Thursday, May 26, 2005

DRM, DCMA, XVid, Bittorrent - the present and the Future

Okay, I'm reading this very good thought piece about Microsoft's potential domination of the DRM media space. I agree with this article's conclusions. I had a brainstorm about how one media scenario could play out. I agree that Microsoft's DRM is spreading widely. I also believe that XVid (the opensource variant of DivX) combined with Bittorrent is currently the most compelling content distribution vehicle. TV content is flowing at a terrific pace around the world. The TV execs are supposedly pulling their hair out over this situation.

Hey content creators, here's a free idea that could reap big rewards. Instead of fighting the inevitable and shutting down bittorrent sites - embrace and extend (an old Microsoft saying). Here's the idea. After each TV show is aired, TV networks should self publish XVid copies of the show with an ad embedded in each of the shows that one has to "collect". Each subsequent episode would add another clue to the collection. One has to download all the episodes to get all the clues. Once all the clues are collected, the downloader would be able to use the clue collection to obtain a discount on the subsequent official DVD version of the show. Imagine the marketing opportunities! Because of the viral marketing, they could sign on and prove to advertisers how many people they are reaching even more accurately than using the current buggy Nielsen rating system. I have some experience here as I once worked on TV ratings at Arbitron many years ago.

Seems like a plan to me?

Monday, May 16, 2005

How to fax in the Internet age

I haven't sent a fax in years. However, due to some business I'm conducting, I have had a need to send some faxes. Problem is I don't have a way to fax. WinXP has a built in fax applet and my laptop does have a fax modem. The only problem is that I only have basic phone service on my landline so I can't dial long distance. Too bad I don't have a data hookup on my cell phone. So what to do?

I search around the net and finally stumble on to They offer a free service that allows for 30 free incoming faxes a month and free outgoing faxes for the first month. Afterwards it's five cents per page for outgoing faxes. Very reasonable for someone like me that only rarely needs an occasional fax machine. Many other services charge a monthly fee. As is typical, you download a fax printer driver which lets you fax from any application as easily as printing. In less than fifteen minutes I had the driver installed and my docs to fax scanned in. Faxes were successfully sent on the first try and I got a nice email message confirming this.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Verizon Fios Rocks!

Day 2 of Verizon Fios. Downloaded an 8 gb torrent overnite. Here's a pic of my install. Really nice to have the equipment all in place on one inside wall of my garage. Future upgrades will be a snap.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Verizon Fios Fiber Install Today

I'm up and running on Verizon Fios Fiber service today. 15 mb/s of speed wonderfulness. The install was flawless. My pre-install work really paid off. My Dell wireless router was up to the new speed so I did not need to use the supplied D-Link router. Woohoo! Life is grand. I'm now rerouting my vestigial Comcast email settings and will soon be able to let them loose. I'll keep Comcast live for a few days to make sure everything is stable.

Supposedly, Verizon will start their video service in September 2005. I'm starting to think I will buy an HDTV this year. Looking at the new Samsung DLPs with the new HD4 Texas Instrument chip. This stuff is fantastic!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Palm Tungsten E is a Multimedia Player

I've been gettting good use out of my Palm Tungsten E as an audio player. I had given up trying to use it for playing video. The bundled Kimona app produced very mediocre results. I assumed that the processor was just too slow for decent video playback.

I was wrong.

Listening to the 1SRC podcast, I learned of an opensource media player called TCPMP. It is still in beta but has apparently been available on the PPC platform. I downloaded the beta and some movie trailers. I was stunned by the playback quality. It was very watchable. I found that that the Tungsten E did best with converted MPEG1 files running frame rates in the 12 frame per second range and 250k bit rate. The DivX/XVid/MPEG4 files required a little too much horsepower. So, armed with this new information, I embarked on how to make my own video files that would play well.

Turning to various XVid files sourced from HDTV, I started playing with various tools. I tried a trial of Kimona's Producer 3 but it produced horrible results using MPEG4 files. As it turns out, the best workflow can be had with free tools.

After much tinkering, I found that using a custom template using the freeware version of TMPG Encoder produced great quality MPEG1 files at a size of about 120 mb for 45 minutes of video. That would allow about four of these files to fit easily on a 512mb SD card (3 hours of video). It only takes about fifteen minutes to convert. One trick I found was that the TMPG Encoder does not handle the audio properly by default. I found that I have to first dump the audio track out to a seperate WAV file using VirtualDub. I then use this file as the audio source in TMPG. I also set up TMPG to use the lame MP3 audio encoder and reduced the sample rate to 32k at a bit rate of 128k. I saved this as a template for easy reuse. The final trick is to set the frame rate to one half of the source file rate. Most of my files are about 24 frames per second. Thus the final Palm video file is running at 12 frames per second. Surprisingly, the slower frame rate is not that noticible. The video when played othe Tungsten E appears very smooth. There is a bit of pixalization with action scenes but it is very tolerable.

I may continue to tinker to see if I can achieve better quality without increasing file sizes but I am already very pleased at the results so far.

Verizon Fios Internet Install In Less Than Two Weeks!

Well, I wake up the other day and notice a Verizon truck outside my house. I had a chat with the occupant and he said he was designing the cable drop for my neighbor's Verizon Fios install. Well blow me down. How come I was never contacted by Verizon despite my calling every two weeks since last year? I hop on my Comcrap connection and sure enough I find I am now ready for a Verizon Fios install. Yay!

So, now I need to get back in gear and finish my cable re-routing to get ready for the install. I also needed to install an electrical outlet in my garage near where they will install the fiber ONT on the outside of my garage. I had an existing light switch that I figured I could change to a combo switch and outlet. This would save me from having to install a whole new box. When I got into it I was initially confused about the proper way to wire this because the instructions were a little cryptic and because I was updating from just a switch. After some more research, I figured out how to wire the outlet but needed another small piece of wire to complete the circuit. Off to the hardware store and after a little effort I now have a live outlet for the backup power supply necessary for the ONT.

Verizon Fios ONT Fiber Terminal

The only thing left is to finish terminating the ethernet wires in a wall outlet so that the installers can just do a run of CAT 5 and plug into my new wall plate. I'm also wiring for multiple RG-6 so that I can rerun my satellite feed. This RG-6 install will also make it easy to swap out for eventual switch over to Verizon Fiber TV service when that comes on line. I think the installers will be pleased with my pre-install work and will have a pretty easy time of it.