Thursday, January 29, 2009

From the website of a potential customer...

Via our integrated market-driven USP-experience we'll leverage your expertise to discover the potential your business really has for dramatic growth...

I browsed around for half an hour and still had no idea of what they actually did!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ceative XFi pocket media players

I bought Creative Zen XFi pocket media players for my youngest two this Christmas (8 gig ones for £80 from Amazon). I was thinking about the iPod Nano but for two boys who don't change what they listen to much, don't routinely download podcasts but do watch LOTS of video these have proved a better bet than iPods. Creative shtick is the quality of audio playback which seems superb (better than Joe, my eldest's Nano). They have their own software for managing the thing but you don't need to use it - you can just drag'n'drop onto the various directories and it all shows up where you'd expect. It has some neat PDA-type features (that passed the boys by!) but the real killer from my point of view is that it plays various video formats - typically MPEG-4 AVIs and Windows Media 9 format files. So - if you're used to handling DivX, Xvid etc then it's all good - you have to re-size in some cases but my workflow for off-air recordings is DV-MSR (off-air MPEG2 transport stream)->MPEG2 (MediaPortal does this at the end of a recording if you ask it to and it is instant)->AVI (via VirtualDub MPEG2 edition). Alternatively their tool (which makes WMVs) is pretty slick and can queue stuff up etc.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

David Peto ex-Unit Post - Eastenders?!

I've enjoyed working for Unit on a few occasions and was interested to see David had moved onto new things. If I hadn't read it on his blog I'd not have believed it!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Virgin Media box - rubbish, and it killed my PVR's EPG!

For many months Virgin Media have been calling me to try and get me to take TV as part of my package - I had telephone and data. Eventually the pestering ground me down and I said they could send me the set-top box but I resolved not to install it - I was getting an upgrade to 20Mbits and fixed-cost calls (i.e. standing charge only) so that it seems I'll be saving.
Well - once the box had been delivered I had to unbox it just to have a look and I realised they sent one of the H.264-capable Samsung boxes (HDMI o/p at 1080!). Sarah then said " has a better quality version of iPlayer than gets delivered over the web - could we use it for that?" so I ran a co-ax under the floor and installed it.
Of course it didn't work and after much tinkering in engineering menus I discovered that the smart-card wasn't paired with the box! So back into the carboard and stored in the cellar!
Whilst I was tinkering I set MediaPortal to see the box on it's S-Video i/p and was going to run an extra IR blaster so I could PVR cable-channels (in much the same way that TiVO works with Sky boxes). Last night I noticed that MediaPortal had stopped making off-air recordings and when I looked it was clear that it wasn't getting any EPG data. After much head-scratching I realised that if you define an external cable or Sky box it assumes that the EPG ain't coming from DVB-T any more - d'oh!

So - that Virgin box is staying in the cellar and ain't coming anywhere near my good working setup!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ofcom and PSE - there is no secret sauce Mr Harding!

The issue of Photosensitive Epilepsy comes up often in television - back in the late nineties there was an episode of Pokemon that featured flashing images that provoked kids in Japan to have seizures. Since then Ofcom have been very keen to avoid this on British television and since 2003 have produced the following guidelines;

OFCOM Guidance(extract).pdf

This is an extract from the document but it does include the important details which hinge around the following;

3. A potentially harmful flash occurs when there is a pair of opposing changes in luminance (i.e., an increase in luminance followed by a decrease, or a decrease followed by an increase) of 20 candelas per square metre (cd.m-2) or more (see
notes 1 and 2). This applies only when the screen luminance of the darker image is below 160 cd.m-2. Irrespective of luminance, a transition to or from a saturated red is also potentially harmful.

3.1.1. Isolated single, double, or triple flashes are acceptable, but a sequence of flashes is not permitted when both the following occur:
i. the combined area of flashes occurring concurrently occupies more than one quarter of the displayed (see note 3) screen area; and
ii. there are more than three flashes within any one-second period. For clarification, successive flashes for which the leading edges are separated by 9 frames or more are acceptable, irrespective of their brightness or screen area.

These parameters are well defined and so anyone who can understand them can build a PSE detector that will with certainty detect when a violation occurs. This is how the situation should be as it avoids any one manufacturer of test equipment having a monopoly. Unfortunately this is just the situation that has nearly developed with the Harding FPA detector. Their machine is a PC with SDi capture card that you digitise the video sequence to be checked into and it runs an analysis. The other popular unit is the GordonHD which is more like a traditional piece of equipment in that it sits in the signal chain and gives an alert when it sees a violating sequence go past.
We have a couple of customers who like the idea of realtime performance that the Gordon gives and don't like having to capture (the Harding doesn't support standard codecs so no Quicktime reference export from Avid!), analyse (in slower-than-realtime) and then get a report - only to repeat it all after you've corrected the offending clips (because the broadcaster likes to see a full 10:00:00:00 - 10:54:00:00 report!). The Gordon on the other hand is cheap (£3k against £13k) and just sits there taking a feed of HD/SDi video and Timecode and firing a GPI when a violation is detected (and even entering the TC into a file) which means you can have it hanging off the Avid (or whatever) and the editor can rock'n'roll over a piece of footage adjusting his edit point over the flash frames (it's mostly paparazzi footage with all those camera flashes that cause it) until he gets a sequence that doesn't cause a problem.

Anyhow - you can tell which machine I think is best. Harding is a great self-publiciser who gives you the idea that he alone knows the secret-sauce of PSE. The guys at Tektronix tell me it's on the way as an upgrade for their WVR-series 'scopes but they are worried that Harding has all the patents stitched up.

Anyway - a quick once around pals revealed the following;
Ascent Media check all of five's output (including the two daughter channels) on a GordonHD, ITV's QC department at Upper Ground use a Gordon as their first-pass analyser and Channel Four specify it as well. However, talking to everyone in facilities reveals that they (almost) universally believe the Harding to be the only machine capable of doing the job.
I had several earlier-model Gordon's at Resolution and they were superbly fitted to the job (and cheap enough to have one in every suite). We never had a tape sent back that had gone through it and that included many more hours of terrestrial television than most facilities ever turn out (including quick turn-around stuff with lots of potential trouble - think the Friday night eviction show for Big Brother).

John Emmett of BPR is a gentleman of the old school (they make the Gordon) and you can find an interesting paper on the subject of PSE he co-authored here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A bit different to Skype!

A prediction from a French magazine of 1900 - they foretold video conferencing!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Windows 7 - getting my geek on

Last week Graham asked me if I was going to try and get a Beta copy of Windows 7 - I told him I didn't have the time or inclination to have to suffer Vista v.2! However - I did feel a bit ashamed that I was being a bit close-minded and I could tell by the look on his face that my geek-cred was slipping so when MS opened the Beta up past the first 2.5m downloads I snagged a copy and installed it on an old Vaio PCG-X1SP (1.5Ghz P4, 1gig RAM, 40gig HD, Radeon 7500 GFX) and was amazed how snappy it was compared to Vista on my MacBook (2Ghz Core2Duo, 2 gig RAM etc etc).

A few drivers weren't there in the Windows ISO but one check of the Windows Update installed everything. The only sub-optimal device is the Radeon Mobility display driver which Windows identified as a generic SVGA device (but got the 1400x1280 resolution correct). It'll do but I wanted to get it right so I have two option;

Friday, January 09, 2009

My first week at the Beeb

Check out my turn-ups and white socks (it was the eighties, after all!) - I'm the forth one from the left sitting down and looking nervous!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Super Capacitors

Need to write this one!

Monday, January 05, 2009

MD5 cracked - is SSL broken?

Must write