Archive for the ‘Movies and TV’ Category

More of My TechWatch Articles – Predictions, Prognostications, Bill Gates, and High Definition TV

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

I have just posted a handful of my articles and commentaries from Jon Peddie’s TechWatch, an industry newsletter I write for regularly over on my Richter Scale Articles site.

Those articles/commentaries are as follows:

From the December 11, 2006 issue of TechWatch:

What Was Significant in 2006

Forecasts for 2007

From the January 8, 2007 issue of TechWatch:

Bill Gates’ Digital Lifestyle Vision – Putting the Pieces Together

LG’s New BH100 Super Multi Blue Player for HD-DVD and Blu-ray

One size fits all, says Warner Bros. – New THD disc is both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc

To HD, Or Not To HD, That Is The Question

Hope you enjoy them even if they are a little dated (I only repost articles after the issue the articles are in has been superceded by a newer issue).

I Missed the Superbowl (and the Commercials)

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Sunday was a pretty miserable day for me. The Terabyte RAID disk array in my Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4-based file server I use here at home suffered a major drive problem that was not resolvable using the RAID system. In plain English, I had a system crash and data loss. I discovered this around noon, and had to cancel my plans to attend a Superbowl party hosted by a Colts fans here on Bonaire, as well as another social engagement later that evening. Instead I spent the day downloading new Red Hat install CDs, backing up my backup (I only lost about a day’s worth of data), setting up a temporary replacement file server, and building the RAID-based server from scratch. I ultimately had to rebuild it yet a second time, as the drive that was causing the crash was not the one I originally thought. By the time I was mildly operational it was 5am on Monday.

At which point I realized I had completely missed the Superbowl and, more importantly to me, the Superbowl commercials, one of my annual guilty pleasures.

Well, I spent yesterday in additional recovery mode, and am now catching up on my e-mail and work, again, but thanks to iFilm, I have been able to watch all the 2007 Superbowl commercials without the long gaps of football in between. My favorite is the Blockbuster Mouse Ad. The Snickers Kiss and Bud Light Auctioneer ones are pretty good too.

Cheap HD-DVD on your PC

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Last night I tried an experiment to see if I could get relatively inexpensive (sub-$300) HD-DVD playback going on my PC. The components of this experiment, other than the PC, involved an Xbox 360 HD-DVD Player and Cyberlink’s PowerDVD Ultra software.

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I’m pleased to say the experiment worked. The $199.99 Xbox 360 HD-DVD Player (which I raved about here) is a USB 2.0 device. I merely plugged in the HD-DVD drive, waited for Windows XP to recognize it (I allowed Windows to go to the Windows web site to look for drivers too), and after around a minute or two, the drive was fully installed and usable as a DVD drive.

The next step was to install the $99.95 Cyberlink PowerDVD Ultra software. The current version of the software (pictured above) installs for either HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc support – you have to choose, although company officials tell me that as soon as next month, a free upgrade will be made available to all purchasers of the current version which will support both versions for folks fortunate enough to have both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc drives in their PC.

The PowerDVD Ultra software comes with a tool called HD Advisor, which scans your system for compatible drives and to ensure your system is powerful enough to do a real-time decode of the high definition formats. The minimum requirements are actually not insubstantial, as processing high definition content requires a lot of CPU and graphics horsepower. However, if you do have a suitable system, it works very well. The only minor annoyance I found was the inability to turn off subtitles, but I suspect that is user error (or at least a lack of reading relevant documentation).

The other nice thing about this combo is that you get a free copy of the remake of King Kong in HD-DVD (at least as of last week), and a spare Xbox 360 remote control (not much use on your PC, but maybe you can sell it on eBay or use it with your Xbox 360 if you have one).

So, for $299.94 (not including any possible shipping costs or sales tax), you can watch HD-DVD movies on your PC. Not a bad deal at all (assuming your PC is powerful enough, of course).

Sling That Media – Slingbox Pro

Friday, January 26th, 2007

I know over the years I have subjected many of my readers to the “woes” of living on Bonaire, a small Caribbean island with, among other things, lousy TV service, and obviously no U.S. ZIP code. You might ask why TV is even important when living in paradise, and would answer that mindless entertainment is needed even here.

The reason the ZIP code (or more specifically, not having one) is important is because it means we cannot get Electronic Program Guides – EPGs – see my post on “TV Time Shifting in Paradise” from over a year ago about this.

I have managed to cobble together a partial EPG on my new HP z565 Digital Home Entertainment Center (a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC that’s designed to sit in your living room) by using a Miami-area ZIP code, and then renumbering and deleting channels as best I can. It at least works for three major U.S. networks, Cartoon Channel, HBO, Showtime, and Disney, and has already been useful. As an added bonus, I can stream recorded shows to the Xbox 360 in my bedroom should I choose to.

However, an acquaintance recently reminded me that I am paying for an expensive business connection for DirecTV in my office in Marshall, Texas, where I only spent a few weeks last year, with the TV there being unwatched the rest of the time (and I only watch it for background noise in the evenings when I am there). The Samsung DirecTV decoder also has an 80GB driver and TiVo service. But, still it’s rather expensive per-hour viewing cost.

Around the same time as I was reminded of this, a couple of other friends mentioned that they had installed Slingbox devices so they could watch their home TV signals remotely while traveling. Ding ding ding – bells went off in my addled brain.

So, during my most recent visit to Marshall a few weeks ago, I installed a Slingbox Pro box (ordered from Amazon.com – about $218), and I couldn’t be much happier. The Slingbox Pro device takes video signal input in the form of either a cable TV signal, composite video or S-Video plus audio, or HDMI (with an optional cable) digital input for HD signals. I plugged in my DirecTV TiVo box, hooked up the infrared transmitters that come with the Slingbox Pro so they could control the DirecTV box, and I was off.

The Slingbox software, which maker Slingmedia calls “SlingPlayer”, was easy to set up – both to control the Slingbox itself, as well as provide the necessary controls on my notebook to view my TV signal. I also had Linda try it back on Bonaire after I set it up, and she was able to get it going there too. The really neat thing about SlingPlayer is that it knows all about the particular DirecTV decoder I have, and even has a virtual remote control (looks identical to the physical remote) that I can manipulate with my mouse. That in turns means I can access all the TiVo functionality of the box remotely too. And it all works over an Internet connection. The more upstream capability you have to send out a signal, the better. In my case the DSL connection at my office in Texas offers 768Kbps upstream, sufficient for a pretty reasonable 640×480 video stream from the Slingbox.

After I got back from Texas and CES I went and set up Slingplayer software on the HP z565 in my living room, and can now watch live TV from Texas in my living room. Full screen on my 61” TV is too grainy and jumpy, but I can get a decent image at about 24” diagonal, which is just fine to catch up on missed shows and programming I would otherwise not get. It also means I can stop paying $1.99 for missed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, and Lost. And, I can also watch it from any PC with the SlingPlayer software. And for certain handheld devices, there’s even Slingplayer Mobile version for mobile phones and PDAs running the Windows Mobile operating system.

I’m also considering installing another Slingbox at my in-laws in New Hampshire so I can watch their TV signal here on Bonaire, kind of as a back-up of sorts (no TiVo there yet, though, but I can fix that too).

My biggest regret with the Slingbox is that I didn’t think of getting one sooner.

My next issue to solve is how to get a video signal from the output of my big screen TV in my living room to the small TV in my kitchen without running cables (my wife hates cables across the floor or ceiling). We have concrete walls, so there’s no good way to run them inside the walls. The concrete walls also effectively destroy my use of a wireless AV transmitter – those really need to be line of sight, or at least through a wood/drywall panel, not eight inches of concrete in order to have an interference free image.

However, if I wait long enough, Sling Media will be selling the SlingCatcher – a box which will let me use my network connection (wired or wireless) to receive TV input from a Slingbox either in the same building or anywhere else there’s a Slingbox I have access to.

I give the Sling Media Slingbox Pro a 9.5 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

My Latest Video Appearance

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Well, in addition to now being closely associated with discussions on the future of HD-DVD and Blu-ray standards, in particular with respect to the adult entertainment industry, a recent interview of mine has made it to the web (not YouTube yet, though).

Take a look at this clip, shot during a media luncheon at Pat Meier-Johnson’s Lunch@Piero’s event. It’s a five minute interview dealing with commentary on multimedia convergence and the future of tangible media (e.g. CDs, DVDs).

The Adult Industry and High Definition Discs – HD-DVD and

Saturday, January 20th, 2007

Those who have followed my writing over the years know that I have a strong belief that the adult entertainment industry drives a lot of technology forward. The adult industry is credited with making VHS a successful standard resulting in Sony’s Betamax losing the video tape recording standards battle. Likewise, the first profitable commercial uses I witnessed of streaming live compressed video over a network connection (ISDN) were of on-line interactive peep shows. And arguably, multimedia PCs, with speakers and CD-ROM drives, were driven by the adult industry’s foray into MPEG movies, and interactive adult titles.

And now the issue of the importance of the adult industry’s adoption of technology (or the lack of adoption a technology) comes to the fore again with the standards battle between HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

For those not familiar with HD-DVD and Blu-ray, they are competing standards for high definition (HD) content on discs similar to DVDs. But they offer many times the resolution of traditional DVD on a properly equipped high definition television or display. From personal experience I can tell you that the imagery is incredibly crisp with both HD-DVD and Blu-ray, and I now find myself cheated when I have to watch a normal DVD because it seems so grainy and fuzzy.

HD-DVD is supported mainly by Toshiba on the hardware side, while Blu-ray comes from Sony. Each side has its exclusive hardware supporters, as well as exclusive studios which support that format, and there are a few companies that are “bi-definition” – they support both formats. Both sides want the other to just go away. Blu-ray is technologically superior to HD-DVD, but HD-DVD is cheaper and has some perception issues in its favor (I’ll post my Richter Scale column from TechWatch over on http://www.RichterScale.org in a couple of weeks that explains this in greater detail).

But back to the adult industry. A year ago the big production companies in the adult industry were all for Blu-ray – they appreciated the greater disc capacity (50GB vs. 30GB for HD-DVD) and the quality reputation that Sony has. Fast forward one year later where all the top adult studios are now declaring for HD-DVD as their next generation DVD standard.

Why? Well, in speaking with management at two of the studios – Wicked Pictures and Digital Playground – they could not find anyone to replicate their discs in Blu-ray. Joone – an award winning director and manager of Digital Playground told me that Sony forced him to go HD-DVD because they have an agreement with their replicators that they will lose their license to make Blu-ray discs if they duplicate adult content. The head of marketing at Wicked, Jackie Ramos, said much the same thing.

At a meeting I had with Sony Pictures last week during CES, I asked Don Eklund, Vice President of Technology, whether this was true. Eklund indicated that while the three replication facilities Sony itself owned indeed were under agreement not to replicate adult content (see this Computerworld article for more), he was not aware of this restriction applying to the other handful of Blu-ray replicators out there.

One adult publisher – Vivid – appears to not be facing the same issues, or maybe not yet anyway. Vivid plans to release their first high definition disc title (“Debbie Does Dallas Again”) in both HD-DVD and Blu-ray format. I was unable to reach Steven Hirsh of Vivid to get more insight into how they are able to claim to do Blu-ray when everyone else that counts in adult entertainment is not able to do Blu-ray.

One thing is for sure, though. The legend of the Adult industry breaking Betamax and making VHS did make an impression on at least some members of the HD-DVD camp, as Wicked’s Ramos disclosed to myself and fellow journalist Dan Nystedt (see here and here) for his article (with quotes from yours truly) during a meeting with Ramos.

Ramos said that in the Fall of 2006 his company was approached by someone in the HD-DVD camp to adopt the HD-DVD format, and once that happened, all sorts of previously closed doors opened up for them. So, after months and months of no progress, they finally got started for earnest in November and last week released their first HD-DVD title – “Camp Cuddly Pines Powertool Massacre”, an HD-DVD re-release of the 2005 AVN Award winning movie by the same name.

Folks in the Blu-ray hardware camp are certainly not making similar overtures to the adult entertainment industry, and it may ultimately be Blu-ray’s downfall.

However, content is still king, and the best weapon Blu-ray has against HD-DVD is exclusive content, such as movies from Disney. Will this become a popularity contest between Disney and adult movies? Time will tell.