Tag Archives: dvd

Skipping Trailers and Warnings on Blu-ray Discs

There has been an increase in crimes against consumers. They are being held hostage. By what? Warnings and trailers on Blu-ray discs! I don’t steal movies off the internet, I rent them via Netflix, and rental discs1 are the biggest culprit.

Yes, you can fast forward, but on my PC’s BD player2 only goes so fast, so I’m still stuck for several minutes. Worse, I often need to stop the disc and get back to work, which means closing the player since it disables the Windows Aero interface and color scheme. When I start the player again, I’m back at square one! I’ve been looking for a player that allows me to skip anything, much like VLC Media Player and Media Player Classic (the open source version) allow me to do for DVDs. Unfortunately, I’ve seen no open source BD players and the commercial ones won’t dare allow you to perform a “user prohibited action” as defined by the disc makers. How they have the balls to charge $100 for that crap I’ll never know.

But we have a savior! It’s called AnyDVD HD. It sits between your BD ROM drive and your software player software and presents the disc as decrypted. It will also disable all your warnings and trailers.3. I just installed it and put in a disc and it immediately went to the main menu. It’s exactly what I was looking for and it’s currently going for about $75, with a 3 week trial so you can check it out first. Yes, a little pricey, but still cheaper than the other software players and I’ll make up for it in time saved. The bummer is that it only works on Windows, so when I have a home theater set up with my PS3, I’ll be back to slogging through trailers, or schlepping my laptop over to the coffee table.

  1. Denoted by plain grey discs featuring only the movie title. []
  2. HP MediaSmart DVD, which is just rebranded Cyberlink. []
  3. Of course, you can get to the trailers through the disc menu if you like. []
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HDCP Was Created By Satan

This is the story of how to waste an afternoon.

My housemate and I were trying to hook up his HTPC to our home theater system, as an internet search suggested that the PS3 couldn’t play MKV files, so it seemed streaming was out. The home theater is built into the wall (not my doing, we’re renting), and working on it is a tremendous pain in the ass. It already had an HD DVR and a PS3 connected to a 6.1 Onkyo receiver, which outputs to a TV. Both the receiver and the TV are 6+ years old and don’t have HDMI; heck, the TV is only 720P. However, the HTPC outputs via HDMI. We figured the only way to do this would be to swap in his newer HDMI-capable receiver for the old one. Then we hook up everything and output to the TV via component. What could go wrong?

I change out the receiver (again, huge PITA), and while I’m doing this, I decide to change the PS3 connection from component to HDMI. See, the PS3 will output HD through component, but won’t upconvert normal DVDs to HD unless you output via HDMI. HDMI requires HDCP, or high-bandwidth digital content protection. Apparently, they’re afraid you’re going to upconvert your legal/legit DVD of Spiderman to HD, then run it through an HD recorder/digitizer that has component inputs1, then… destroy all of Hollywood! Yes, it stops you from doing even fair use copying. And yes, you can pop that DVD into your computer and do the same thing, only way, way easier. So anyway, if you want your old SD DVDs nice and sharp on your HDTV, you gotta use the HDMI connector. No problem!

After all is hooked up, I test out the DVR – component in, component out – and it looks fine. I then try the PS3, and I’m getting no video. Audio yes, but no video. I connect it to a TV that has HDMI, verify it works, set HDMI to the default output, and hook it back up to the receiver. Still no dice. Perhaps the receiver is not HDCP compliant? The PS3 no likey da Onkyo? With a heavy heart, I read the manual for the receiver.

Turns out, the receiver is HDCP compliant. In fact, it’s so fucking compliant that it refuses to output video from an HDMI input to a component output! It’s essentially saying, “Your TV isn’t good enough to date my video signal.” Well my TV may not come from the best side of town, but your video signal is a whore! A filthy, corporate whore!

Sorry, where was I? Doesn’t matter. At this point, there appeared to be only two solutions:

  1. Replace the TV. There is some merit to this idea, but that would cost me $2,000 and it’s not even my TV.
  2. Buy an HDMI to component converter with an HDCP stripper. At first blush, this sounds great, due in no small part to the word stripper. It would make the PS3 think it was connected to an HDCP display, which is just what we need. Unfortunately, these cost $200-300, which is almost what I paid for the damn PS3. It’s also the cost of an actual stripper. Gotta think about that one.

Sadly, I went with Option C: go back to the all component setup and forgo dreams of sharper DVDs and HTPC goodness.2

Then, just for shits and giggles, my roommate downloads and configures TVersity on his desktop and shares a few MKV movies. We point the PS3 at his server and voila! the movies play! Now, they seem to be maxing out the wifi connection, so we may need to lower the quality to optimize for speed. And I’ve been hearing more good things about PS3 Media Server than TVersity, so perhaps we’ll give that a try. But the bottom line is, we never needed to swap anything out for this to work. And if I had just read the fucking Onkyo manual, I never would have bothered. But really, if Satan hadn’t invented HDCP, everything would have worked perfectly.

  1. Which are rare, but the Hauppauge HD-PVR looks interesting. []
  2. Note: since I had just set the PS3 to output via HDMI, I had to keep my finger on the power button for 5 seconds on startup to reset the display settings. Then reset them to match the TV, etc. []

Still Hating Sony

So I want a Blu-Ray player, and the PS3 appeared to be the logical choice. After considering the setup and looking at the features, I’m not so sure.

The house where I’m staying has the TV (a 70″ Sony LCD rear projection) set into the wall. The A/V components are above it on a shelf also set into the wall; it’s a sort of cubby hole. There is a hole between the components and the TV where wires are fed. It’s the kind of setup that, when you have to modify the wiring, you start by staring at the system for five minutes, mutter “Fuck me,” and then try to find a way to not do that.

I thought I had accomplished that. There’s an existing DVD player, and it’s connected with component cables, so it thought I could just do a drop in replacement with the PS3.

Not so fast. The PS3 does not have direct component out. It has a proprietary analog A/V connection, which forces you to buy a special cable for $20. You can’t just use your existing cables and plug them right in. If you’re in my situation, or the cable is too short (which it might be since they don’t tell you how long it is!), you need a component video coupler. This is a set of 3 RCA female-to-female connectors, known amongst electrical engineers as a lesbian 3-way adapter. Luckily, it’s only $4 at Radio Shack. So I gotta shell out another $24 bucks I shouldn’t need to, but I can live with that.

What I can’t live with is the PS3 Blu-Ray remote. It’s Bluetooth, not infrared. Yes, this means you don’t need need to point it at the console – but who isn’t trained to do that anyway? I already shelled out $160 for a Universal Automator remote with macros, volume punch through, etc. The BR remote isn’t even back-lit. And there’s no one-touch power off, meaning that even if it did have infrared support, you couldn’t use macros to turn it off.

So as much as it pains me, I think I’m going to have to pass on the PS3 and go with a straight up BD player. Hopefully they have some that fully support BD-J. For me, that was the big selling point for the PS3. Of course, the games wouldn’t hurt, assuming it gets some good ones.

Blu-ray Becomes a Death Ray for HD-DVD

The high def disc battle was supposed to go on for years. Sony, Disney, Fox, and Lionsgate backed Blu-ray. Paramount, Dreamworks, and Universal backed HD-DVD. And Warner Bros. backed both (it goes both ways), making it the deciding factor. If it backed Blu-ray, it could be over quickly, and if it backed HD-DVD the sides would be even and the war would rage for years with everyone buying two players or multi-players.

A week ago, Warner Bros. decided to back Blu-ray exclusively. The war is over. Condolences to the mourners.

Paramount actually had an escape clause in the event this happened, and Universal announced it will no longer be HD-DVD exclusive. There will be some cleanup, commitments fulfilled, but in the meantime, feel free to buy a Blu-ray player. Newline is also backing BR, as is the increasingly irrelevant Blockbuster.

It’s been an interesting ride. Including the BR player in the PS3 caused delays and cutbacks, and inflated the price. It was selling pretty poorly because of this and a fairly crappy game selection. But this past holiday season it sold 1.2M units1.

This change in the film industry should fuel PS3 sales. From what I’ve read, it’s not the highest quality BR player out there. But unlike many standalone players for your home theater, it supports all of the special interactive features the discs have. This is mainly through Blu-ray Disc for Java (BD-J), which is a form of Java ME. Already a number of titles have been enhanced with BD-J, although it seems mostly limited to enhanced menus. Over time, this could lead to some pretty cool hacks and features, esp. with players that are Internet enabled.

Overall, I’m not terribly happy Sony won, but it is nice that a format has been chosen. Using Java for interactivity is another bonus.

  1. Still way behind the Wii, which sold 3 times that. []

I miss 800.com

As I get older, some recent world history starts seeming like ancient history.This is not a good thing.I date myself when I recall programming with punch cards, real-to-goodness pieces of paper with little holes in them. I date myself when I say that I miss the sound of my old LPs playing on a phonograph. And I am dating myself when I long for those brave pioneers of the early Internet Commerce Experiment (ICE): 800.comI still remember when the world of electronic commerce offered untold riches to anyone who was willing to dream up a new enterprise and pay outrageous sums to web developers to make it a WWW reality. There were offers galore from all sorts of outfits; I naturally gravitated to those offering cheap and discounted DVDs. Don’t forget that we early DVD adopters had to pay upwards of 20.00 for each of our shiny movie discs (my most expensive DVD purchase was 21.99; I paid that for the “Lost in Space” movie DVD which included –wonder of wonders– two commentaries and tons of supplementary material. Wow. I recently saw that very same disc in the discount bin at Fry’s Electronics for 4.99. Wow. )

So I spent my early surfing days looking for discounted and free DVDs. I found 800.com to be a good place for price and selection. Their first sale was 3 DVDs for 1.00 and I quickly took them up on their offer. Yet there was a better draw on their site: they had a film blog and weekly writing contests for free DVDs. I could tell that they loved film and I envied their adventure into online commerce. What could go wrong with selling the films you admired and rewarding good writing from your customers??

Alas, 800.com is no more. They were victims of the Disastrous Internet Bubble Burst (DIBB) and went the way of the dodo, along with Pets.com eToys.com and other worthy endeavours. But I was lucky/talented/geeky enough to win a couple of their contests.� Here are some of my entries, see if you can guess which ones won prizes.

Continue reading I miss 800.com

Your New Fall Television Schedule

The fall television schedule is out, and I have done you a big favor and listed the shows you will be watching. I do this out of love.

Sunday  
8:00 The Simpsons (9/23)
8:30 King of the Hill (9/23)
9:00 The Family Guy (9/23)
9:30 American Dad (9/30)
10:00 Curb Your Enthusiasm (9/9) The only reason not to cancel HBO, but it’s a pretty great reason. The last season finale looked like a series finale, so this was a pleasant surprise. And the season premier had Larry in top form.

Monday
   
8:00 Chuck (9/24) Looks like The 40 Year Old Virgin meets Alias, but could be a big lump of crap. Not sure yet.
8:30 The Big Bang Theory (9/24) 2 geeks and a hottie. My guess is that the geek humor won’t be true geek humor, but what an English major with no geeky friends thinks geek humor is. In other words, a vehicle for "normal" people to laugh at geeks. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it.
9:00 Heroes (9/24)  
9:30 Rules of Engagement (9/24) Two couples and their single friend (David Spade). Looks kinda funny; hopefully it’s another Just Shoot Me. If you don’t have a way of watching/recording two shows, obviously you’ll have to drop this for Heroes.
10:00 Journeyman (9/24) This looks seriously cool, if only because it stars Lucius Vorenus from Rome. And if you haven’t seen Rome, get it on DVD. An incredible $100M+ production, with no shortage of sex, violence, and damn good writing and acting.

Tuesday
   
8:00 Bones (9/25) If you’re short on time, you can skip this. It’s not as cool as X-Files, or as well written as House, but it’s alright.
9:00 House (9/25) The season finale was a big "WTF???" so this is highly anticipated. I’m hoping the new staff is filled by any number of out of work TV hotties: Elisha Cuthbert, Catherine Bell, Eliza Dushku, Jeri Ryan, Jolene Blaylock, Lucy Liu, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mila Kunis (voice work doesn’t count), or Laura Prepon. With David Cross playing an analyst-therapist (or analrapist, as they’re known in the medical field).
9:00 Reaper (9/25) I initially wrote this off after reading the synopsis: a comedy about a guy who’s parents sold his soul to the devil, so he now has to work for him as a bounty hunter. It’s on the CW, and I was never into Buffy or Angel or Supernatural. But I just found out the pilot is being directed by Kevin Smith, so at least the first episode will be worth watching.

Wednesday
   
8:00 Pushing Daisies (10/3) Jury’s out on this, too. I do like the concept of a guy who can bring back the dead, but only uses that power to pick up some extra cash. It just screams underachiever.
9:00 Bionic Woman (9/26)  

Thursday
   
8:00 Smallville (9/27) Is Lana alive?!? Wait, don’t answer that!
8:00 Scrubs (10/25) Final season :-(
8:30 30 Rock (10/4) If you weren’t impressed at the start of last season, this got way funnier as the season progressed. And Catrina Bowden is crazy hot.
9:00 The Office (9/27)  
10:00 It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (9/13) Two episode premier!

Friday
   
8:00 Next Great American Band (10/19) Produced and written (the scripted parts, at least) by The Crack Team’s own Agent Mystery! Destined to be the best show on television, winning multiple Emmys and getting all team members of The Crack Team totally laid (details pending, but it will probably involve groupies, mistaken identities, and shenanigans). Click the link to check out the Agent Hulagun-designed MySpace page.
9:00 Moonlight (9/28) Alternate title: Count Dracula, Private Eye. Eh, it’s vampires, so I’m in it for the goth chicks.

The Art of Monster House

I recently rented Monster House on DVD. Some photorealistic shots ala Toy Story, and the house looked like an incredibly complex model, especially as it breaks aparts and comes alive. Overall, it was OK, but I had higher expectations (for the story, not the animation).

However, the DVD does have a hidden gem. While checking out the special features I saw a section on concept art. I was expecting the usual pencil sketches, maybe a couple quick color illustrations. Instead, I was happily blown away by these fantastic concept paintings by Chris Appelhans. It’s Norman Rockwell meets Vincent Price (and maybe Chuck Jones). They lose a bit on a monitor, but look great blown up on a widescreen TV.

Blu-ray Discs (Over)Priced

An article at Red Herring discusses the wholesale pricing for Blu-ray discs that Sony has set. $23.45 for new releases, and $17.95 for catalog (older) titles. Again, that’s wholesale, and Variety guesses that will lead to retail prices of $35 and $30, respectively. The Blu-ray player that Sony hopes to release this summer (along with the discs) is priced at $1,800. Toshiba has not offered pricing for HD-DVDs, but plans to offer two players at $500 and $800.

HD DVD and Double Layer DVDs

First, I’m finally seeing double layer discs available to the public, without being bundled with other media you don’t need. Not terribly cheap, Amazon has Verbatim DVD+Rs (which seems to have the fewest defects) for around $10 per 3 pack. I wonder how this will affect piracy now that you can copy normal DVDs with little to no quality (or feature) loss.

The other item I caught is the imminent arrival of HD DVDs. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is going on in Las Vegas right now (and some day when I’m rich I’ll get tickets), so product announcements are abound. You might have heard that Sony came up with Blu-Ray as a high definition DVD format, but the DVD Consortium decided HD DVD was the better format. True to form, Sony couldn’t lose graciously and decided to go ahead with it anyway, attempting to fracture the market. And true to form, they are about to have their asses handed to them, as Toshiba is coming out with their HD DVD player several months ahead of Sony. And one other thing, heck, probably not even worth mentioning, shouldn’t have much impact at all. It’s half the friggin price! Booya! Of course, Sony will probably retaliate by not putting their movies in HD DVD format, so you’ll have to wait a long time, or by a Blu-Ray player, if you want to see a high def Kirstin Dunst all wet and cold and thinly-t-shirted in Spiderman. As much as I’d like to buy an HD DVD player as soon as they’re released, I can’t help but remember that the standard DVD players didn’t have all the kinks worked out until the 3rd generation. However, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop myself once Netflix comes on board.

DualDisc: Less for More?

I read an interesting article on the limitations of DualDisc, and the short of it is that both the CD side and the DVD side have less capacity than their standard counterparts. They have only 60 minutes of CD audio, and the DVD side has a single layer like the kind of recordables you can currently buy (DVD-5). In addition, Denon has said not to use them in their players until they can do thorough testing. I was considering picking up the Keane DualDisc, then I found out the limitations forced them to drop a track on the CD side! Luckily, they also offer a SACD, so I’ll be going with that. It’s a shame there’s so much marketing behind an inferior product, they seem much better off just including a bonus DVD with CDs to avoid the mess.