Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Chasing the Trans-Pacific Express

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  • Andrew C, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    I spent years designing DVRs (protocol engineering, not UI) and everything I've seen in NZ so far just grates - the UIs suck - especially MySky

    Paul, we are thinking about getting a PVR in the not too distant future. Seeing as you would probably know more than the average bear about whats good, whats bad, whats needed, whats not etc, is there one you would recommend? Dont have sky, so i guess this means freeview compatible.

    If it makes a diff, it would be nice to have something which can play my avi's etc from my computer too.

    Auckland • Since May 2008 • 169 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Ben Austin,

    What's driving the whole TPPA thing is a very strong whiff of John Frum economics - when the British cargo cult turned out to be a mirage in 1973, we simply swapped it for an American one.

    And Bernard Hickey agrees. Not once, but twice. And what does it mean when libertarians are saying no to the TPPA?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5430 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    An observation on the digital TV platforms:

    The HD picture on Freeview terrestrial is markedly and undeniably better than that on Sky -- at least for the FTA channels. I don't think enough has been made of this in marketing.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to 3410,

    So, the reason PVRs cost $600 instead of $200 is... what, simply the MPEG4 issue, or are there other factors?

    That's a reasonable part of it, yes. NZ's out on its own in using MPEG4, it seems, and since we're a pimple on the buttock of the global market we're such a tiny possible sales source that there's no volume to drive down prices.
    Until a major market takes up MPEG4, we're probably going to be stuck with high-price Freeview PVRs.

    That and just the fact that, well, they can charge us that much and we have no choice since there's no source to parallel import.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    That’s a reasonable part of it, yes. NZ’s out on its own in using MPEG4, it seems, and since we’re a pimple on the buttock of the global market we’re such a tiny possible sales source that there’s no volume to drive down prices.

    Until a major market takes up MPEG4, we’re probably going to be stuck with high-price Freeview PVRs.

    There are actually quite a few countries using or moving to MPEG4, including big ones like France. We have seen hardware prices come down.

    But to get Freeview certification, manufacturers must comply with the Freeview MHEG-5 middleware spec, which supports the EPG. This gives the platform considerable potential for expansion, but it's as yet not widely supported. But Paul will know a lot more about this than me.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to Andrew C,

    Paul, we are thinking about getting a PVR in the not too distant future. Seeing as you would probably know more than the average bear about whats good, whats bad, whats needed, whats not etc, is there one you would recommend? Dont have sky, so i guess this means freeview compatible.

    I haven't used any of the Freeview ones in anger (I built settops largely for the US market) so I really can't comment - you could just take that old PC you were going to recycle, add a couple of tuner cards and load up MythTV.


    Russell: the problem with mpeg4 is that either you take it as whole cloth (as we have) or (as much of the world is faced with) you change your existing mpeg2 system to use it - that makes ALL your existing set top boxes (and digital TVs) obsolete - it's a big ask, especially since you probably just made everyone give up their analog TVs and/or buy an mpeg2 box just a couple of years ago - it's why existing digital TV users wont be changing fast - if half the settops only do mpeg2 then free channels are not going to switch (and lose half their advertising revenue)

    On the other hand there's nothing much intrinsically more expensive in an mpeg4 settop chip vs. an mpeg2 one - other than volumes and industry momentum - the settop company I worked for until recently looked at mepg4 but couldn't make a business case - no reason to spin a working already selling design for a tiny market - any unneeded change is too much risk

    Middleware's an interesting issue - it's a battlefield - (for those who don't know it's potentially UI code that can be downloaded from the network and runs on all boxes) it's where people decide who owns your settop box - who writes the UI - do you get a UI foisted on you by your cable/satellite company? a local TV station? do ads crawl round the outside or appear inside the UI? is it bland and pixely to fit the lowest common denominator analog TV, or smooth and cool on your HD screen? is it written by the person who you bought your settop from (and can settops compete in the market over who has the best UI?) or by the TV channels. Can I write my own? Is the EPG (program guide) all wrapped up in it so I can't present it my own way?

    I'm firmly in the "the settop should be allowed to innovate" camp - but then I spent a decade building settops that innovated in their UI design (I share two Emmys for that ....)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2622 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    Is the EPG (program guide) all wrapped up in it so I can’t present it my own way?

    The situation with copyright around TV schedules in NZ is one of the most ridiculous impediments to producing bespoke commercial PVRs, or was last I heard. That a TV company can claim copyright over the factual timing and titles of shows is a complete nonsense.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    add to that the stupid 'TV Guide' patent (if you want to display your programs on a grid you have to pay them) which I personally think fails the blooming obvious test

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2622 posts Report Reply

  • Tamara,

    We have the Panasonic DVR and considering how much we spent on it it's pretty hopeless. The UI is ugly (why oh why?) and slow to respond. The Guide has great gaps in it most of the time. Upsides are that recording is really easy and you can burn on to a DVD (not that I've tried that yet). I am one of the people that thought you needed Telecom broadband for the TiVo so ended up getting this instead.

    New Zealand • Since Oct 2010 • 115 posts Report Reply

  • Aidan,

    I don't think it is true that MPEG4 is a problem. I gave links to two set top boxes here in aus ($55 and $69) that both support MPEG4.

    The problem is they have no incentive to add the necessary logic to support the NZ channel layout as there is no freely available EIT EPG. They could sell an essentially crippled set top box, but how are they going to market that?

    Freeview in NZ only has the MHEG5 EPG, as it claims this is a usability issue. It wants to be able to present the same EPG view on all boxes to ease the transition. That may be a laudable goal, but really the MHEG5 EPG is about control. Only Freeview certified boxes have access to this EPG, so they can determined what they are able to do, e.g. no, or limited, ad skipping, no transferring of recordings etc.

    The experience in Aus has been that Freeview branded boxes offer LESS than non-freeview and have not been embraced. The market has been flooded with cheap (not great quality ...) HD set top boxes and PVRs and the prices have tumbled. This is good for the consumer.

    Canberra, Australia • Since Feb 2007 • 154 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    I share two Emmys for that

    cool

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19719 posts Report Reply

  • Rob S,

    I wouldn't be surprised to find that the USA wouldn't be too worried about these free trade talks dragging on forever. Getting included means that they can now stall/stop any agreement that goes against their interests. There seems to be an element of US IP that is rentier in nature and wouldn't like copywright and patent law to be freer.

    Since Apr 2010 • 136 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Rob S,

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the USA wouldn’t be too worried about these free trade talks dragging on forever.

    Don't rely on that. It's the copyright and patent law stuff that is driving this US involvement. The lobbyists have managed to capture US government thinking about these things and they're firm in their demands that US corporate interests be protected. They'll also have learned from the ACTA negotiations and protests - I expect the TPPA machinations to be tougher and more devious, as well as pushed as hard and fast as possible.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2934 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    Sacha - they're 'technical emmys', they hand them out at a different ceremony a few days before corralling the geeks with a couple of 2nd rate stars (or so I'm told, it's not like I got to go) - they're still all bright and shiny though - mind you, as someone pointed out recently, oscars make better sex toys, not as as many pointy bits, I guess that's why they are more valued

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2622 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    Not a comparison I'd previously considered but, once thought, cannot be unthought. Damn you, Paul Campbell, and your low and adventurous associates!

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2934 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The response from the audience at last night's recording seemed to be that with the assistance of Rick and Jane we'd covered a dry and complex topic (TPPA) in an engaging way -- which is exactly what we were trying to do.

    So that's 9.05pm tonight, TVNZ 7.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Excellent. I'll look forward to that. Rick can be an engaging sort, even if he is a loia ;-)

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2934 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I had Jane as lecturer for a "Law and Globalisation" while at uni. She's a very engaging, learned speaker on the gamut of IP-related trade issues.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    you could just take that old PC you were going to recycle, add a couple of tuner cards and load up MythTV.

    I tried Myth TV but settled for GBPVR in the end, much nicer UI and the EPG problem was easily overcome.

    Only Freeview certified boxes have access to this EPG, so they can determined what they are able to do, e.g. no, or limited, ad skipping, no transferring of recordings etc.

    Got the ad-skipping feature working too and as for transferring you can set it up to do that automatically, it can also transcode to other formats like DivX or Xvid.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Aidan, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    Got the ad-skipping feature working too and as for transferring you can set it up to do that automatically, it can also transcode to other formats like DivX or Xvid.

    Which goes to show how wrong-headed the Freeview restrictions are. The technically inclined can circumvent them, and it is people like me old Mum who can't buy a simple product for a reasonable price.

    My Mum can't really justify the expense of a PVR, and she would be incapable of using it. I only recently found out how she uses her VCR. She only records shows when she is going to be out for the evening, or if she is at home and doing something else. She pushes record, and lets it record for the length of the tape, or pushes stop if she comes back before the tape is finished but the show is over.

    Her ideal would really be a PVR capable TV, as it would mean one less remote and not having to change inputs. Failing that a simple HD set top box with the option to record out the USB port would be ideal. She doesn't even need the damn EPG, but no one is bothering to import these cheap (sub $100) boxes into NZ because of the Freeview licensing and lack of an unencumbered EPG.

    UPDATE! Woo hoo! It looks like these cheapie AKAI boxes work if the country is set to France (must be a similar channel layout to NZ).

    Anyone had any experience with this?

    Canberra, Australia • Since Feb 2007 • 154 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Aidan,

    UPDATE! Woo hoo! It looks like these cheapie AKAI boxes work if the country is set to France (must be a similar channel layout to NZ).

    Anyone had any experience with this?

    No, but I do recall talk of the spec being similar. Interesting!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    I tried Myth TV but settled for GBPVR in the end, much nicer UI and the EPG problem was easily overcome.

    How long ago did you try MythTV? The UI has improved a fair bit in the last year or so. It still sucks for music though.

    One of my favourite features of MythTV is that you can adjust playback speed. It's surprising how much time you can save by watching TV at 120% of normal speed and skipping all the ads.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to SteveH,

    you can adjust playback speed

    can imagine that being really great, slower, for surfing/boarding, etc too

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19719 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    UPDATE! Woo hoo! It looks like these cheapie AKAI boxes work if the country is set to France (must be a similar channel layout to NZ).

    That's more like it! (though the AD181X now seems to have been replaced by the AD163X, the AD174X...)

    Very interested to hear for sure whether these work.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

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