Battlestar Galactica Season 4, Private Practice, Torchwood, Pushing Daisies, Dexter Season 2, and Dr. Who were all not available, for example, requiring me to resort to Amazon Unbox or BitTorrent feeds.

I give the Apple TV a 7.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale. It would rate higher if it were more eco-friendly in its power consumption and if it had greater content selection.

Planet Earth on Blu-ray Disc – Too Much “Noise”?

Friday, June 8th, 2007

Having caught the start of the Planet Earth series on Discovery Channel a couple of months ago thanks to the recommendation of a British friend, I was amazed at the incredible footage, even in crappy cable TV delivered standard definition mode. So I place a pre-order on for one of the HD versions of the series. I flipped a coin and picked the Blu-ray version (instead of the HD-DVD version).

I finally got the package in recently and the family and I settled down for a viewing, and found, yes, that the footage was incredible, but equally incredible was the horrific amount of shimmer and static noise that appeared in many scenes. I was appalled that what was being called the HD experience to beat all HD experiences could look so absolutely horrible on screen.

I was playing the disc on my Sony PS3, connected to a 61” Samsung DLP 1080p display, on which most everything else has looked pretty darn good.

And the noise was not limited to just the first episode, but each of the episodes I watched. The noise really ruined the viewing experience for me. I did some digging on-line, and found lots of discussion of the subject on various web sites – I was not alone in my static noise! But I then stumbled across a suggestion that it could be the display system used, and not the discs. I was skeptical, as I saw reports from many folks who had all sorts of different 1080p HD displays – not just Samsung, but it encouraged me to try an experiment.

Samsung offers something called DNIe (Digital Natural Image engine) on many of their displays, including the high end DLP displays I have been using from them for several years. DNIe pumps up color saturation and detail, and typically works very well to produce an even nicer picture. But, as it turns out, DNIe was definitely my noise culprit. Take a look at the images below:

Using the DNIe Demo Mode for Comparison

Close Up View of DNIe Comparison

As you can see from the above images, DNIe (on the left side of each image) darkens the shadows of these mountains in Venezuela (episode 3 – “Fresh Water”) and then sharpens the noise to create an amazing amount of speckling. Any user of Photoshop will also recognize the effect here – it’s like using the Sharpen filter too many times on an image. The right side of each of the above images shows DNIe turned off. This DNIe comparison mode is a feature of the Samsung TV to try and convince people to use DNIe for viewing their programming.

Well, in the case of Planet Earth HD, DNIe is not recommended. It ruins the picture. I now wonder if some of the speckling I have seen in other HD programming is caused by DNIe or as part of the native imagery from the source HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc. I know that film grain is certainly more apparent in HD, thanks to a demonstration Sony gave me back in January of Black Hawk Down on Blu-ray Disc – they showed me the original production tape and the BD version side by side, and the grain was identical. But DNIe could exacerbate the grain noise. And now I know to try watching with DNIe turned off to see if it makes a difference.

I suspect that other brands of HD televisions also have a feature similar to DNIe, and I would advise those having visual noise problems with Planet Earth or other HD content to try turning off that feature and see if it helps.

With my newfound knowledge in hand, I can finally watch my Planet Earth Blu-Ray Disc edition with pleasure and enjoyment. But also a little sadness as the HD versions of Planet Earth do not include the bonus features from the standard definition DVD release, including extensive footage of how some of the scenes were shot – something I particularly wanted to see in the case of the Great White Sharks jumping out of the water when feasting on seals off South Africa.

I give Planet Earth on Blu-Ray Disc an 8.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale (it could have been higher had the extra footage not been omitted).

UPDATE – June 11, 2007: I discovered that DNIe kept being reenabled on my TV, 30 minutes after I would turn it off. Turns out my Samsung TV was in “Shop Mode” – a mode for when a TV is on display at a shop, where it resets various settings, like aspect ratio, DNIe, etc. to defaults to overcome the effects of a consumer having twiddled with the settings and leaving them in an indeterminate (and maybe ugly) state. To turn off “Shop Mode”, power on your Samsung TV, and then hold the Menu button for about 5 seconds until the screen flashes. Note also for the Samsung TVs on which DNIe cannot be turned off, you might be able to get the same result by changing the video picture mode to “Movie” from “Dynamic”. 

Review – Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Back in my younger years, which I peg at over 25 years ago, I worked part-time at a computer store located right next to an arcade (Fun N’ Games in Framingham, Massachusetts), and as the manager was the father of a friend, I used to get advanced access to new arcade games as they came out. The job ended but I still enjoyed occasional gaming privileges during my college years when I came back to the area to visit my folks. One of the most frustrating games I remember from that day and age was something called Dragon’s Lair.

Dragon’s Lair was effectively an interactive cartoon, where at particular (and frequent) points you needed to use a joy stick and indicate which direction the protagonist – Dirk the Daring – should go in order to avoid impending doom. You typically could choose one of four (or less directions) for Dirk to “move” at these decision points.

Dirk about to die

Doom is pretty much what always befell my attempts to play through the game. I lost a lot of money (gaming privileges meant early access, not free play, alas) on Dragon’s Lair. I have always blamed my poor performance on the lag in response of the joystick – not an unreasonable excuse considering that Dragon’s Lair was based on a laser disc and the joystick controlled a decision tree, and it would take finite amount of time for the disc head to get to wherever the next scene needed to come from, be it a death scene like the one above, or a rare (in my case) continuation of the game. Mind you, it’s quite possible the lag was human lag, i.e. mine, but I’d never admit that in public.

I never finished Dragon’s Lair, but did always consider it a standout at a time when arcade graphics were blocky, and even the PC games at the time that I developed were not particularly attractive (although there was less game play lag). Dragon’s Lair featured cel-based animation by famed animator Don Bluth, digitized to laser disc. Big visual difference to pixel-based gaming. At the time, and for years to come, Dragon’s Lair was the closest thing to wide spread “3D” gaming arcade game players experienced, even though the subject was actually flat (it was a cartoon, after all) and all motions and paths were fully predetermined – you could only choose which of those predetermined paths to follow.

Some years back, Dirk was repurposed for a couple of different and more dynamically interactive Dragon’s Lair games for various consoles – game play was moderately fun, although my then eight year old son enjoyed the games more than I did.

But Dragon’s Lair has returned to its optical video medium roots. A couple of months ago, I received a pre-release of Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc. The kids and I played with it extensively – they greatly enjoyed the Dad-induced death scenes, while for me it brought back the humiliation of defeat. And this time, perhaps, it was human lag (at least to some extent) that was the cause of death as we played the game on our Sony PS3 on our 61” DLP 1080p screen. The game would have been well-nigh impossible to play with the PS3 controller, but using the optional Sony PS3 Blu-ray Remote control it worked out moderately well – except for my accidentally hitting “Stop” and having to start the game all over again, multiple times. Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc will play on any Blu-ray Disc player which supports BD-J (which should be all of them).

It was entertaining while it lasted, but I found the non-linear play of Dragon’s Lair frustrating. Let me explain that. If you are really good at Dragon’s Lair and never fail, there will be some sense of linearity from one scene to another (or at least it will appear that way), but if you cause Dirk to die, as I am wont to do, then Dirk resurrects in some random location, making it seem like you’re jumping all over the place all the time. I’m told by the folks at Digital Leisure that the original arcade version worked like this too, which is perhaps something I blocked as a painful childhood memory.

The manual I received with the Blu-ray Disc version also made reference to a visual cue appearing on-screen at a time when a decision needed to be made, but that never happened during our game play, and I was later told this is for the HD-DVD version of the game (even though the manual was Blu-ray Disc specific). However it was a pre-release, so that may have now been corrected.

For anyone who was a big Dragon’s Lair fan, or just wants to play a video game on their non-game console Blu-ray Disc player, Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc will definitely provide entertainment and nostalgia. I did go through a bit of nostalgia myself, but mostly about how easy it was for me to get Dirk the Daring killed during my gameplay (see image above for reference).

I personally found myself yearning for some fragging on Halo 2 or playing some current next-gen gaming titles with a more explorable world after a period of playing Dragon’s Lair. Perhaps I’ve become spoiled, but to me Dragon’s Lair seemed antiquated compared to modern console gaming. But perhaps new gamers will appreciate the novelty of this approach more than I.

I give Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc a 5.5 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc is available for $49.95.

Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc

Blu-ray Disc Versus HD-DVD – What Sony Should Do With The PS3

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

The Blu-ray Disc camp has been crowing in recent weeks about how it has already won the next generation movie disc format battle, touting the fact that in early January, there were twice as many Blu-ray movies sold as HD-DVD. The Blu-ray folks are right, based on numbers I’ve seen, that they are outselling HD-DVD movies, but the differences are slim, and the numbers are very low.

Sony, in particular, has been posturing about the “large” numbers of PS3 systems sold since that platform was released in mid-November 2006. Every PS3 system incorporates a Blu-ray player. By my estimates, according to data from Sony and NPD Group, as of the end of January, there were 1.25 million PS3 sold (one million through end of 2006 per Sony, 244,000 sold in January per NPD). Combine that with the standalone players sold, and you add maybe another few hundred thousand.

That compares with just a few hundred thousand HD-DVD players in the same time frame – about 262,000 in 2006 (170,000 standalone units per the HD-DVD group, and 92,000 HD-DVD add-on Xbox 360 drives), and some relatively equally smaller number in January 2007. For argument’s sake, let’s say that by the end of January 2007, there were 1.5 million Blu-ray capable players vs. 300,000 HD-DVD capable players in consumer’s hands. The actual exact numbers don’t really matter, but what is striking is that this means there are roughly five (that’ 5!) times as many Blu-ray players out there as HD-DVD players.

But most of those Blu-ray players are PS3 game consoles. Sony’s posturing about Blu-ray player sales in the form of PS3 game consoles is just that – posturing. That’s because only a fraction of the PS3 users out there are buying Blu-ray movies. Look at these numbers from an article in Next Generation less than a month ago, where Sony Computer Entertainment America is quoted as quoting NPD Group as saying that cumulative Blu-ray movie sales at the time stood at 439,000 units vs. a cumulative 438,000 HD-DVD movies. In my book, that’s a dead even race. But more importantly, it shows clearly that people are not buying Sony PS3s to watch Blu-ray movies. If they were, the Blu-ray movie numbers would be three times what NPD Group says (according to Sony).

Those numbers imply a tie ratio – the ratio at which movies are tied to players – as approximately 0.33 for Blu-ray players, and about 1.4 for HD-DVD players. However, in the short run (i.e., the present), all these numbers don’t really matter because they are still pretty small in the grand scheme of things – high-definition movie playback is for all practical purposes still a niche market, and anyone claiming to be king of that market is making a mountain out of a mole hill. It’s not until the installed base of players numbers in the several tens of millions that this market will be a real mass-market.

So what’s Sony to do get people to start using their PS3s to watch movies instead of just playing games on them? I have a short list of suggestions:

1) Include a real DVD remote with each PS3. You can now buy a $25 Sony-branded Bluetooth Blu-ray DVD remote control for the PS3, but it really should be included free with every PS3 if Sony is serious about the PS3 being a real Blu-ray player.

2) Add an infrared (IR) port to the PS3 so that folks can use their universal home theater remote controls to control DVD and Blu-ray DVD playback on a PS3. For older units this can be a USB add-on, and for newer units it should be built it. Blu-ray is supposedly a home theater delight, so why shouldn’t consumers be able to use their home theater remotes to control it? Bluetooth is “cool”, but IR is the standard for remotes.

3) Provide decent DVD upscaling so that older DVDs still look decent when played back on the PS3 on that nice new HD-TV. This would provide people with greater purchase justification for the PS3, as they could then sell their old upscaling DVD player on eBay (not that it would bring in much money, but it’s still a great rationalization point).

4) Offer a breadth of family-friendly games so that moms and non-game playing spouses would feel better about having it in the family (or communal) living room. Nintendo has done this so very right with the Wii, but meanwhile among the sparse assortment of PS3 games, you pretty much have only Mature and Teen ESRB rated titles.

5) Include a way to write to PS2 game cartridges as well as the current optional dongle to read them, so that the living room PS2 can truly be replaced by a PS3, as opposed to only kind of, somewhat, almost replacing the PS2 (and that’s in the U.S. – European PS3 will have far greater PS2 compatibility issues when they ship).

6) Rebrand the PS3 as a Blu-ray disc player which also plays games, instead of a game console which also plays Blu-ray discs.

Without better addressing PS3 owner apathy in using the PS3 for playing Blu-ray movies, the tie ratio for Blu-ray titles to Blu-ray players will continue to embarrass the Blu-ray camp as it becomes more and more obvious that the majority of PS3 owners aren’t watching movies.