My God, it’s full of pixels!

It’s not the size that counts!  (Oh, who are you kidding?)

After around six/seven years of using a “dumb” 40″ television – a step up from not having a television back in 2008 because when I was working in film and TV helping to make the stuff, it had the opposite effect when I came home – I couldn’t bare to watch it.

So I’ve upgraded.

I’ve upgraded size (it’s now a 60″) and resolution (Ultra HD – or “4K”, but technically Ultra HD falls a little short of the cinema 4K[1] resolution) and have gone for an LG mid-range model.

This little puppy has got to last me as long as the previous one (which has been repurposed for the bedroom) – and thankfully John Lewis provides a decent warranty with all their electricals.

4K or not 4K, that is the question!

This new TV is capable of playing back Ultra HD content from Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.  Netflix’s Ultra HD selection is small but decent, and the streaming quality is decent.  4K certainly makes all those lovely pixels work their little socks off.   The Wachowski’s Sense8 in particular makes good use of UHD cinematography.   Better Call Saul is also lovely in UHD too – as is Breaking Bad (with some caveats).

Amazon’s Instant Video Ultra HD selection is tiny, expensive if it’s not included with one’s Prime selection – and doesn’t work very well at all.  I noticed that when streaming Orphan Black S1, it started off in UHD (which confirmed it was streaming in UHD when paused), then dropped down to regular HD.  Never seen the UHD symbol during pause since.  It *looks* UHD, but I’d like to see confirmation because I’m paranoid.  Just because I have a 152Mbs downstream connection (via ethernet, direct to the TV) doesn’t necessarily mean I’m getting a constant stable high bandwidth stream from the streaming provider.  The thing that makes UHD streaming worthwhile is if you stream with a decent enough high bitrate.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to Ultra HD adoption was in the codec – the algorithm in which video is encoded at one end, streamed and decoded at the other end.   Early 4K/UHD TV sets used an entirely different codec and are not capable of streaming from the likes of Amazon, Netflix, etc.   But a standard called HEVC was devised and is now widely adopted.

ALAS!

Money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s world!

There is a new guy in town.  The HEVC Advance group.  This is made up companies who own the patents found in the HEVC/H.265 codecs.  And they want money (which is fair enough, they must have spent a fair amount in research and development).

But the problem is in the how, how much and when payment is required.   In essence, the terms could lead to companies such as Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, and goodness – maybe the BBC – having to spend an extra $100 million a year just to license and use the technology.  This includes the TV manufacturers that include HEVC decoding kit.

My beef is:  Could HEVC Advance royalty fees hamper further Ultra HD adoption?  It’s taken a looooooong time to get Ultra HD out the door, and now it looks like the fees being charged could do serious damage to the whole adoption of Ultra HD/4K.

I recommend a really good documentary called Rewind This! – about the halcyon days of VHS video.  Of the format wars (Betamax versus VHS), the cheaper format won.   Furthermore, it doesn’t look as if the format suffered from the same kind of licensing nightmare that the HEVC Advance group proposes.  It’s because of simple licensing that the VHS format took off and became as popular as it did.

Rewind This! is a real eye opener, and the HEVC Advance group could do well to pay heed that if they price themselves out the market, they’ll be no more money for them.  Manufacturers will look elsewhere; consumers will be mightily pissed.

That would mean in the short term a big yield in royalty payments.  But in the longer term that yield will start to shrivel up as companies and consumers abandon HEVC and move to possible alternatives (which may be cheaper or even free).

BTW, Ultra HD Blu-Ray is affected by the HEVC Advance licensing fees too since it uses the same HEVC codec.   Expect players to be extortionately expensive when they come out on the market.  Who wants to bet that the Ultra HD Blu-Ray format will die out faster than anticipated due to expense ?

I love my new TV, but I’m concerned that the Ultra HD capabilities may have shorter lifespan than I originally hoped.. all because of patents and royalty payments.


[1] Digital cinema still projects, if I recall, at a whopping 2K – only slighter higher than normal HD.

Happy SysAdmin (Appreciation) Day!

Why?  WHY!  (sobs)
Why? WHY! (sobs)
  • Have you tried turning it off and on again?
  • Have you tried reading the fine manual?
  • Have you mashed every single key on the keyboard in a desperate attempt to get it working, but now you’ve wrecked the keyboard?  You want a new keyboard?  Here you go..
  • Do you expect your ISP/web host to psychically know that you wanted X, Y and Z installed?  Yesterday?

Happy Sysadmin Appreciation Day everybody.  Please leave money, cake, money, money, money and money near or on your nearest helpful systems administrator today to thank for them for all their help in keeping your tech up and running.

Unless they keep breaking stuff, then kick them in the shins.  If it’s you that keeps breaking stuff, then let them kick you in the shins.

Windows 10 is here – and it’s good – but is it worth £99 for virtualisation purposes?

Subtitle: Mic and Marty

No.

I think Microsoft are seriously missing the ball here by making the upgrade free for existing Windows 7 and Window 8/8.1 users, but forcing Mac/Linux users a whopping £99 to download it for use with virtualisation (or with Boot Camp, or just turning a non-OEM Windows version to a licensed one).

Windows 10.  It runs SquirrelSave just fine.  Excellent integration with Microsoft's OneDrive too.

Windows 10. It runs SquirrelSave just fine. Excellent integration with Microsoft’s OneDrive too.

But generally speaking, Windows 10 is a much better, much more polished Windows.  And it seems to work reasonable well with the non-activated copy.  But there is not a chance in hades I’ll be forking out £99 for a permanent copy to play around with on my local machine.

One other quibble:

I’ve also noticed Windows 10 is overly familiar.

When setting up my account I gave it access to my Microsoft account.  It knows my full name.  So why, Almighty Walrus, has it decided to call my user directory “marty”?  Is this an American Thing(tm)?  Is there a setting to stop it from calling me names I’d rather not be referred to?

I was not given the opportunity to name the user directory during set-up, so it’s not a typo on my part…

Mic and Marty

BT rises prices, but not quality – I’m out

Update: Virgin Media want to charge me £50 to activate the landline.  I already have the infrastructure in place.  Even if it involves a trip out to the cabinet,  I don’t consider it worth £50.  A fine way to treat a returning customer.

So no landline for me from now on.


I’ve been a BT customer since March last year, but I’ve had ENORMOUS problems with BT Infinity 2.  Or rather, I’ve had problems with the BT Home Hub 5.  I’m sure the physical link has been fine for the most part.  But the HH5 has been about as reliable as an asthmatic donkey carting boxes of inhalers up a steep hill.

Additionally the phone line (which was required to get BT Infinity 2), has been continually bombarded by cold callers – mainly aimed at whoever had that phone number last.

So I’m delighted that BT have pushed their prices up beyond inflation (as they’re buying EE, spent a fortune on TV football rights for BT Sport) because it gives me a chance to scarper without incurring a penalty.

I moved back to Virgin Media earlier this month for broadband,  with the intention of cancelling BT Infinity 2 next month when the contract runs out anyway.  I’d have had to be stuck with the phone line, but now the official BT email informing of the price rises has been sent out – whoopee!

I’m still wondering if I should have a landline for phone calls, because I use my mobile phone for everything.  But on the other hand, when it comes to things such as obtaining credit, and establishing one’s identity and so forth – it probably might make a difference.

Apple Pay: Pretty darn good

Now that Apple has unleashed its Apple Pay service on the UK, albeit to a select number of banks and building societies, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to give it a go.  No, I’m not going to say who I use, but all I will say is that the physical card I have is not contactless.

I like contactless payments.  It’s quick, convenient, and providing the transaction isn’t over £20, handy for paying for stuff like coffee or riding London Transport services.

As I have the whole enchilada of Apple’s mobile devices (except the iPod), I can use Apple Pay across all of them.  Even the iPad Air 2 – albeit for online services (I tested this with Just Eat – check out, put thumb on the fingerprint scanner, and you’ve paid).

Paying by Apple Watch is perhaps the best (and easiest) experience.  The chap in McDonalds was completely confused when I double clicked the button on my watch and then held the watch against the card reader.  A second later and the transaction was approved.

Later at Subway, I used my iPhone.  Fired up the Passport app, held my finger against the fingerprint scanner/home button, then tapped against the card reader.  Transaction approved.

No double charges, no errors – everything went through just fine.

But today it’s proven especially useful.

I regularly buy a coffee at Costa. While wearing my work out gear, this usually involves having to fumble about my backpack to get at my wallet to pay.  But not any more.  I can claim points through the Costa Passport card on the Apple Watch.  Then I double click the side button to activate the payment card in Apple Pay and then charge the drink to it.  All without fumbling around.  One device – one payment, one loyalty card.

I have got to say I’m impressed with Apple Pay so far.  Also happy that there are limits (£20 for now, £30 later) as while payments and transactions are secured by the device itself (for example, if I took my Apple Watch off – nobody can use it – it has to be on my wrist or unlocked with a special code – or both) – and the iPhone has the fingerprint sensor.  This is considerably better security than physical contactless credit and debit cards.

Now, let’s hope the other banks and credit card companies mentioned hurry up and roll out support.

I do all my proof-reading after I've hit the "Publish" button..