Thank you for reading the 61st DVD Catalyst Newsletter.
In the previous weeks, Apple and Microsoft held their yearly talks, and this week, it was Google's turn. The long awaited Google Tablet was announced, and of course a new Android version, Jelly Bean. Project Glass got more details as well, but most surprising was the announcement of the Nexus Q and the lack of mentioning of the Google TV. Of course more about that a bit below.
Aside from the announcements of Google, it was fairly quiet in tech-world. Of course there was some stuff about yet another Galaxy S, the S3, and more bs lawsuits going on and all, but it is just the same stuff on a different day.
Anyway, let me kick the newsletter off with this week's Google.... eh.. Tech News:
I'll go into more details on this a bit later in the Thoughts-section of this newsletter, but of course the biggest announcement was Google's answer to the Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7.
The first device to officially run the also newly announced Jelly Bean Android version.
Surprisingly, the Google TV was left out of the mix, and instead, Google announced the Nexus Q, an orb-looking thing that seems to be a social, Google- version of the Apple TV, but, also surprisingly, at 3x the price.
I pre-ordered both for work-purposes (to make sure DVD Catalyst will work with them as good as possible), but I'm not sure what purpose the Nexus Q is going to have, and if it would actually take off at that price point.
Both are supposedly being available mid next month, so I guess we'll find out then.
DVD Catalyst News:
While I am still working on DVD Catalyst 4, I have started evaluating different multi-platform development solutions in the hopes of being able to release, aside from the Windows-version, a native Mac and a native Linux version of DVD Catalyst. Don't hold your breath for seeing a release anytime soon though. The development environment I am currently using, and have been using since 2003, doesn't port over to Mac and Linux at all, so aside from having to deal with operating system differences, I also have to translate most of the code into a new programming language.
When I started doing some development for Android last year with MovieGallery, I did learn my way around a more useful development tool, and familiarized myself with Java, the language used for Android apps, with the added intention of being able to use my experience for porting over DVD Catalyst, but of course, programming for portable devices is a bit different than making apps for "desktop" systems.
So while I am working on the next major version of DVD Catalyst, I will also be working on DVD Catalyst 4 updates as well.
For the people unfamiliar with application development, the above translates in that it will be at least a year before DVD Catalyst 5 will be available.
I've been too busy with porting over small portions of code into other development languages for testing multi-platform code that I haven't had much time to write articles for the website, so just one DVD article this week:
Wrath of the Titans DVD
Which worked fine.
Google Nexus 7 Tablet:
A lot of people have been waiting for this one. for months there were rumors on the web regarding a partnership between Google and Asus working on a tablet, and finally this week, the cat was let out of the bag, the Nexus 7.
The Nexus 7 is designed to be in direct competition of Amazon's Kindle Fire. Cheap yet powerful, large, but portable, and of course, since it can only be purchased through Google, and comes with $25 Google Play credit, a primary focus on using it for getting content from Google.
But, even with the, also announced, added magazine content, purchase ability for movies and TV shows, I don't see the Nexus 7 being much of a thread against the Kindle Fire. One of the Kindle Fire's biggest advantages is Amazon's Prime system. While not free, aside from free 2-day shipping for Amazon.com physical goods purchases, it offers additional value in the form of free TV and movie videos. This way, Amazon "lures" you into the entertainment experience, and from there it is only a small step (tap) away from getting your money for non-free content. Just making the content available for purchase/rent alone is not enough in my opinion. Of course the same way with the Amazon Appstore, which took the Android world by storm, and continues to do so, with its "Free App Of The Day" strategy. While not all these apps are great, every now and then, there are some real gems in there, so it makes people check in on a very regular basis to see what is for free now.
Don't get me wrong, I do like the Nexus 7 as a tablet. I have the 16GB version on pre-order myself, and am looking forward to being able to use it. A lot of things on it are really well thought-out, more powerful processor, higher resolution screen, and of course combined with Google's own apps, it will offer a lot more functionality for its price than the Kindle Fire and similar tablets, but, Google's strategy with the Nexus 7 might need some adjustment in order to be a true competitor to the Kindle Fire.
One thing that does worry me is part of the history with previous Nexus devices. The Xoom 3G was supposed to be a so-called Nexus device, and the Galaxy NEXUS, when it first came out, the Verizon one, was also heralded as a Nexus device, but, unfortunately, both have been on the backend of receiving updates, rather than providing a true Nexus experience. With Jellybean being made available for the Motorola Xoom next month, they likely mean, just like with Ice Cream Sandwich, that the Xoom WiFi gets it first, and the original first-release Xoom will get it 7 months after that. Similar with the Verizon Galaxy Nexus, it will also get it about 2 months before Android K(ey Lime Pie?) will be released next year, so as early adopters, can we expect to get the same "Nexus" experience with the Nexus 7 as well?
So as a tablet, I'm sure the Nexus 7 will be a big hit. Quad-core, under $200 (8GB version), 720p+ screen, very nice.
If you ordered one, or are planning to order one, you might be pleased that it will play the MP4 files created using any of the Android profiles in DVD Catalyst 4 out of the box. If you want to optimize your own conversions for it in preparation of delivery, I'd suggest to use one of the popular 10" Android tablet profiles, such as the Xoom, Transformer or Thrive ones. Video-wise, the specifications are the same.
But, what about the Nexus Q?
Another "living room" device from Google. Only recently Google TV 2.0 devices started to become available, but no mention of any of that, but a new device that appears to be very similar in functionality.
I am sure there are people who have a use for it, but with its main focus of "social sharing" I see it more as a party-device, rather than something that deserves a permanent position in an entertainment setup. Maybe something cool to use in a bar-setup, enabling people with Android phones to request/play songs, or when you have friends/family over, but in its current state, I don't see much use beyond that. Confusing move from Google, especially considering the high ($300) pricing they are currently using for it. I hope it will be a bit more than a glorified jukebox though.
Anger Management TV show:
Two and a Half Men has been one of my favorite shows for quite some time, but of course after the Sheen incident, it just hasn't drawn any of my interest. I've seen a few episodes here and there when the wife was watching them, but it just seems tamed down, and the jokes are, well, more of the same but weaker.
Last night, I watched Charlie's new Anger Management show. Charlie plays a role not much different than what he did before. The first episode was a bit blah, but the main idea felt fresh. The second episode was quite a bit better, and it looks like it will only get better the more Charlie gets used to his character. In his own words, Funnier than the current version of Two and a Half Men.
For the last couple of weeks, I've been watching Deadwood on HBO Go in the evenings. Usually about 1 or 2 episodes a night, and I am nearing the end of the last season. For the people who don't know, Deadwood is a TV series about a town (camp) in the old West.
Its storm-season here, and our electricity company sucks. For some reason, whenever there is a small fart in the sky, they pull the plug, leaving the town without power for some time. Aside from that, our main breakers have also been acting up for quite some time, and every year we need to get them replaced.
Because of the electrical issues, most of the important stuff we have is plugged into battery backup units, but even those don't seem to hold up for the time we go without power.
So last week I ordered 2 bigger ones, mainly to cover internet (and my cell-phone, since I require a wireless booster that runs over my internet to have reception) and the DVRs), and we got things setup for getting our main breaker system replaced to get it done this week.
So on Wednesday, I felt like I was in Deadwood myself.
The people showed up at (ugh) 730am, and at 8am, they pulled the plug.
All the battery backups started beeping in unison, and I noticed I was a little confused when I plugged in the power cords in the new units, but after that, it held up for a while. Unfortunately, after a few hours, more and more started to fail, and before noon, I was really back in the 1800s. I did have a few gadgets charged, but it just feels "off" for me to watch movies mid-day, when I am supposed to be working, so in the end, I used my Kindle (not the Fire) to read some of a book, Halo Forerunners, that I've been reading on and off for some time now.
Walking through the place without electricity, naturally flipping light switches, a brief moment of confusion and then realizing why nothing happened, no humming of the fridge, no computer fans blasting from my office because I was not torturing my systems with test conversions, it just felt surreal.
Then, in the evening watching yet another episode of Deadwood, and actually noticing that i the 100+ or so years difference, our lives have changed so much. Seeing them put poles up for a telegraph system, and here we are in a time where people "telegraph" whomever and whenever using a small, match-box with some buttons on it.
But, can all these advances actually be considered an improvement?
I grew up with technology. My parents, while not well-off, made sure that we were fairly up with the time, and we had a computer to use for school work and such when I grew up. It wasn't the best of the best available at the time, but it did do its job. I remember my brother and I had a time-limit of using it, to make sure we go outside and play some ball with friends and family, but now, and this is highlighted in a Toyota commercial (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpeoRIvnxfk ) in a great way, friends only seem to count as a number on a facebook page. Playing games with friends means turning on the XBOX after school, and logging into XBOX Live. Who knows, maybe in another 5 years, Microsoft starts XBOX Edu, and enable people use Kinect and Xbox Live to attend classes. People kill each other in real life over virtual stuff they gotten in a video game, so maybe we are getting so disconnected from the "real world" that we really are heading the way of "Demolition Man" (http://www.joblo.com/video/player.php?video=DEMOLITION-MAN-Sex-Scene ), where everything is done to avoid physical contact?
Of course, things now are a lot safer than the timeframe of the Deadwood TV show, but maybe we are going a bit too far with our dependency on electricity.
For me, technology is entwined into my lifestyle so much, it would very confusing to not have any of all that anymore.
I frequent quite a few forums on a daily basis, trying to answer, mostly video related, questions for people who are experiencing complications. I try and assist with questions that I can answer, even if it concerns questions regarding competitor products.
Of course, some questions come up more than others:
Free Apps / Free Games:
Especially on the official NOOK boards, there are a lot of complaints about the lack of free apps and games.
The thing is, free apps and games are usually not fully free. Popular games like Angry Birds are filled with advertising, and that is what generates income for the developers. Both Google and Apple have their own advertising system in place, so the developers who use the in-app advertising generate income for both themselves and Google/Apple, but unfortunately, B&N does not have such a system, so a free app will not generate any income at all, making it of course less appealing for a developer to release a free app or free game.
Amazon uses a different approach. With their "Free App of the Day" system, they basically lure you into their app store on a daily basis to see what is free today, and as a result, a fair amount of people see something else they like and eventually end up purchasing something in the process.
Also an often recurring question on forums is video file-sizes. There are 100's of different conversion tools out there, all with their own advantages and disadvantages. Some use special "technologies" like CUDA, others use low-quality video formats and settings to speed up conversions, some use overkill quality settings resulting in very slow conversions and super-large file-sizes.
So what is "normal" for converting movies while keeping quality?
*Format: For most devices, including Android, iOS, but also the PSP, Vita etc, H264 video and AAC audio MP4 video. H264 offers the best compression (high quality smaller files) Some conversion tools use the lower-quality MPEG4 SP format, which converts a lot faster, but the compression is not as good, resulting in large video files or low quality video.
*Size: If you are converting a DVD, you should count on about 600MB-750MB per hour to end up with a video file that is similar in quality as the original DVD, if you use H264 as the video format.
For a Bluray/HD video conversion to 720p, count on about 1000MB-1400MB per hour of video, and for a 1080p video conversion about 2000-2500MB per hour of video.
*Speed: On a recent Dual-Core system, a DVD conversion should at least run at about 2x real-time (1 hour for a 2 hour movie) for a conversion to H264 MP4 format, on a quad-core system, this can go as fast as 8x real-time, or 15 minutes or so for a 2 hour movie. For Bluray conversions, the speed goes down, depending on what size you are converting to.
Features like CUDA can speed up the conversion process a bit, but not as much as what is advertised. Systems that benefit from CUDA conversions are typically high-end systems. Aside from a powerful video card, these systems also include a fast multi-core processor, which of course assists with the conversion as well. In addition to the rest of the system affecting conversion speed, in order to benefit from CUDA acceleration itself, the video needs to be CUDA compatible, which results in quality and file-size differences.
One of the reasons why DVD Catalyst 4 does not use CUDA is because of these inconsistencies. I often get questions about CUDA acceleration, but in my own tests, it resulted in a trade-off in quality. Either the files get larger, or the visual quality is less.
One of the things that does make a considerable difference in quality and file-size is a feature called CRF. Recently introduced, CRF has quickly become one of the most-used features in DVD Catalyst 4. The idea is simple, CRF adjusts the video compression settings based on the actual video. During the conversion process, the video is analyzed for activity, and based on that, the quality is automatically adjusted. This process results in video files that just contain what is actually needed, rather than too much or too little, and the visual quality of the video is the same throughout the movie. No blockyness or other artifacts during faster scenes, no wasted data during slower scenes, and in the end, the resulting video files look better and are of a smaller file-size than what you would get with any other conversion technique. For most movies, it cuts the file-size down by about 35%, while maintaining the same visual quality. A movie like Iron Man 1 converts using normal settings to about 1.5GB in size. Using CRF at its default, this goes down to about 800MB. Same movie, same visual quality, but a lot smaller.
More information about CRF:
More tips on file-sizes:
And that is it for this week's DVD Catalyst newsletter. This weekend some work on MovieGallery, and I think the wife has something planned regarding cleaning out the shed.
Anyway, thank you for reading this week's newsletter, and have a great weekend,