Tag Archives: hd

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. []

The Internet TV Survival Guide

So the writer’s strike is raging and there’s less and less scripted TV to watch. And the cable bill is past due, and the TV is broke, or at the very least, it’s all the way in the other room. Too much damn walking. What to do, nephew?

I have cataloged here all best the ways to legally obtain video entertainment on the Internet. So no jackbooted stormtroopers from the MPAA will kick down your door and haul away your computer. And your children.

Note: As much as I love Firefox, I find most embedded video players perform far better on IE. Many won’t work at all in Firefox, even with IE Tab.

Crack TV!
The Crack Team has been pointing you to great videos since this site was launched. Through the miracle of tagging (and the back-breaking labor of back-tagging over 400 posts), you can now see an archive of all video posts on TCT. Try to find good stuff sites like YouTube and you’ll end up slogging through one mediocre video after another – even when you stick to the popular and highly rated ones. Save your time and watch Crack TV!

Netflix is awesome. Without a doubt the biggest DVD selection anywhere, including HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.1 They also have a streaming service. While the selection of downloads is limited, it’s still good. I just finished season 1 of Dexter and next is Dead Like Me. They also have several NBC shows and a bunch of crap shows from the 70’s and 80’s. Best of all, they now allow you to download as much as you want! The quality is high, too. I’ve had no problems since signing up several years ago and they even give me an early adopter discount.

If you can, you’re probably best served by getting a good TV tuner card2 and using DVR software like Windows Media Center. This way you can get everything and skip all the commercials.3

All major broadcast networks have some video content online, but vary widely in the quality, selection, and commercial content. It’s a great way to try new shows now that so little new stuff is produced. Journeyman would be a great example, if you didn’t watch it before it was canceled.4 You can now watch the entire series. Similarly, I recently discovered Life at the suggestion of a friend and now I’m all caught up.

Cable networks are much more conservative, choosing to only offer video clips like you might see on YouTube. Full episodes (for the cable channels I watch) are nonexistent.

Most TV shows I watch are on Fox, and they’ve done an awesome job with Fox On Demand. The selection is great:

New shows appear 1-8 days after airing; it depends on the show. The videos are high quality; some are even in HD. I find that cranking up the resolution to 1280 x 1024 on my 21″ monitor gives a great HD image for shows like Terminator.5 And most shows are commercial free! Rupert Murdoch is my homeboy.

NBC is the #2 network for online viewing. The video quality is excellent. The bad news is that all their shows run commercials during the normal spots for commercial breaks. The good news is that they only run one 15-30 second spot. The bad news is that it’s the same commercial, over and over. Better than watching it live, but not as good as a DVR. Like Fox, NBC also has a great selection:

The only ABC show I really watch is Lost, but they seem to do a great job with it. Amazingly, they have all 4 seasons online in HD (1280 x 720), and when I boosted my resolution, full screen looked fantastic. Lost is easily the best looking show on the Internet. I thought I might try Pushing Daisies, as I heard that was good, but I found they only offer a few episodes of their other series.

Smallville is one of my longtime faves, due in no small part to Kristin Kreuk. And Reaper is great. But CW’s online video offering is weak sauce. Very few full episodes and what they have is low quality. I have to admit, I am surprised they put online the director’s cut of the next new Smallville episode before it even aired. But it still wasn’t enough to get me to watch.

It sucks. First, I didn’t watch it when I had a TV. CBS has picked up Dexter, which is an awesome show, but they’re just airing censored versions of the Showtime series. When it’s all on Netflix, what’s the point? The only current CBS show I’m interested in is Jericho, as it was recently suggested to me by a few friends. When I went to watch past episodes, however, I found the video quality sucked. Full screen is almost unwatchable; it’s just stretching the original size, which is only 9″ diagonal on my monitor.

Headline News
I used to watch this more often to get a quick feed of major stories. This is still possible online through their Prime News segments. Personally, I can’t stand Nancy Grace, and don’t often bother with their other shows.

Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet
Decent quality full episodes, but very few shows (3 total at this time, none of which I watch), and only a couple episodes per show.

Comedy Central
More of a video clip outlet with no full episodes. Do you really need to see every second of The Daily Show or Colbert Report? Maybe not, especially now that the strike is affecting them. But I would like to see full episodes of South Park, Reno 911, and, should they ever return: Chapelle’s Show, Dr. Katz, Stella, Strangers With Candy, and Upright Citizen’s Brigade. I won’t be holding my breath.

Cartoon Network
They’ve produced some fantastic animated series, especially their superhero adaptations (Justice League Unlimited) and Adult Swim (Harvey Birdman, Sealab 2021). But the site seems very much geared towards kids, and only provides video clips. Nothing to see here.

  1. If you tell them you have either player, they just automatically send you those. []
  2. Make sure it’s ATSC for HD []
  3. Except for the upcoming Agent Mystery-produced So You Think You Can Dance. Be sure to watch it live and soak in all the commercials. []
  4. Thanks for killing a great show. []
  5. They do force you to download a proprietary video player, but it seems harmless. And yes, I know it’s a tragedy to watch Terminator on anything less than a 50″ 1080P screen. []

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. []

CW HD (Finally!) Arrives at TWC

This is the story of a Christmas miracle.

One of the great cable company mysteries here in Southern California was, “why doesn’t Time Warner Cable offer the WB (Warner Brothers) in high definition?” It was very frustrating for me, as the two shows I most wanted to see in HD were Smallville (for high def Lana Lang, whose super power is to withstand extreme closeups with her flawless features) and Enterprise (for high def Sub-Commander T’Pol, who never actually commanded a sub, but did run around in skimpy clothes whilst applying sparkly creams [NSFW]). Alas, Enterprise got canceled, and UPN merged with the WB to become CW1, and still no HD!

Well, last night I was pleasantly surprised to discover that CW (aka KTLA) is now available in HD on channel 405! I went to change all my series recordings on my DVR and was reminded that Smallville is still the only show I watch on that network. [EDIT: How could I forget about Reaper? It’s got Missy Peregrym [sexydesktop.co.uk] who’s also a babe, and also appeared in Smallville (and Heroes, as the incredible changing hottie).]

Fortunately, Kristin Kreuk is still flawless.

Kristin Kreuk

  1. Named, of course, for CBS and Warner Bros. And no, I’m not joking, it’s a 50/50 ownership split. []

DTV Deadline Slips Again

A lot of fanfare in the TV news about President Bush signing a law that forces analog broadcasters to halt transmission on 2/17/2009. It will all be digital then, and there is money to subsidize the purchase of a digital to analog (D/A) converter box for those with analog sets. Everyone on both sides are breaking their arms trying to pat themselves on the back. Digital enthusiasts should be very disappointed, however. Why?

Because previous legislation required this to happen in December of THIS year.

I just want to call attention to the fact that this is not progress, it’s a big step backwards. They are weasel-wording it by saying we are moving to a hard deadline. Did the previous law have a soft deadline? Yes. It said we’re to go digital by 12/2006, or when 85% of households contained a DTV – whichever came first. So it also had a hard deadline. That law was passed in 1997, giving broadcasters 9 years to prepare, and a lot more than that when you consider this started 43 years ago in Japan.

Kudos to this article at madison.com for not being afraid to include a little history.

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.

Cable Conspiracy

I understand the physics that explain why high-quality analog audio/video cables are a good thing. Ok, at least I understood it in college. Bottom line is that they lower distortion. But I also understand there is a law of diminishing returns, which is governed by the limitations of the human ear and eye and the quality of your A/V components. Long story short, you want decent speaker cables and component or S-Video cables.
     But digital cables don?t need to be super high quality. When you think about it, they?re just computer cables. I?ve been around computers my whole life, and have troubleshot a lot problems. I think the cable has been an issue twice, and it is always a source of amazement, and the last thing you?d check. (This doesn?t include the times when you attempt to pull out a FibreChannel cable by the wire instead of the tiny plug, and the wire comes out but the plug stays there, and you?ve broken it just like the 8 admins before you, because they are the worst designed cables ever.) The point is that all those cables carry the same type of digital signal that your digital audio, HDMI, or DVI cables carry. It?s bits of data, 1s and 0s, on or off. Nobody in the computer industry sweats over cable quality, because if the system can?t tell the difference between on and off, you probably don?t have a cable, but what we call a resistor. Don?t use those.
     Agent Assassin has some A/V components that the average Joe would describe as terribly expensive and high quality (and what his roommate ? your truly ? would call ?good enough for the time being?). He has researched the living daylights out of these things, and the consensus among the smart people is to get stuff from Blue Jeans Cable. They make really good stuff, but don?t rip you off. (Like Monster Cable allegedly does. Not that you heard that from me.) Their website is also educational. There is a catch, though: you have to attach the plugs/ends to the wire yourself. If they do it, it’s $27 per cable, including the connectors they sell for $3.50/pair. It’s like they really hate doing this, so they’ll charge you an exorbitant fee hoping you’ll say no. It does seem like a pain, but so does shelling out $100 for them to do it for you.

TiVo vs. Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD

Some of you might already be thinking, “This is a no-brainer.” Of course, you might have different answers. I was pretty die hard TiVo before I switched, so I thought I’d give a rundown of the pros and cons of each.

My setup:
+ TiVo Series 1 (but I’ll comment on DIRECTV HD TiVo)
+ Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD
+ Toshiba 57″ HDTV (thanks to Agent Assassin)
+ Time Warner Digital Cable
+ Automator remote by Universal Remote Control

The first issue was cable vs. satellite. Without going into that whole personal battle, it came to this:

+ HD TiVo, but it costs $500
+ No local channels without an antenna; I rent a house, so no aerial, and indoors mostly suck
+ Need DSL for broadband internet, already have cable modem
+ Can get crappy reception when it rains
+ Cost for HD DVR + service + HBO: $500 + $54/mo. (with contract)

TimeWarner Cable:
+ Charging me for an extra tuner, and a we’re-renting-you-an-extra-tuner fee! (Yeah, they’re jerks.)
+ Cable modem is a better deal than DSL, and no changes
+ Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD for $10/mo. So it’ll be over 4 years before I spend on it what the HD TiVo would have cost me (and it was $1,000 when I made my decision).
+ Get local channels, except for UPN and the WB. It’s TimeWARNER, and they don’t carry WARNER Brothers on HD? What’s the conspiracy, man?
+ Cost for HD DVR + service + HBO: $68/mo.

Ok, here’s the comparison:

Series 1 TiVo:
+ Way friendlier interface, but you knew that
+ TV listing data for a week or so out; the 8300HD prefetches only 2-3 days, makes you manually scroll out for more data, and caps at about a week.
+ Can select a TV show (Season Pass) and see all the upcoming showings, on all channels
+ Shows you what it’s not recording due to repeats
+ Better search feature, more options (by actor, director, just show movies, etc.)
+ If you’re willing to hack the box, or pay someone to, you can add more/bigger hard drives for more recording time. Do that to your rental unit, and they will literally kill you.

DIRECTV HD TiVo Advantages:
+ Can record TWO shows simultaneously, in HD
+ 30 hours of HD storage (vs. 20 for the Explorer)
+ Records digital audio
+ HDMI interface

Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD Advantages:
+ Can record TWO shows simultaneously, in HD (which HD TiVo will do, Series)
+ Records digital audio
+ HDMI interface
+ Interface responds much faster than TiVo (at least Series 1, maybe 2 is a lot faster. It better be.)
+ Compared to standard TiVos with cable, doesn’t need an extra tuner for HD viewing (where a standard definition (SD) tuner goes to the TiVo, and an HD one goes directly to the TV and surround system).

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the 8300HD, as I had heard awful things about the previous cable co. DVRs. The interface/features still leave me wanting, but it has more TiVo functionality than I was expecting. That said, now that the HD TiVo is only $500, it’s a tougher decision for those making it now. I’d probably be more displeased if I was switching from a Series 2, which allows you to manage you TiVo from the web.