Jan 13 2007

News - HP Gives The iMac Some Competition

The new TouchSmart PC from HP looks pretty dang snazzy. It has certainly got me interested as a computer that would be very handy in the kitchen or family room for a family to use. The touchscreen applications look very well thought out and of course very Apple like. Now if it can hook into Vista MCE GUI for streaming from another computer, you will really grab my attention.

From the article:

The main screen on the TouchSmart is like a configurable message board. You can decide what information is displayed – you can have a calendar, the weather forecast, you’re music library etc. It’s all very similar to the widgets that Apple introduced with Tiger, but there is one very cool feature that appealed greatly to me – a virtual Post-It note. With just the use of your index finger, you can create a sticky note, write a message on it, the paste it to the main screen of the TouchSmart.

 

3932-keyboard

 

 

Jan 13 2007

News - SideShow @ CES: Universal Remotes, Speakers, Bags, Phones, Companions

For all the Vista is not, there is a lot of other things that are going for it. A very prime example is the upcoming Sideshow enabled devices. I am pretty sure this means that the Bearded Lady will be available at your nearest Best Buy.  Devices ranging from MCE remotes to speakers with LCDs containing song information are a couple of the cool things Sideshow enabled devices can do.

I have had more then one or two requests for reviewing Sideshow remotes, so we will do our best to bring some in.

From the article:

As indicated previously, Microsoft has worked out the licensing agreements with its EPG provider Tribune Media Services, allowing users to access, record and do other EPG-related things through the SideShow displays.

As far as I could tell, only Lagotek showed a home automation gadget for SideShow, as demonstrated on an SMK remote.

 

untitled

 

Jan 13 2007

Blog - HQV Benchmarking the GeForce 7-series

The HQV Benchmark DVD is probably the best and most objective video processing test available today. Unfortunately there are still subjective comparisons that need to be made to give a final rating. Of course reference images are given to compare against, and if you see something that has totaly failed it is obvious. The less obvious is when the scores allow a middle value: what does this middle ground look like? To answer this you need to have some real comparisons, say for example against a sampling of DVD players. I did this testing while working on my review of Oppo's new kick-butt DVD player.

General testing notes
In case you've been under a rock NVIDIA has made large strides in exposing PureVideo functionality at the display driver level and less tied into their own decoder filter (PureVideo Decoder). Thus having it work in basically the same manner as ATI's Avivo technology. What that means is that using ForceWare 91.47 or newer is the key to better deinterlacing and video post-processing. In the screenshot at the bottom of my post are the settings I used for testing. NVIDIA has done something rather stupid (ATI is just as guilty it turns out): they have Inverse Telecine support turned off by default! You must go into the new NVIDIA control panel choose 'Video & Television', then 'Adjust video color settings', and make sure you're in 'Advanced' view, click the 'Enhancements' tab and check 'Use inverse telecine'. Without this checked you won't be using the advanced PureVideo technology, leaving this unchecked will also lead to most video cadences failing miserably when the HQV test is run. Similarly, any detail enhancement or noise suppression technology is also off by default. You do get sliders to control the level of processing which is great for adjusting to personal taste. I found 50% for 'Edge Enhancement' and 75% for 'Noise Reduction' to be ideal for the passing the HQV tests.

 

  GeForce 7-series
Color Bar/Vertical Detail (0/5/10)  10
Jaggies 1 (0/3/5)  5
Jaggies 2 (0/1/3/5)  3
Flag (0/5/10)  5
Picture Detail (0/5/10)  10
Noise Reduction (0/5/10)  10
Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction (0/5/10)  10
3:2 Detection/Film Detail (0/5/10)  10
Film Cadences (8 different) (5 points each)  40
Mixed 3:2 with video titles horiz. (0/5/10)  10
Mixed 3:2 with video titles vert. (0/5/10)  10
Total (130)  123

 

It's the little differences...
If you compare my chart to hardware.info's tests from 9/5/06 my scores have very similar results, however the hardware.info folks give the Flag a full 10 points which I don't think it deserves, the Oppo did better then what I've seen from PureVideo. Likewise Jaggies Test 2 is source of disagreement. It deserves a 3, Hardware.info which also tested against standalone DVD players agrees, Tom's Hardware's recent tests gave it a full 5, the Oppo did better on this test, I question whether Tom's really has seen modern video processing chips in action. Interestingly, like me, Hardware.info also arrives at a score of 123, they remove points in the Mixed 3:2 with Horizontal Video Titles which I don't think is deserved. They are also lenient with their score of the 3:2 Detection test giving it a 10. Using their settings this actually deserves a 5, Tom's testing corroborates this.

The PureVideo Decoder's 'Smart' Setting 
If you use a general DXVA decoder, such as PowerDVD or WinDVD, or set the PureVideo Decoder to 'Automatic' the 3:2 detection has an approximately 1/2 second lag. However when you use NVIDIA's own PureVideo Decoder in 'Smart' mode you don't even see the lag as it enters film mode. The lag means you get a 5 on this test. The testing procedures are quite clear: if the video processing locks on to film mode in under 0.2 seconds that's a 10, in 1/2 a second -- that's a 5. Anything longer is a failure.
What I found interesting is that this seems to go counter to the recommendations Hardware.info has. They say to use 'Automatic', I presumed that somehow 'Smart' used different logic then 'Automatic' and it might disable the much improved cadence handling that NVIDIA now shows. So I tested this by running the tests in 'Automatic' and in 'Smart'. There is no difference to the scores aside from the very important 3:2 detail test. 'Smart' is incredible, it never even batted an eye. It looks like with the newest ForceWare builds the cadence detection is ready to be used by any DXVA decoder filter. However having the proprietary 'Smart' mode of the PureVideo Decoder sweetens the deal. NVIDIA's own decoder is considered to have the best image quality of any commercial DVD decoder product and added to this is the fact that it also has the unique deinterlacing mode -- 'Smart'. Thus my scores presented here and in the upcoming Oppo review represent the 'Smart' mode scores.

HD Material
Interestingly, I found 'Automatic' performed properly with HD material while 'Smart' occasionally made odd hitching in HDTV playback. It looks like 'Automatic' is the middle-ground here if you watch a mix of both SD and HD or if you watch solely HD material.

Settings Used for Testing

 

nvidia_enhancements 

Jan 13 2007

News - Comcast Loses Appeal

The FCC has rejected Comcast's appeal for removing embedded security from cable STB. The goal here is to open up the set top box market to more companies. This should give conusmers a larger choice of options and simply allow the cable company to supply the CableCard. The major cable companies won't have a problem (but will very likley use this an excuse to raise rates), however their is some concern the smaller companies could go out of business because of this order.

From the article:

Polka continued, "We also respectfully disagree with the FCC's conclusion that continued deployment of low-cost set-top boxes, like the [Motorola] DCT-700, is not critical to expanding the deployment of digital and VOD services. Hence, without the waivers requested by ACA members and other cable companies, millions of consumers will be prevented from receiving advanced digital services or be forced to pay significantly higher rates to receive the same services they receive today."

He concluded, "The set-top ban and deadline cause unique problems by forcing the ACA's smaller operators to use their scarce resources to comply, making it even more difficult to move forward in the digital transition. The ACA is dedicated to working with Congress and the FCC to ensure that policymakers understand these grave concerns and will address them for the benefit of all consumers."

 

 

Jan 13 2007

News - DirectTV Not Looking So Hot

DirectTV can't really win these days. They are facing a multitude of problems that range from poor customer service to faulty equipment. A lot of issues probably don't affect the majority of people. However, once you get a rep for stinking it up like this, there is a good chance your subscriber base is going to shrink.

From the article:

Inferior HD Quality - "HD Lite"

While DirecTV promises to increase its
lineup of channels it is still receiving plenty of complaints about an inferior HD service which has been nicknamed HD Lite.

Ben Drawbaugh of our sister site EngadgetHD
questioned Rômulo Pontual, the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of DirecTV, about the whole HD Lite issue (nice work Ben).

To sum up Rômulo Pontual denied that the DirecTV HD service was reduced and that when you compare screens side by side and look at the quality DirecTV HD is the same and denied that the lower bitrate and lower resolution of DirecTV HD was an issue.

Jan 12 2007

News - Building an HTPC on the cheap

PVRWire has taken the time to give you a quick write up of how to build a cheap HTPC. Also contained in their article is a link to another such article. If cheap isn't your thing, Matt has a similar write up on preparing yourself for a HD HTPC.

From the article:

Matt's article:

Processor: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ because it's reasonably fast, and since it's a Socket AM2 chip, there's potential for upgrading.
Motherboard: The MSI K9GM2 has an onboard graphic accelerator, with support for TV-Out and NVIDIA's Pure Video Decoder. By getting a motherboard with onboard graphics and audio, you can save the money you would have spent on three separate devices.

Jan 12 2007

News - NeoDigits X5000 Networkable DVD player

Is the X5000 just another upscaling DVD player? Nope, it sets out to try and replace an entire HTPC with its enahnced network connectivity. As with with many media extenders, its intentions are good but the UI ends up being pretty damn clunky in the end.

From the article:

We almost forgot. The X5000 has an upscaling DVD player built in along with all the home media options. There isn't much to say about upscaling DVD players these days but the statement still holds true that they do make a difference. How much is questionable, but the player did produce a better image when set to the native resolution of the set verse a standard progressive scan DVD player. The unit has enough resolutions to satisfy just about any home theater setup including 480i, 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p (plus, a whole bunch more). These output resolutions can be sent via component or HDMI; that's right 1080p over component.

So lets round this up: capable media streaming device, sub-pair PC side software, great audio processing, DVD upscaler, and tons of output resolutions all in a $500 built-like-a-rock package. Is it worth the price of a HD DVD player? We don't know but all we can say is that the media streaming capabilities are slightly better then anything we have used before and it did play every media file we threw at it; including high-def files over a wireless network. If it wasn't for the sub-par software that came with the unit, we could give this player a solid recommendation. However, it's just not ready for mainstream. But if you don't mind finding your own software, or already have a server setup, this is a killer media-streaming device.

 

Jan 12 2007

News - Auzentech X-Meridian sound card review

Courtesty of Elite Bastards, I present to you a review Auzentech's X-Meridian 7.1 sound card. There site is horribly slow for me today, I think it is my connection. So here is the link :) and a quote from the first page.

From the article:

As per Bluegears' b-Enspirer part which we reviewed just last week, Auzentech's X-Meridian has at its heart C-Media's latest 'Oxygen HD' CMI8788 audio processor, giving it the same basic feature set - That being a more powerful DSP than its predecessors, with support for 24-bit, 192kHz playback and ASIO for the professional musicians out there , together with real-time Dolby Digital and DTS encoding as well as other audio upmixing abilities such as DTS Neo:PC and Dolby ProLogic IIx.  Eight-channel audio output and other features such as Dolby Headphones and Virtual Speaker are also the order of the day, to give the part an unrivalled feature set.

Jan 12 2007

News - Impressions of Pioneer's "SED Killing" Plasma

I hadn't hurt much about Pioneer's latest Plasma display efforts but I was finally able to track down a bit of coverage for you guys. Pioneer, known for its expensive yet high quality displays, is set to release a technology that will compete with the delayed SED technology later this year. According IGN, the new display certainly earns its keep when compared to its current generation.

Real world and demo testing are ALWAYS two completely different things!

 

From the article:

The demo session took place in a closed room wherein Pioneer's currently available 60-inch Plasma display was compared to their newest tech, which, we were told, is an entirely new engineering effort rather than any image-processing upgrade to existing technology. In comparison to what is generally though of as best-of-breed image quality, Pioneer's new plasma display was astounding. The demo began with both screens in idle-black. That is, the new plasma display looked black; Pioneer's current plasma looked shockingly gray and over-lit. Over the course of a variety of sources including an in-house demo reel and clips of Haunted Mansion, the new Pioneer model put the previous version to absolute shame.

 

 

Jan 12 2007

News - Sunfire Theater Grand Receiver 3

If you are looking for raw power, the Sunfire Theater Grand has plenty and then room for a bit more. However, for the price tag, it is lacking many of the features you would find in even min-range models. Technology trickle down over the last year has produced some amazing features for reasonable prices. Things like iPod connectivity, sat radio support, switching/scaling and a host of other features are pretty much expected.

From the article:

It's true that $5,000 is a lot of coin for an A/V receiver, and next to models half its cost, the Sunfire Theater Grand Receiver 3 looks Spartan. But this receiver is all about audio performance — quantity as well as quality. If you don't demand extensive surround modes, or more than three fully equipped A/V inputs (all most of us will ever need), this Sunfire receiver is a world-beater.

 

12200716710

 

 

Jan 12 2007

News - Digital Bits: My Two Cents

I am not sure how they were able to do it, but Digital Bits has a nice post wrapping up CES. I, of course, was referring to their writing style that can only be labelled as ranting yet informative. A good combination that makes for a good read. Just as important, the article also talks about which format the Porn industry is going to take.

From the article:

DVD is a fantastic format and we love it, but the truth is it's no longer the cutting edge of home video technology. That mantle is now passing to the high-definition formats. HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc have the potential to take everything we love about DVD and make it even better. High-definition is important and you SHOULD pay attention to it, even if you have no plans to buy a high-def player yet. Why? High-definition IS the future. Period. Whether on disc or via downloading, high-def is the next big thing. Plus, it impacts standard DVD in many important ways. When a major film gets a high-def restoration, it's a good bet that a new DVD version will be released as well. Technology improvements that are made for high-def could trickle down to regular DVD too. And over the next couple years, as prices drop (and they will, as anyone who purchased a 1st generation DVD player for $1000 back in 1997 knows), you might start thinking about upgrading to high-def. The Bits will be there to help you understand it all. And as always, we'll share our enthusiasm for great films with you... whatever format they're released on.

 

Jan 12 2007

News - Senator to FCC: Don't even think about a broadcast flag

Senator John Sununu has announced that he will be working on legislation that would prevent the FCC from creating specific technology that have to be followed by CE companies. Of course, we all know he is targetting the broadcast flag. It is good to see our elected representitives take the side of the consumers for a change.

From the article:

Television and movie studios have wanted a broadcast flag for years. The flag is a short analog or digital signal embedded into broadcasts that specifies what users can do with the content. It would most often be used to prevent any copying of broadcast material, but there's an obvious problem with the plan: it requires recording devices to pay attention to the flag. Because no consumers wander the aisles at Best Buy thinking, "You know, I would definitely buy this DVD recorder, but only if it supported broadcast flag technology," the industry has asked the federal government to step in and simply require manufacturers to respect the flag.

Jan 12 2007

News - Monoprice.com: Entry-Level Cables that Everyone Can Afford

monoprice.com has been a favorite of mine for many years now. They supply absolutely great cables at great prices with very few people arguing about their quality. Most of the review is more of a rant about over priced B&M stores selling over priced cables, which in itself is good to read.

From the article:

If you are looking for some prettier cables to connect components that are closer together you might want to get one of the cables with the net jacket applied (something we see on many cables that come in packaging fancier than blister pack). All you really need to know is that the cables get heavier and stiffer with increasing length, and that is another reason to use the short extension cable I mentioned above.

Monoprice.com makes a few other products that might interest the new converted digital video cable purchaser, such as DVI-to-HDMI adapters (photo shown at right) that can be had for about $5. That's way less than the price elsewhere.

 

Jan 12 2007

News - Term Of The Week: 1080p

The Holy Grail of display technology, 1080p, is explained by about.com. If you need further explanation or interested in expanding your knowledge, feel free to post in the forums. We have a great group of people. Not only does 1080p represent the best of HD tech, it makes a great desktop resolution for HTPC use.

From the article:

However, since 1080p is not officially part of the FCC's approved HDTV broadcast standards, it is displayed either as a result of video upscaling through a specially modified DVD player, video scaler, or a Blu-ray Disc Player, in combination with a 1080p input capable video display device (such as a Television or Video Projector) OR by on-board video processing within the Display device itself than can upscale all input sources to 1080p.

 

Jan 12 2007

Blog - Thoughts on building a high-def ready HTPC

Just kicking around some ideas for what would be an ideal next gen optical format (HD DVD and/or Blu-ray) ready HTPC. This is of course somewhat hypothetical as, alas, I don't have the hand's on knowledge... yet. This is culled from what I know from informal testing, user reports, and decoding performance benchmarks available on the web. Feel free to comment.

Full details and build notes after the "read more."

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