Thank you for reading the 58th DVD Catalyst Newsletter.
A lot of things were going on this week. The E3 Expo, Computex, Xoom 3G/4G ICS update, HBO Go released on the Kindle Fire and more. After somewhat of a technology drought, it looks like things are picking up again.
Of course the biggest thing this week was E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Known for announcements and tech demo's from big-name entertainment companies like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, companies show off the things that have been working on and more. This year was no different.
The main thing everyone was wondering about is the successor of the popular Wii console, the Wii U, with a (not so) revolutionary game controller with its own screen.
While the Wii U looks promising, I'm not too sure about the second screen though. I can see use for it in RPG games like Zelda, where it can be used for a map of some sorts, or with racing games something like the rear-view mirror, but looking at the show-off trailer of Batman, where the controller, I admit impressively, is used to control gadgets and such, I did notice that the guy playing the game is continuously switching between action on the big screen and the small screen on the controller. It looks cool, but I do believe that after the "newness" wears off, it will just be a gimmick, rather than actually useful.
It seems to resemble the way the DS/3DS portables work, but for those, the distance between the screens is minimal.
I think it is great that Nintendo is pushing beyond the buttons, but with the original Wii, people are getting injuries caused by the motion controller, the 3DS causes headaches and I think with the Wii U's second-screen controller, people will be getting issues with their neck, let alone eye issues from having to focus at the big TV and then at the smaller screen.
Microsoft is working on something similar, called SmartGlass, but lets you use your phone/tablet. Rather than just being the actual game controller, it seems to function as an addition, letting you control certain aspects. Send content (video, pictures) from your tablet or phone to your XBOX (and then of course to your TV), similar as Apple Airplay, getting additional content of what you are doing (movie/tv show details for example) delivered on your tablet, enabling you to experience more in a less intrusive way, and of course control parts of the game.
Sony didn't really do much in terms of technology this year. While it already had a dual-screen system for quite a few years with the PSP and now the Vita, the system is underutilized. A racing game here and there enables support for Sony's portable, and there are a few "remote play" enabled titles, but that is about it. Instead, Sony decided to focus on eReading, and enabling some PS1 games for the Vita.
Don't get me wrong, I love some of the old classics like the original Tombraider and Final Fantasy 7, and many of them, while graphics lack a bit, are better than most of what is out there now, but really, games of 15 years old?
One thing that did prove to be very interesting for me was Dust 514, an ambitious first-person-shooter game that is set in the MMORPG Eve Online, a massive virtual space universe. Since this game is mostly a Sony exclusive I'm sure it will hit PC's soon enough though) it might be worth picking up a PS3. Supposedly a Vita version is to be released as well, so lets hope that will hold up.
I might end up picking up a PS3 anyways in order to get some better use out of my PS Vita. It seems that Sony is counting on the fact that everyone who has a Vita also has a PS3, which is annoying.
Of course along with hardware announcements, there was a fair share of games being announced as well. Forza seems to go off-track and onto the roads, Halo 4, the first Halo not developed by Bungie, Tombraider reboot, God of War, Assassins Creed and more, but the one I was hoping for and didn't see was a new Fall Out game
Aside from E3, Computex also gave us some new stuff. New tablets were of course announced. Acer has outed the successors to the Iconica A100/A500, with, along with a Tegra3 chip, a focus on batterylife, Asus with some new tablets, Viewsonic with a 22" (???) tablet, and of course, what manufacturers are hoping, the next big thing with laptops after the netbooks, the Ultra Book.
This upcoming Monday, it will be Apple day, with its yearly WWDC keynote. While of course nothing is certain, supposedly the entire line up of Mac's will get updated to the new Intel Ivy Bridge platform, announcements regarding iOS 6 and likely updated versions of Apple's key apps like iPhoto/iMovie. Who knows, maybe something about the iPhone 5/iPod Touch 5 and the iPad Mini/Nano.
DVD Catalyst News:
Unfortunately, not much to report this week. I have been working on an update, but nothing really to write about. New profiles, and a few tweaks here and there, and that pretty much covers it.
I did post up a few how to guides on the website. I had a few people ask about the Playbook, the Galaxy Note, and even got a few questions about the Galaxy S3, so I made guides for those:
How to put movies on the Samsung Galaxy Note:
How to put movies on the Blackberry Playbook:
How to put movies on the Samsung Galaxy S3:
I've also done some work on MovieGallery, but I haven't had much luck. I had a request to implement network access, so you could use MovieGallery to browse your movies that are located on a NAS (rather than having to use my MP4 Server app), but I have not been able to get that to work properly yet. Who knows, it might make it in the next update, or it might not. I am working on it though.
For the last couple of weeks I was getting an "update" notification on my Apple TV. My wife and I use it fairly often, in combination with the iPad3 and AirPlay, so I've been ignoring the message. Yesterday, I figured I'd get rid of the popup, and install the update.
I shouldn't have.
Everything we were using it for was working fine before the update, but after the update, suddently the darn thing started complaining about the HDMI cable. It just didn't want to play video files anymore.
I just switched the cable, and its back up and running again, but the old cable is one we have been using with our Bluray player as well, so why on earth did it start to complain. It's not the first time that an update on an Apple device started to cause complications. One of the biggest issues I ran into was an update of iOS, where the streaming of mp4 files from the web was disabled. Thankfully it was fixed in a newer update.
I also used it to display the pictures I had taken from my trip to visit my parents, and it was quicky. I don't use pictures that often, but I did use it before, and using the Photo app with AirPlay to display them on the Apple TV worked fine then, but now, it just seemed like it lagged behind.
When I added the pictures to the iPad3, I ended up having to resize them first due to a 2GB limit, so the size wasn't really an issue. The originals were 8megapixel, and I resized them to 2megapixel.
When flipping through them, it just appeared it lost connection or something. I flip on the iPad, and it doesn't update on the TV.
These kinds of issues are the reason why I don't always run the latest versions of apps. There are quite a few apps that complain that newer versions are available, but I ignore them. If it works fine for me, I don't see much need of running a newer version, especially with bigger-name companies, where most of the updates include obscure "security fixes", which translates to me that some things no longer work.
HBO Go on the Kindle Fire:
Last night I was playing with HBO Go on the Kindle Fire. A few weeks ago, they made it (accidentally?) work on the Acer A100 tablet, so it wasn't that big of a deal for me, but hey, it works. I don't like the battery life of the A100, and unfortunately ever since I introduced my cat to iPadGameForCats, I can't use my iPad3 for it anymore (the cat starts tapping the screen when I watch a movie) so it's great to have an alternative. I watched the season finale of Game of Thrones (which didn't seem to impress me as much as the finale of last season), and watched the first episode of Deadwood, and it worked pretty good. It did drain the battery really quick though, but that was to be expected with both video playback AND wifi streaming.
I just wish there was a way to have HBO Go output to the TV without having to use my XBOX360.
Game of Thrones Season 2 Finale:
As mentioned above, I watched it on my Kindle Fire, and I was expecting more. For me, episode 9, Blackwater, would have been a better ending of the season.
Android Ice Cream Sandwich (official) on the Motorola Xoom 3G/4G:
This week, Motorola/Verizon finally released ICS for the Xoom 3G/4G. Of course there were already custom roms out there, but I prefer to run my Android devices using stock, unrooted firmware versions to reduce the chance of compatibility issues with development. Even though the Xoom was heralded as a favorite for Google, with it being the first tablet running Honeycomb (not counting the HC custom rom that was available for the NOOKcolor a few weeks prior to launch) it has fallen behind with updates, so with ICS 4.0.4, it is finally back.
Overall, ICS seems to run pretty smooth on it, which is of course to be expected since there are so many other Tegra2 devices out there that have already gotten the ICS treatment.
Video playback on tablets:
While there are many people who are already using their tablets and smart phones for watching videos, a question I see asked quite often is one about why you would want to use a small-screen device to watch a movie.
For me, it is about being able to watch my own shows while still spending time with my wife. We both have different interests in what we watch. She is into "The Real Housewives" and similar shows, and for me, it is mostly action movies and shows like Top Gear. We do watch some shows together, but at a certain point every evening, she watches her shows on the tv, and I watch my shows on one of my tablets.
Another example for using one of your gadgets for movies is for if you are on the go.
Quite a few people spent a considerable amount of time traveling back and forth from work using public transport. Rather than sitting there staring out the window, this provides a great oppertunity to watch a movie (or 2) that falls out of the category of watching at home with the kids. Or a long flight, where the in-flight movies are ones that just don't fit your own taste, or when you are waiting at the doctor's office/waiting room for your (or your loved one's) appointment.
Of course it's a smaller physical screen, but you sit 8-10 feet away from a TV (if not more) and when you hold a tablet, it is considerably closer to your eyes, so the virtual size is actually similar.
But in order to be able to watch videos on your phone or tablet, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Being a member on a couple of Android forums, I can't help but notice the same questions coming up over and over again. On a near weekly basis, new forum threads appear regarding playback issues with video files.
First-time tablet owners are wondering why the gadget they just gotten for a small fortune doesn't play their video files, or why the quality sucks. They point fingers towards the manufacturer of the tablet, the chip maker, and of course Android in general, but the thing is, the people who created the videos that they have that are the main cause for these video playback issues.
Most Android devices have special support build-in to play high quality MP4 video files. The video needs to be formatted in H264 format, and if proper settings are used, devices such as the Xoom, Transformer (all of them), Thrive, Galaxy Tab etc are perfectly capable of playing even high quality HD video (1080p). But, in order for the files to play, they have to be optimized so that the build-in hardware decoding support of the processor can work with them.
Companies like Apple, which provide hardware AND media such as movies and TV shows want to maximize their own profit, rather than helping their competitor take a large share, so they have something implemented to prevent the videos from being used on other, non-Apple devices. The same goes for so-called digital copy movies, the ones you get for free with some DVD and Bluray purchased movies. Recnetly, movie studios started pushing for the Ultra Violet Digital Copy system, with big stores like Amazon offering you a way to put your own DVD movies into that format for a small fee, but even that has its limitations.
I have a few articles on these types of video files on my website, so I will not go into detail on those here, but link to the articles instead:
DRM on video files:
Some thoughts about Ultra Violet:
But it is not just DRM that is the problem. Many people who are experiencing complications with video playback are using video files (MKV, AVI, MP4 etc) obtained from the internet in some way shape or form. These files, often Anime, recently shown TV shows, and of course new-release movies, were converted by other people, and more often than not, encoded in order to maintain a certain quality at a fixed file-size, but with no regard as to if they will play on portable devices.
Aside from the file types (avi, mkv) not being officially supported, the settings used to create the video, if it is not compatible with the hardware decoding engine, will cause complications.
For Android, you can find a large collection of video player apps in the Play Store (Google Market) which enables your device to play videos that are not officially supported, such as MKV and AVI files. Players like Dice Player and MX Player have come a long way since the first players (Rock Player) came out, and are now even capable of playing some of the MKV files on the web using hardware support, however, more often than not, you end up with stuttering/freezing video. AVI files, which are encoded using the less demanding DIVX/XVID video formats usually play fine, but if you are playing HD MKV files with H264 format, unless the video is compatible with hardware decoding, it will have playback issues.
Some players work better with one file-type and others work better with another, and with some settings changes in the players, it is possible to get many files to work, but how annoying is it to spend minutes on fiddling with these settings in order to get a video to work, and then after you get a bit further into the movie you still run into playback issues?
This is why I convert my own movies. I created DVD Catalyst quite a few years ago because I ran into similar issues. At the time I was using an iPaq PocketPC, and it was very picky as to what kind of video files it would play (WMV only, and even then it was picky). I already had a backup-system in place for my DVDs, in DIVX AVI format, and while later-on, players like BetaPlayer/TCPMP/CorePlayer came out that enabled support for DIVX files, even then playback was finicky, so I needed something that would enable me to convert a large number of video files with ease. Back then, and even to this day, almost 9 years later, the apps that were out there only convert one file at a time. Using Some Wizard-style interface, you selected your (one) video file, clicked through the application to get the conversion started. With 500+ video files to do, that was a pain.
With DVD Catalyst, I wanted something that would just let me drag over a large collection of video files, and not have to click through 4-5 pages of an app to get the process started, and that is what it does. Over the years, the process became more and more automated, making it even easier to convert video files from one format to another.
Of course, it is annoying of having to convert your video files in order to get them to play on your devices, especially if you are forced to do it with only one file at a time, but if you can just drag a folder containing 100's of video files on to an application, and convert all of them with 1 click, and never have to fiddle with settings or different players anymore, it really isn't that much of a hassle anymore.
I know that the video files I have converted play great and in the highest possible resolution on whatever device I have, without freezing and hiccups
Here is how it works:
Start DVD Catalyst 4:
then open “My Computer” and browse to the location of where you have stored your video files. This can be an external USB drive, or a NAS, but make sure that it shows up with a drive letter in My Computer.
Then just select the ones you want, and drag them over onto DVD Catalyst 4. You can also drag over the folder, and if there happen to be files in there that are not video files, DVD Catalyst 4 will just ignore those and just add the video files only.
After you drag them over, DVD Catalyst 4 will scan the files, and then display the ones it found:
You can add as many files as you want. 1, 10, 100, 1000, it doesn’t matter. And when you have all your files in DVD Catalyst 4′s list, just tap the Go button, and all your video files, DVDs, ISO’s etc will be converted in succession without having to do anything else yourself.
So, in short:
Start DVD Catalyst, drag all your files over, wait for the scanning to complete ( a second or 2 per video) and then tap Go and walk away.
Note: DVD Catalyst 4 can only convert video files that are not protected with any form of DRM. Video files such as ISO, MKV, AVI work fine, but movies and TV shows downloaded through iTunes or Amazon Prime, or so-called “Digital Copies” you get with some DVD and Bluray combo packs or something similar use a form of DRM to prevent them from being used on non-authorized devices, and this also prevents them from being converted to a different format.
For more detailed guides on how to use DVD Catalyst with your movies, have a look here:
And that is it for this week's newsletter. Next week there is WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference), which will result in a flood of new Apple stuff being all over the web, and likely some other companies will announce a few new things as well to ride on the advertising wave.
Thank you for reading this week's newsletter, and have a great weekend,