Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why I'm ditching Vista

I really have tried to like Vista - I've been using it for a year now on my work laptop - a Macbook (2 gigs RAM, Core Duo 2Ghz, 80gig Windows partition). I quickly turned off all the eye-candy (Aero Glass etc) but even so for the last year I've spent more time gazing at the spinning blue thing whilst waiting for trivial things (opening explorer windows or files to copy). It put me in mind of what I'd read Nicholas Negroponte say about modern electronics;

Prices of electronics keep dropping, but if you keep handing savings to the consumer, then there won't be a high price or margins. So manufacturers keep adding features, so the price can stay the same. Laptops, cell phones, etc. So an obesity occurs and turns most things into SUVs. Most of the gasoline is used to move the car, not the person....

You can listen to his keynote at CES this year - I lifted this from The World Technology Podcast's coverage. I like the way he compares the bloat of modern hardware/software with an SUV. You think that the multi-processor machine of 2008 should be able to hand file copying etc. better than the 80486 I was running in 1994!
So there you have it - Leopard, Ubuntu, and XP all run brilliantly on this machine and there are no compelling reasons for me to stay with Vista.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Broadcast Live 2008

We're exhibiting at Earl's Court 2 this week - swing by our stand J50 if you're there and have a beer/smoothie.
One of the best displays I've ever seen is the EyeVis 4k LCD we have demoing the output of the 4k Clipster from DVS. I had to set it up - it needs four DVI feeds!
Anyhow - I'm giving a seminar on Thursday on ten gigabit ethernet - you can grab my presentation here.
Do Save As.. as my server isn't offering up proper MIME info at the moment - stand by!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Where I lead the BBC follow!

I spent hours last year re-cutting episodes of Torchwood so that my kids could watch it - they are monster Dr Who fans and were devistated when they realised that the spin-off was going out after the water-shed. Anyhow - click the link in this entry's title for details of my workflow.
I was very pleased to see that the BBC are now doing it for me! By the end of season one I was knocking out a dozen DVDs per week to keep up with the demands of school friends!

Monday, January 28, 2008

After Effects, Kona and video colour-space

Final Cut Pro is a proper video app that knows about video hardware. If you have a Kona card (or worse a Black Magic card!) then you ingest YUV data off tape and lay-back in the same way. The colour space is the same throughout the process and there is no colour space conversion.
See a previous entry here for details on TV colour space matrices.
Anyway - we're finishing a project at five and we discover they want to use a feature of the Kona card called Desktop Passthrough (or somesuch) which allows the SDi output to appear as a second GUI monitor. It is a feature specifically for those apps that don't know about video hardware but where having a preview on a video monitor would be useful. As far as After Effects is concerned the Kona card is a second Mac desktop monitor and you can send it's output full-screen to that display. My initial worry was that being an RGB-only program how would the Kona deal with the RGB feed? I imagined it did a quick and dirty transcode, probably not paying any attention to the 601 or 709 matrix (depending on standard or hi-def). We were pleasantly suprised when (after having calibrated the SDi monitor for correct colour in FCP) we found the probe telling us that the whites out of After Effects were bang-on!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Has the flood-gate opened?

I noticed this story on Engadget - apparently during week one of January the split between Blue-Ray and HD-DVD player sales was evenly split - after the Warner's announcement (ahead of CES) the picture has changed. By week two the split was 93% in favour of the Sony format. Looks like consumers have made their choice and I'm glad because a format war was only inhibiting the takeup of HD. Also - being a lot more mature technology (remember XD-Cam uses a Blue-Ray drive) I'd be more comfortable buying into Sony's format.

Monday, January 21, 2008

MediaPortal v. and software upgrading to fix problems

See a previous post from when I upgraded my PVR machine to v.

I've often been annoyed when people imagine that upgrading a piece of software is a suitable way to address a problem. Surely the best thing would be to find out what the real trouble is and sort it out rather than upgrading to a newer release in the hope that the trouble will just go away. Ten years ago when Avid v.7 was current being frustrated on many occasions by their tech support who would refuse to answer any questions until you'd upgraded to that week's point release version. See some more moaning about the state of software here. By contrast Lightworks always stood by previous versions of software. I can remember calling up with a problem on a v.2 Heavyworks when the current version was six! They had the attitude that version two worked (why would we have released if it didn't?!) and they were happy to support it.

Anyhow - getting back to MediaPortal - I should have followed my own advice! For the last month my install has been getting a bit slow and flakey. Given it's been running for nearly a year with only a couple of re-boots and maybe three defrags of the media drive I suppose I should have spent a bit more time tidying it up. Anyhow - excited by the shiny new version I backed-up my install, ran the uninstaller and then downloaded and installed the current release. I suppose my 2.0 Ghz Athlon board is getting a bit long in the tooth and the current release felt no more zippy or usable. So - back to v and the mere act of uninstalling and re-loading made a work of difference. We're back to a fast, responsive PVR again. That version does everything I need and so we're happy again.
As an aside - surely it's possible for new versions to run better on aging hardware? Don't programmers learn new tricks about getting more from the platform? This seems to be the case with Leopard which runs a lot better on my G4 than Tiger did. Also - the very best games on any given console are the ones that come out towards the end of the machine's commercial life.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

HD over standard def coax

People often ask me about this and I normally repeat the received wisdom - you get away with it over short runs etc. etc. BUT, I didn't realise how close to the hairy edge sending 270Mbit SDi over Image 360 was. Look at the chart - I assumed that (as per most bandwidth calculations) that a cable designated Image 360 would have better than 6dB of loss at 360Mhz over 100m (the spec) - but no - worse than 16dBs down at 100m (almost down to an eighth of the signal level). I suppose it is testament to how good drivers/receivers and error recovery schemas are.
Now - imagine that you're sending 1.48Gbits per sec. That's two and a half octaves extra bandwidth above SDi - so probably another 12dBs of loss - so over Vision 360 you're looking at 30dBs of loss over 100m! Even over short distances it is a miracle that HD-SDi goes over normal coax.
Blogging on the train on the way to Leeds - free WiFi!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How it should be done.

A recent build we completed at MPC - cat7 and OM3 fibre for ten gig ethernet. Compare it to a recent blog post here.

Rest of the pictures here.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tektronix vs Sony

This afternoon it was a stand-off between two giants of the broadcast hardware world - in the red corner was the test and measurement colossus Tektronix with their WVR7100 video waveform rasteriser. In the blue corner was Sony with their new LMD-2450W monster HiDef monitor.
The problem is that the XGA output of the Tek doesn't drive the XGA input of the Sony. Every other monitor was fine and every other device (well, mine and Simon's laptops) could light up the Sony at 1024x768 @60hz. After much puzzling I called Lee at Tektronix and he confessed that they didn't have a proper XGA timing device, rather than relying on some capacity on an FPGA and so consequently it runs at approximately 60hz - the Sony (it transpires) is very fussy. I spent the afternoon stripping off the syncs using a Procon processing DA and re-inserting it as separate H&V syncs, composite syncs and finally syncs-on-green but to no avail. I'd assumed it was a synchronisation issue.
Anyhow - while truffling about on the web I found this great Tektronix document on DVI test and measurement.
You'd best do a save as on that PDF - for some reason it won't open in the browser

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Firefox extenions I use

Firefox is the best browser out there and it is made even more so by the extensions - all of which are platform independent and so I use these on Windows, OS-X and Linux. Out of the box Firefox outperforms both IE and Safari, but it can be made better!

  • Adblock - use the vanilla one (rather than AdBlock Plus) and stop being annoyed by all those ads and banners on the internet that often take longer to download than everything else on the page.
  • Adblock Filterset.G Updater - This is a companion extension to Adblock or Adblock Plus and should be used in conjunction with it. This extension automatically downloads the latest version of Filterset.G every 4-7 days. Filterset.G is an excellent set of filters maintained on a daily basis.
  • Colourful Tabs - The most beautiful yet the simplest add-on that makes a strong colorful appeal. Colors every tab in a different color and makes them easy to distinguish while beautifying the overall appearance of the interface.
  • Daily Dilbert - Adds little icon to statusbar that popup "Dilbert's strip of the day" if clicked. Every geek needs this!
  • ForecastFox - Get international weather forecasts from, and display it in any toolbar or statusbar with this highly customizable and unobtrusive.
  • Google Browser Sync - Google Browser Sync for Firefox is an extension that continuously synchronizes your browser settings – including bookmarks, history, persistent cookies, and saved passwords – across your computers. It also allows you to restore open tabs and windows across different machines and browser sessions. This is the reason I only use Firefox.
  • NoScript - It allows JavaScript, Java and other executable content to run only from trusted domains of your choice, e.g. your home-banking web site, and guards the "trust boundaries" against cross-site scripting attacks (XSS). Such a preemptive approach prevents exploitation of security vulnerabilities (known and even unknown!) with no loss of functionality. Experts do agree: Firefox is really safer with NoScript ;-)
  • Stop! Hammertime - Stop pages loading with the vocal contributions of MC Hammer.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

BBC iPlayer on my TV

Looking good - once again the beeb show the way. Colour TV, Teletext, Nicam, DAB, DVB-T, HD-television and now IP-TV.
The BBC have either introduced or made successful every innovation in broadcasting.
If you consider how they managed to turn around the fate of DVB-T (OnDigital becoming Freview) and how good their IP-TV offering is in the face of Channel Four and Five's offering you realise it is imperative that we have a BBC.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Marx Brothers box set

One of my best presents this year was a box set of the Marx Brothers' films - me and James will be in comedy heaven! Anyhow - I just uploaded a clip from Duck Soup - it contains the classic Groucho;
If you don't like it you can leave in a huff - and if that's too quick you can leave in a minute and a huff!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

HP Deskjet F2180 All-in-One Printer, Scanner, Copier

Replace the cartridges in my existing inkjet or spend £29 on a new gadget from Asda? It's a nice little budget machine but read on - I had real fun and games with the driver under XP!
Of course the CD that comes with it is loaded with rubbish that you don't really want (little apps that pop up to tell you the ink is low and launches a browser with the fields all filled in for you to buy a replacement!). However - the other hole in the 'domestic' driver is that the scanner won't work over USB extenders! The HP website also makes great demands about which USB chipset you should use etc. Useless! No other printer/scanner I have ever used makes such stupid requirement - USB is USB.
So, if you have one of these and only want the printer & TWAIN drivers OR you have a USB extender feeding it (like me you have your computers in the cellar) then go here;

HP Multi-Function Products Driver Bundle - IT Professional Use Only