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     Getting surrounded
    Filed under: — David @ 10:20 pm

    Hopefully this will be the last chapter of setting up my new TV and its various accessories.

    Time Warner can’t get my cable set up for another week - after the Oscars - and they won’t even have an HD receiver for me right away, so I decided to buy an antenna since without it I get no reception at all. Fortunately it made a big difference, especially with the digital broadcasts.

    One of the silly-looking things about having a widescreen TV is the commercials that are supposed to be widescreen, but then they were letterboxed for standard screens, and that standard-shaped image gets padded on the sides to go into the widescreen broadcast. The result: small commercial.

    My receiver doesn’t pick up the audio from an HDMI signal, so to get surround sound audio out of the PlayStation 3 I need an optical audio cable. Right now the PS3 is plugged into the TV directly, and I’ll probably leave it that way.

    So my first plan was to run the optical cable from the TV’s audio out to the receiver. But that got the same result I had with the old combo player - Auto mode gets plain stereo, and Pro Logic mode got surround sound, but with the same sound from both surround speakers. The THX audio test on the Star Wars prequel discs comes in real handy here. This TV-to-receiver setup would have been good since it would have gotten me the sound from both the PS3 and broadcast TV, as well as cable, potentially. Now instead they have to be separate settings on my receiver, but at least I get real surround sound without the Pro Logic extrapolation, which seems to make the center channel sound a bit muffled.

    It was nice to finally have it working. I spent part of the evening enjoying the Grammy-nominated surround sound on Straight Outta Lynwood. But, man, technology is complicated these days.

    Filed under: — David @ 3:10 pm

    An amusing excerpt from the PlayStation 3 “Safety and Support” manual:

    The audio CD playback feature of this system is designed to conform to the Compact Disc (CD) format. Recently, some record companies have started marketing music discs encoded with copyright protection technologies. Some of these music discs do not conform to the CD standard and may not be playable on this system.

    Not to point any fingers or anything.

     PS3 Experience
    Filed under: — David @ 4:23 pm

    I was going to get the 20GB PlayStation 3, but those, it turns out, are much harder to find. As I mentioned before, one local Target only ever got two of them, with presumably many times more 60GBs. I don’t know if Sony expected less demand, or if they’re trying to push the more expensive version since they’re selling them at a loss as it is.

    So I caved in. I still had a $50 gift certificate from Christmas, it has wireless networking, and I figured the extra HD space would be good for all the online content I’d probably be getting. I’m downloading the MotorStorm demo at the moment (457MB). I’m normally not into racing games, but I’ve enjoyed playing this on demo systems because of the fun offroad physics. It’s already the first game I’m tempted to buy, and I’m happy there’s a demo. It also looks like there will be a PS3 version of UT3, and presumably mods will work on that version too, just like previous UT mods are cross-platform.

    Now, if you get a PS3, and you plan on using the Internet features at all, my first recommendation is to have a USB keyboard handy. Entering text with the controller works like typing on my cell phone, except I have to use the d-pad to move my “finger” around. It’s really tedious. The problem with the keyboard, though, is that all of my keyboards have been rearranged into the Dvorak layout and there was no way to tell the PS3 that. So since I’m not so good at touch-typing QWERTY anymore I had to take a couple of minutes to put the key caps back in their original places. I think I got them right. If not, I’ve messed up my password.

    The first thing I noticed about the PS3 is it’s the heaviest console I’ve ever picked up. And although the initial setup is a bit tedious, even with a keyboard, I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying the online integration. This really is more a serious multimedia device than simply a game system. My main criticism so far is that it’s all very modal; you can’t do anything else while you’re downloading something. If you want that kind of flexibility, you’ll have to use your PC (in the OS-neutral sense) and then transfer the files via one of the portable media options. I’m a little surprised there’s no way to transfer files over the local network. Maybe you can do it by setting up a web server on your PC and using the PS3’s browser.

    After downloading the system update and the MotorStorm demo, I went to download a movie trailer. When you do this, it asks you to select a destination, so apparently you can download directly to a USB drive or data storage card. The only option I had was the hard disk, which at this point had 47GB free. That’s right, if I had gotten the 20GB version, I’d have 7GB free now. Looks like I made the right choice.

    Edit - For some reason the PS3 web browser displays this blog page with the post text all centered. I wonder why. Also, it doesn’t support QuickTime, so going to Apple’s movie trailers site isn’t very productive.

     Wide thing
    Filed under: — David @ 3:38 pm

    So I went ahead and did the big splurge. On a recommendation I went to the good people at, who helped me decide on the Samsug LNS3251D TV and the Sony STR-DG800 receiver, plus a couple of S-video cables to get a better picture out of my DVD/LD player. If it weren’t for holiday weekend traffic I would have been home in time to receive the FedEx delivery, but it was worth the extra trip to pick it up. Plus it was an opportunity to put the seats down and load up the back of my car. I doubt that stuff would have fit very well in my old car.

    Sadly, the new receiver did not solve one of my problems. Since moving from Berkeley to Utah in 2002, I haven’t been able to get proper surround sound, and I thought it was the receiver. The closest I can get is putting it in Pro Logic mode which extrapolates the surround sound from the stereo signal, but both surround speakers end up playing the same sound. Since the problem persists with new receiver, it must be the disc player. Fortunately I don’t have to be as dependent on that: I got me a PS3. More on that later.

    Having a widescreen TV lets me explore my widescreen media and see which ones are real widescreen and which ones are letterbox. One thing I hadn’t realized is that it seems all laserdiscs are 4:3, so all “widescreen” laserdiscs are letterboxed. I had heard that laserdiscs have a slightly better image quality than DVDs, but obviously that doesn’t apply to widescreen movies.

    I also compared the image from the regular RCA cables to the S-video image. The former has a slight checkerboard effect presumably from the HD conversion, but the S-video image doesn’t have this noise.

    Unfortunately the new TV doesn’t get any better reception than my previous equipment in this apartment, which is to say I get nothing at all. So I didn’t get to see any real HD content out of the box aside from the on-screen menu. I was hoping this wouldn’t be the case because I had heard HD broadcasts tend to have better image quality than cable because there’s no data compression.

    And then I splurged even more and got me a PS3, but that merits its own post.

     Controls in your XML
    Filed under: — David @ 7:06 pm

    I have just added a new feature to ACCELA’s AAutoToolbar class. You can now specify popup buttons, segmented controls, and combo icon buttons directly in the XML file instead of having them in a nib. The nib approach seems like overkill since it has to instantiate an entire window just to extract one control. If only Carbon nibs could have views in them like Cocoa nibs can.

    I also finally added some unit tests to the toolbar test project. In the process, I rediscovered a bug that I first ran into about a year and a half ago. I always feel a bit silly when I search the mailing list archives for messages about a particular problem, and find I was the one who asked the question the first time too.

    This particular thread was interesting because it sparked a debate over what bug fixes should be included in a 10.4.x release versus in 10.5. The argument for delaying the fix (even though this fix is trivial) is that any change is dangerous, so priority is given by need rather than ease.

    The bug is that if you try to find what toolbar a toolbar item is in, and it hasn’t been added to a toolbar yet, you may get a crash. For me the situation only comes up in unit tests, so having to work around it isn’t that big a deal.

    The competing Nano library (much more like ACCELA than Nitrogen is) seems to be having good success. It does have a better web site than I have for ACCELA. The author, Dair Grant, agreed with me that it would have been good for us to collaborate rather than compete, but he didn’t discover ACCELA until Nano was already well underway.

    So my conclusion is I need to make some fancier web pages to show off what ACCELA can do. With some screen shots, even.

     Supreme Commander demo impressions
    Filed under: — David @ 5:39 pm

    After my experience with Bang Howdy, and a similar disappointment with the Star Wars Empire At War demo, I was starting to wonder if, after getting all excited about Supreme Commander, I might be actually losing my taste for RTS games.

    Fortunately, the demo for Supreme Commander itself has just come out, and having played it I think I’ll still buy the game. There were some glitches and annoyances, but overall it’s quite cool.

    The continuous zooming feature is an excellent idea, and it makes the game a lot more immersive. The dual monitor support is great too. Reportedly the game is multithreaded, so it can take full advantage of my Mac Pro’s four cores.

    Two of the niftiest features of the game - ferrying and dual monitor support - were a little problematic, and I also found at least one bug in the game.

    Ferrying is a feature where carrier units can continuously and automatically ferry units from one place to another, and you can even have more than one shuttle unit working on the same ferry route. It’s a great convenience… once you figure out how it works. The demo comes without any real instructions other than a list of commands, so you have to search through the forums or watch the tutorial videos (most convenient, if a little fuzzy, on YouTube).

    Long story short, the trick to ferrying is that when you tell a shuttle unit to ferry, a purple icon appears on the ground below it, representing the pickup point. Select units or factories and right-click on the pickup point to have the units picked up. Select additional shuttle units and right-click on the pickup point to have them help in the ferrying. I tried a few other variations before finally having success.

    Dual monitor support is really cool, but it’s a bit flakey in the demo. The first inherent problem is that it invalidates the “mouse to the edge of the screen to scroll” idea, since each screen is effectively missing an edge. I wish there were another way to scroll with the mouse. As it is I make do with zooming out and then zooming in somewhere else. Other problems include the mouse cursor often being just an arrow on the second monitor, and waypoints not showing when you hold down shift like they do on the main monitor. All in all, though, I prefer it to the usual minimap.

    The bug I found was on the first map of the campaign. Two of my factories got stuck with their waypoints set to a random point in the south part of the map, and any attempt to change it would have only temporary success. At first this point was off the south end of the map, before it expanded for the final mission objective.

    I played the campaign on Easy, and it was indeed pretty easy, and just about the right length I think. I wanted to play a “sandbox” game just to mess around and see what the units were like, but this isn’t an option in the demo. When you play one-on-one against the computer, there’s only one option: difficulty. They don’t bother with map selection since there’s only one map, and the demo only gives you one condition for victory. I started building up a base anyway to see what would be available, but when the computer started attacking one of my mass extractors with a naval unit I decided I wasn’t in the mood for that annoyance.

    They say they’ll include modding tools, and I wonder what that will lead to. I know there were tons of add-on units made for Total Annihilation, but I prefer less units so they can have some uniqueness and personality.

    This may seem like a mostly negative writeup, so you can just assume that everything I didn’t complain about, I liked.

     Thoughts on Thoughts
    Filed under: — David @ 12:15 pm

    Although the topic is rapidly approaching dead horse status, here are my thoughts on the Thoughts on Music.

    On “Lock-In”

    First of all, I’m not convinced that this “lock-in” issue is real. I may have a bunch of iTunes-purchased material, but that’s not what keeps me on the iPod. It’s the simple fact that I think the iPod is the best product in its category. If something better came along, I’d buy that instead and find a way to get around the iTunes DRM, such as the well-known option of burning and re-importing a CD. We consumers are not as helpless as Norway would have you believe.

    On Steve’s Thoughts

    Scenario 1: Stay the course. Steve presents some statistics that also argue against the lock-in idea. In short, iTunes sales vs iPod sales show that people have a relatively tiny amount of DRM content on their iPods. Some have called these statistics bogus, but I haven’t seen them counter with actual facts of their own.

    Scenario 2: License FairPlay. Steve argues that this dramatically increases the risk of FairPlay being hacked, with the potential consequence of the Big Four pulling their content from the iTunes store, and then nobody wins. Some have pointed out that the Windows Media DRM has been hacked less, and licensed more, than FairPlay, but that doesn’t mean anything without some data about how many attempts have been made on both systems. Given iTunes’ dominance of the market, I suspect it’s a bigger target for the hackers (or crackers, if you prefer… mmm, crackers…).

    Various people keep saying “Come on, the people at Apple are smart, surely they can pull off licensing FairPlay.” So far I think I’ve only seen this from people who don’t actually know anything about the technical issues involved in implementing a DRM system. The “you’re smart, you can figure it out” argument is really weak because it’s easily countered with “yes I’m smart, so I know what I’m talking about when I say it’s impractical.” Steve also brings up the good point that if we still haven’t solved software piracy, why should we be expected to do any better with music?

    Scenario 3: DRM goes away. Suffice it to say that I side with those who are not convinced that DRM is necessary, worthwhile, or effective. It’s practically a placebo that causes more problems for honest consumers than for pirates.

    People like Warner Bros. dismiss Steve’s points as “without logic and merit”, yet they don’t actually counter with their own logic. That’s what bugs me the most.

    The Remaining Questions

    The most valid response I’ve seen to Thoughts On Music is, with iTunes music not from the Big Four, why not make it DRM-free? When I download a “free” track from iTunes, it still goes through the purchase system, and still has DRM on it (I believe; I haven’t taken the time to verify this). I suspect that part of the deal with the Big Four requires that everything on the iTunes store use the same DRM system. It’s a conspiracy, I tell ya.

    Edit - One thing Steve’s iPod statistics don’t take into account is the number of iPods actually in use. I, for example, am on my third iPod. So the average number of DRM tracks per iPod is likely higher than Steve’s 22, but even two or three times as big still wouldn’t be that much.

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