Friday, December 21, 2007

Playstation 3 firmware 2.1 review


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So the new firmware released this week. This update brings the long waited Blu-ray Profile 1.1 support, divx (xvid) and wmv (VC-1) playback capability in conjuction with some other small changes. It's a huge update for users who use PS3 mainly as a media center.

1. Video:

Blu-ray Profile 1.1 brings Picture in picture commentary and blu-wizard. Picture in picture commentary is basicly that the machine is required to be able to decode two video and audio streams simultaneously.

Here's how it looks:

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This is a cool feature. But personally after I watched couple HD-DVDs with the same feature (universal's U-control), it's rather boring. I would prefer the old styled separate of the features from the main movie... The first Blu-ray disc has the PIP is Resident Evil: Extinction. The above image is from

Another feature profile 1.1 brings is the Blu-wizard, or whatever the studios like to call it. It has the ability to "remember" where you left off, and continues to play from there even if you take the disc out, power off the machine, then resume watching say three months later. This is achieved by storing the data on the machine. So here is the new BD Data Utility folder firmware 2.1 adds.

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Adding divx & xvid playback capability was announced about one month ago, so it's no surprise to see it in this new update. (Actually Microsoft's XBOX 360 achieved this feature on its recent update too.) There are some restrictions on how the divx/xvid files though. First, the files can NOT be bigger than 2G, it's said to be due to the licence SONY acquired from divx company. Second, files encode with divx 3.11 can NOT be played. Third, pixels cannot be divided by 16 can NOT be played based on some users' inspection. Fortunatately, the files I've tested all played back fine! They are all streamed from PC using TVerstiy. I believe the current TVersity still think that PS3 cannot play raw divx/xvid files, thus try to convert them. My solution is to turn off the transcode here.

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Lust Caution... Wasted my 2.5 hours just to watch an adult movie...Disappointed

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Bourne played fine. Better yet the XMB recognise Dolby Digital and output as bitstream so that my receiver output the original DD5.1 surround sound!

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Sayonara zetsubou sensei also plays fine, this is the only "HD" video out of the 3 I've tested. Although it has 1280*720 res, the bitrate is rather low. I'm curious how high bitrate PS3 can support.

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As I have tried stage6 in the PS3's browser, it cannot play any videos like youtube. I think the browser needs the divx plug-in which somehow SONY haven't added it yet. I wish some day they could have that, then we can watch some kick-a$$ quality video, or maybe even downloading to hard drive?? (youtube is just way too pathetic, I highly recommend stage6 for those who have fast internet)

Adding WMV & VC-1 playback is a liitle bit of surprise though. But think about it, since Blu-ray supports VC-1, it might be not very hard to enable this function in the XMB. I've got only one HD quality wmv video to check out, fortunately it plays. There are users report PS3 plays wmv3 and VC-1 encoded videos only, and audio has to be wmv2 or something like that or it will just report unsupported data...

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2. Music:

Yes, firmware 2.1 also brings improvements on music. It adds a new bitmapping type, Type 3, which suppose to optimize the music playback specific to Playstation 3. I cannot tell the difference, but I think I'll stick with Type 3 from now on...

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An unexpected, but yet the coolest thing I've ever seen in this update is the earth Visualization. Now there's some reason to listen to music on PS3, just to watch the earth rotating could get me very excited...

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Here's how the earth visualization looks like:

FlashDetection.handleEmbedCode("63a9cbae-02aa-4ead-8857-0fa06b5ded6e", '\x3cembed src\x3d\x22http\x3a\x2f\\x2fv\x2fvduzOYYto8g\x26amp\x3brel\x3d0\x26amp\x3bborder\x3d0\x22 width\x3d425 height\x3d355 type\x3d\x22application\x2fx-shockwave-flash\x22 wmode\x3dopaque pluginspage\x3d\x22http\x3a\x2f\\x2fgo\x2fgetflashplayer\x22 allowscriptaccess\x3dnever allownetworking\x3dinternal\x3e', 'http\x3a\x2f\\x2f00.0.0000.0000\x2fWeb\x2fimages\x2fnoflash.gif');

Some stills I took...

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3. Folding Home version 1.3:

There's also a separate update on folding home shorly after the firmware 2.1 released. More about folding, see HERE. One thing is that any computer, windows/linux/mac will do, you don't need a PS3 to do folding... The new functions include play music while folding and automatic shutdown.

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It can now play music while folding, but I'm not sure how the machine can distinguish the mood/type of music...

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Automatic shutdown can be based on project or specific amount of time.

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So many people doing folding in US...

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Bourne Ultimatum HD-DVD vs a bunch of Blu-ray movies+Kodak C613 vs Nikon L11...


14a5ab25.jpg picture by linkai8424

Got back home this weekend, Nikon L11 DC has come in finally... Compare to Kodak C613, this Nikon doesn't do any better in terms of the image quality and functionality... The Nikon doesn't have a viewfinder either, seems like the manufacturers are trying to get rid of viewfinders for all these low-end point and shoot digital cameras?? The menu system is really unintuitive on this Nikon, maybe I'm not playing with it long enough, but with the 3 brands I've tried (Nikon, Kodak, and Canon), Canon definitely has the most intuitive menu system. I feel like I need to read the manual for Nikon which I usually don't read any manuals... Nikon's build quality is a lot better than Kodak, metal alloy body feels very sturdy and looks sexy. It came with a non-standard USB cable again! Different than Kodak, so now I've got 3 USB cables for three different brands (Canon's is standard, could be used for charging my SIXAXIS controller or used for other devices)! Another thing is that it seems doesn't take rechargeables, when I put two freshly charged 1.25V into it, it starts with low battery warning, don't know why. I need to try some others when I got time... So this is a short review for Nikon L11.

And this morning, Bourne Ultimatum came in surprisingly! Ordered this HD-DVD/DVD combo from fye this time, also the second time I pre-ordered something. First time is Spiderman Trilogy Blu-ray, but that's two days before the release, last minute decision since a $50 amazon promotional gift certificate was about to expire and had nothing to buy... received way after the official release. This time I pre-ordered about a month ago, and came in 3 three days before the release date, such a great feeling to get the disc earlier than most of the people! Back to the cameras, I used both of them to take some pictures... Ironically used Nikon to take HD-DVD, and Kodak to take Blu-ray, shouldn't it be the other way around??Thinking Here is the pictures... Shrinked down to fit the browser for better viewing. The original pictures are bigger than 1MB, over the limit at photobucket which is the picture storage service I'm currently using, so unfortunately I can't post the originals for comparisons... Plus these two cameras are both low end, no point to take them seriously anyways...

Bourne Front, I don't know why I'm doing this, I could've just used my scanner to get the images, much better than the blurred images here...Eye-rolling (Nikon L11):

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Bourne Back (Nikon L11):

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Blu-ray movie collections front row - mostly unopened yet, watched ones are on the back row, 25 discs plus one crappy Gundam PS3 game so far and counting (Kodak C613):

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Another notice is that to left of the first blu-ray is my center speaker, one of the most important components in a home theater system. Furthest to the right is DVD - Jericho, the third TV DVD Boxset I've purchased. First two being Jessica Alba's Dark Angel Season 1 and Season 2... Jericho is the first show I've followed closely since it's first broadcasting, didn't miss the first 10 episodes until had a schedule change, had to wait the DVDs... I do get a chance to record the last six episodes in Hi-def when I finally got an HDTV capture card this summer. (have to admit that compare to HD, the DVD looks like crap, sound is OK though)

Impression about Bourne Ultimatum - DVD side:

     This disc is a double sided combo disc, one side HD-DVD, the other side DVD. Since I don't have an HD-DVD player yet, I can only watch DVD side... Watched the movie this afternoon while doing rebates... Video: this transfer is a lot better than the previous two, kind of close to how a great DVD should look like (eg: Lord of the rings extended version), and do have film like looking, kind of reminds me when I watched it in the theater. Sound: as expected, the dynamic range is huge, very aggresive, loud gun shootings, fightings, and explosions while conversations are very clear even though it's only a dolby digital soundtrack. Only thing is that can't hear lots of surround sound kicking in, maybe due to I'm not sitting in the center. Seems on recently releases, dolby digitals got a lot better, I've heard quite a few impressive soundtracks using this codec such as Transformers, Ratatouille, these are getting very close to the DTS soundtracks. Extras: When the movie ends, it goes to extras menu directly, lots of extras, resembles to those on the first two Bourne movies including deleted scenes and makings of the movie, don't have time to watch those, cuz I want to watch them using the U-control feature on the HD-DVD side...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why I think Blu-Ray should win...


Saw this post over at, thought it's pretty funny. Here is the title: "Why my wife thinks Blu-Ray should win..."
Here I slightly modified the subject (me instead of the wife in that post) in the sentence as my title.

Here is the ORIGNAL POST:


Sort of a different topic, as most of the posts anymore here are along the lines of "omg brd 4 the win!! down with hddvd it sux! Lol!!11" :-)

Coming from someone who DOESN'T CARE about the format war, who barely understands anything about resolution, bitrate, lossless audio... My Wife. She represents to me 80% of the consumers out there trying to get a grasp on the emerging HD technologies and what her Husband and his geeky friends like to call "the format war".

Background: This is meant to be a neutral topic as I was an early adopter of HD-DVD (1st week HD-DVD released the A1 I bought it), soon after we bought a XA2 early in 2007 right after release. As 1stQ 2007 went by, titles that HD-DVD studios had announced weren't anything we cared for, and Blu-Ray had a TON of titles we wanted to see. We sold the players, and bought a 60GB PS3 to play Blu-Ray discs.

After comparing the formats for 18 months now, this is what she has to say about the comparisons that we all make such a big deal about, and why she thinks Blu-Ray may have the edge in this "war".

- Studio Support:
Warner has most of the titles that we watch, and the studio which has a lot of her favorite movies that women and typical consumers seem to like. Harry Potter is coming this Christmas, thats a plus! Disney has to be the key here as well, she DOES recognize how much better most animated titles look in HD and the new Disney relases on Blu-Ray always seem to make it to the top of our Netflix Queue.

- The Discs Play (Translation: Coating on the Discs):
I cannot even BEGIN to tell you how many HD-DVD movies we had sent to us from Netflix that had just the SLIGHTEST scratch that would make the player lock up halfway through the movie. 75% of the discs we rented had some sort of minute defect that made the movie unplayable, HUGE deal when you're in the middle of the movie and it stops suddenly.

- Blu-Ray cases look prettier than the red HD-DVD ones
If you've ever had a relationship with a woman, you'll understand this...

- Retailer Support
She said that she has seen much more advertising in large retail stores. Not just Best Buy, Circuit City, etc... But stores that SHE shops at on a normal basis. Target, Wal-Mart (until recent days), Sears, etc....

- The Name
She's been back and forth on this one... But according to her Blu-Ray sounds like a much "higher end" technology than "HD-DVD". HD-DVD acccording to her sounds like an extension of the current DVD format that doesn't offer as much in the way of "breakthrough technology".

Things that she is NOT happy about:

- Price
$599 for a PS3. I could've "waited a few months" and pick up an HD player for $99 and we could've "saved all kinds of money"! She does take into consideration the fact the I do actually use the PS3 for games nowadays and that buying a 360 then an HD-DVD player wouldn't been a more expensive option... (Elite model we're talking about here!)

- Me
$25-$35 a movie, one per week, hundreds of dollars lost on early technology (XA2, PS3)

Ahh the price of being an early adopter... At any rate, thought I'd start the topic and hear how YOUR spouses/girlfriends are taking this whole "format war" and what they're opinions are. I give them a lot of credit for seeing this whole thing on a much broader sense than most of us :-).



So here is my version - Why I think Blu-Ray should win...

1. From the disc authoring ponit of view, blu-ray offers much better option than HD-DVD. Both technology offers two levels of authoring, one standard, one advanced. The standard authoring mode for BD is called BDMV, and for HD-DVD is just called standard authoring... BDMV pretty much has all the new feature the high definition media (HDM) offers, mainly the pop-up menu, while HD-DVD's standard authoring mode only offers DVD level of authoring which means NO pop-up menu! This is a huge differentiate already. Then for advanced authoring mode, BD has BD-J, HD-DVD has the so-called advanced authoring. Both offer PIP commentary, yet due to limited memory HD-DVD has, a pathetic 64MB cache, when in advanced authoring mode, you have to give up the PCM track, while this is NOT a issue for BD-J. So if you get a crappy mp3 track and want to clean it up a bit and maybe mix a surround track or those impossible decoding multi-channel aac tracks, you always have the option to render them as lossless PCM, you CANNOT stick this track into HD-DVD, while this is NO problem for BD-J.(This is why we never see a single HD-DVD with the pop-up menu and PCM at the same time!) Plus not to mention the constant worries about the 64MB overflow graph, if you have lots of features you want to add, this 64MB quickly runs out! (That's why Transformers HD-DVD doesn't inclued a DolbyTrue HD track)... And then we have the bitrate limitation, BD gives 48Mbps for total data and 40Mbps dedicated for video, HD-DVD only gives 30Mbps for total data and upto 29Mbps dedicated for video. So if you have lots of angles or want to do seamless branching, it's definitely better to have more bitrates for video. (yes, I'm crazy about angles and seamless branching...)

2. Blu-ray has more studio support than HD-DVD, almost all the movies I want are in blu-ray exclusive. The only movies on HD-DVD really may finally force me to become format netrual are Universal's Bourne Trilogy and the Matrix Trilogy I got on the price mistake deals from Circuitcity back in June. (I'm only willing to pay $150 for HD-DVD hardware, could be used as an inexpensive upconversion DVD player, save the BD drive's life on PS3.)

3. Blu-ray movie cost is signicantly cheaper than HD-DVD's. There are just so many blu-ray movie sales going on recently. My blu-ray movie collection has been increasing exponentially over the last and this month. I originally had only 2 movies prior to October, but now I have 24!Surprised I don't mind people saying that the discount on Blu-ray movie is just the marketing strategy that SONY wants to beat HD-DVD software on sales number on a weekly basis by droping the price whenever there's a hit title released exclusively on HD-DVD such as Transformers and Shrek 3. The average price of BD movie I got is around $10-13, which is a very reasonable price. While look at the HD-DVD, even if they have a sale, they only have very very limited choices, usually no more than 15 titles, and the price is about $15 each. Many people make a big deal, thinking that it's the hardware price hinders more high definition players being sold, especially Blu-ray player sells double the price as HD-DVD player. But I believe the real spending starts after having the hardware, it's the $30 tag on high definition media in stores that scares most people away. Well, you might argue that you never buy any disc, only rent, but still I see lots of people buying dvds in stores (at regular price). From my Blockbuster (online and in-store) and Netflix renting experience, the quality on the rented discs is pretty bad, which may cause the hardware to fail earlier than expected. That's why I prefer buying disc rather than renting, just wait for a deal, and buy a bunch. It also fulfills my collection desire...

4. Hardware wise, blu-ray player has lots of manufacturers, including SONY, Samsung, Philips, Sharp, Pioneer, Panasonic, etc... While HD-DVD has only one manufacturer - Toshiba, or LG, if you want to count dual format player... (If looking at DVD players, Toshiba and LG are hardly the main stream brands...) The beauty of having lots of different manufacturers is that it's less prone to have the same problem that might never solved in this generation and maybe carry on to the next generation hardware since everyone understands the specifications a little bit differently (someone might even understand it wrong). So if Samsung's player has some annoying problems, you can always switch to SONY, and vice versa. While in HD-DVD player, you only have Toshiba, if they make a design flaw in their product line or maybe one particular function/feature that bothers you, you are pretty much stucked.

5. Blu-ray is for my Dad! Blu-ray still has the region code (A, B, and C), region A has North America, Central America, South America, Japan, Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Quote form wiki:" This arrangement puts the countries of the major Blu-ray manufacturers (Japan, Korea, Malaysia) in the same region as the U.S., thus ensuring early releases of U.S. content to those markets, whereas they weren't before." Thus blu-ray movies have lots of subtitle/audio options, Chinese is one of them. Almost 2/3 of the blu-ray movies in my collection have Chinese subtitles. So now my dad can enjoy these movies! DVDs and HD-DVDs are more for the US market, only a tiny fraction of them include Chinese subtitle, the only option to get Chinese subtitles is to download from internet or decrypt the DVDs and put the translations... These practices either takes time or too much energy... Some new HD-DVDs incorporates the internet function, which one of them is downloading subtitles/audio track for the disc, I don't know how well this is gonna work out...


There is a third thought on the format war recently being popular - Blu-ray and HD-DVD neither will die, coexist is the future, just as the war between DVD-R and DVD+R. A strong reason is that both technology use 405 nm blue-violet laser, thus unlike Betamax vs VHS which has a different physical form, Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs can be used in the same drive. I think this is quite possible, but even if they coexist, I still prefer blu-ray, the better technology, just like I prefer using DVD-R for all my video archives currently.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

avsforum HD media area reopens with new rules / PS3 fw 2.0 impression


So after closing new posts for like a day or so, the avsforum has allowed new posts in the HD media area, but with more strict post rules this time, for more details, click HERE.

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     So I was back to home yesterday, downloaded the PS3 firmware 2.0. And have played PS3 since last night, played spiderman 2 BD, played ratchet and clank demo (again...maybe the 20th time I played it?), played motorstorm demo and of course digged thru changes on fw 2.0. On my last post, I wrote how disappointing this upgrade is, now after playing on my equipment a bit more, I'm still NOT satisfied, but there are couple interesting upgrades that certainly I liked in this firmware version. The biggest update occurs in the DLNA network media section, PS3 has finally allowed to output bitstream DD5.1 in the XMB. My receiver detects DD5.1 now, so no more downmix, certainly a good job SONY have done Smile. Now I can enjoy my recorded HDTV files in its original format if I want to play on PS3. But another issue, the wrong frame playback still exists, and it becomes even worse... I'm using Tversity as the media server program, streaming to PS3, those shows I recorded from CBS showed only about 10 seconds and then PS3 became none response at all. The worst case I have to power cycle the PS3!! First I thought it was the Tversity thing, but after I switched back the wmp, it's still the same, but instead of non response, PS3 actually showed a pause sign in the left bottom corner after 10s... So this update is good for other stations but definitely NOT for CBS Disappointed. The other big update among the media hub feature is the ability to output SACD thru optical connection via transcoding to DTS! Since I don't have a SACD, I can't confirm this on my equipment, but many users have reported successful playback, read more HERE. So these two are the major discover on the 2.0 firmware.

     Other stuff are just for gamers which I'm NOT really interested. SONY has updated their webpage, click HERE. The big update including the theme, you can download three new themes from the PSN store, none of the 3 I liked, you lost the motion wave. And HERE is the instruction how you can make a completed (icon etc...) custom theme, I'm NOT in unless someone figures how to do a motion background. If you use the original theme, you can change the background color and brightness now, it's no longer have to change according to the month, but I found it's useless. Another thing is the font, you can choose from Original,Rounded, Pop, there's very subtle changes even on the hi-def set, I prefer Rounded (maybe it's because of the Chinese calligraphy I practised since very young, I always prefer rounded style Smile). On the new RSS dashboard thing, it actually is readable on my LCD monitor, but terribly on the traditional non hi-def CRT as I seen on my suitemate's set... But still the horizontal scrolling thing bothers me a lot, reminds me of those cash registers in Chinese hospitals which there's never a line, you wanna check out fast you gotta be a football player Baring teeth... I just turn it off.

     So this is pretty much my discovery...


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

AVSforum temporaliry closes new posts in HD area / PS3 fw 2.0 out


Due to recent continuing arguments between HD-DVD fans and Blu-ray fans, mods deleting posts on the avsforum, then members dissatisfied with deleting posts, avsforum has decided to temporaliry diable any new posts in the HD area.

Details HERE

Now I don't have anywhere to read the HD news, experience about the new players, and Hi-def discs...

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Another piece of news is that SONY has released PS3 firmware 2.0 tonight. My suitemate has it on his machine already. I was there checking out the new updates couple minutes ago, but only found out that this update doesn't improve upon what I need. Most important, there's NO new settings under BD/DVD settings, which might indicate there's no BD-J 1.1 compliance on this update?? (This one I need to research more, but since avsforum doesn't allow any new posts under HD area, I need to find another reliable source to confirm...) Besides that there's playlist for both music and photo now, but NO for video, wtf?? The new information board is very annoying, the pop-up news only takes a fraction of the screen, the words are just all jammed into such a small space, which causes too much eye strain even read them shortly. The added WOL (wake on line) from PSP has no influence on me since I don't have a PSP, and don't need one. The new customed XMB just changed the colors on the icon, nothing fancy, still lose the dam(n) motion wave if you use the customed picture... I don't know if they have fixed the recorded OTA mpeg error I mentioned in the DLNA network review post way back (can't wait till Friday rushing home to check this one out).

For demonstration on the fw 2.0, click HERE

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My brief history of the video and audio world Part 1


     So here is my little history of the video and audio world. Upon growing up before 9 years old (1984-1991), I was watching a 14" golden star (金星)color TV with cable feed only available inside the county/suburban area where we live (but the contents are extremely good since most of them are imported from Taiwan and Hongkong so we got to watch lots of Taiwan, Hongkong shows, even foreign shows including James Bond movies, this is NOT available anywhere in the country) and we have transformers on air here!

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     This TV is as old as I am and still working till about 7 years ago, it finally starts to break down. This is how sturdy things use to be and stuff made in China could last long (16 years of service) as well (I think people in US should NOT blame Chinese manufacturers when the products go bad since China is still on its very beginning development stage, and most, just look at Japan and Korea, how long it took them to make quality stuff. And another problem is that the Chinese manufacturers aren't the ones who design the product, the parts are all engineered in US according to the US market, so it's up to the US company to decide the price, the material they want to use, etc. If they decide to cut the costs, it's hardly to blame the Chinese manufacturers to use cheap stuff. Just stop shopping in 99 cents store and Walmart, keep the temptations of purchasing extremely low price stuff from other stores... The consumers create the markets, this is what I believeSad) So the golden star TV is now collecting dust at my grandma's place since she just like collecting everything and never throwing them away. Also I was growing up with another piece of important audio device, a mono radio/tape cassete recorder/player. I forgot which brand it is, but the sound quality is pretty good, it even got unusual sw bandwidth which you can tune in to some foreign language channels. In my photo album, I have a picture wearing headphone listening to this tape cassette player with big smiles which was taken when I was 1 year old. I used it to listen to my favorite Hundred Thousand Whys - a popular educational books/tapes explaining natures using science (十万个为什么)(see picture below) and the Calabash Brothers - a popular paper style short episode-based "cartoon" series during late 80's and early 90's (葫芦兄弟)(see the smaller picture below where has the calabash...).

ac91e668.jpg picture by linkai8424 dc2fad5b.jpg picture by linkai8424

And After 9 years old (1993) and moved to the city, we received a Panasonic 21" TV from uncle in America, a pretty good upgrade from the 14" TV, especially appreciate the convenicence of the remote control. The same year we got cable also, which significantly increases the picture quality and expands channels as far as I can recall. Then the summer, my dad borrowed a VHS player from one of his friends for just 2 months. So I started watching VHS tapes although there weren't too many and most of them are Hongkong movies. I still remember that I've watched one movie 7 times before returning the VHS player and tapes. Then time goes to my 1st grade in middle school (1996), my cousin got a PC. I went to his house and lived there for couple days. These days got to influence my later life, I watched VCDs on his PC, played C&C (the legit copy), etc. This is the first time I encountered with a PC, and you can have such an immersive interaction with this electronic device, the Nintendo game machine I played before is nowhere near this level of suffiscation. Then time flys to my 2nd year during middle school (1997), I got a used PC which I didn't quite expect, intel P133 CPU+32M ram+1.2G HD+Creative 16bit soundblaster+14" monitor (The first monitor they gave us is just a crap, it breaks down within 3 months, ironically the company we bought from its main business is for selling their branded monitors. They changed another one and thankfully it lasted till I came to US.) which considered to be a low to medium end machine at the time. The PC's video card, Trident with 2MB video ram doesn't have mpeg accelerate capability, has to rely on an extra ISA based mpeg accelerate card and route the video signal to the video card, then to the monitor, quite a complex process.

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     My mom later bought me a ¥100 ($12 USD) no name computer speaker. Both my dad and I agree that the speaker is junk, lots of hissings, especially I had hearded how good my cousin's DIBA (迪霸)555 speakers (one of the earliest computer speaker manufacturer in China). But we still kept it, I don't know why... My parents bought the PC mainly wanted me to study on it, but I never did that, the only thing I learned is how to format the hard drive and install windows 95 on it... The PC is mainly a game machine, a CD/VCD player to me... And my life had changed quite a bit after I got the PC, I no longer have to play pingpang against wall, laying out the mini plastic soldiers on the ground, playing legos and transformers, or go to friend's place to play Nintendo game... The same year the pirated VCD business was suddenly booming (yes, the transition is so sudden almost like a day we are in stone age, the next day we are in iron age or something) in China, you can buy a VCD, usually 2 disc set for like ¥15 RMB (Chinese currency), less than $2 USD. (so this is how China skipped all the analog age, aka betamax, VHS, LD, and jump into the digital age) Best thing is that you can play those VCDs on computers. But I was never satisfied with the playback of the PC (software is very limited and the damn CD drive doesn't have super error correction so lots of pauses, skips, pixelations) and the convenience on it. So in order to watch those discs, I begged my parents to buy a VCD player (equips super error correction specially designed for playing back the pirate VCDs), which is quite popular at that time since VCD is everywhere on the streets. Back the time, a VCD player is still quite expensive, ranges from ¥700 - ¥1500 (about $90 - $180). We went to a huge electronic expo and bought a VCD player, brand name is IDALL (爱多). It's one of the most competitive brands on the VCD market at the time because of its huge advertisement input. Even Jackie Chan became the embassador of this brand. (And I still remeber that our state governer - Arnold Schwarzenegger went to China and made an TV advertisement for the other brand called bbk (步步高), apparently also rumored to be the manufacturer of the popular brand - oppo, who sells well known high performance DVD player on the US market from where I read). Back to the VCD player, I'm extremely satisfied with its performance and convenience. Due to the limitations of the Panny TV, no AV video input, we can only use a coxial cable to branch out the signal to feed the TV, and I bought a very long extension cable to share the crappy computer speakers to the VCD's audio ports. And I'm happy with the image quality, sound quality, plus no more pauses, skips when playing pirate VCDs.) And most importantly the source, my dad just borrows VCDs from his friend, usually 10 disc sets or even 20 sets at a time, so I never have to worry about not having something to watch or have to go out on street to buy anything. I have very limited taste of certain genre such as sci-fi and action, the others usually I never check them out. I sometimes just lend the discs to another classmate who is a huge movie fan, you can throw him virtually every disc, and he would watch them one by one very fast, even the most crappy ones... After a while (1998), I do begin to buy bootleg CD, VCDs I liked, but very few, computer discs are the dominant ones I buy. Then fast forward to my 3rd year in middle school/1st year (2000) in high school, the VCDs slowly transform to DVCDs, a type of highly compressed VCD which they manage to fit a 90min to a single disc, so lord of the rings don't have to have 3 discs but rather 2 discs... But the image quality is very very bad, I never check them out. At the same time, with the advancement of computers and development of Internet (mainly 56K dial-up with ¥4/hr (40 cents USD)), a new type of media - the real media aka rm files became popular, a 100 episode anime series could be compressed into 7 CDs and people start to find information online. Also the CDs and computer discs are becoming so cheap which costs only ¥5 (50 cents USD) a piece that everyone can afford. Also at the mean time there was a war between the "next generation" disc format war between CVD and SVCD for a very short time. Unfortunately the brand I picked up - IDALL, chose to support the wrong side, the CVD, and went bankrupted I think, at least you no longer see their products, and their old ones are being cleared out by retailers (Later I do see their DVD product though, never really clear what happened to them). SVCD won at last but can never reach a tiny fraction of what the VCDs can achieve, consumers don't care about them so do the pirating vendors, you can hardly find a copy in SVCD format. Another good thing my friends and I found out is that you can buy the discs, copy them onto hard drive, and later return to the vendor and exchange for something else, usually we complain the discs aren't readable, they don't say anything since the competition between them is also very intense, and they have to sell underground since the government does put somewhat more efforts in controlling/stopping pirating business. About two month before we came to US, the VCD started to die, hard to read discs. This is after 3 years of medium usage, I'm kind of disappointed but can't live without it now. This is also when the DVDs start to coming out very very slowly, mainly the hardware manufacturers are trying to push the sales of the machines under ¥2000 ($230 USD) a piece, but you don't see any DVDs selling on the street, not even the legit ones, VCD is still the dominant ones... Since we are about to leave China, plus there's this DVD technology coming out, I'm very reluctant to send the VCD for repair. But finally I did, and it cost an arm and a leg to do, ¥200 ($25 USD) for changing a laser head, but it's the price tag directly from IDALL's service center (funny thing is that they still have the service center, but can't see any products on the marketEye-rolling). This summer when I got back my home, yes the one in Shanghai, the one I've been leaving for 5 years, I saw the VCD player sitting there and collecting dust, so is the Panny TV (the cable expands the channel bandwidth, this TV is no longer have enough memory to place all 63 available channels unless attaching an external box thing)...

     After coming to US (2002), I immediately got a PC. I was originally planning to purchase a branded PC, but after going around various shops, reading the advertisements (when I read them, I saw the term "rebate" on almost every single item they put on the ads, and didn't know what these are, I asked my uncles and aunts who have been here 40 years and have sufficient English, but none of them can tell me what exactly a rebate isSurprised. And now after living here for 5 years, while sitting on a manager's chair bought from Staples for $14 after rebateTongue out, I know exactly what a rebate is, and I do over $200 rebate per month on average. Over the first four years, I had a success rate of about 90% getting the rebates; after I join fatwallet and slickdeals (two online deal sites), I start to keep tracking every single rebate very carefully and have a 100% success rate so far. And now I can judge which rebates should do, which ones are risky based on the processing company and other factors. This should be another story but once I see rebate, I just got all excited...). Back on track, basically none of the branded PCs satisfy my needs. I'm upgrading from a 6-year-old P133, I want a better one! So finally I went out to Fry's (a computer warehouse sells computer parts cheap mainly located in west coast) got all the parts and assembled my first PC. (Thru purchasing, I did several rebates just trying, after 3 months, most of them did come back, and I was impressed. A little scientific method proved that the rebates are working.) The PC has Celeron 1.7G+VIA P4PB MB+60G HD+256M ram+ATI 7000 64M video+17" envision CRT+RA 2.1 speaker. I didn't pick a better CPU since the budget, but the MB is definitely the most featured one on the market at that time, the CRT looks a lot better than the 14" one, the speaker is also at least 5 times better than that crappy no name speaker. The most difficult part is the internet, since I don't know which ISP is there, I followed one of my aunt's advise, picked up a free AOL trial CD. The good thing about US ISPs are that they are unlimited, so I just leave my PC on all the time, downloading "huge" files. But I had to pay a hefty $21 per month and we were living with my not blood related grandma, who was not happy with me turning on the PC all the time. But thankfully, one of my cousins (I've got so many cousins here) live in the basement very generously offered to share her wireless signal using fast cable internet with me, which eliminates the $21 monthly payment and long time downloading time (don't have to leave the PC on during the day, and grandma's happy). This specific period is the booming of the P2P sharing technology, with BT, emule, people can finally share their large files very easily rather than relying on individual FTPs. I learned how to use BT and winmx at that time. (BT is easy but still on the early stage lack of convenient tools, the original client program has to scan the files whenever you resume your work which takes a lot of time, plus if you want to download two or more files, you'll have to open multiple instances of the client program which eats a lot of resources... Winmx is very hard to use, lots of tricks to learn, and you have to be willing to share your files, or you'll go into the lines and wait forever to start downloading... I've never bothered emule 'cuz it looks really profound...) The files I downloaded are mainly rm/rmvb files, and I enjoy watching them on my monitor. In year 2003, I upgraded the onboard sound card to a creative external soundcard, to tell you the truth, I don't hear any difference at all... But I still kept it due to the card bring the audio inputs out, it's a little convenient to plug in the headphone, the sound card costs $40 after rebate which I think is quite a good deal... Couple weeks later I got the Koss KSC-17 behind the neck headphone for free after rebate which I keep on wearing for 3 years until the ear cushions start to wear out and the cables was short inside so that no right channel sound coming out, I still keep the headphone though, guess it's a bad habit inherited from my grandma... Sound quality wise headphone is pretty good when paired with the creative sound card or I won't even use it for 3 years.

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I'll stop now, too tired to type, but I think it's a very good blog entry for summarizing what I've experienced during all these years in the video and audio world.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Playstation 3 as a media hub - how good is it? Part IV -- Media Server, capability of streaming media files from computers revealed


Finally moved in to the dorm tonight, been stucked in the traffic for 1 hour and a half which normally would only take about 30 min to my school. Plus bad bad weather also, not pouring, but a bit rain during the move-in process which was unpleasently enough... A bit rain is good for Calif though since I don't remember when was the last time there was raining this yearSad

So let's move on to my Playstation 3 review which I've been promising supposedly to post on 09/19...

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So this time is about streaming media to Playstation 3 from your DLNA enabled devices such as a computer. This is a new function added after firmware v1.80. This is a huge improvement on what the PS3 is capable of in terms of as a media hub IMO. Prior to v1.80, if you want to get your media files to play on PS3, you only have 2 (maybe 3) choices:

1. Burn a disc, then play in PS3

2. Copy files to hard drive (FAT32 only, 4GB file size limitation) or other flash media, then playback on PS3

3. Using the software, Red Kawa fileserver, to download files from your PC to PS3, but the speed is amazingly slow...

So after v1.80, you no longer have to do the above, just streaming from your computer using an DLNA enabled software, that's it. The speed of the streaming is amazingly fast on a wired connection, a recorded 1080i around 14Mbps mpeg2 file starts instantly at the time you hit your play button, and there's never a drop out. So it's really good, but people have reported slow connection on the wireless side since PS3 only has a 54Mbps card. By using this function, you also break the 4GB file size limitation on FAT32 drive, and there's NO folder/file name restrictions whatsoever. The bad side is that a PS3 is still a PS3, it only recognizes very limited files, videos have to be mpeg with mp2 (if other audio such as ac3 the mpeg has to be program stream) or mp4 AVC, no avi, mkv, ogg stuff. But you can use a DLNA enabled software called TVersity to transcode those non-compilant video formats on the fly. A very impressive software to further extends the ability of PS3. But since I don't like anything being compressed, or transcoded, the software is no big deal to me, but I'll introduce it briefly later. Another problem presently presents is the audios in HDTV gets converted to LPCM on PS3, seems like SONY likes LPCM a lot... This is not a big deal on casual viewing, but if you have some good surround mixing TV shows, you are just missing out those effects. And PS3 seems adds a lot of bass on the converted audios which results an over-exaggerated boom, very unnatural. Yet the biggest problem I found out is that PS3 can't handle certain mpeg2 stream, such as those records from CBS and the Tube (a 24 hr digital music station here). There's this guy who has the same problem, here is his blog entry about this issue, he puts out this file for diagnosing purpose. My summary ends here, I'm impressed how long I can write here... But this never happens when I write a research paper...

So let me introduce the media server function picture by picture. The following is a setup on the network. The last option media server connection is where you can enable/disable this cool function...

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Here is my connection status list, private info is eliminated hereTongue out

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Media Server Connection Option

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There are many DLNA enabled softwares you can use, I'm using windows media player and Tversity here. Windows media player is the easiest way to go since it's already in windows, but it doesn't support mp4 AVC. I would recommend TVsersity here for mp4 support, or even trancode on-the-fly for non-compilant avi, mkv, etc files.

Turning on Media Sharing function in windows media player, it'll recognize PS3 easily as Unknown Device, check allow then you are all set.

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The interface of TVersity, ustilizing flash. TVersity is very powerful at updating the media, not only sharing to PS3, but can also share to other device such as PCs. Much more powerful than windows media player. The setup of TVersity is a bit hard at first, you can check this blog entry for detailed instruction, also check out TVersity PS3 forum

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Basically, if you setup the softwares correctly, PS3 will recognizes those servers immediately, but just in case something doesn't get updated promptly, here's how you can manually search the servers...

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Loosen your seat belt, cuz searching takes a long long time...

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So first let's entering the TVersity server

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Blackhawk Down Trailer I copied from PS3 to PC, just to test the ability of supporting media on TVersity.

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Tom and Jerry tale I recorded from Saturday morning cartoon, the original capture is 1080i, here I have encoded to x.264 using Megui. The reason I chose to transcode this one is that the original source is a complicated one, most of time are fast motion chasing scenes, so I think I made a bad choice later on after I waited 24 hours for this 20 min footage to compete encoding process... The result is NOT very good, the picture gets residues from previous scenes, very weird... Side notes, I just wish that WB and UPN the two never got merged together, that way I got some more cartoon like transformers every afternoon on WB and more si-fi on UPN.

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Here's some of the parameter I set in Megui... I set the bitrate @1Mbps, and audio as AAC-LC multi-channel... This is the native resoultion 1024*768 on the screen.

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Another picture shows that the time searching function is working on the mp4 file, so except slow encoding and ghost pictures, Megui really gets the job done. I might look into it further when I got time since cartoons I don't really care too much about image quality, they are NOT HD anyways...

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Now come to the windows media server, which has more files...

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Lots of Channel 2 recordings, but ironically, PS3 can't handle any streams from this channel...

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Cold case, a crime investigation type drama I recently got interested in...

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CSI Miami, love the warm vivid pictures, and the surround sound mixing, but too much noises...

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Heroes, don't like the show, can never understand why it has such a hugh success... I am experiencing recording time on how to record two different shows on a consecutive time but not losing any content on both, such as here the heroes is from 9:00 to 10:00, then CSI Miami starts from 10:00-11:00.

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Another Saturday morning cartoon show, the batman... Got two sets of batman series lego this year...

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Cat in the hat, just recorded, but never watched it...

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Lindsay Lohan in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, mean girls is a much better piece though...

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Masters of Si-fi, a mini series, only 6 episodes, but haven't got finished yet...

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Target advertisement...

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Here are the most troulesome mpeg2 files. All the shows from CBS and the Tube aren't playing correctly on the PS3. My favorite show Jericho happens to be the worst of these mpeg2...

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This Spiderman3 theme song doesn't get any better...

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Complete Mai-K TV works fine though... I guess the goal for completing this series is where I start my downloading career...

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So no longer have to burn DVD-RWs to watch them...

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Screen mode can be used to change the size of the window, like the original window, extend to the full screen with some horizontal stretch for 16:9 non-anamorphic material. Original 352*240 windows on 1080i screen, how small it is...

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Windows media player doesn't have the ability to transcode non-compliant files, so shows a bunch Unsupported Data here, these are actually avi files I believe...

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Mai performs her Japanese debut song "Love, day after tomorrow" on 56th NHK Kohaku show in 2005. Her 3rd apperance on this show. In 2006, she did her own countdown live...

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This is a crippled 1024*576 version, too bad, still havn't got the 1080i version with AAC 5.1

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