DVD Catalyst Newsletter 141 – 01-31-14

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  1. dvdcatalyst

    dvdcatalyst Guest

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    Hi,

    Thank you for reading DVD Catalyst Newsletter 141.

    The week was fairly quiet in terms of tech news and other happenings, so I wasn't able to find anything that spiked my interest. But, if you have been reading the newsletter for a while, you might have gotten the impression that I'm a bit of an Amazon fan. Well, that has changed a bit this month. As a consumer, Amazon is still my store of choice, and their Kindle devices are still among my favorites, so nothing has changed there, but as a developer, my opinion of Amazon and their policies are no longer as positive as they were before.


    Anyway, more about that down below (thoughts section), lets start with this week's tech news.


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    Tech News:

    Amazon Console:

    Amazon?s Android console to launch this year priced below $300 | VG247

    Rumors of an Amazon games-console came up earlier this week. Supposedly Amazon will release an Android-based living-room console later this year.


    With Amazon's customer base, it might gain some ground where devices such as the Ouya are failing, but I don't believe so. As a gaming console, I doubt that the living room would be the target that these companies need to pursue.


    I believe that the days of a game system in the livingroom are numbered. The popularity of smartphones and tablets is partially thanks to the ability to do something else while watching TV. Playing a simple game of Candy Crush or Angry Birds while watching TV, or keeping yourself entertained while your spouse is watching Housewives.


    Even Sony and Microsoft realize this with their latest generation of gaming systems. The XBOX One works itself in between your TV and your cable/sat box, providing additional features as a layer on top of your usual living room experience, and Sony's Playstation 4 with its "Remote Play" capability to enable you to use the system from a portable PS Vita.


    The thing is, with a TV being the center of a livingroom, anything that is displayed on the TV is forced upon everyone in the room. My wife would kill me if I take over the TV and force her to see me chase after Templars in Assassins Creed, and I would do the same if she would force me to sit through her hours long sessions of Candy Crush Saga.


    So we compromise by keeping our games for ourselves. When I am watching my Arrow, she grabs her iPad and does her own thing. She does like the show somewhat, but she just listens to it. For me, when she watches her Housewives or Bachelor shows, I grab my nVidia Shield or PS Vita and play one of my own games.


    Android consoles that connect to the TV don't make much sense to me. They work if you can use it with the games you might already have on your phone or tablet, but unfortunately, devices like the Ouya come with their own store, so you will need to purchase the game through them again, or jump through hoops to mod/hack the system and install a different appstore on it, but if you already have a tablet or smartphone with the game, you might as well use that instead.


    Another benefit for a TV-connected system is that the larger screen lends itself great for playing together, but with Android/iOS games, since they are mainly designed for limited hardware and screens large enough for one, but too small for 2 persons, its mainly single player games.


    But for Amazon, things are a little different. Aside from its appstore, it offers a bit more, which might entice people to put an Amazon box in the livingroom. Streaming video from Amazon Prime would be the main thing, but many DVD/Bluray players, Roku and DVR's like the TiVo already support that, so it doesn't really make it a core feature. So, whats left is shopping. If the Amazon box would, like the XBOX One, sit between a TV and the cab;e/sat box, Amazon could effectively see what shows you are watching, and based on that offer you suggestions on what to buy. It could also do the X-Ray feature on TV shows and movies, and maybe even offer a link to purchase the DVD of a movie you are watching.


    Interesting, but I think Amazon learns enough about me from my purchases already, so I don't have a need for them to monitor my TV watching experience.


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    Tips:


    Why convert videos?


    Video files come in numerous different types. There is AVI, MKV, ISO, MP4, and each of these types can contain video and audio in multiple formats, such as H264, AAC, DIVX, MP3, XVID, AC3.


    Tablets and smartphones are quite limited in what type of video files they support, and chances are that if you copy a video over to your device, you will experience playback issues, or the video will not be playable at all.


    Thankfully there are video player applications such as Dice Player, MX Player, VLC, which enable support for video files that are normally not supported by using a different way of playing the videos than the build-in video playback does.


    When you play a video file that is supported by your phone or tablet, a portion of the processor, specifically there to handle video playback, is used to play the video (aka "hardware decoding"). Video files that are not supported will not work with this particular method, so the video player apps that do play these files use a different way by using the main system processor instead (aka "software Decoding").


    With older devices, you would experience stuttering/freezing issues during playback of unsupported videos, especially with HD content, but recent devices have gotten processors so powerful (quad-core) that this is no longer an issue, so the need for converting videos in order to be able to watch them on your device isn't really needed anymore.


    However, there are major benefits to video files that are optimized for your device vs the convenience of just being able to copy whatever video file over and watch it.



    * Battery-life.


    With software decoding (unsupported video files), the main device processor is being forced to do all the work. Especially with HD videos (x264 MKV for example), the processor can even be pushed to its maximum speed, which of course results in a fast battery drain.


    With hardware decoding (supported videos), only the special video playback portion of the processor is used, and the main processor doesn't have to do much work, making the battery last longer.



    * Smooth video playback.


    With recent quad-core devices, and a video player that supports the processor, this is not so much an issue anymore, but if you are using an older device, the processor might not be powerful enough to keep the video playing smoothly.

    Using software decoding, the video can stutter or even freeze, the audio can lag behind, while with supported videos, while with supported videos, these issues are non-existent.



    * Better quality .


    Again, recent quad-core processors are capable of handling enough, however, the dedicated video playback portion of the processor is a lot better with video than the main processor. On a first-generation Android tablet, the Motorola Xoom, I am able to play 20Mbps 1080p HD video without any issues using hardware decoding, but for videos that are not supported, I'm only able to go up to 3Mbps at 720p, which is quite a difference, especially if you consider that playing the 20Mbps video requires less battery-power than the lower-quality one.



    * Video Players.


    With hardware-supported videos, you can use any video player app available to play the videos. A simple file-browser app, or something fancy, they all play the videos. But, with unsupported videos, you are limited to a couple of different players that are capable of playing them. On top of that, each of these video players has their own strengths and weaknesses, so you might have to use one player for one video, and another player for a different video.



    * File-size.


    Converting your videos will also reduce the file-size. DVDs use a low-compression format, which results in a movie being around the 4-8GB in size (think 4 movies on a 32GB device). By converting these videos using a supported format, the video file size can end up considerably less, possibly enabling you to store 20+ movies on the same amount of space, without any visible quality difference !



    So, while converting movies, at least for newer tablets and smartphones, is no longer a requirement, there are some major advantages if you do.



    Of course, since this is the "DVD Catalyst Newsletter", I am recommending DVD Catalyst, but not just because I am the developer. I originally created DVD Catalyst specifically because of the above.



    10+ years ago, I already had a large collection of DIVX AVI videos. It was easier for me to play my DVDs from my computer, rather than digging up the discs. But then I got myself a PocketPC, and of course, it didn't like the videos I have.

    I was forced to convert them to a format (wmv) that it did like before I was able to watch them on my iPaq (not iPad).


    Back then, there wasn't anything out there that did what I needed it to do, so I had to use multiple programs and perform manual calculations to get the basics done.



    * Screen-size.


    The iPaq had a 400Mhz processor so it wasn't really powerful, and the screen wasn't that big either (320 x 240), so I had to make adjustments to have the video take up as much of the screen as possible. I needed to cut off parts of the side to make it fullscreen, and I had to resize the resolution so I could get a better quality result without ending up with stuttering video. To get this right, I had to spend 10 minutes with Windows Media Player and Windows Calculator to get the numbers right, and even then, it didn't always turn out the way I wanted.



    * File-size.


    At the time, I only had the build-in 32MB storage and a 128MB memorycard, so in addition to screen-size, I also had to do manual calculations with the length of the video to determine what settings I could use to make it fit on the card while keeping as much quality as possible.



    * Conversion.


    With the I numbers I got from the calculations, I was able to set-up a single conversion in Windows Media Encoder to convert the video to the correct format, which by itself was a slow program to begin with. Numbers had to be entered manually and conversion times exceeded 8 hours for a movie, and maxed out the computer to a point that running things overnight were mandatory.



    And this is where DVD Catalyst comes in. It does all this, and a lot more, automatically.



    * Screen-size.


    Where other conversion tools simply adjust the screen size to whatever is selected, DVD Catalyst will only adjust the resolution when needed.


    I use DVD Catalyst 4 for a multitude of different devices, ranging from small media players (iPod for example) to HD tablets (iPad, Kindle Fire HD etc), and with different types of content (DVD, MKV, HD video files etc), I don't want to manually adjust the screensizes, so I made it so that for low-resolution devices, DVD Catalyst will make the video fit and for higher resolution devices, it will keep the best resolution rather than simply making the video bigger.



    * Volume.


    Volume is always an issue when you are converting from different sources. The DVD audio format results, when converted, in very soft volume levels, so it always needs to be increased a bit in order to be able to hear it properly. But, not all DVDs need the same adjustment, and if you use the same volume adjustment with other video content, it can result in distortion.


    Because I use DVD Catalyst with a multitude of different video formats, I implemented something I call "Volume Maximizer". Other conversion tools simply use a fixed "Volume +5" setting (or something similar), DVD Catalyst "listens" to the video, and boosts the volume to a maximum level, without any distortion or "over-steer". As an added bonus, this results in all your videos, regardless of what source, will end up with the same volume level so when you watch your videos on your tablet/smartphone, there is no manual volume adjustment needed when you switch videos, and no risk of having your ears blown off when you switch from a low-volume level movie to a high volume level one.



    * File-size.


    While the 128MB limit that I had to deal with many years ago is no longer an issue, having smaller files is still something that benefits everyone.


    For many conversions (the HQXT versions) DVD Catalyst 4 uses something called "CRF", which automatically adjusts the conversion settings during the conversion in order to preserve the visual quality.


    If you take a random movie, there are differences in scenes. Some scenes are "fast", car chases, explosions etc, and others are "slow", romance, talking etc. Most conversion tools use a fixed setting for the conversion, which basically makes the video use the same setting for the different scenes of a movie. Fast scenes get the same amount as slow scenes.


    With a fixed setting, in order to get the fast scenes to look nice, the setting needs to be set pretty high. But, the slow scenes, which don't need as much, are also forced to use the same high setting.


    With DVD Catalyst 4, the HQXT profile variants for the devices automatically adjust to whatever is needed, and more importantly, whatever isn't needed isn't used.


    Fast scenes, which require more, get more, and slower scenes, which require less, get less, and the end result looks the same (or better) than when used using high fixed settings, but the file-size, since there is nothing wasted for the slow scenes, is considerably smaller.



    * Overnight.


    With my iPaq PocketPC, I had to set an alarm-clock in the middle of the night in order to get a few movies done for a vacation trip, but thankfully that is a thing of the past for me. Now, I can convert a 2 hour long movie at DVD quality, which used to take 8+ hours, in as little as 15 minutes, and at a smaller size with a better quality as well.


    But still dating back to those days, DVD Catalyst 4 runs everything in "batch-mode", enabling me to convert a large number of video files without any effort. A simple drag & drop of a bunch of files or a folder, and with one click, an overnight conversion is running.



    I can go on for a while on this, but to summarize, I build DVD Catalyst because nothing out there, back then and even now, 10+ years later, that does what I need it to do, and whenever I run into something that I need, I implement it.


    * Batch-mode, many conversions tools offer it, but none are as easy as DVD Catalyst.


    * Volume adjustment, sure all the conversion tools have it, but none do it automatically, except DVD Catalyst.


    * Black border removal/Full screen video, all manual, except DVD Catalyst.


    * Better video quality, and smaller file-sizes at the same time, only DVD Catalyst.



    For me, DVD Catalyst is the Swiss army knife of conversion tools, because it does what I need it to do.


    If you haven't tried it yourself, I hope the above spiked your interest, and if you do have a suggestion/recommendation as to new features you'd like to see included, let me know.

    For a free trial version and/or purchase information, visit our website here : https://www.tools4movies.com/downloads/

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    Thoughts:

    Amazon Free Malware of the Day.

    As mentioned above, my "developer perspective" towards Amazon is no longer what it used to be. I always had a bit of a hard time with Amazon and their testing policies, running into issues with MovieGallery because thei are using antique devices to make sure that the app works on them, but while I didn't like it, I could understand the reasoning. A "monitored" app-store, similar as Apple and Barnes & Noble have, ensures that apps do what they are supposed to do and it keeps the users/customers safe.


    For the last month or so, I've been assisting on a forum in keeping a "free app of the day" section up to date, so on a daily basis I look at Amazon's Free App Of The Day, and out of the 30+ apps I've seen so far, 25 of them have been loaded with malware. Not just a single advertising company, but loaded with whatever the developer could find.


    For a free app to include advertising is understandable, but these Free App of The Day apps are paid-apps that are made free for one day.


    The trend I noticed with these apps is that a few days before the apps are available for free, they are updated by the developer to include the malware. Reviews prior to the update date are normal, but then when the update hits, reviews start going down to 1-star reviews. Apps no longer function properly, weird issues, and of course malware warnings from respected reviewers that test the free apps.


    Again, for a free app to include advertising in order to produce some revenue for the developer is understandable, but for a paid-app to have malware, that is unacceptable. Imagine being a paid customer of the app, and then, already a bit of annoyance since it becomes available for free, you suddenly get bombarded with crapware after you update.


    But what is worse is that Amazon lets this happen. It doesn't show any interest in this behavior. They differ themselves from the wild wild west of Google Play by "testing" and "filtering" apps, but with their biggest attraction to get people to switch to their Appstore, they let the developers ruin the first impression.


    With Google Play, an appstore where anyone and their dog can upload whatever, you can expect that free apps have some form of crapware, but if you switch to a supposedly safe appstore such as Amazon, and your device gets infected with 7 different spyware apps with the first app you install, something isn't right.


    And it doesn't make sense to me how these developers get through the testing part of Amazon so easily. With every update of MovieGallery I release, I end up having to redo a build for Amazon because of something stupid. A button doesn't look right on a 5 year old model phone, or there is an issue of sluggishness while browsing images on a Droid 1 running Jellybean or something like that, but here we are with their Free App of The Day, where a completely clean app is updated right before the "big day" to include all the adware on the planet.


    So, the tip is, if you are looking at Amazon's Free App Of The Day, look at the reviews before you download.




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    Closings:

    I admit, this is not the greatest newsletter I wrote, but with a week without much interesting tech news, there wasn't anything for me to work with. Of course I did some development work, but with one of my competitors now going so far as copying sections of the guides from my website and replacing the "DVD Catalyst" name with its own product name, I rather not share anything publicly as to what I am working on.


    So, that is it for this weeks DVD Catalyst Newsletter.


    I hope everyone has a great weekend, and hopefully next week, there will be something more to write about.


    Sincerely,

    Mitch


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