Just got back from a nice vacation out in the Seattle area. Luckily this weekend is a holiday weekend, so I have some extra time to recover.
So what’s with my post title? Its meaning is twofold:
1. I used several cameras during my vacation with wonderful results. Had a Nikon D80, Nikon F100, Nikon 35Ti, Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim, Yashica T4 Super, Ricoh GX100, and a Polaroid SLR 680 SE, and an iPhone 3G. I used them all and got a fair number of keepers from each camera. Hopefully I can process a bunch of pictures and post them this weekend.
Each camera has characteristics that worked well in different situations, so there weren’t really any redundancies. I would possibly pare down my camera gear very slightly during my next vacation, but not by much. Perhaps leave the Ricoh GX100 and Yashica T4 Super behind next time…
2. Upon my return from vacation, I came across a couple exciting new cameras, both with HD video capabilities: the Nikon D90 and the Sony DSC-T500.
At one end of the spectrum, the D90 is the first DSLR to shoot video, 720p HD video to boot! There are some limitations, as I understand it, like not having the ability to auto-focus while shooting the video. However, given the flexibility of being able to shoot video with any lens, and being able to set the depth of field through aperture settings, I think having this video capability on the D90 is a great advantage. Imagine shooting wide-angle, fisheye video, or macro video just by switching the lens…very cool!
At the other end of the spectrum, the Sony DSC-T500 looks like a sweet, sleek, pocketable camera with a huge touchscreen LCD that can also shoot 720p HD video. You can shoot stills (not sure if you can shoot at full, 10MP resolution, though) and use optical zoom while you are shooting HD video, both rare features on P&S cams. I am not sure if the D90 can do that. The T500 also has optical stabilization, which is a welcome feature in a small P&S. It’s not a new feature; it’s just preferable to the other method of stabilization via forcing a higher ISO, which has become somewhat prevalent on recent P&S cams to save on manufacturing price.
Yes, the T500′s image quality will be somewhat hampered by the small sensor typical of pocket P&S cameras, but this would be a companion camera to my other cameras, digital or film, so I’m not so worried about the T500′s small sensor. Besides, I’ve shot wonderful pictures with my plastic Vivitar “toy camera”, so it’s really just a matter of knowing a camera’s advantages and limitations and shooting with them in mind.
Both of these cameras have really caught my attention; I’m eager to see them in person soon and give them both a test drive!
…and yet I bought another OTA HD tuner for my Mac mini in order to record two shows airing at the same time tonight — Heroes and 24. Well, that wasn’t the only reason I decided to take the plunge on the second tuner/PVR device, but that was a big reason. Ever since I’d gotten the EyeTV 500, I have been relatively happy with its performance that I was considering getting another one, partially since the pesky “broadcast flag” issue kept hanging around and I was worried that future HD recording devices would be crippled, and partially just to have a back up around, in case there ever happened to be a time that two shows I wanted to record were on at the same time.
Well, when I found out that Heroes and 24 were both on at 8 PM tonight (CST), I went to Elgato’s site to check on pricing for another EyeTV 500. I was dismayed to find out that the 500 seemed to be discontinued. Luckily, another device, called the EyeTV Hybrid, was a worthy replacement for the 500. Its functionality and pricing were especially attractive. The EyeTV Hybrid looks like an oversized USB flash drive, with a coax input on the opposite end of the USB connector. It can handle OTA HD broadcasts via the coax input, as well as S-video, composite, and audio connections via a little break-out cable that is included. This means it can also handle connections to VCRs, video cameras, and set-top boxes for satellite broadcasts (IIRC). To top it all off, it’s only $149.99 (the EyeTV 500 I got was an open-box item from the Apple Store, and it was over $200). Awesome! I was slightly worried about it because someone had posted that unlike the EyeTV 500, the Hybrid was affected by processing power, so lesser spec-ed Macs like the Mac mini would have choppy recordings or playback (can’t remember which, or if it was both). This sounded slightly suspect, since HD recordings are not compressed by the EyeTV device. They’re simply captured in MPEG-2 at the original resolution. But the hubby suggested that maybe the person who gave this feedback on the online Apple Store was referring to recordings via the break-out cable’s S-video or RCA connections. I have yet to try recording via this break-out cable, but I will try to do that soon. If I can ever get my TiVo working again, I have a few recordings on its hard drive that I want to digitize! The EyeTV 2 software makes it really easy to edit out commercials/unwanted footage, and then export to different formats.
Last Friday I picked up the EyeTV Hybrid. The installation couldn’t have been simpler. Since I already had the EyeTV 2 software installed on my Mac mini, it recognized the Hybrid right away. No drivers, no extra software to install…it was truly plug-and-play. I split the OTA HD signal with some random coax splitter that we had laying around, and connected the coax cables to both EyeTV devices, and I was able to tune each one separately, and record two shows at the same time, just as I expected I should. The only annoyance I have is that the EyeTV software doesn’t seem to have an easy way of switching between the two devices. Everytime I want to schedule a recording on a particular device, I have to go into the preferences page and choose which device I want to use. I couldn’t find a way to pick a recording device on the info page for a show, where you can choose whether or not to schedule the recording. And it seems that now the EyeTV Hybrid is the default device that the EyeTV software is using to tune to live TV, which is fine, but a little puzzling how it chose the Hybrid over the 500.
Live TV and recordings via the Hybrid look just as good as from the 500. The only problem with the overall setup (besides not easily being able to choose which device to record with, on-the-fly) is that when a show is being recorded, watching pre-recorded material is a choppy affair. This was always the case before, though. I think the EyeTV 500 is already kind of taxing to the Mac mini (though it doesn’t completely bog the machine when recording). So tonight instead of being able to watch 24 and record Heroes, we’re going to have to wait until both recordings are done before we watch one of them, because choppy playback is very distracting. Actually, tonight we’ll have to wait until at least 10 PM (CST), since Studio 60 is also on tonight, right after Heroes. It’s a jam-packed TV night — Prison Break at 7, Heroes and 24 at 8, and Studio 60 at 9. Sure, I could just wait until the next day and buy all of those shows from iTunes, but they wouldn’t be in HD. And why should I if I can just record them myself for free (not counting the cost of PVR equipment)?
Hopefully the two tuners work as they should tonight. It’ll be the first real test. I did do some short recordings in parallel and they seemed to turn out fine, so I wouldn’t expect any different during the real shows at 8. Fingers crossed!
Editor’s note: I’m not being paid to write this review; I am just a happy customer. I’ve written about the EyeTV 500 in a previous blog post. Sorry if this post sounded like a commercial. I’m just writing about my good experience with these Elgato products. This is why I’m not that interested in the Apple TV device. I already have a Mac mini set up as my media server/PVR, and it’s a more flexible solution than Apple’s device, though I might consider the Apple TV in the future for an easy way to stream my media from the Mac mini in the family room up to a TV in the master bedroom…who knows.
I usually hate it when hipster-ish people snarkily say something’s “meh”, but in this case, I think “meh” is pretty appropriate for describing how I feel about buying videos on Xbox Live.
Like just about everyone else, I decided I wanted to try out the video downloads on Xbox Live. I perused the TV show downloads and downloaded a free HD clip of ABC’s Day Break. It was pretty good, along the same lines as watching the show from my OTA HD recording. Since that was an okay experience, I decided to step up to the next level and download an HD movie. I added the least amount of points I could to buy a movie and chose Poseidon since it was one of only two HD movies available for download. V for Vendetta would’ve been a much better choice, but
a) I already have the DVD set for V for Vendetta
b) we haven’t seen Poseidon before
c) Poseidon was a smaller HD download than V, at 4.7 GB, vs. 6.something GB.
So late on the 22nd (almost the 23rd), I started the download for Poseidon and went about my business, thinking it’d download overnight and through the next day, and we’d be able to watch it the following evening. Ha! Wishful thinking.
Firstly, I checked on its progress a little while into the download (can’t remember how long after I started it, though it couldn’t have been more than a couple hours), curious to see how fast/slow the transfer rate was. Good thing, because there was an error dialog on-screen saying that the movie couldn’t be downloaded, and I was supposed to hit ok to confirm that I got this info. Why wouldn’t they just implement some timer to wait before retrying the download automatically? What if I had left it alone all day the next day and checked on it in the evening? What a nasty surprise to see that the download crapped out at the beginning and was waiting for me to manually restart the download! This error happened another 2 or 3 times. Luckily the download resumed after I restarted it, instead of starting all over. I was surprised that I didn’t get some error where the system thought I’d already downloaded the whole movie, leaving me with no choice but to contact customer support, or bite the bullet and just add more MS Points to try downloading the movie again.
On the second day of downloading, after those 2 or 3 more unexplained “can’t download this” errors, the download finally progressed beyond 40%. And even more surprising was that later that evening on the 24th, the download “jumped” to 95% (surprising because of the dreadful transfer rate at the beginning) and was ready to view at that point. So we watched the movie.
The movie itself was equivalent to a made-for-TV, Titanic-ish movie, but I’m not going to dwell on that. The video quality was good, but since the movie was not originally filmed in HD (I assume), it didn’t look like true HD (meaning the same quality as sports events recorded in HD, where you swear the players are right in front of you!). In fact, it didn’t seem that much better than watching a DVD. I sure could see the film grain, if that’s what I’m meant to get out of this HD experience. *smirk* Given that the download size for the HD version is almost 4x the size as the SD (480p, equivalent to DVDs, basically), yet not that much better than watching a DVD, this is rather annoying. I guess details are slightly more crisp, but it all depends on how the movie is remastered into HD anyway. Poseidon didn’t seem like a breathtaking example of a movie redone for HD.
The video playback was decent, though. There was only one playback hiccup near the beginning, but other than that, it was smooth. The sound was pretty good. Since I wasn’t about to waste money renting a DVD of Poseidon to compare video quality to the Xbox download, I decided to try downloading V for Vendetta. I added another 500 MS Points to my account and tried to download V. I got this irritating error:
Why would they set it up to deduct points from the account before making sure the DRM crap could be downloaded properly first? It’s like a shady company charging you for what you ordered, plus shipping before they even check to see if it’s in stock. And if this error occurs, shouldn’t the system reverse the transaction automatically so you can try the download again? Since those points were already deducted, I couldn’t retry the download without adding more points.
I e-mailed Xbox Live customer service and they told me to call the customer service hotline. Why? They should be able to look up my account, verify that I was telling the truth when I told them the download is in my download history but I never actually started the download, and reimburse my account with the 480 points so I can retry the download. They could easily ask me for ID verification over e-mail, like my security question, or whatever it is that I entered when I created the Xbox Live account. Why would they make me call the number? I’m sure I’m not the only one having issues with the video download service, so the call isn’t going to be a 5-minute thing. What is it that they can accomplish on the phone that they can’t accomplish via e-mail?
Sorry, but it’s not worth it to me to waste my time on the phone just to get the points credited back to my account so I can try the download again and babysit it to make sure those stupid “can’t download this” errors don’t rear their ugly heads. I’m just going to eat the cost of that lost download. Until these movie services make the download process more reliable and get it through their thick, anti-P2P heads that BitTorrent or some similar distribution method should be used to speed up these downloads, I’m going to sit back and wait for my Netflix to arrive in my mailbox.
Oh yeah, here’s a link to another similar account of the Xbox Live Marketplace “stealing” points.
Currently I have my Toshiba Gigabeat S hooked up to my XBox 360 to stream music through the home theatre system. What’s nice about this (besides the trippy, full-screen visualizations playing on my HDTV synced with the music) is that the player doesn’t seem to lose juice since the USB port is powered. At least it doesn’t seem like it’s losing juice…? *scratching head* I’m too tired right now to verify whether or not the Gigabeat is losing battery power. The battery life on the Gigabeat is kind of disappointing, as mentioned in several reviews, so any time I can take advantage of powering the unit via USB, that’s a bonus.
Anyway, the main comment I wanted to make is how irritated I am that you cannot stream video from the Gigabeat to (or through?) the XBox 360. GRRR! Technically the Gigabeat S is a mobile version of Windows Media Center, so why can’t I use it to stream video?? What a stupid move by Microsoft. Well, it’s probably not stupid from a financial standpoint, since a computer to run Windows Media Center costs more than a Gigabeat S, but still! Do you know how many people would be persuaded to buy a Gigabeat S if they could stream video from it onto their 360? (Okay, maybe there wouldn’t be that many people willing to dump more money into their 360 system, but who knows?) Of course, it would be even nicer if you could store HD video on the Gigabeat S without Windows Media Player downsizing the resolution, but I know that would never ever happen.
I’m still trying to find a system to throw Vista onto in order to try streaming HD video (like the Mariposa HD vidcast, or those video reviews from Akihabara News as examples to try) to my 360. A couple weekends I tried to put Vista on a pretty old HP laptop I wasn’t using anymore, and the experience was absolutely horrible. I was able to load it onto the laptop, but it was sooooooooooooooo sloooooooooooooooooow to do anything, and for some reason it and the 360 couldn’t actually communicate with each other, despite both being on a wired ethernet connection.
I saw that Microsoft is offering Virtual PC as a free download now. I wonder if I can install Vista onto Virtual PC running on my tablet (still don’t want to try putting it straight on my only machine that I use for both home and work), if that would work for streaming video to the XBox 360? Hmmm. Possible weekend project.
Editor's Note: Meant to post this yesterday, but I got distracted by trying to figure out if my Mac mini could playback an HD video. *sheepish grin*
Hey, Kids, I'm finally back home. Phew…! I actually feel a lot less tired than I thought I would after a long day of driving home.
Anyway, I have a quick question: does the Vista Beta 2 that everyone has access to (if you can dl it) actually include Media Center capabilities? I ask because I would like to play around with the Media Center Extender capabilities of the XBox 360, but I currently don't have a WMC machine set up. If the Vista beta has MCE stuff in it already, that would be the easiest way for me to get an MCE up and running. If not, does anyone know if there's a way around this whole "you can only stream video to the 360 if you have a Windows Media Center PC" crap? Surely there's a better way to market the Windows Media Center platform… (I guess now that would just be Vista)
I read about the Mariposa HD vidcast and wanted to try out playing back the video on our HDTV (720p max), but my current media PC (my Mac mini, low-end Power PC version) is having a bit of trouble playing back HD videos (not sure why since it does quite well being an HD DVR…talk about that later). I figured that the XBox 360 would probably be my best bet, but it has that dang Media Center PC only restriction for streaming HD video. Any suggestions would be appreciated, dear Readers!