Archive for the ‘HDTV’ Category

How do you clean your screens? Here’s how I do it

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Between TVs, computers, tablets and phones, we spend a lot of our days looking at screens. And I can’t tolerate staring at a dirty screen. While glass touchscreen devices are the easiest to clean, usually getting away with a quick rub on your pants or shirt, laptops and TVs can be very tricky. Of course the best way is to not get it dirty in the first place, but between kids, sneezes and rude-screen-touchers, it happens. Here’s how I clean mine.

I start with two lint-free microfiber cleaning cloths; one damp one dry. First I wipe in circular motion with the damp cloth until I’m confident that I’ve removed all the grime and fingerprints. Then I quickly follow up  and dry it with the dry one. On large screens like a TV, it can be necessary to use both cloths at the same time, else parts of the screen might air dry before you get to it, which will leave water spots.

Although I’m happy with the results, I’m curious if I’m doing it the hard way. So how do you clean your screens?

Where are the TV apps for Windows 8 and the Xbox?

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Windows 8 and the new Xbox Dashboard are officially available and Microsoft is giving Windows Media Center to Windows 8 Pro customers for the next few months. But the more I think of it, the more I wonder if Microsoft could really be willing to let all the work it put into Media Center go to waste. I say this because I’m reminded of all the Windows 7 commercials that mentioned its ability to watch TV — was there even one that didn’t. Windows 8 and Xbox apps from Netflix, Hulu and others add obvious value to the new Windows ecosystem, but so does real TV. It seems to me — famous last words from a non-developer — that it would be trivial for Microsoft to develop and release Modern UI apps for TV. Recorded TV, Guide and Live TV tiles could be pulled over from the deprecated Media Center experience. Ported to feel right at home in the new Windows world.

These simple apps would put a new face on the years of work and that so many love. The apps would run on Windows PCs, the Xbox, Windows Phones and maybe even 3rd party devices like Roku. They would rely on the core of Media Center to schedule, record and playback premium HD obtained from your cable TV subscription via great CableCARD hardware. What they wouldn’t be is the answer for pure HTPC fans as the Modern UI is not a 10-foot interface, it’s a touchscreen interface, but that’s fine. I said it some time ago, and I still believe it, the HTPC is dead. But just because the age of connecting your PC to your TV is a dead-end, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for tuners in Microsoft’s ecosystem.

What I don’t understand is, if Microsoft was going to do this, why not do it at launch? Assuming this is all a pipe dream, I wonder if it would be possible for 3rd parties to do it? Are there documented API’s for Media Center that would enable enough access to the tuners? Can 3rd party apps leverage the Windows 8 PlayReady components that unlock protected CableCARD content?

I realize some believe that Microsoft will not invest another nickel into anything that involves broadcast TV, but I just can’t believe they are that hubris. Sure, the future is on-demand IP delivered content, but the reality today is that the majority of content is still delivered via RF broadcast. And even when the day does come where more content is on-demand than linear, it still won’t make sense to ditch broadcast completely as there is no more efficient way to deliver events like the Super Bowl to 30 million people, at the same time, than to broadcast it — do you really believe that enabling multicast throughout the internet is more plausible than just continuing to use RF broadcasts?

How to watch 1080p MKVs on the new Apple TV

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

I’m going to assume that if you have a file with an mkv extension, you know what for. The container is the Swiss Army Knife of containers, but most of the ones I run across have very high quality video and DTS audio. According to Apple, the new Apple TV will only play 1080p encoded with H.264 High Profile 4.0, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I was able to easily play a few High Profile 5.1 sample clips without converting them. You do have to change the container from mkv to m4v, but thanks to MKVTools (nagware until you pay $5), it takes about as long as a file copy. The other great thing about MKVTools is that it will convert the 5.1 DTS audio track to AC3 at the same time — required since the ATV doesn’t support DTS.

It really couldn’t be easier. Download MKVTools (I used 2.4.7), open your mkv file, select the streams you want (typically one video and one audio) go to the MP4 tab, choose AC3 and set the device to Apple TV and then hit convert. I’ve only tried samples so far, but they all came out perfect. Drag and drop them to iTunes and then go to Computers on the Apple TV and then to your movies.

Why HD streaming isn’t ready for primetime

Friday, March 9th, 2012

I wanted to watch a movie tonight but instead I’m writing this post. You see I only have the one disc at a time Netflix plan and I sent The Town back this morning, which left me without a movie on a Friday night. Sometimes I hit up a Redbox, but the bridge down the street is closed (for three months!) and it has really messed up my routine. So I figured I’d try to get the most out of my three month Xbox Live Gold Membership before it expires, only to be reminded that HDX titles aren’t available on the Xbox. No problem, I’ll switch to my Sony Blu-ray player and watch it there. So I spend the time to enter my Vudu username and password using the remote — who ever thought that was a good idea — and pick out a movie only to be greeted with an “Insufficient Network Speed” error. That’s odd, so I try it a few more times. Same result.

You might be thinking, but Ben HDX requires a lot of throughput and don’t blame Vudu because your internet sucks. But you’d be wrong. Unlike some I have FiOS Internet, which is crazy fast, but every service has a bad day, right? So I fire up Speedtest.net to see what it might be and what do I find? 25Mbps download. You’d think that would be enough.

And this test was ran on my laptop connected via WiFi and my Blu-ray player is connected via a wired Gig connection, which I typically get Gig speeds on. So if someone with all the  pieces you’d think would be needed to enjoy high quality HD video via the Internet can’t, then who can? I suspect no one. I guess I’ll just have to watch a different Blu-ray Disc or something on my Media Center, but it won’t be because I didn’t try. We’ll see if Apple’s cloud is more reliable than Vudu’s next week.

Why the new iPad will be named the iPad HD

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

This might  come as a shock to you but Apple doesn’t like to put numbers after its device names. There is no MacBook 20, or an iPhone 2. In fact besides the iPhone 4 and the iPad 2, you’d have a hard time finding an Apple device with a number behind it that meant its generation — Microsoft is also like this, especially considering Windows 7 isn’t the 7th version of Windows.

Enough about why the new iPad won’t be called the iPad 3, why am I so sure why the new name will be the iPad HD? One reason “1080p.” Some might argue that the first two iPads had HD displays, and while this is actually debatable (the lack of solid definition for HD has already bothered me) when it comes to modern TV shows and movies, HD means at least 720 lines and 16×9 (at least). This means that the highest resolution you could watch 16×9 content on the older iPads is 1024×578 — not HD by almost any definition. A 2,048×1,536 display on the other hand? It can easily display 16×9 content in 1080p (with pixels to spare all around, wonder if there will be a dot by dot mode). Of course these means that along side the new iPad HD will be the new Apple TV HD and 1080p content in the iTunes Store, which as far as I’m concerned is about time (lets hope for Dolby Digital Plus too). Or in other words, an all around great day for an HD fan.

Of course this Retina Display iPad HD will also be good for many other things. Reading a book without being able to see the pixels, as well as any other reading, and video games should be a great improvement — when the developers get around to updating their apps. And as pointed out by TUAW, 264ppi is enough to be considered a Retina Display by Apple definition since the average viewing distance of an iPad is further than that of the 330 ppi iPhone.

Oh, and I’ve been saying this long before the leaked accessory names.

Why Apple isn’t releasing a TV

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

This was originally posted on Engadget but it was deemed  to be more appropriate here as it is more in line with my personal voice than with Engadget’s.

The internet was ablaze upon the release of the Steve Jobs’ biography about a particularly interesting quote that seemed to reveal that Apple would release a TV. This is just as exciting a proposition as it was over four years ago to smartphone users who dreamed that Apple would fix the mobile phone. But the fact is that Apple, and many others, have been trying to “fix” TV for years, and to date we are still stuck with hundreds of channels that have nothing on, a dozen remotes and a textbook example of how not to make a user interface. It seems, though, that people are ignoring another Jobs quote, from just over a year ago at All Things D, that seems to explain very plainly why Apple has yet to release anything more than a hobby.

When asked about Apple and the TV market, Jobs’ reply showed how well-versed he was in the TV industry, but the choice quote was “it’s not a problem with technology, it’s not a problem with vision, it’s a fundamental go-to-market problem.” Jobs also explains that Apple made an iPhone and the iPad instead of a TV because there wasn’t a choice, “there was no way to get it to market.” So as much as we’d like to shed the chains that are channels and grid guides, as long as the monopolies that own the wires that run into our homes control the bits that travel over them, there just isn’t a way to change TV.

Broadcast TV will never die, ever

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

While there’s certainly no doubt that the future of TV is about to change more drastically then it ever has in the past 80 or so years, one thing that won’t change is the need to broadcast programming to millions of viewers at the same time. Lets stop there for a second though and clarify exactly what the word broadcast really means in the context of this post; to send media to many people at the exact same time. Think; major sporting events, breaking world impacting news or even the latest episode of the hottest reality TV show. Sure some would rather watch everything on their schedule, but most seem to prefer to watch certain events “as they happen.” So as long as millions prefer to watch some programming at the same time, there will be a need for broadcast TV, because even if the technology to send millions of individual streams existed, it wouldn’t make economical sense.

So when Microsoft shares its vision of the future of TV on its official blog and completely neglects to mention the most popular way to enjoy content today, it just really makes me wonder what they are smoking. Sure “All the entertainment you want, with the people you care about, made easy” sounds great, but without the Superbowl and other live events, it won’t ever be “all the entertainment” anyone wants.

I do believe that the Xbox Dashboard is closer to the future of TV than anything Comcast, Verizon or DirecTV is showing, but have to question any solution that doesn’t include broadcast TV. And I’m not saying that Media Center is the solution either, because as much as I love it, I know it isn’t for everyone. And of course it doesn’t deliver all the content I want either, but at least it includes the most important content.

Oh how people can change: Me and 3D

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

There is a lot of negativity around 3D and I feel like I’m defending it at every corner. Well my friend Mari won’t let me forget about this snarky email I sent her on March 25th of 2009 in response to a pitch for a 3D story she did on MediaExperiencestogo.com — this was after I saw the 3D presentation of the National Championship game, but before I saw Avatar and other 3D demos from Panasonic, etc.

The day they launch Engadget3D is the day I quit. Honestly there aren’t any Engadget HD editors who like 3D and it shows in our content. If you go through all our 3D related posts, you’d be hard pressed to find one that wasn’t negative. I think the most positive one was at CES when I said it wasn’t nearly as lame as I thought it would be.

As you can see, the perspective on 3D of the other Engadget HD editors and I has changed quite a bit in the past 9 months. And if we can change you can change. We can all change. It really does grow on you, I’m telling you, this 3D thing is going to be big.

Canceling cable: the failed experiment

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Last April I told you about how I canceled cable and was living on over-the-air HD and Blu-ray Discs for my families HD needs. At the time my plan was to add cable in time for football season. It was a great plan and it kind of worked, but I did fail to consider one thing; at Engadget I write about cable related technologies. My first clue was actually not long after my post here about my first 90 days of success when Digeo sent me a Moxi HD DVR for review. At that point my plan was to add the service back in order to do the review and then to cancel it again, but that turned out to be too much of a pain since Verizon requires I send the CableCARD back when I cancel, which of course means another truck roll the next time I need service. But despite this I was still prepared to call and cancel right after CES, but by the time I got back I realized that in the next six months there would be at least three or four new CableCARD devices I’d like to review, so I decided to give up on the idea.

The bottom line is that I love me some football in HD, so I can’t ever see myself going without cable year round, and with the hassle involved in canceling and signing back up, the $327 a year ($62 for 7 months minus $110 savings for signing a contract) I’d save just isn’t worth it — not to mention I plan to expense the majority of the cost to offset my blogging income. I suspect for many it just isn’t worth it either. Sure there is lots of content out there available via other legal means, but the bottom line is that when it comes down to it, cable really isn’t that bad of a deal considering all the HD viewing options you get for the price.

How to automatically convert VOB to MPG and DTS to AC3

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

I’m working on a newer version of my automatic MKV to DVR-MS process and found myself needing to do these conversions automatically. So I figured I’d share them so people could use them until my entire process is done.

The main uses from my perspective is to make various video files Media Center compatible, but since MPG and AC3 are pretty much the most standard codecs in the industry, there are plenty of other uses. Both of them require the latest version of DVRMSToolBox, written by my good from Andy. In fact it is what makes the entire process automatic. For both profiles, the DTB temp directory is used to create the files and then the final file is moved back to the location of the original file (in the case of the MKV AC3 files, the name is changed for obvious reasons). Until I release the rest of my process, you can create a simple “process conditioner” to automatically convert these files, or you can run them on demand with DVRMStoMPEGGUI (or queue them up manually).

The first is a very simple VOB to MPG converter. All it does is use ffmpeg to repackage the MPG and AC3 streams into an MPG container. The best way to create a vob to convert is to use something like DVDShrink to rip only the main feature and the main AC3 audio to a single vob. You can use DTS, but as you might know, in the case of Media Center DTS is not supported nativly and thus doesn’t work on extenders. To use this drop “Convert vob into mpg – ffmpeg.dpc” into “C:\Program Files\DVRMSToolbox\Profiles” and put ffmpeg.conf into “C:\Program Files\DVRMSToolbox\Applications\ConvertFfmpeg”

The second one was actually very difficult to get right and I’d still like to do some more testing. What it does is extract a DTS stream from an MKV file, then convert it to AC3 with eac3to, then finally remuxes it back to an MKV with AC3. It only retains the original video and audio streams and in fact doesn’t touch the video stream. To use it you’ll need to download eac3to and MKVtoolnix (both free). First extract the eac3to archive to “C:\Program Files\DVRMSToolbox\Applications\eac3to” and install MKVtoolnix with the isntall path of “C:\Program Files\DVRMSToolbox\Applications\MKVtoolnix\” And of course you’ll have to copy the “Convert MKV with DTS to MKV with AC3.dpc” to “C:\Program Files\DVRMSToolbox\Profiles”

Please let me know if these work for you or not, I’m really hoping to get these throughly tested before my final project is complete.

**Update** Already had to update the DTS to AC3 profile, this one should work better. Thanks Rich. 

**UPdate2** Had to update it once again because the AC3 bit rate was too high for dvr-ms files, it is now set to 448 instead of 640.