Vista vindication!!

I'm not the only one and now after his exit from Microsoft, the head honcho himself - Mr Bill Gates - literally admits that Vista sucks. Isn't life sweet when people agree with you :) He doesn't say it out loud but then his reluctance speaks plenty about the problems faced with Vista. Read more about this here Final words towards the dreaded operating system "Vista - The wow is now" slogan should now actually read the wow is over VISTA = Very Important Software To Avoid or Viruses, Intruders, Spyware, Trojans ATTACK!!!!

My first SatTV capture - Hannah Montana in 3D

The WORLD premiere public television broadcast of Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus's 3D concert is over and my hardware worked beautifully. After 80 minutes of nausea-inducing video, I ended up with a 3.9GB .dvr file but the process of capuring didn't go as smoothly as planned.

Just 15 minutes before the start of the show, my decoder decided to go totally AWOL on me and stubbornly refused to start whilst it kept displaying "Service not available". Turns out the lighting surge protector had tripped on its own so, because I didn't have time to reset it, I just took the direct route and plugged in the incoming signal cable into the set-top box. Decoder to capture card was routed using a S-VHS connection with composite connections for audio. Rumour has it that the ASTRO signal is actually broadcast in Dolby Digital format but is decoded and sent as analogue signals by the decoder ... if only there was a way to tap this digital stream directly. Oh well, the result anyway is quite a stable picture and the default capture settings work pretty well with the CPU load never once exceeding 15%. Compression ratio was average with the resulting capture looking not too shabby and blockiness was kept to a minimum.

Here's a sample clip from the show highlighting the parts that best showcased the so-called 3D effect (anaglyph for those that are interested). 3D effect is viewable using any red/blue 3D glasses and is best seen in darker room lighting conditions. And yes, the video does actually look like its out of focus and has nothing to do with my capture skills.

video

Apologies to ASTRO, Disney Channel and Walt Disney Productions for the use of the clips above.

Are YOU ready for digital TV?

For those not in the know, Malaysian broadcasters (well ... one only, RTM) began free trial broadcasts of programmes in digital in the Klang Valley this year and plans to phase out traditional analogue broadcasts by 2015 (reference here). So today I decided to try out the included TV tuner hardware in my PC and since it is DTTV ready (DVB-T) I decided to give it a shot.

The Vista MCE interface was crap but managed to pickup three local analogue transmissions (RTM1, 8TV and Ch9). The interface was kinda clunky and cumbersome so I decided to switch to a standalone application instead. I located the original drivers and application for the HVR-1200 card from the Singapore Hauppauge webpage. Installed the latest WinTV 6 application and set the program to start scanning. 15 minutes later (could be shorter than that, I left the PC alone whilst I took a shower) and there was a list of 16 available channels which kinda left me surprised as I was only expecting three or four.

15 digital channels!
And how does it look? Pretty amazing actually ... it looks clean and block free (which is a big problem with ASTRO broadcasts) but the screenshots below have been JPEG compressed by 55% to save space, so it does not show the actually quality of the broadcast. Most of the additional channels are just showing music stuff such as the concerts on RTM but there is also an interactive electronic programming guide channel similar to the ASTRO guide option. Switching to channels also brings up a "currently showing" pop-up text bar which fades after 10 secs similar to ASTRO.

Pop up bar shows whats currently on screen
Notice the words SIARAN PERCUBAAN or trial broadcast
Drawbacks to DTTV? It really needs a strong signal in order for the broadcast to be displayed, else it looks like an ASTRO broadcast during a thunderstorm and the picture breaks up or goes blank altogether. I couldn't get a smooth data feed and either the picture or the sound kept breaking up. This was because I was only using an internal antenna sans boosting or amplification (a.k.a. rabbit ears). My signal strength was really weak with a SNR ratio averaging 17% - I need more than 25% for a smooth feed. Perhaps an external antenna would alleviate these problems, but I will leave that to another day when I finally find the time to install an external antenna. At least now I know the hardware works!!

Dell SE198WFP LCD hidden service menu access

Hidden menu option revealed
Most electronic equipment come with a built-in service menu which is used to diagnose and troubleshoot the device when problems occur. In some cases, the service menu is used to turn on/off features of the hardware in different models of the device. After countless rounds of remote button mashing I have found the service menu of the living room television set which has extra options to setup sound reception, colour systems etc ...

On my old desktop PC, the 17" CRT monitor had a pretty tricky way of getting into the service menu. It would only work when the monitor was in standby mode (which I forced by setting XP screensaver options to turn off the monitor after 1 minute of inactivity). Once in standby, I had to hold the CONTRAST increase button and then wake the monitor up by moving the mouse. This would reveal the hidden service menu which included options to refocus the screen and control the contrast and brightness boost settings.

In my current Dell 19" LCD monitor, it took about 3 minutes of fiddling and reading about other models here. Turns out, in this model, to get to the service menu you have to press and hold the [MENU] and [+] buttons down (second and fourth) and then turn on the monitor. You will know that the hidden menu is active when you display the main menu - two additional codes are displayed in yellow on the menu titlebar (as shown in screenshot above)

To get to the hidden menu, proceed to the factory reset option at the bottom and select 'Factory' at the next menu. A new window will display available hidden settings which include the colour values for the current preset modes displayed on the monitor. Still trying to figure out the other settings though.

UPDATE : Method added onto wiki page 22nd June 2008

New Factory option available
Tada! service menu located
DISCLAIMER : Any attempts of this hack is at your own risk and I do not take any responsibility. Attempts at changing hardware settings are not approved and may void your warranty if not done properly. All trademarks, tradenames and program names are property of their individual owners.

Disney Channel broadcasting lies

Recently, Disney Channel Asia has been heavily promoting the upcoming broadcast of "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds" event which is scheduled on 21st June 2008. Touting the movie to be digitally broadcast in 3D, viewers/subscribers have to obtain their "3D glasses" from participating venues and roadshows (which incidently is running at 1 Utama as I blog this).

Avoiding the holiday mall crowd, I decided to drop by the VideoEzy store just for fun to get a pair to see what the hype is all about since I was already having lunch next door. Turns out they are just the ordinary bi-coloured glasses which anyone can make themselves (or just hold up a red and blue coloured transparent cup to your eyes). Recalling that Disney USA made an announcement a while back about Disney Digital 3D, I immediately thought that something must be different to warrant an official launch of 3D broadcasts.

3D glasses from ASTRO
Googling around, my suspicions were confirmed as the ORIGINAL HM&MC concert actually uses radial polarized glasses instead of bi-coloured filters. What this means is that it requires special projection equipment to recreate these polarized fields for the real glasses to work (i.e. projecting at 144 frames onto a Z-screen filter to polarize the fields whereas Astro broadcasts only at standard PAL 25 fps). This technique was first used on the Disney computer animated movie Chicken Little 3D and allows for added depth in the field of vision and also retains the colours of the original movie.

3D glasses used in Chicken little - Pic from mouseplanet.com
Obviously this 3D setup can't be recreated on conventional TV/LCD/Plasma sets at home without causing circuits to blow up - hence the reduction to the fundamental technique of bi-coloured filters. Our advantage? We get to watch the "movie" for free - with subscription to Disney Channel of course - whereas it was a paid for event in the States as it was only shown in theatres. Its a one night presentation only though ... so maybe I should record it up and torrent the file.

Now they why would Disney Asia continue to advertise the event as being DIGITALLY broadcast in 3D?!? The lies ...

Free 100% legal downloads for iPod

Ok so they're targeted at the Apple product but anyone can actually download these and enjoy them without an iPod. There are some pretty good gems to be found out there and these are just several I've found ... and who knows how long they'll stay valid and available for download. So start the downloading!

Free iPod Starter Kit from download.com
Pretty eclectic stuff with some good ones there especially those from Wu Tang Clan, Bob Marley and Josh Rouse. Click on the stream button to listen or visit each individual page to download the track. Files are provided as mp3s and should work in any compatible player including the iPod, Zune, HUM etc.
LINK

Acappella U video podcasts
Acappella U used to deliver regular podcasts featuring performances from various acappella groups / sources in the States but due to copyright and licensing restrictions, they had to drop all their free podcasts in favour of paid subscriptions. Non-subscribers can still download condensed podcasts with short excerpts of the included performances though.

Recently they began offering full length video performances by groups in full HD quality at 1280×780 resolutions. Currently they only have two episodes (they only started HD video podcasts in April) featuring "U Penn Off the Beat" and ICCA2008. Word of warning though as the downloads are huge - weighing in at 294MB and 524MB for episodes 1 and 2 respectively - and require quite some processing power for playback. FIles are delivered in m4v format and can be played back in Quicktime, QT Alternative or VLC (recommended).
LINK

MP3s from homepages, artiste's websites and MySpace
Many artistes actually offer full downloads of their songs on their own websites and some even offer exclusive tracks that cannot be found anywhere. So getting them for free is a steal. Here are several you can hit up for legal downloads
» Doxology recently gained popularity because of a particular arrangement of a Beatles song performed by AI7 winner David Cook. You can download the demo and full versions of the original performance at their myspace page. Get them from their MySpace music player.

» Jim Brickman actually offers several songs for download if you search through his website thoroughly. If all else fails, use a Google hack to get at them!

» Andrew Seeley used to offer his music for download on his website. Some of you might be wondering who the heck is this Seeley fella - well, he's the guy that provided the singing voice for Zac Efron in original High School Musical. He also provided downloads to his numbers from the Cheetah Girls soundtrack. Not too sure whether they're still there or not (site was down during time of this posting)

» Soundtrack from The Collector TV series is still available at their website. Just go behind the scenes to get the tracks.

» Theme song from Max Payne is available from their website under the downloads section. Haunting and melancholic, this track really creeps me out and reminds me of so many moments in the game. And I can't wait for the movie (starring Mark Wahlberg as Max ... woo hoo!)

» Soundtrack to the new release of the Sam & Max Season 1 game is available from their developer blogs - all linked for your convinience at this particular post.

» Broken Sword III game soundtrack mp3s are available from the developer website.

Free audio books at Audible (offer expired)
There was this amazing offer earlier in which you could download the entire unabridged audio book version of Bram Stoker's Dracula for playback on iTunes or an iPod ... however this offer has been withdrawn and the actual download files have been removed from their download library. Weighing in at a hefty 252MB download, the audiobook actually lasts nearly 18 hours!! A real bummer, but thankfully my licenses still work. Sorry 'bout the expired offer though!

Anyways, that should be enough to start you off to your very own personal legal collection of mp3s.

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