Thank you for reading DVD Catalyst Newsletter 123.
A bit earlier than usual for a change. This week I'll be visiting my parents overseas, and while I will have access to internet and email, I don't have full access to my work-system, so doing the newsletter is a bit tricky.
More about the trip a bit further down, lets start with this weeks tech-news first:
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX:
Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon revealed the new Kindle Fire line up earlier this week:
The new Kindle Fire HDX strays a little from the previous generation in having an angled edge on the back, but under the hood, a fast snapdragon processor and a full-HD screen found its way into the parts list. Quite impressive, and, just like the previous models, is sure to give other tablets a run for their money. Especially coupled with an Amazon Prime account, the Kindle Fire models are basically a no-brainer.
One new feature that Jeff is really excited about is "Mayday".
For many companies, customer service has always been an afterthought. It is needed, but they find the actual sale way more important than keeping your existing customers happy. Mayday is a feature that gives Kindle Fire HDX users direct access to a support representative though means of a video conferencing system.
With so much competition, I believe that support is where current companies can stand out from the rest. Personal responses, tailored to the actual questions from the customer and of course a quick response time, and it is great to see that a company like Amazon is going even further with their support. This is what "Customer Care" stands for in my opinion.
The new Fire HDX models are up for pre-order on Amazon.com already:
and will ship on October 18th.
Surface Pro2 and Surface RT2:
Earlier this week (monday) Microsoft announced its new Surface models.
Aside from a new music-oriented type keyboard and a battery-keyboard, Microsoft opted to improve on the existing design. Of course a processor refresh, with a new Intel chip for the Surface Pro2 and the Tegra 4 for the Surface 2 (Surface RT2), but also some small tweaks done to the overall design.
For me, I have no reason to upgrade mine to the newer models, because both the Surface RT and the Surface Pro are perfectly usable for me the way they are, but I am glad to see that Microsoft is continuing with the Surface idea despite the lackluster sales it has had since inception.
New iPhone Sales exceed 9 million in first weekend:
Quite an impressive feat for Apple to sell over 9 million iPhones in the first weekend. Especially if you take into account that many people are still tied to a 2 year contract for another year, and that the upgrade from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 5S isn't that substantial in my opinion.
In fact, as mentioned in a few previous newsletters, I am looking for an upgrade/replacement for my Galaxy Nexus, and maybe instead of looking at the iPhone 5S, I'll be looking for an iPhone 5 instead. With so many people going for the newest ones, I should be able to pick up last years model for next to nothing
Valve Steam OS:
The company behind one of the most popular app/game distribution networks for PC's announced a new operating system for living room devices this week:
With Steam OS, Valve hopes to put a "Steam-powered" console in the living room. Basically a special linux-based operating system with full integration of the Steam Store and its additional functionality. Valve has been working around the clock with Steam, taking on the game consoles head on with great deals on games and ease of access (and purchase) to them. Last year, it introduced a "Big Screen" mode, making it easier for people to hook up their PC's to a TV and access their game library with a game controller, and of course a deal with nVidia in regards of game-streaming with the nVidia Shield was made earlier this year as well.
Blackberry bought out:
It was only a few years ago that Blackberry was a successful company. Everywhere you looked, people were using Blackberry devices, but due to delays with new devices and a new operating system, things have been going downhill. Part of the reason for this decline, well, more like clif, was Blackberry's gamble with the Playbook. While I believe the Playbook was (and still is) one of the best tablets I have (and I have a few), it never gained much ground. Pricing from the start was wrong (I paid the full $500 for my 16GB model on release day), and as a result, both consumers and developers ignored it and went for more "established" devices such as the Apple iPad and the various Android tablets. It didn't help that the promised Android-app support didn't show up for the Playbook a year after its actual release.
Even with the help of numerous incentives, free Playbook if you submit an app, multiple price reductions and even income promises for developers the Playbook fell behind.
Now, after a recent lay-off spree, Blackberry has been bought out by one of its investors, in the hopes of rebuilding:
I was considering the Z10 as a possible replacement for my Galaxy Nexus. The Z10 runs an operating system that is basically a continuation of that what runs on the Playbook, but with this buy-out (and the lay-offs) I am worried about how or if Blackberry will continue to support the phone.
DVD Catalyst 4 v22.214.171.124:
Over the weekend I updated DVD Catalyst 4 to v126.96.36.199.
Despite the version number suggests, (188.8.131.52 > 184.108.40.206), for the actual user it is a small update.
In particular a rare but nasty bug a few people were experiencing when converting multiple items needed to be fixed asap. Throughout the entire week last week, I worked with Jon to try and resolve the issue. It wasn't something I was able to replicate myself, and even after a number of attempts based on guesses didn't fix the issue for him. But, after a few days of setting it aside, I did some comparisons between code revisions from a version that did not have the issue and the current version, and I was able to resolve it.
The reason for the version numbering is due to a major change under the hood. Id the release notes located here (link), I go into a bit more details on how and what, but due to a false positive from one lesser-known antivirus application, I was forced to make a change.
For every DVD Catalyst release, I always scan all the files with nearly 50 different virus scanners using www.virustotal.com, and this one antivirus application found a match of a few 1's and 0's in one of DVD Catalyst's DLL files, and that combined with the file-size of the DLL resulted in the DLL being flagged. After hours of rebuilding the DLL without any change in "detection", I decided to split the DLL into 2 parts, and then everything was clean.
Thankfully the antivirus application in question is not one of the big ones, but it does show what kind of power these companies hold over application developers as well as the users of their software.
DVD Catalyst v220.127.116.11 Retail cracked/regged/torrent :
The pirates were pretty quick with distributing the update this time. I released the update on Sunday evening, and when I woke up Monday morning, someone already uploaded a "cracked" version to a couple of 100 different locations on the web. I've seen (and cursed, obviously) the "Retail TE" versions for quite some time, but the current pirated 18.104.22.168 version of DVD Catalyst has been uploaded to websites where people have to fill out some "special offer" before they can download their pirated version for free. These offers consist of collecting personal information in order to sign you up for a free credit report or send you a "free" 3 month trial of some magazine and the sad thing is, the pay-out that the uploader get for distributing software this way, software that I spent countless hours of development time on, is more than the actual retail price.
On top of that, most of these special offers, after you spent 10 minutes going through the survey/signup, require a payment of a shipping fee or processing and handling fee, so free is not free at all.
Smartphone Comparison Articles:
Last week I started with a multi-part article series on smartphones. My Galaxy Nexus is up for renewal, and one of my main reasons for upgrading is the bad reception I'm getting with it. Because of the trip, I haven't had much time to look into the specifications aspect of the different smartphones just yet. The iPhone 5S is just released, the Galaxy Note 3 is not available yet, and nothing concrete is known on the Nexus 5, and I am taking all 3 into consideration, so until there is more known about those. While specifications do play a small part in the decision for me, my main concern is real world usage. The Galaxy Nexus was heralded as the next big thing with unmatched specs at the time, and while it was better in many ways, in the end I had the impression that my Droid X was much better as a phone. I don't want to make the same mistake twice.
I did ran into a few new reviews for some of the smartphones I am considering:
Tips & Tricks:
Play unsupported videos on Android/Apple devices:
One of the most asked questions on the web is in regards of playing video files on smartphones and tablets. Of course both Apple and Google offer movies and TV shows in their online stores, but if you already have the movie purchasing it again is a waste of money.
It also doesn't help that if you have both Apple and Android devices, the videos purchased from one store will not work on devices that use the other store, so to watch the same movie on both, you will need to purchase the movie from both stores.
If you purchase your movies on DVD or Bluray, you can use DVD ripping tools such as DVDfab, AnyDVD and MakeMKV to rip the movie from disc to a file on your computer, but unfortunately the build-in video player on both Apple and Android devices only supports a limited amount of video file types, so chances are that the movie files you get from ripping your discs to your computer will not show up on your device when you transfer them over. With Apple devices, these unsupported files might not even transfer over at all.
With conversion/transcoding tools such as Handbrake and DVD Catalyst 4, it is possible to convert these unsupported video files to video files that will work on/transfer to the devices you use, enabling you to use the build-in video player of your device, but if you prefer to play the video files you already have, you can find apps in the app store that do provide support for these normally unsupported video formats.
For Android, player apps such as Dice Player (link), MX player (link) and for Apple, GoodPlayer (link) and PowerPlayer (link) provide support for popular video formats such as AVI, MOV, MKV and more, enabling you to play almost any video file type on your device.
Many video files will work just fine with these apps, but there is a reason why the build-in video player only works with certain file-types. Hardware Acceleration.
Both Apple and Android devices (as well as Blackberry and Windows Phone ones) have a build-in "decoder" chip for video playback. This chip is designed to optimize video playback for the videos you can purchase from the online video store for your device, and because its only purpose is video playback, it is capable of handling very high quality video without causing much battery drain.
While there are some video formats in unsupported video files that can be handled by the video chip, certain settings that can be used when the video is being created are incompatible with the chip. For these video files, as well as the video files that are not supported at all, the video players that play them use something called "software decoding". Because the actual video chip doesn't work with them, these players make use of the main processor of the device to play the video.
With the use of the processor, just about any video file type can be played, but of course processor speed and the video format and resolution itself comes into play.
Certain video formats such as H264/VC-1 (often found in MKV files) are more demanding that MPEG2 (DVD/VOB files) and DIVX (AVI files). If you are using an older or lower-end device, you should be able to play avi files without much problems, but if you try an MKV file, you will likely run into some playback issues.
With newer high-end devices, AVI's will definately play fine, and you should even be able to play 720p MKV files without an issue, but you might run into issues with 1080p MKV's. The video format itself is quite demanding already, and with a high resolution, the processor has to work a lot harder in order to be able to display the video.
Things you might run into when you are trying to play unsupported video files:
* Stuttering video. If the video is too large or too demanding for the processor to handle, it will not be able to keep up with the movie, and thus stutter or even freeze.
* Audio sync issues. a video file consists of a video portion and an audio portion. The processor has to keep up with both in order to provide the full playback experience. Some players are able to split the video file into hardware decoding the video and software decoding the audio. Because both sections of the movie are handled differently, it is possible that there is a slight difference in timing between the two, resulting in audio sync issues.
* Fast battery drain. Because the videos are decoded in software mode, making full use of the main processor, rather than the specialized video chip, battery will drain faster (your tablet might get a bit hot after a little while too). With less demanding videos such as DIVX AVI files, it shouldn't put that much of a strain on the device, but with HD MKV's, the higher the quality, the faster the battery will drain.
So for unsupported video formats, the main processor of the smartphone/tablet is what makes the biggest difference in being able to play a video or being able to enjoy watching a video. The faster the processor (and if the player makes good use of the processor), the higher the quality of video files you can watch on it. On a current generation high end device (nVidia Tegra 4, Apple A6/A7 and Qualcomm Snapdragon 800) based device, you should be able to play full HD video without much issues, but with a previous generation or lower-end device, 1080p will likely be impossible to enjoy, and even 720p resolution videos might have playback issues.
If your videos are compatible with the hardware decoding, even older devices such as the first-generation iPad and the iPhone 4 can play 720p video and Tegra2-based tablets such as the Acer A500, Asus Transformer Tf101 and the Motorola Xoom are capable of playing full 1080p videos without any complications.
Depending on the device you have, video conversion/transcoding might not be needed. With the help of one of the video players available in Google Play/iTunes etc, you should be able to play unsupported video files. Each of the video player apps have their own advantages and disadvantages, so if one doesn't work, you can always try a different one. But, if you run into device limitations causing freezing/stutter etc, or need to be able to use your device for a bit longer (a trip) without being able to use a charger, it might be a wise choice to spend the time on optimizing your videos.
With most conversion tools, this can be a bit tedious, but if you use DVD Catalyst 4, a simple drag & drop of your video collection onto the application and 1 click will result in all your videos being converted with the proper settings for hardware decoding. To see how easy it is, have a look at this youtube video (link).
This coming week, I'll overseas visiting my parents. Of course I talk to them on a regular basis (Google Voice), but the last time I was there was a year and a half ago. On one side I am looking forward to seeing them again, but on the other hand, my dad's Parkinson has been getting worse and worse, so I don't know what to expect.
One thing I am not excited about is the actual flight. The last few times I went overseas, the flight was always a pain in the behind. No cavity searches, thankfully, but 20+ passport checks, 10+ bag checks, and a feeling of being a cow, herded rudely to the slaughter house.
Learned from past experiences, I only carry a single carry-on bag. Every time I traveled with suitcases, they ended up on the other side of the world, so now, I just settle on bringing less stuff with me. Makes it quicker with the bag-checks as well.
I never know what I want to watch or do when I am on a flight, so I like to cover my basis, and load up a couple of memorycards with movies and TV shows. While some of the devices I have do have a pretty good battery life (the Xoom for example) I had it once that my entertainment device ran out of battery after 10 minutes into the flight (an iPod Touch that didn't charge correctly), so I ordered a battery pack that runs on AA batteries (link) to make sure I'd always have power. Unfortunately, from all the devices I had access to for last year's trip, there was only one, a Galaxy Player, that had a MicroSD slot AND didn't use a proprietary charger. I would have loved to bring something a bit bigger, but without the ability to charge in-flight and the requirement of a power-adapter in order to be able to charge it overseas, I had no choice but to stick with the smaller Galaxy Player.
It sucked. Aside from the low resolution (800x480), the device itself was slow and unreliable. Putting it in sleep mode and then waking it up resulted in a spontaneous shutdown, and trying to do anything other than watching videos on it was virtually impossible.
This year, its different. Now I'll be taking the nVidia Shield with me instead. USB charging, MicroSD and a higher resolution and plenty of power to run everything I can throw at it. Perfect. Even the design is perfect for flight too. With a tablet or a media player such as the Galaxy player, you have to find some way of propping the thing up on the foldout table, the Shield's fold-up screen makes it considerably easier. just set it down, adjust the screen angle a bit, and thats it.
Aside from the different movies I am bringing along, I picked up both GTA 3 and GTA 4 from Google Play as well, so I should have enough to do to keep myself entertained during the flight.
I was planning on bringing my Vaio P netbook along in order to be able to do some work if needed, but after my attempt to set it up for work purposes, the only functionality I would be able to get out of it (its dirt slow) would be email. Bringing the Surface Pro would have been perfect (its already setup), but the difference in power-connector would result in a $50-$80 expense that I would use maybe once or twice.
Since my parents do have a computer sitting there, I'll just be using that for answering support emails.
Rant: Dish Network:
I canceled my Dish Network last week.
I got it last year because my wife was missing her shows due to issues with cable, and with the new Hopper DVR from Dish, I was hoping to keep her happy. For years, she has been using TiVo, and while not that much different, she never did care for the way the Hopper works, so she continued to use cable. Once in a while, she switched over to the Hopper to watch a show she missed, thanks to Primetime Anytime, and we used the Sling Adapter to be able to watch some shows during the camping trips this year, but aside from that, it didn't get that much use.
A few months ago, I replaced my Wifi router, and Primetime Anytime stopped working. The Hopper was plugged in directly into the router (wired) so nothing changed there, and it also had full online access (on demand worked fine). PrimeTime Anytime was the main reason why we still held on to Dish, since it is a great way to learn about new shows, but for it to stop after a router change made no sense at all. I spent some time troubleshooting. Turned Primetime off and on a few times, reset the Hopper, removed all recordings, left it off for an hour, all in mixed combinations, but without any luck. I have to admit, I never did call technical support, but in all reality, it had no reason whatsoever to stop by simply changing the router to begin with.
Anyway, I canceled last week, and since that day, I've been getting mafia calls from Dish. I knew (and was told when I canceled) that I had to return the equipment, and that they were sending boxes with shipping labels (of course at my own cost of $17/label to send it back). Since then, I've been getting calls once a day from Dish clearly stating (in a threatening way) that if I don't return the equipment that they will change my card for the full equipment cost. The thing is, after 4 of those calls, I still don't have any boxes to send it back in.
I was hoping to be able to send everything back myself, but now it looks like my wife will have to deal with it instead. Everything is already disconnected and laying on a shelf waiting for the boxes to appear, but no boxes, just calls.
UK Minecraft Map:
Just something fun I ran into. Someone used geo data to generate a map of the United Kingdom for the popular Minecraft game. Considering its size, I doubt that any mobile device will be able to run it, but if you are using a desktop version of Minecraft, you can find the details for it here:
I'm not sure if I'll be able to do a newsletter next week. If I do, it will likely be a bit later (in the weekend). Normally I spent a few hours here and there throughout the week on the newsletter, but I'm sure most of my time spent this coming week will not be behind a computer screen.
Anyway, thanks for reading the newsletter, and have a great weekend,