Tag Archives: DigitalTV

1080p versus 720p versus dear old analog TV

So, how ‘good’ is the picture on a 1080p screen versus the older 720p and the even older, original analog Australian TV signal?

Some simple maths.

  • Original TV was 576 lines.  Rough estimate is it’s a 4:3 (4×3) picture ratio, so the width, in pixels (px), would be 576*4/3 which is 768 (see footnote)
  • 720p (720 rows of pixels) at 16:9 is 720*16/9 which is 1280 pixels wide, or 1280 columns.
  • 1080p is also 16:9, so 1920 pixels wide

Some more simple maths

Type Rows Col Rows x Col
(Total Pixels)
Analog 576 768 442,368
720p 720 1280 921,600
1080p 1080 1920 2,073,600

So, as a nice rule-of-thumb, each jump more than doubles the resolution – number of pixels – than the previous one.

Some quick comments, then a footnote:

  • There weren’t that many actual 720p TVs, at least here in Australia. They were 768 x 1366, very much the resolution of a PC screen. Nicely giving away the game that they were essentially big PC screens.   But the ‘double;’ rule is good enough here too (1,049,088 px total, that’ll do me as almost exactly 1/2 of the 1080p)
  • 1080p is sold as High Definition. But it’s barely 2 Megapixel (!).  If I tried to sell you a camera, in 2010, as being 2 MP, you’d probably laugh at me

Footnote: Due to technical reasons, to do with pixel shapes not being square, the equivalent digital resolution of our old TV is actually less than this, that is 576×720 pixels (414,720 px total). Makes the double rule slightly more obvious.

About to watch shows on a Popcorn

No not WITH popcorn ON a Popcorn. Actually VIA a Popcorn to be precise…and through my lounge room TV.

Enough witty opening lines. A Popcorn A-100 is a network media player, also known as a network media tank.  It has 3 main parts to it:

  1. A network connection, to hook up to my PCs and the Internet
  2. Connections to plug in to a TV and Amplifier (HDMI, Component , 5.1 Digital Sound etc)
  3. A hole inside it (yes we will return to this one)

When it arrives from the USA I will

  • Plug my home network – the LAN – into 1.
  • Plug the LCD TV and Amp into 2.
  • Configure a few things.

….then watch nearly every media file stored on my PC (in the Study)  on the 720p  LCD TV (in the Lounge)  -  including high definition ones with full surround sound. Sweet! For the tech dudes, this includes not just AVI (DIVX and XVID) but the newer containers like MKV. I already have some demo MKVs with 720p high def video and 5.1 DTS, but the current laptop in the lounge is too old and slow to play them.

This is streaming the media; taking them from the PC and playing them via the Network. The media isn’t just limited to video files, but also music and photos. The Internet connection allows YouTube etc videos to be show, I believe.

It can also attach an external USB drive and stream the media from that too.  Plus the Popcorn is quite small, about 27cm x 13cm x 3cm (high)

And as for the hole inside. It’s for you to install your own hard drive. Add a standard laptop 3″ disk and you can do lots more with the Popcorn. As it runs a neat operating system (O/S), you can store you media files locally on this hard drive to run ‘offline’ (with no network connection). Plus the Linux O/S comes with other smart things, including a BitTorrent client. Again, I say sweet!

Maybe this disk storage gives it the nickname of Media Tank?

The cost. About $270 Australian, landed ; meaning including shipping from the USA. Would have been cheaper a month ago when we nearly had parity with the $USA!

From what I read it can handle nearly every media file you can throw at it. Now that’s interesting for me because I can record HD TV on the bigger PC in the Study, but have no way of playing it back on the TV in the lounge.  My understanding is the Popcorn A-100 can do exactly this playback. Plus it has regular firmware/software updates you grab of the Net.

Time will tell. The local forums say it shouldn’t take long to get here. More information at the Popcorn web site.

High Definition TV recording and playback

I have mentioned HD TV before. In fact I do have a HD TV, but it’s ‘only’ 720 lines; technically it’s a 720p LCD, compared to full HD which is 1080p.  BluRay disks are 1080p so I wouldn’t be getting the full resolution if I was to buy a BluRay player. The TV also has a built in HD tuner, so I can watch HD TV, but not record it.

In actual fact that’s not 100% true. And twice over:

  1. My Standard Definition (SD) Topfield recorder can actually record HD TV shows, but it itself can’t play them back. You have to copy them over to a PC then use something like VLC to play them back.  The copy process is quite slow. Then there’s another problem, which we’ll return to in a minute.
  2. I also have a HD USB Tuner which can attach to the main desktop PC or the laptop. I’ve had it for a few years now and it’s fairly reliable. It was used regularly before I got the Topfield.

Now the problem with both of these solutions is the same. Only the desktop PC has the raw processing power to play back the HD TV recordings. The laptop a-l-m-o-s-t makes it, but stutters and the picture breaks up. And I don’t want to watch TV on my PC in the computer room!  The laptop is in the lounge attached to the 720p TV. No, the desktop is too old and noisy to just move it to the lounge.

The solution is not to get a TiVO. Early reports are that it’s very nobbled. Maybe the firmware dudes will get out there and release ‘jailbreak’ software for the TiVO soon; to free it up so you can attach it to your own network, copy your recordings off, skip adds etc.  But it’s not for me, nor anyone else – I’d suggest – who naively want’s to just replace their VCR. Will they get a shock when they try to work out how to keep a recording, like they currently do with their VCR!

Anyway I’ve got a two-pronged wish list:

  1. Get a dedicated PC in the lounge. A Media Centre. Purpose built; fast and nice and quiet. Would have dual-HD tuners and the capacity to play back BluRay disks, but without – initially – a BluRay player on board. Just a DVD.  Whirlpool maintains parts list of a suggested system.
  2. Later on, when the price of add-on BluRay players for PCs has fallen, simply drop one in and go. 

Hopefully by then I may have a proper 1080p TV too. Dream on…

TiVo: Only a few days before we find out what we (get, don’t get and need)

With the apparent July 1st announcement only a few days away, speculation is out and about as to a number of TiVo things.

There’s talk of needing an Internet connection, possibly broadband, to be connected to the TiVo. This would be for three main purposes, it is assumed:

  1. Downloading of the Electronic Program Guide (show info: channel, start time, duration, description, genre, actors/presenters). Enabling the recording by simply selecting the shows name from a list etc. Apparently it does not support the EPG that is delivered over the ‘air’ ; as part of the digital TV signal
  2. Downloading of updates/fixes for the TiVo itself; specifically the firmware
  3. Streaming (like YouTube) of video shows directly off the Internet. May not be YouTube as such, perhaps things like TEDs.

Initial reports are that the TiVo will come with the ability to plug directly in to a wired network (your typical Ethernet blue cable) but you may have to purchase a wireless adapter, should your home network be wireless.

The things that I’d be interested in finding out include:

  • If the recordings can be copied up to a PC, are they encrypted or protected with DRM
  • Can it play back media files from your local PC, hard drive, USB thumb drives etc. Things like MP3s and AVIs.
  • Can you really record two shows at once whilst watching back an earlier recording, or starting to play back one of the shows still recording?
  • Is it a ‘closed’ box or can users install their own code to enhance the base function, like some Topfield PVRs support?
  • Does it work with universal remote controls, such as my Logitech Harmony?

All will hopefully be revealed very soon.

TiVo PVR finally arrives, but the wise may hold fire on buying one.

Well well. Nearly 10 years after the TiVo hit America we finally get it here. This hard drive Personal Video Recorder lets you record TV shows – these days two shows at once – and play them back later. Unlike VCRs you can start playing back a show as it’s still recording. Depending on the model other things are available too, including:

  • Playing back of an earlier show, whilst two others are being recorded
  • The ability to skip-ads on ‘live’ TV. Not really live; the machine automatically records the show at (say) 7:00pm and you start watching it at 7:10 and skip the ads that way. A button jumps forward 30 seconds to help here
  • Recording via a simple point and click on the show’s name in a schedule. The much-fought-over Electronic Program Guide. Even lawsuits!.
  • Smart recording: record a show – by name – regardless of when it’s on and if it runs over time. Trust me this over-run is very common. Up to 15 minutes! So you can ask it to record “Battlestar Galactica” and if it’s 10:30pm Tuesday one week, and 1am Friday the next, you still get it recorded.
  • The ability to copy the recording off to your PC or Mac, so you can keep it or create a DVD etc

Anyway the TiVo rumours suggest most of the above, with Ad-skipping being the one that is uncertain. Also the TiVo is High Defintion. But can also record normal (Standard) definition TV as well, so you won’t have to get a new High Def TV to use it.

It’s the price that’s the killer. $700 is the report. And that’s quite cheap, compared to its current competitors.

So therein lies the message. Wait and see what the market does. There’s no way the current PVR makers can still be hundreds of dollars dearer, even if they (in theory, at least) offer some more cool, geeky features. But the mass market is the target of the TiVo, not we ‘early adopters’. But it’s most probably going to force down the prices of the current competitors, like Topfield, Pioneer, Sony etc. And hence better value all around, you’d assume.

Of course the current PVR makers could go another way. For a bit more, say $799, have similar features to a TiVo but offer some sweet extras. Perhaps a DVD burner and player on-board. Or the ability to play most (any) common media formats, like DivX AVI movies, either from DVD,CD (RWs too) or via a wired/wireless home network.

You know something has made it big when it becomes a verb or is mentioned in pop culture shows. Back in 2001 (!) on Friends, in the episode The One with the Stripper this exchange took place:

Dr. Leonard Green: What’s new with you?
Rachel: Um… I got TiVo!
Dr. Leonard Green: What’s TiVo?
Phoebe: It’s slang for pregnant.

Quote from IMDB

Digital TV will finally go full steam, then face a huge smack in the head

I’ve been pondering Digital TV again recently. It really has been badly handled here in Australia. Who knows the why’s and hows; conflicted companies (who own free-to-air TV companies and pay-TV companies, certain big Telco’s who not only want you to use their broadband, but also have a share of the ‘only’ pay-TV business). Government policy. What a mess.

As I’ve said before the original message should have been clear and simple. Focus only on ‘standard‘ definition. The key point being the picture is DVD quality on your current TV

Then, a year or two later, announce ‘high’ definition. By effectively announcing both at once, the previous government confused the market. Standard is not High, so it must be, you know, Low and so not that good.

My theory is that by the time the analogue TV is finally turned off – and digital TV really kicks in – we’ll have the Governments ultra-broadband Internet to our homes. I think the dates will be about the same; at least for the main cities. So, by then, you should have enough reliable broadband capacity for HD TV on demand from almost anywhere. And hence digital TV better really offer something that adds value….or it will be too little too late.

Channel 7 are due to announce Tivo over the next few weeks. For the Mums and Dads this Magic Black Box provides cool content. They probably won’t even fully realise – care – that it’s delivered via the TV airwaves…so in 2 years time, swap it for a broadband box and they will hardly notice.