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Home Entertainment Blog Archive

Brought to you by your friendly, opinionated, Home Entertainment and Technology writer, Stephen Dawson

Here I report, discuss, whinge or argue on matters related to high fidelity, home entertainment equipment and the discs and signals that feed them. Since this Blog is hand-coded (I like TextPad), there are no comments facilities. But feel free to email me at scdawson [at] hifi-writer.com. I will try to respond, either personally or by posting here emails I consider of interest. I shall assume that emails sent to me here can be freely posted by me unless you state otherwise.

This archive is for an uncertain period commencing Thursday, 4 September 2008

Piracy - Friday, 3 October 2008, 10:59 pm

The other day one of my daughters announced that she had borrowed from a friend the entire ten season series of 'Friends' on DVD. When she showed me the box, a slim, professional looking, cardboard affair containing only five DVDs, I was perplexed. We spent a few minutes working things out, and it appeared that there must be two full seasons per DVD, with some 24 episodes per season, each of about 22 minutes. That works out to well over a thousand minutes of video per disc.

The next day I happened to notice that the complete ten season series of 'Friends' was available on DVD on a 40 disc set. Somehow that (six episodes per disc) seems more realistic.

So I examined one of the five discs from this packet. It is a DVD-9 dual layer and is quite chock-a-block with the entire surface area utilised. A few calculations showed that the bitrate for each episode ranged between about 0.8 and 1.1Mbps (of which nearly 0.2Mbps was used in audio). Compare that to the 3.5 to 4Mbps of a regular low quality DVD, and the 6 to 8Mbps of a high quality one.

Further examination revealed that the resolution was, instead of the 720 by 576 pixels we use in Australia, or the 720 by 480 pixels they use in America, a mere 352 by 240 pixels (the DVD player scales this up). Which explained two things: why the picture was so soft, and why the compression artefacts, while bad, were not as bad as I had expected.

I'm going to assume that this is a pirated set, and it confirms to me that copyright pirates simply don't care about quality.

Has Iron Man recovered? - Thursday, 2 October 2008, 8:30 am

This morning I checked 'The Iron Man Blu-ray Ferro-Thread' and found that overnight the problems seem to have disappeared and people were getting onto BD-Live fine with the Iron Man Blu-ray. As compared to my discussion in the post before last.

So I loaded the disc into the standalone Sony BDP-S550 player to see if it would work for me. First I made sure that there was no BD data stored for this disc from my previous fiddlings around. Instead of going straight to the Paramount welcoming screen and then language selection, the disc showed the blue Iron Man icon for a few seconds, and then displayed the following message:

Additional bonus features are now available via BD-Live for this disc. Note this one-time process may take several minutes depending on your player model and Internet connection speed. Would you like to download these features now? No|Yes
The text was white, in a rather crowded font. It was presented in a dark blue box, outlined by two white lines. What I'm trying to get at here is that this was some kind of graphic presentation -- albeit a simple one -- rather than some raw message text.

This, clearly, was a change. I hadn't seen this message mentioned on any of the Internet boards I had been checking yesterday, nor have I yet this morning. Could it be that Paramount has added a little front-end query to help deal with traffic problems and customer complaints?

Anyway, it still needs a little work. When this message came up, the 'No' was in pale blue and the 'Yes' in amber. Flicking the arrows on the remote switched the colours, but it was not at all clear which was the selection colour. I took a punt with 'Yes' in pale blue, the disc loaded the same way it had yesterday and would not give me access to the BD-Live features.

So I ejected the disc, deleted the 'Iron Man Disc 1' BD data that had been stored on my persistent storage, and restarted it. This time I left 'Yes' in amber, and the blue logo appeared, pulsating gently for a minute or two (my stopwatch is still broken) until a new message appeared:

DISC UPDATE COMPLETE! Press continue to proceed. Continue
That's where I am right now. So let's press 'Continue'. Blank screen for five seconds, then Paramount opening page and now language selection. I pick English. Various disclaimers of the kind Paramount normally place at this point on their discs. The blue icon reappears as it has previously, is there for five seconds and now the main menu is up. I arrow around to Extras and then to BD-Live. (The menu selection indicator is amber letter colouring here as well. This is made clear by only one out of the four selections being so highlighted. That doesn't work when there are only two selections.)

I select BD Live. Blank screen for a second, then the blue logo for a few seconds, and then the BD-Live page, which has only one feature at the moment: to test my 'Iron Man I.Q.' with an in-the-movie trivia game. There's a 'Download' selection, and also a 'User Login' button. Thought I might as well try the latter. Blue logo. Logon screen. This didn't go well. After filling in the boxes there was a message 'An Unexpected Error has Occurred, Try Again Later'. Oh well.

So I hit the Download button instead. There was a progress bar for this, but since the whole download took less than two seconds it wasn't really required. There was an option to 'View' after this, or 'Delete'. I chose 'View'. Blank screen for five seconds. Blue logo is now up, pulsating gently. Less than twenty seconds has passed and a menu pops up. Accompanying explanatory text says:

Iron Man I.Q. lets you test your Iron Man knowledge by playing unique trivia games over clips from the movie.

Start with one of the featured quizzes created by Marvel Entertainment and check back soon for an expanded version that will let you create and post your own I.Q. challenges over the movie.

Well, that's it for the moment. Paramount seems to have done some quick and smart work to overcome most of the teething problems. Their BD-Live features are obviously expandable. It worked at tolerable speeds on a standalone player, and presumably quite a bit faster on a PS3. It was enormously faster than the BD-Live features on Sony Pictures Entertainment titles.

Pretty impressive, really. I'll come back in a few days and check the 'Login' feature. I'm not really sure what it's for. Is it to log into some kind of BD-Live portal, which is company independent (if so, I've already done this with the Sony discs). Or is it for Paramount stuff alone?

All that, though, is for another day.

Will BD-Live ever be any good? - Wednesday, 1 October 2008, 11:29 pm

Eventually, I reckon.

While I was writing the previous post a possible answer to a conundrum occurred to me.

Consumer technology is not built upon an assumption of endless consumer patience. If you provide some feature in your equipment, consumers will expect to be able to press a key on the remote control and have it happen rapidly.

So how do I explain the BD-Live performance -- extraordinarily slow performance -- on the first dedicated consumer BD-Live Blu-ray player I've checked? To get this in perspective, let me loosely outline what happens (loosely, because my beloved stopwatch passed away last night and has yet to be replaced). You place a recent Sony Pictures Entertainment disc in the player and it loads, pausing for the better part of a minute on the BD-Java loading logo. Once that's done everything proceeds normally until you choose BD-Live from the Special Extras menus, whereupon nothing happens -- other than the player becoming completely unresponsive -- for I estimate some two minutes. Then the screen goes black, and after another lengthy pause, a 'progress bar' appears. This is a four segment bar, and since each segment seems to take half a minute or so, it isn't very informative.

I blame the Sony PS3. These companies aren't dumb. When planning to release BD-Live discs they would surely have tested them. Thoroughly. But to test you need equipment. Until a couple of months ago the only BD-Live capable player available was the Sony Playstation 3, so that's what they would have used for final testing.

The Sony PS3 is not a Blu-ray player. It is a games machine that happens to play Blu-ray. It plays Blu-ray very well indeed, but that it is not primarily what it was built for. It was built for games. To do games at this point in the history of humanity, you need a huge amount of processing power to render the images and provide the multiple processing threads required to monitor, direct and respond to all the characters in the game.

In other words, the PS3 has an industrial strength CPU.

Consumer Blu-ray players don't. So Blu-ray discs tested to proceed at a consumer tolerable (barely) clip for the PS3 meander at a snail's pace in a dedicated consumer Blu-ray player.

Don't despair. Now that consumer BD-Live players are available, the disc developers will be under some pressure to test on those and consequently optimise for much faster performance. Equally, people like me will be criticising the speed with which Blu-ray players do stuff, so there will be some pressure to boost the processing power available to them as well.

What, you doubt the power of the market to deliver these results? The startup and load times of the current generation of dedicated consumer Blu-ray players absolutely kill those of earlier models. Give it, um, time. It will happen.

BD-Live problems - Wednesday, 1 October 2008, 10:49 pm

The other day Sony kindly sent me its new BDP-S550 Blu-ray player, due for release in Australia in November. Aside from some other virtues, this is a BD-Live player. That is, it can support the Web-enabled content becoming increasingly available on Blu-ray discs.

I quickly ran it through its paces with a number of BD-Live discs I had to hand. It worked pretty well -- if very slowly -- with all of these. Problem is: these were all Sony Pictures Entertainment discs. All these are structured similarly, and give similar BD-Live content: primarily downloadable trailers. So I was keen to see something else.

So I've been hassling Universal, trying to get ahold of 'Heroes', either Season, since this has BD-Live content. Season 1 would allow me to compare with the HD DVD version. I'm still hopeful this will arrive soon. But this morning Paramount sent me the new super duper two disc Blu-ray of Iron Man. I'm really looking forward to seeing this since it scores an impressive 8.1 on IMDB. But duty came first. I immediately went to check out the BD-Live content.

Problem was, when I tried to access this from the menu, the disc popped up a message saying:

'NO NETWORK CONNECTION - Your player is not currently connected to the Internet or is not BD-Live capable. [pointless suggestions followed]'
Since the player was currently connected to the Internet and was, apparently, BD-Live capable, I assumed that there was some incompatibility with this particular implementation. I was about the send off an email to Sony, but thought I'd better perform some extra checks. First with the player: I dragged out yet another Sony disc with BD-Live stuff, fired it up and it all worked (albeit slowly) as it was supposed to. So then I loaded the problematic disc in a Playstation 3 I have on (very kind) loan from Sony Computer Entertainment. Since until very recently the PS3 has been the only BD-Live player available, I figured that all BD Live content would be tested on it.

But there was a problem. This performed in an identical manner. That is, not at all with the BD-Live content on this disc, displaying the identical message with regard to their allegedly being no network connection.

I rang up Paramount PR and reported the issue. I thought, perhaps, that this feature hadn't been enabled for points of origin outside North America, or that it was being held back by some equally trivial issue. Paramount said that they hadn't had any similar complaints from others. Well, I tend to test the unexpected, so I wasn't surprised by that.

I googled around a bit, and found that this disc was causing major problems for North American users. But their problem wasn't mine. Their problem was that the disc would sit there for tens of minutes, even hours, showing a 'loading' logo, without proceeding beyond it. Some persisted and eventually it turned out for them that some twelve megabytes of something or other had been downloaded. Others gave up is disgust. Some disconnected, or switched off through their PS3 menus, the Internet, and their discs loaded rapidly, whereupon they could enjoy their movies.

But after a while my problem started to be reported on the same discussion thread.

So, time for a theory. Imagine: you release a popular Blu-ray disc but you've made a strategic error: whenever it is loaded it immediately, without asking, goes off to examine an Internet site to see if any additional data is available. There is, and it immediately, without asking, downloads it. This seems to be about 12MB from what I've read on this thread.

Now, with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people loading the disc on the first day or two of release, the site slows to a crawl. A certain blue logo seems permanently lodged on the screens on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of TV sets. Some eject the disc and start again, which just makes matters worse. A few are clever, or stumble upon the idea, and yank Internet from their PS3s, and the disc loads quickly and plays nicely. Meanwhile dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people ring your switchboard and demand to know what's going on.

Their complaint is not that they can't access the BD-Live feature. Their complaint is that they can't get the damned movie to play.

What do you do?

One solution might be to take down the site. The disc must have some check routine to see whether the player is both BD-Live capable, and actually connected to the Internet. Maybe this involves some kind of pinging of the site. If you take down the site completely, then the BD-Java routines on the disc might interpret this as you not having a BD-Live capable player, or an Internet connection.

I'm going to make a wild guess and suggest that this is what has happened here.

UPDATE (Thursday, 2 October 2008, 10:26 am): Seems all my theorising was askew. Paramount advises me:

Good News as our release date is next Thursday 9th October - the site was not activated as yet they did this at 5:00am last night so please try this again now and let me know how you go.

With reference to your information about the US this has nothing to do with Australia as we have a different master to the US master so there is no connection between the two.

So there you go. Well, it is working, and working very nicely.
Sony launches new Blu-ray Players, sets feline loose amongst avian rats - Wednesday, 24 September 2008, 6:35 pm

Well, Sony has done two launches in two days. Yesterday it unveiled a whole bunch of stuff including a 200Hz LCD TV (apparently it interpolates three new frames between each incoming real picture frame). Another new LCD TV uses hundreds of LEDs for backlighting, and these are individually addressable so they can be brightened and darkened individually in order to provide more precise aspect ratio enhancement.

Apparently just about everything (or so I've heard) will be networkable. And Sony has moved its menu system for all its equipment to what it calls XMB, for cross (X) Media Bar. If you are familiar with the PS3, it's essentially the same menu system that it uses. It's certainly no worse than any other menu system and the cross-product consistency will be welcome. I didn't go to that event.

Today was all about Blu-ray and I most certainly went to that launch. I'm glad I did. The emphasis Sony has placed on Blu-ray gives me hope that the format truly will succeed in the mass market.

The Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray playerWith a view to helping that, Sony says it will be launching a significant publicity campaign very soon on Channel 10 to raise Blu-ray's profile (it will involve a 'classic Australian actor').

Sony will also be releasing two new Blu-ray players. The BDP-S350 will becoming out in October and the BDP-S550 in November. Both of these are BonusView capable (ie. support picture-in-picture and sound-in-sound). Incredibly, both are also BD-Live compliant (they both have Ethernet ports and their firmware will support full BD-Live capability). BD-Live means that they support Internet interactivity where provided on discs. For persistent storage, both provide a USB port. With the BDP-S350 it's up to you to supply a USB memory stick for storage. With the BDP-S550 you get a 1GB Sony Microvault USB memory stick.

Both are capable of delivering 1080p24 video and bitstream of the new audio standards over HDMI. I forgot to ask, but if the hardware is an enhancement of previous models, then you ought to be able to change the output resolution on the fly using a key on the remote control.

The other major difference (there isn't much between them visually) between the two concerns audio decoding. Apparently the cheaper model will still decode Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus to multichannel PCM to be delivered via HDMI, but lacks analogue audio output. The BDP-S550 adds 7.1 channel analogue outputs and DTS-HD Master Audio and High Resolution decoding.

The Sony BDP-S550 Blu-ray playerSo Sony is suddenly tripling the number of full BD-Live Blu-ray players on the market (beating, it seems, Panasonic with its unit). But here is where the cat does indeed get amongst the pigeons. The pricing.

The BDP-S350 will enter the market as the cheapest Blu-ray player available, with an RRP of $449! Pretty impressive since the cheapest Blu-ray player on the market at the moment is the Olin OBDP-1000, at $499. The BDP-S550, at a promised RRP of $649, is still lower in price, as I write, than the Samsung BD-P1500 and the Panasonic DMP-BD30. And both of those are, as I write, still BonusView only, not BD-Live (Samsung promises a firmware upgrade for its unit to make it BD-Live some time in the future). By the time it launches, though, I would expect considerable adjustments of RRPs for competing products.

During the launch, Sony showed a graph suggesting that DVD players really took off in Australia late in 2001 once the prices hit the $400 mark. Their, and my, hope is that the same thing happens with Blu-ray.

At last: Universal Pictures (Australasia) Pty Ltd goes Blu-ray - Wednesday, 10 September 2008, 10:35 am

I've been nagging Universal's PR company on and off over the last couple of months about when the company will be going Blu-ray. Yesterday I received a press release headed: 'Heroes: Season 2 DVD Release - October 1'. Great for 'Heroes' fans, of which I am one, but I was about to use it as an opportunity to take up the Blu-ray issue with Universal again. Fortunately I checked what the release actually said. In brief:

  • 'Heroes' Season 2 to be released on 4 disc DVD for $59.95 with a bunch of extras, including a Season 3 sneak peek.
  • Or you can get both Season 1 and 2 as a box set for $99.95.
  • Or you can get 'Heroes' Season 2 on Blu-ray for $99.95.
  • Or as a Season 1 on 2 box set on Blu-ray for $179.95.
Release date 1 October 2008.

I'm working with Universal's PR at the moment to find out more about the company's Blu-ray release schedule. More as it comes to hand. Meanwhile, remember that Universal had a whole bunch of pretty good movies out on HD DVD prior to that format's collapse. Porting them over to Blu-ray is, I suspect, a much easier task than creating them in the first place. And with 'Heroes,' at least, Universal doesn't seem to have skimped. The original HD DVD release of 'Heroes', Season 1, had both picture-in-picture and Web-enabled content. So, it appears, does the Blu-ray release (and Season 2 as well).

So I guess we can expect such titles as 'Serenity', 'Hot Fuzz', 'Shaun of the Dead', 'King Kong' and 'First Blood' out on Blu-ray in the fairly near future.

Toshiba continues to provide HD DVD support - Monday, 8 September 2008, 4:52 pm

I am impressed. This afternoon I turned on my Toshiba HD-XE1 HD DVD player for the first time in a month or so. Aside from playing my collection of fifty or so HD DVDs, I find it useful to check the audio decoding capabilities of home theatre receivers since it can deliver Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD Master Audio as bitstreams over HDMI (the remains the one major weakness of the Sony Playstation 3). Once I'd completed my checks I did a firmware update check via the setup menu and what do you know, but the firmware started updating (over my home network's ADSL Internet connection). After twenty minutes or so the firmware was now 3.0 rather than 2.9.

Toshiba only says vague stuff about what it does ('This firmware update improves network connectivity for supporting the download of web-enabled network content associated with certain HD DVD discs, improves certain video and audio processing capabilities, and also addresses certain disc playback and HDMI/DVI related issues identified by Toshiba.') and I couldn't see any differences. Still, its pleasing that even though the format is defunct, Toshiba continues to provide support to those who dove in.

UPDATE (A few minutes later): A quick search on my database reveals that I have 72 HD-DVD titles. Of course, some have multiple discs (eg. Star Trek, Heroes and the five disc Blade Runner).

Deinterlacing Demo - Friday, 5 September 2008, 9:25 pm

In the previous post I mentioned grabbing some video for a test clip. Here is a somewhat similar test clip I currently use. Use? Overuse! The clip is 3 minutes and 34.8 seconds long and I've watched bits of it hundreds of times. That's because it is the quickest test of how well a DVD player's (or TV's) deinterlacing circuits work. In the image herewith, one full frame from this clip is at the top, while the three details are the valet's waistcoat, unscaled.

The movie is the 1958 romantic comedy Gigi. That's Maurice Chevalier at the left.

Moire pattern created by incorrect deinterlacing It is the waistcoat that is useful here. As you can see from the detail to the left, it has fine dark lines running horizontally over a yellowish background. The frames are progressive, but the PAL DVD has the video flagged as interlaced. This often leads to deinterlacing problems as I've previously explained.

The correct way to deinterlace this is simply to weave together the two fields to recreate the original frame. DVD players that do this produce a nice stable picture with full detail, such as that on the left. Some DVD players when doing a conversion to progressive scan, and some TVs when faced with 576i inputs, instead use a 'bobbing' deinterlacing technique. That means that instead of weaving together the two fields, they show one of the fields first (scaled up to full screen size and, if a decent quality circuit, with the original 288 horizontal picture lines filled with interpolated lines, created individually in each case from the original line above and the orginal line below it). Then the second field is shown, processed in the same way.

Often, this kind of processing is virtually unnoticable. But you can sometimes see a slight loss of picture sharpness, especially in stable parts of the picture. So more advanced deinterlacers combing weaving and bobbing. For the bits of the picture that aren't moving, the perform a weave from the two fields, while those bits of the picture that are moving receive a bob. This is a remarkably effective way of doing it and can yield good picture results.

But if the source, like most movie DVDs, is progressive, this is still substandard. And this picture here shows why. This vest is moving. If it is treated as interlaced, rather than progressive, for the purposes of deinterlacing then instead of the fine horizontal lines, you get the course diagonal ones shown in the two details to the right. The middle detail is the same as the left detail, except that I deinterlaced it by discarding the even field and interpolating replacement scan lines. The right detail is also the same, except it was the odd field that was discarded. This I call a moire pattern because it is an artificially created pattern, generated by applying one kind of regular gridded filter to a gridded pattern. You can see, if you look closely, that the pattern differs slightly between the middle and right hand shots.

All this was artificially achieved using Photoshop. But I can assure you that these pictures are exactly what you see on screen when video-style deinterlacing is applied to this clip. But those course diagonal patterns roil around, moving to and fro, as though two sheets of a sheer curtain were blowing in a breeze.

Some clever deinterlacing circuits include a feature called 'cadence detection'. They examine the content of the picture and attempt to determine whether the video is progressive or interlaced. This particular clip is very challenging, because those horizontal stripes can look a lot like interlaced combing, so virtually all cadence detecting circuits are tricked into thinking that this is interlaced, at least part of the time. That's why I prefer circuits in which you can force film mode.

HDTV vs SDTV again - Friday, 5 September 2008, 8:45 pm

Australian Idol: SD vs HDLast night one of the Australian Idol judges, Marcia Hines, was wearing this brilliant jacket. Brilliant, that is, from my point of view. That's because it was white with a strong, very narrow, closely spaced, near horizontal, black stripe. Brilliant test clip, I thought, especially as it's interlaced, so I captured a section of the video from both the HD and SD versions of the broadcast and produced a beaut two minute clip consisting entirely of Marcia's jacket, mostly in close and medium distance shots.

I thought that I might as well do a quick comparison, seeing as I had the stuff on my computer. So this is an extreme wide-angle shot. The full frame is at the top with details underneath -- standard definition to the left, high definition to the right. As usual, I used Photoshop to increase the size of the SD version from its original 1,024 by 576 pixels (actually broadcast at 720 by 576 but captured in the correct aspect by my application) to 1,920 by 1,080, because that's what your HD display would do.

There are obvious differences of sharpness and clarity, and in the HD version fewer and smaller random noise blotches, which are compression artefacts. Most interesting to me, though, was the group of people seated behind the singer. On the right hand side you can, if you are familiar with this year's show, identify them all. On the left you'd be hard put to identify any.

Juno 'Digital Copy', let's dig deeper - Friday, 5 September 2008, 11:23 am

Let's dig a little deeper into this whole 'Digital Copy' (DC) thing, discussed in the previous post.

My brother, presently holidaying in Austria, has written to me suggesting that I 'should install a Firefox or Maxthon browser and set up a proxy server to access the DC movies.' I'm prepared to go to reasonable lengths to find out the information that I need, or to explore the intricacies of some interesting piece of technology. But when it comes to using consumer orientated hardware and software, I play dumb. I try to follow the instructions as best I can. What more can you reasonably ask of the consumer? So I persevere with Internet Explorer. I don't use proxy servers.

Anyway, I've already seen this wonderful movie ... twice! On Blu-ray. I highly recommend the movie to readers. But I have no desire to see it on a portable device. I just want to find out if a consumer can if he or she wishes to.

Now, what is this 'Digital Copy'? The disc it is on is not a DVD-Video, but a DVD ROM. That is, all it contains is a set of computer files and folders. The disc is single layer and carries 2.71GB of data. In its root directory is an 'Autorun.inf' file which Windows automatically runs on inserting the disc. This in turn invokes a program called 'Menu.exe', a 3MB program which brings the menu up on your screen and manages the installation process.

The actual video data resides in the DVDROM/Media folder. There appear to be three copies there:

1.09GB -- this appears to be the Windows Media format version intended for PC viewing.
0.498GB -- this appears to be the Windows Media format version intended for portable device viewing.
1.11GB -- this file has no extension, but it's so big it is also likely to be a video file, presumably in some format compatible with iTunes and the iPod. iTunes doesn't pay too much attention to file names in general, so it isn't surprising that this file doesn't have a recognisable media extension on it.
Since I was digging around in the contents of the disc anyway, I decided to double click on the first of these. Windows Media Player came up and sought my permission to download some necessary extensions to play the file. I granted permission. Downloads and installations occurred, and then:
Failed playing of Juno WMV
I have altered that screen shot only to white out the serial number. Presumably this means that you're only allowed to get permission to use the material on a given serial number a certain number of times, and somehow in my playing around I've exceeded that. But I did try to play the thing in an unconventional way, so let me restart:
  • I Autoplay the DVD ROM to bring up the menu, then click on 'Transfer Digital Copy':
    Juno autoplay menu
  • In the box that pops up I click 'TRANSFER TO WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER':
    Juno copy manager
  • In the next box that pops up:
    Juno: Enter Serial
  • I enter the serial number and tick the licence agreement box, then click 'NEXT':
    Juno: Failed yet again
  • Okay, see the added line of text (once again, I've blanked out the serial number, not that it appears to be of much use to anyone)? It says: 'This asset has already been licensed.' Which I presume means, like the other one, that I've used up the total number of licensings allowed.
So how many licenses are allowed? If only one, then I suppose my first attempt, which led to the apparent wrong-country-denial, counted as an access. What if you want to load it onto both your computer and your iPod? I shall have to ask.

This continues my long tradition of coming unstuck on digital rights management.

Of course, discs sold in Australia should never come a-cropper with the wrong country thing in the first place.

Brilliant Idea, Dumb Name - Thursday, 4 September 2008, 9:28 pm

Well, here I am live-blogging at the Republican National Convention where ... okay, hang on, I'm not doing that at all. Instead I'm semi-live-blogging as I attempt to grapple for the first time with a 'Digital Copy'. In my title my reference to a dumb name is a reference to 'Digital Copy'.

But it is a brilliant idea. Here's the thing: you buy a movie on a DVD or Blu-ray. You can watch it on your home theatre system, or on your portable DVD player, or on your notebook computer. But you can't watch it on your video iPod or other portable video device. Well, actually you can but only by using various naughty tools to rip the movie from the disc and transform it to a suitable format. 'Digital Copy' eliminates this need. You get an extra copy of the movie in a format suitable for running on your portable video device.

It's brilliant for several reasons. First, if widely adopted by the industry it will cut the ground from underneath developers of the aforementioned naughty tools. Second, it's a useful extra for those who want to be able to view their movies portably. Third, it fits in with the popular sense that once you've purchased a DVD, you should be able to enjoy the movie in any format that suits you, the purchaser. Finally, digital rights management is included in this copy, so it's easier to control than proliferating ripped copies.

But the name is stunningly dumb. 'Digital Copy'? That's what the DVD is! How about 'Movie to Go' or some such that actually differentiates this feature from a normal DVD.

Anyway, this feature has been available in the US for a while, and will be appearing on some Twentieth Century Fox titles in Australia in the near future: specifically in What Happens In Vegas (22 October 2008) and Shine a Light (5 November). However, as an advance preview of how it works, I (and I assume various Australian journalists) received a copy of the Juno DVD in the mail today. But not the Australian one; the US one. This has a second disc which contains the 'Digital Copy'. So what I am about to do is semi-live-blog (this won't be uploaded until I've finished, or my mission fails) of loading the 'Digital Copy' (hereinafter referred to as DC). So here goes.

  • I open the box. It has one of those stickers across the top that are always on US DVDs, but never on Australian ones. I take Disc One and put it in my computer's (Windows XP SP2) DVD-ROM drive. It whirs and asks me whether I want to run CyberLink PowerDVD. While it was whirring, I glanced at the box and discovered that the DC was on Disc 2.
  • I load Disc 2 and pretty rapidly a panel appears asking me whether I want to load the DC, quit or get help. Choosing the latter brings up a web page with some instructions. I choose 'Transfer Digital Copy'. A new panel pops up and asks if I want the iTunes or the Windows Media versions. Since I have an iPod, I choose the former.
  • Then I wait. iTunes has always been horribly slow to load on my computers. Apple ought to get its act together on that. Finally it does, though, and Juno appears as a device.
  • I click on that and the right hand pane of iTunes shows a nice Juno graphic at the top, and underneath tells me to type into the box the code on the 'Juno DVD insert'.
    Nice Juno graphics
  • Juno DVD insert? Oh, there it is: a slip hidden underneath another, larger, slip advertising a different movie. On the back is a 16 digit, three hyphen code number along with some instructions. I type that it and click on 'Redeem'.
  • Up pops a box which says: 'Sign in to redeem your code.' It asks for my Apple ID and password. Do I even have an Apple ID? Did I get one when I installed iTunes? Should I click on Create Account, or Forgot Password? I try the latter, just in case.
  • Hey, I do have an account! I answer the security questions, correctly, and change my password. Then I return to iTunes, but now it tells me I've timed out. Probably not a good idea to live blog and screw things up all at the same time. So I go back and click again on 'Transfer Digital Copy'.
  • That didn't do anything, so I eject the disc and really go back to the beginning.
  • I click the appropriate selections as previously outlined. I type in that damned 16 digit code again. This is complicated (as it was the first time, but I forgot to mention it) by the fact that each character I type causes the previous one to become indecipherable. So I have to type very carefully. This is what it looks like:
    Invisible Digital Copy code
  • I click the 'Redeem' button and the iTunes website is opened up where I am asked to confirm my information (apparently I've never done this before) and accept their terms and conditions. I insouciantly do same, as usual not reading them. Does anyone ever actually do that?
  • iTunes tells me it's communicating with something, and then the following appears:
    Wrong country it seems
  • I take this to mean that the devious thing has worked out that I'm in Australia, so I'm screwed.
Well, I may try the Windows Media version later, but for the time being testing out 'Disc Copy' is going to have to wait.

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