Tag Archives: Apple TV

The TV Frame Game

Through another one of the numerous techie competing standards stories, (the TL;DR summary being that NTSC TV standard was considered a bit rubbish on this side of the pond and as a result in Europe we developed two alternative standards PAL and SECAM) in the UK and the USA we ended up with two somewhat incompatible TV systems. In the USA they had TV pictures with a vertical resolution of 480 lines, playing at a frame rate of 30 frames per second, whilst on this side of the Atlantic we were watching a  higher resolution 576 line picture, but playing at a frame rate of 25 frames per second. The TV companies had ways of converting pictures between the two standards, and eventually we got to home video recorders being able to play tapes recorded in the other standard, and TV’s that could cope with both, indeed these days in the UK you’ll find most DVD or BluRay players and TV’s will quite happily switch between European 50Hz standards and the North American 60Hz, whatever the standard of the material that was put into the machine.

When the HD standards came around there seemed to be general agreement across the world, and everybody settled on 720 lines or 1080 lines for high definition pictures and all seemed right with the world… Or maybe not…

That brings us to me watching a video last night which involved a number of shots of trains going left to right or right to left across the screen, and a really annoying judder as the trains went past. I was watching from an HD video file playing back on our Apple TV through Plex. Thinking it was a problem with the Apple TV I tried it through Plex on our Xbox One – same problem, and watching the raw file on the desktop, same problem again. Looking at the file it had come from a UK production company and was encoded in 1080p with a frame rate of 25 frames per second, perfectly standard UK file. So I took a look at the Apple TV. Digging into the settings I had the picture standard set to Auto, further down it said it had automatically set itself to 1080p 60Hz. There was also an option to specify which picture format to use, with a 1080p 50Hz option, so I switched that over, watched the file again, and away went the judder, switch back to auto and the Apple TV would decide to switch to 1080p 60Hz.

The basic problem seems to be that unlike the DVD Players, video recorders or BluRay players the latest generation of devices like the Apple TV or Xbox, even though many are capable of switching the resolution, automatically go for 1080p 60Hz and then behave as if the TV they’re connected to is a dumb panel that can’t cope with any other standard, as a result they then try to convert video at another frame rate in software. The judder I could see on the video is a result of the Apple TV or Xbox trying to show 25 frames per second on a device that is wanting 30 frames per second, so on smooth movements you get the judder because 20% of the frames in any one second of video are being shown twice. Knowing my TV is a European model that can cope with a 50Hz picture I can switch the Apple TV over and it works fine (not so for the Xbox incidentally) but then if I watch a North American video at 30 frames per second the Apple TV is locked in 50Hz and has much the same problem trying to handle showing 30 frames in the period when it only has 25 frames.

At this point the cinema purists are going to point out that there is another very common frame rate, with is 24 frames per second, which is the frame rate that most movies are made at, and many BluRays are now released as that standard because again a lot of TV sets these days will cope with the frame rate. So what do the Apple TV, Xbox and other TV streamer boxes do? They try and show those 24 frames in whatever frame rate the box is currently set to, and have exactly the same problem.

Going through my digital videos I have a real mixed bag. Most of the UK stuff is 25 frames per second, some where it has come off film is 24 frames per second, US stuff mostly 30 frames per second. Looking at home videos I have the same mixed bag, primarily because even though they’re all UK bought devices the cameras and phones I’ve had over the years don’t always produce UK standard video, for example iPhones using the standard camera software will consistently record in 60Hz standards – you have to resort to apps like Filmic to get the phone to record in European 50Hz standards, or even 24 frames per second if you want to work with cinema standards.

So even though world has agreed the size of a picture, there is still no agreement over how many of those pictures are shown per second. Most of our digital streaming boxes either will only work at the US 60Hz standard (the earliest Sky Now boxes were stuck on 60Hz) or are switchable but thanks to the software are difficult to switch across – the Apple TV you have to go rummaging in the settings, on the Xbox you effectively have to con the Xbox into thinking your TV can only do 50Hz pictures before it will switch – with the devices doing a second rate job when your TV is quite often perfectly capable of playing things back correctly.

Having one standard is never going to work as we’ll still have vast amounts of archive content at the older frame rates, so for the moment it would really help if the digital streamer manufacturers actually started acknowledging that there are a variety of standards – even your average US consumer who doesn’t have any 50Hz content is going to notice glitching if they watch a movie. We’ve had DVD and Video Recorders that could switch for years, why is it that the new tech seems to have taken such a massive step backwards?

Featured image old tv stuff by Gustavo Devito

Apple chief Tim Cook admits ‘intense interest’ in television sector

“We are going to keep pulling the string and see where this takes us,” Mr Cook said of its future TV plans. Asked during an interview at the All Things Digital Conference in California on Tuesday night whether Apple will produce a TV, Mr Cook said: “You were right. I’m not going to tell you.”

via Apple chief Tim Cook admits ‘intense interest’ in television sector – Telegraph.

So it looks like Apple’s culture of secrecy continues, but definite hints that an Apple TV is on the way, even if he won’t say. Also hints that relations may be warming with Facebook leading to Facebook being baked into iOS in a similar way to Twitter, but don’t hold your breath…

Beth and Richard Get Married (The Movie)

Last Thursday we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary, well at least as much as you can with two small children and summer colds going around the family!

Anyway, one of the things that the tenth wedding anniversary actually got me to organise was getting a copy of our wedding video into a more usable form. The video was shot by a friend of ours who shot on NTSC DV, and then produced a copy for us that we could watch back in the UK. They also kindly gave us the master tape. Needless to say technology has moved on in ten years, so what I wanted to do was get the wedding video into a form where I could keep it properly backed up on the computer, plus with a copy online. Whilst most DVD players and Bluray players will quite happily cope with NTSC recordings, finding a DV camera that could had proved rather more difficult, but thankfully I found a specialist company over in Twyford called DigitalCopyCat who we could drop the tape off with in person who would produce a QuickTime file of the wedding that I could easily handle on the Mac from our NTSC Master tape.

We now have that file converted into an Apple TV ready form so we can watch it back on the main TV, and also uploaded to my Vimeo account so you too can enjoy the wedding video – indeed most of our UK friends and relatives will never have seen this I’m sure!

Watching it back certainly brings back a few memories. There are of course quite a few people who are sadly no longer with us, for example neither Pastor K’Henry or Rev’d Sheila our Rector from Finchampstead who came over for the wedding are with us any more. There are also several relatives such as Beth’s grandmother, and Aunt Kathy who have passed away since.

On a lighter note you do get to see me pacing up and down wondering where the grooms parents and Best Man have got to (they managed to take a wrong turn on the way to the church and were driving around the army base at Ralston),  plus me in a suit that I might just about fit into again now, but for the best part of ten years haven’t been able to. There are also quite a few of the family looking younger and less stressed before they had their children!

Anyway, the video is over an hour long as it’s got the whole service, plus speeches and cake cutting and so on at the reception, so enjoy a little bit of a flashback to ten years ago.

Also if you’ve got any films or slides, videos or so forth that you want converted to something digital I can heartily recommend DigitalCopyCat – great service, especially with all the bouncing back and forth to get the format I wanted for the Mac, and at a good price too.

Apple TV – Steve What Have You Done?

Today was the September Apple Event, when Steve Jobs stood up in front of the worlds media and showed them what Apple will be selling this festive season.

This year, as expected we got a revamped iPod range, with a touchscreen iPod Nano, an iPod Touch that picks up features from the iPhone 4, and a revamped version of iTunes. To support all of that we also have iOS 4.1 on the way, which hopefully will work a lot better on my iPhone 3G, and a preview of iOS 4.2.

But the big news was the demise of the original Apple TV.

The Apple TV was always a bit of a Marmite product, loved by some, loathed by many.

Many people bemoan it’s limited functionality, in particular the limited number of media formats it supports, and the fact that the only device that can play media from the built in 40Gb or 160Gb hard drive is the Apple TV itself. However within it’s limited parameters it does exactly what it says on the tin, and does it very well.

I have to say here that we have one of the 160Gb models, and it gets a good deal of use. It holds a large proportion of our main iTunes database including hours and hours of music, several TV series for the children, a number of digital copies of movies, plus quite a few video and audio podcasts. We’ve also on a number of occasions rented movies and watched them using the device.

The new Apple TV is a bit different. It is a massively smaller device – about 80% according to the Apple website – and they’ve done this by leaving out the hard drive totally. Essentially this is now a media extender. As now it can stream content off a networked Mac, and as a new party piece can stream content off an iPhone or iPad. You can still rent movies, and now TV shows on it, but rather than download and watch, Apple seem to think that you can watch them streaming straight off the Internet.

Now I don’t know what the broadband connection is like in Palo Alto, but my first response sat in semi-rural England is you must be joking.

We’re fairly lucky, we’re pretty close to the telephone exchange, but thanks to the lousy BT infrastructure we can get between 5 and 7.5Mbps. Our ISP is pretty good but still, watching the current HD trailers is a bit of a struggle on our connection. The idea that watching a HD movie in the same way will be in any way a pleasurable experience is laughable. Plus with the limited broadband deals that many people use the idea of “watching as many times in 48 hours as you like” rapidly wears off when you realise that it’s download the file over and over again every time you watch it – the current Apple TV downloads the file ONCE and then deletes itself at the end of 48 hours.

Granted if you live in a cable equipped urban area or are lucky enough to be in a 20Mbps ADSL area you might be better off, but still the idea of “All Streaming, No Hassle” is anything but for large numbers of people in the UK, and I suspect similar numbers of people who live outside urban areas in the USA as well.

For us, the only realistic option is to stream from another device on a local network – in our case that will be the main Mac hosting the iTunes database. That’s all very well, but it’s a total pain – the Mac has to be booted up and logged on so that the new Apple TV can access it – the new Apple TV may have wonderfully low power consumption, but it’s worth nothing if you’re having to run a Mac or PC to provide the content.

And just one final little annoyance – the new box is now so small that the connectivity choice is HDMI or HDMI – I’m using composite cables…

So, yes Steve Jobs, I’m terribly impressed by how small it is, but it’s really a retrograde step for existing Apple TV users like me. Having said that, if you’d announce a media server that could host up a central iTunes database…

Can iTunes Rentals Bring iPlayer Downloads to the Mac?

One of the biggest criticisms of the BBC iPlayer has been that the download service is Windows only – and limited to specific versions at that – ruling out licence payers using other platforms such as the Mac. Indeed I’ve blogged previously about the pressure that the BBC is under by the BBC Trust to get such a cross-platform solution.

The basic problem has always been that there wasn’t a solution that met the requirements – the ability to have programmes downloadable, but then only able to be watched for a week after the original showing, but was cross-platform. Windows Media DRM provided the functionality, but not the cross-platform support.

That all changed this week, with the Macworld Keynote. As part of that, Apple announced iTunes Movie Rentals. Although the lengths of time are different, the fundamental principle that the BBC required, that the programmes only be able to be watched for a limited period are there. When I was watching the keynote, the thought did cross my mind as to whether we’d find the BBC amongst the big film studios come the UK launch.

It hasn’t taken long for the BBC to start making positive noises, with Ashley Highfield, the director of Future Media and Technology stating on a BBC blog:

The announcement from Macworld about the effective relaunch of the AppleTV (Jobs: “we tried with AppleTV, but its not what people wanted. So we’re back with AppleTV take two – no computer is required”) is encouraging.

This, coupled with Apple’s (long anticipated) move to a rental model, means that we can look to getting BBC iPlayer onto this platform too, as we should be able to use the rental functionality to allow our programmes to be downloaded, free, but retained for a time window, and then erased, as our rightsholders currently insist.

Whilst it won’t reach Linux users, using iTunes would reach more users than the current solution – more than that, the programmes would be transferable from a computer, to an iPod, and could even be watched back on a TV using the Apple TV – giving an option for people without a suitable computer at all.

I also can’t imagine that Steve Jobs isn’t going to jump at this – just think of the media coverage if the BBC boots out a Microsoft based solution in favour of iTunes

Wow – Apple Joins the Smartphone Arena

So after all the rumours, and all the predictions of an Apple mobile phone, a widescreen iPod, and a small form factor Mac tablet, today in his keynote, Steve Jobs announced all three – but in one device, the iPhone.

iphoneannounce.jpg

Essentially this is Apple does the smartphone as it thinks it should be done, diving straight into the market that is currently being dominated by the various Symbian models, primarily from Nokia and Sony Ericsson, and with competition from the multitude of Windows Mobile devices. Certainly it is a very competitive market for Apple to enter, so the iPhone needs to be something pretty special and stand out different to compete.

Certainly on paper the iPhone seems to be exactly that. In terms of looks it is more PDA like than phone like – being just slightly smaller than my existing Dell Axim PDA. Resolution wise the screen is only half VGA at 320 x 480 – an interesting choice as high end PDA’s such as my existing Axim have been shipping with VGA screens for a while. Like a PDA it doesn’t have an extensive number of keys – indeed like the classic Mac mouse designs, it has precisely one – on the front. This is apparently the home key, that takes the user back to the main menu.

There are a couple of other buttons on the side, but essentially the whole thing is driven by a touch-screen interface. However again, it’s a bit different from the normal. Whereas most other PDA devices come with some sort of stylus for pointing, this is an interface designed to be used with fingers.

Now whilst this is probably easier to use in some ways, the real test will be how resilient the screen is to sticky, mucky fingers – certainly a big question mark over the design.

The software is definitely more PDA like, with web browsing provided by a version of Safari, the desktop browser that ships with MacOS X. More than that, the whole device will be running a version of MacOS X too, I’d expect one without the overheads of Aqua and the rest of the full scale MacOS X on the top – but the keynote certainly highlighted that a lot of the OS is still there. So whilst you won’t be loading desktop Mac applications onto it, it has the benefits of multithreading, pre-emptive multitasking and memory protection. Alongside the phone and internet functions, the software also includes a full raft of iPod features too, including the ability to play videos in widescreen mode, and also it appears, a version of the Cover Flow interface that turned up in the most recent revision of iTunes. On top of that it also has a hookup with Google Maps, plus a photo management application.

The widescreen mode, or more specifically how the phone changes is one of the really stand out features though. Whilst my Axim, like a number of other PDA’s can operate in both portrait or landscape modes, it usually requires manually clicking a couple of options to rotate the screen. Apparently the iPhone will do it entirely automatically. If you’re holding the device in a landscape position, that is how it will display – if it is in portrait then it will display in portrait mode.

Communications wise, a surprising omission is 3G support – it is only using EDGE, an enhanced version of GPRS. However it is quad-band GSM, so should be able to roam pretty well everywhere. It also has wi-fi and Bluetooth to add to the communications choices. It can also, not surprisingly dock and sync with a desktop.

A camera is included, but it doesn’t seem that it is regarded as a major feature, and it is only 2 megapixel, putting it on a par with other smartphones, but certainly not one to get if one of your requirements is to take good pictures.

So in summary, it certainly looks like an exciting entry into the smartphone market, with a good looking interface and a number of innovative features. Although the lack of a stylus is being pushed as a plus point, I’d certainly wonder quite how resilient to finger marks it’s actually going to be. In terms of being used as a PDA, the big advantage from a Mac users point of view is that it will use the same calendar and contact database designs as the desktop iCal and Address Book so hopefully synchronisation will be much less of a pain as with other smartphones. Having said that, currently it has only been announced for the US market – quite how long we will have to wait for a UK version remains to be seen. Many of the answers probably won’t become clear before the official release in June – and thus far it seems that only David Pogue has really had that much of a play with it.

Looking at the other major announcement, the Apple TV (or iTV as it was know before) was shown – and is pretty much as expected, although there is some surprise that it can’t produce the top HDTV resolutions. Essentially it is a simple wrapper around Front Row moving it off the desktop and into the living room.

Notable by their absence however was any mention of software, for example more details of Leopard, or an overview of the ’07 revisions of iLife and iWork – more to come maybe?

Update: Time Magazine have a very good iPhone article which alongside some descriptions of functionality also has some interesting background tit-bits. For example, Apple has been working on the touch screen for a number of years in response to the Tablet PC hype, but the research ultimately went into the iPhone interface rather than a tablet Mac.

The deal with Cingular is significant, as Apple effectively forced the network to adapt to fit what they wanted to do with the phone – usually it works the other way around with the network calling the shots. A good example of this is the iPhone voicemail functionality that works through a screen based list of messages, not the audio menu that is used on existing phones.

Certainly I’m expecting a long wait for it to appear in other markets, as Apple will have to do precisely the same with every other network – force them to conform to how the iPhone works – certainly it seems that this will extend to the availability of additional software for the device too. Whilst Cingular were willing to bend to what Apple wanted, wider availability around the world will be entirely down to whether other networks will do the same, and that I suspect will come down to how well the device sells in the US. If they can see that the investment in modifying their networks to cope with the iPhone is worthwhile, then they’ll go for it – but I suspect we’ll be paying a goodly amount for the pleasure too to cover their costs.