Category Archives: TV

Foxtel Scifi channel

Foxtel Australia to launch a sci-fi channel on December 1st. It’ll be interesting to see if they confine themselves to parent company (CBS Paramount, NBC Universal, Sony) shows, or if they look wider.

And will it be enough to convince more people to get cable TV? The sci-fi channel will be part of the My Escape package, meaning a minimum total monthly cost of A$51.90 if you want to see it.

(Me? I don’t watch much TV anyway. Somehow I suspect another X dozen channels aren’t going to change that…)

Misc stuff

Cool links I’ve found recently:

Super (MOV to AVI conversion).

VB to Java converter. That is, it compiles VB6 code into a Java class. Latest update here. Q+A. (No, you can’t download it yet, they’re still working on it.)

Oh, guess who’s on about giving away Digital set top boxes again? Yup. I do like this argument, actually: It is not the Government’s job to champion new technology. It is the Government’s job to provide universal infrastructure and manage the task in a financially responsible way.

XML Notepad, which after a looooong time not being available, is back, and upgraded. (Requires the .Net Framework 2).

TV Guides: mine, mine, mine!

Joshua Gans asks: Who owns TV guide data? Apparently Packer is suing the pants off ICE-TV who provide a TV guide service to users of MythTV, amongst others. Gans reckons its a defensive move to protect Channel Nine’s ad broadcast revenue.

I dunno, it seems to me that this is going to fall on its head. Having a TV listing is copyrighted? Perhaps a particular one is, but recreating the simple facts of one, I don’t see how that violates copyright.

Movie Maker’s downfall

I put together a 15 minute compilation video in Windows Movie Maker. Now, WMM is okay… it’s free with XP and does the job of a basic movie editor quite well. Well, as long as you’re happy with it only spitting out WMV. Which I’m not overjoyed about.

WMM’s big problem is it doesn’t like MPEGs. Oh sure, it’ll work with them, but it doesn’t like them. I can’t find any other explanation for how slow it gets when dealing with them. Once you have a few MPEGs in your project, you’ll find it takes an agonisingly long time to re-open the project. Seriously, by the time I got finished I had 15 minute long project with a couple of dozen MPEG-1 clips, and it literally took two hours of “checking project files” before I could do anything.

I thought it was some kind of hideous mistake the first time it happened, and cancelled and rebooted the machine. But it wasn’t. I ended up doing some research (on another PC, since that one was busy burning up CPU and disk cycles) and the word on the forums is that it just doesn’t like MPEGs. Throw a bunch of AVI or WMV videos at it, and it’s fine.

Well, I say fine, but in fact WMM regularly freezes up. My kids describe it as “going out to lunch” and it’s a source of constant frustration.

As it happens I’ve just bought Pinnacle Studio Plus version 10 ($189 via Harris Technology, and widely available elsewhere), something of an upgrade from both WMM and the Pinnacle Studio Quickstart 9 I got with the TV tuner card I just bought. Australian purchases of Studio Plus (and a couple of other Pinnacle products) will get a bonus USB TV tuner if they buy before the end of the year. (Yes, this is a bummer for me. Maybe I’ll put one of them on eBay.) So hopefully the next video project won’t be subject to WMM’s vagaries.

Other lessons: Google Video suggests 640 x 480 is the ideal resolution for uploads. But this resulted in a file close to 100Mb long, which not only took ages to upload, but was also sluggish on playback. Eventually I downsized it to 320×240, and it’s much faster in both cases, though quite pixellated. The default Google player (embedded in a web page) is actually 400×300, though I’m not sure this is actually supported in an AVI or WMV file, since Tmpgenc refused to resize to that, saying that 300 isn’t divisible by 16.

More on Studio Plus when I actually get around to installing and using it.

Pinnacle 310i TV tuner first impressions

I picked up a Pinnacle 310i digital/analogue TV tuner card last week. APC had listed it in its top products section, which from what I’ve seen, is usually a reasonable bet. The kids were keen to try out the video editing software (Studio QuickStart), because even though it’s a cut-down version of Pinnacle’s Studio product, they wanted a change from Windows Movie Maker.

Me? I wanted a video capture card that would work in XP. My old FlyVideo card was okay-ish under Win95 (but even then the built-in apps were a bit dodgy; the TV viewing never seemed to work properly), just about bearable under Win2K (I could do captures using the Windows Media Capture utility, but it was pretty ugly setting it up). But it doesn’t work at all under XP.

TV tuning was a bonus, since it would allow recording direct off telly without going via the VCR. The 310i appeared to fit the bill. Retail is A$199, but I found it for A$169 at Landmark Computers in Melbourne, and it’s probably a similar price elsewhere.

Installing the card appeared to be pretty straightforward. Find a spare PCI slot, bung it in, and connect the lead from the card’s Audio Out to something approximating the PC’s internal Audio In. (Okay I admit I couldn’t find anything marked Audio In, and settled for CD in instead. Given that was unoccupied, it’s got me wondering if I can normally play CDs on the box… I’m not sure I’ve ever tried.)

Grabbed the first of the two CDs: MediaManager, and ran the install. The first hurdle was that despite the software claiming the CD key was on the sleeve, it wasn’t, it was on the CD itself.

Now, I don’t splurge a lot on new IT products. Part of being a geek luddite, I suppose. But this is the first mass-market consumer product I’ve come across that is built on the Dot Net Framework (version 1.1) and… wait for it… SQL Server Express Edition. That’s a hefty overhead for any end-user PC, and I’m glad mine has enough headroom that it doesn’t take a disk space (70Mb or so) or seemingly a performance hit, though I’ll be checking if it’s now running by default the service is set to start automatically. Personally I’d stick to an Access/Jet backend for any consumer-level products I was writing. It may be outdated, but it’s super-efficient in comparison.

Fired up the software and after a couple of false starts tuning the channels (one involving cancelling radio tuning, which took ages; one at the end where it appeared to hang, and I ended up rebooting the machine) it seemed to be playing nicely. The digital (and especially the HD) signals are brilliantly clear. Adhoc recording worked okay, too. In due course I’ll try the “burn live programmes” and timed recording functionality.

Mind you, I do wish software manufacturers would stop re-inventing how Windows should look. Dealing with iTunes and its permanently grey title bar is bad enough. Pinnacle’s software goes for all sorts of wacky icons for such basic tasks as minimising and maximising the window — all breaking the user’s colour and size preferences, and probably using way more PC resources than is necessary.

Next I ran the Studio Quickstart install. That took ages — it seemed to take an awfully long time to unpack the sample sounds in particular. When it eventually finished I had a little play with it. Pretty basic stuff. Plenty of transition and sound effects. Maybe the kids will be happy with it, but I couldn’t see any huge advantages over Windows MovieMaker (though outputting something other than WMV is definitely a plus).

All the best stuff (like chroma key/bluescreen, which they’d love to be able to do) seems to be locked away and requires separate payment. I might eventually do the upgrade to the full version, but I really wanted the recording functionality first and foremost.

I’ll keep playing and if I find anything worth mentioning will update later.

2007-07-12: Followup: Pinnacle TV viewing software

Are you my mummy? (Hugo award winners)

Awarded a few hours ago: 2006 Hugo Award winners.

Very pleased to see one of the greatest 90 minutes of television I watched last year, the Doctor Who story “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” got a geurnsey for best dramatic presentation: short form.

PS. Monday morning. Paul Cornell on the shock of Doctor Who beating Battlestar Gallactica for a Hugo.

PPS. Thursday. Video of the award ceremony:

A free STB for all (again)

Alex Encel is having another go at getting everybody in Australia a government-subsidised set top box. (See last time).

I like the idea, but I’m still not clear on who would pay for those who need antenna upgrades (or indeed how many/how much dosh is involved for this).

As he points out, so far they haven’t picked up the idea apparently due to ideological grounds rather than sound economic argument. But that’s typical of the current government — otherwise why would we have massive subsidies for private health insurance?

By the way, just to be pedantic for a moment, in Australian English, the word analogue has a ue on the end.

Snippets of geekitude

Gmail geekitude — In GMail with US English set, when you delete mail it goes to the “Trash” folder. Set it to UK English, and it’s “Deleted Items”.

TV geekitude — See how the ABC News titles look with no stories and no voiceover.

Google Video geekitude — Lots of snippets of info here, including the fact that Google’s video format is pretty much just a renamed DivX AVI.

Webmail geekitude — My web mail (Horde) puts a little flag against the country of the domain name of the sender. Of course it’s a little misleading when a message from someone using fastmail arrives, as it reckons it’s the Federated States of Micronesia…

Web design geekitude — The best freebie DHTML menus I’ve found so far are here. (Which I’ve implemented here and here. I reckon without too much trouble, WordPress’s categories could drive it automatically. Maybe something to put on the list for Geekrant 2.0.

Digital TV takeup

Absolutely superb article in today’s Age.

The federal government wants to close down the analog TV signal. It can’t do that until enough people have digital TV receivers. People don’t particularly want to spend the time or money purchasing a digital TV set top box. So the government is going to have to spend a couple of billion dollars to continue broadcasting the analog signal for longer.

Sony have even suggested spending $200 million on consumer education, I guess to tell us why we should buy digital set-top boxes.

Alex Encel thinks we should just spend $150 million to give everyone a digital set top box for every TV they own.

What a brilliant solution! It’s not often you get to achieve your goals and also save a couple of billion dollars at the same time!

TV downloads

Channel 9 launches commercial downloadable TV in Australia (the ABC’s broadband casting of their shows has been going for a while, though theirs don’t download), starting with a freebie episode of McLeod’s Daughters. It’s WMP files (so playable on Windows computermachines only) and normal price will be A$1.95 for a show that will play for up to 7 days. (via TV Idents blog).

I wonder how prominent AU shows are on BitTorrent, anyway?

Meanwhile there’s speculation that Hollywood may embrace Torrents, with Warner Brothers planning to use it to distribute some of their content, at US$1.00 per episode for TV shows. It’s unclear if users outside the US will be able to join in — so those who, for example, Torrented the final West Wing earlier this week may have to stay on the wrong side of the law. Making this content available internationally must be considered at some point — many overseas viewers are sick of waiting to see their favourite shows months or even years after they broadcast in their home territories.

Documentary on Adventure Games

The guy that brought us a documentary on Bulletin Board Systems is now at work on documentary on text adventure games. I believe it’s going to be released under the Creative Commons license, and shot in stunning HiDef, those talking heads are going to look really nice. Adventure games are, apparently, known as interactive fiction. I never thought of it like that.

Ah, Zork. Is there anything you can’t teach us about ourselves? Not like that goddamned HHGTTG, with it’s prescriptive plotline – what a POS.