* Posts by Alan James

5 publicly visible posts • joined 23 Jan 2008

Ivan O'Toole? That's nothing, snorts Hugh Jass

Alan James

A really, really, unfortunate name

I once knew a guy called Mike Hunt. He was very assertive about it, brazening it out like. I never once heard him call himself Michael, Mick or Micky.

Instead he'd answer the phone with all guns blazing. Example. "Mike Hunt, how can I help you?" Or, "Mike Hunt, what can I do for you today?".

His PA had worked for him for over ten years and she still cracked up every time. But I guess that was payback for all those times when she got the worst of it. "No I'm sorry, Mike Hunt is out of the office." Or "Mike Hunt is on holiday until next Tuesday".

I think it helped that said Mr Hunt was a very large and very fit former rugby player, with whom one would not proactively seek a disagreement.

HD TV in the UK

Alan James
Jobs Halo

Panasonic+AppleTV+Mac: HD content access AND creation

Prompted by Freesat launch, comprehensively upgraded our kit. Now got.

* Panasonic 42 with integrated Freesat/Freeview/Anal-log tuners. 1080p

* Panasonic Blu-Ray player. 1080p

* Panasonic AVCHD MPEG4 Video camera, records on to SDHC card. 1080p

* Apple TV 720p (but tell it via the settings menu that the telly is 1080p and the Apple+Panasonic combo does a very good job at upscaling 720p to 1080p content.

HD inputs:

SOURCE ONE Freesat

every blade of grass indeed. And, memorably, that look on Schweinsteiger's face when the final whistle blew: perhaps the look of a man who's not only just lost a final, but has finally also realised that his name translates as Pig Climber. Grass great, but the actual ball used in Euro 2008 turned into blurry flying ectoplasm on high goal kicks when the tracking camera panned across the stands. Probably a camera-side rather than broadcaster's compression problem. Does not behave this way on other fast pans.

SOURCE TWO Apple TV

This device is a good extension of the overall package, giving access to three main sources of HD content.

(i): rented movies from iTunes store. Previous commenters are right: visual quality excellent (especially on recent titles, not retro-mixed old stuff); choice as yet limited.

(ii) HD content generated/edited via Final Cut Pro or iMovie. Footage shot with Pro-grade HD cameras and then use Apple's Compressor pre-set for AppleTV to downscale to 720p. Simply drag the resulting file to your iTunes movie library and it will sync to your AppleTV box. Results stunning.

Note 1: Compressor has a nice feature to speed up workflow. Take your source material and apply any number of pre-sets to produce output files in any variety of formats. eg make versions for iPod/iPhone at in the same transcoding batch.

Note 2: install Compressor and QMaster on all Macs on a network and the lead machine will automatically use any idle processor core on any other Mac on the network to speed up the transcoding grunt work. Very smooth and near-zero configuration.

(iii): often forgotten, many people have years of HD back catalogue. It's just that they're stills, taken with any decent Digital Camera. Needless to say, you can set any/all of your photos to sync to AppleTV via iTunes. You can also use any/all of your pics to make a slideshow (complete with HD transitions) which will play when you're using your AppleTV as a giant iPod.

Note: this slideshow option is smart enough to resume at the place it left off (rather than going back to the beginning) even if you navigate back up the music menus to choose other songs/playlists.

Note: you can also choose any/all of your pics to work as screensaver when using the Apple TV source.

SOURCE THREE: Blu-Ray player.

Results range from the simply very, very good to the staggeringly awesome. Money talks: production values are the key.

SOURCE FOUR: PANASONIC AVCHD Camera

This has been the revelation for me. 1920x1080p HD for 600 quid. Shoot a bit of footage on this palm-sized cam, record on to SDHC cards (2 hours 45 mins goes on to a 16GB card). Cam+Card also records stills Then take the card out and plug it into the card reader slot in either the TV or the Blu-Ray player. Results: on some subjects (eg botanics, landscapes, talking heads) indistinguishable from broadcast HD. Some very slight artefacts on very high speed motion (eg 100mph motorbike pass-by filmed from the curb). Avoid fast panning - the camera will sense this and warn you anyway.

AVCHD is a highly compressed H264 format. But play it back in its native space on the same manufacturers equipment and it just doesn't show. Blew me away. The quality is significantly better than last years HDV gear (eg Sony Z1) at the £3K mark

INTEGRATION

Another major plus: the Viera Link control allows all the Panasonic equipment to be controlled with a single remote. This includes the SDHC card, or the camera itself plugged in via an HDMI cable in playback mode.

WISH LIST

Panasonic: Genuine HD recorder box closely integrated with the TV/Tuner.

Apple:

(i) ability to edit **native** AVCHD in Final Cut Pro and iMovie. You can ingest AVCHD using Apple Intermediate Codec and then edit/output it, but the process is laborious.

(ii) AppleTV upgrade to 1080p, to avoid having to make a 720p format file for this device.

Apple & Panasonic:

Collaboration to produce tight integration of workflow from AVCHD capture, FCP edit and Blu-Ray burner output.

Apple iPhone storms world smartphone biz

Alan James

Definition of smartphone?

A phone which enables people to do smart things, perhaps? And do them more intuitively that with any other device in the class. So:

1) single-app pretty-much-fully-automated sync, meaning users spend more time acutally using their phone/iPod/browser/email/other stuff than managing it.

2) fundamental flexibility of design, to enable SDK-developed apps to expand functionality over time, allowing the platform to evolve via software upgrades, rather than require hardware rebuilds.

3) Safari browsing experience as intuitive as could possibly be designed for a small-screen device, thus enabling easier access to web-sourced information.

4) In UK, pretty reasonable unlimited data access tariff, empowering users to search, browse and communicate.

So, yes, pretty smart in my book

O2 sweetens its iPhone deals

Alan James

iPhone Tariff

Rolf Howarth has made the key point here. Using data services on iPhone is so easy, so, well, Mac-like that people do it more than all other O2 customers combined.

And we now pay £35 or £45 a month to do so. That's £1.12 to £1.80 per day (depending on tariff and length of month). And for that what do you get?

Unlimited phone calls to UK landlines and UK mobiles up to reasonably high monthly limits.

Unlimited access to Cloud WiFi, EDGE and GPRS data services, with no limits which impinge on day-to-day use. (Quote O2 T&C: "Your O2 tariff for iPhone allows you unlimited use of O2 UK's Edge / GPRS networks and The Cloud's UK Wireless LAN network".) There then follow the usual restrictions on "excessive usage" and ban on using it for VOIP. Personally I'm happy with that. The telco has had to provide an infrastructure to enable me to use their service; I'm happy that their contract seeks to restrict me from using that infrastructure to access directly competing services. By analogy, we don't demand that rail companies provide railway infrastructure and then allow us to drive private cars along it.

The inclusive data services also now (v 1.1.3) power a sub-SatNav location-finder/map/directions combo using the Google Maps cludge, which, from experience, is accurate to within about 10m in UK cities, but whose maps/satellite imagery overlay is massively more intuitive than most SatNav UIs.

Plus your phone is also an iPod. And you can use it to present MP4 video by just hooking up a TV via the dock (hint: shoot it in HDV, then use Compressor to encode to MPEG-4, looks great). And, and..

Yes I like the iPhone. Yes it needs improvement. Larger capacity, video camera, voice activation. Cut and Paste text (although I can understand the problem of which swipe/wipe gesture to use without compromising the simplicity of the interface).

Remaining rant. Roaming charges are extortionate, even with the Europe Bolt-On.

Vodafone's Passport tariff is the best I've ever had. 75p connection fee from pretty much anywhere in the world then just uses up your normal inclusive minutes as if you were in the UK. If O2 offered something like this package on the iPhone, I'd be 100 percent happy.

Brighton professor bans Google

Alan James

The Brabazon has been scrapped.

Irony, irony. Using Google to research a piece about books, I come across this story about Prof Brabazon, who wants her students only to read the printed word, and forget the net.

So Ms Brabazon rails against the present and wants people to use yesterday's technology.

At least she is aptly named. The Bristol Brabazon was a wonderful piece of British engineering. Airliner prototype. Wonderfully luxurious. Eight engines. Only one problem. They were attached to propellers. And there was this thing called the jet engine...

The Bristol Brabazon was scrapped. The Brighton Brabazon should be too.

PS. I'm reading a good book at present. I found it by reading reviews. I found the reviews by searching Google. Obliquely. Using terms unconnected with the title of the book.

Oblique connections, lateral thinking heteroglossia good. Monologic linear narrative bad.