Thursday, April 12, 2012

Google Galaxy Nexus and GED's

I recently upgraded from a Nexus One to a Galaxy Nexus. My daughter has the intermediate phone Galaxy S. Apart from being a great phone using the GED devices means you get the latest firmware from Google as soon as it appears. For example on a trip to the US last January my daugther received ICS on her Nexus S within a week of being in the country. I received ICS on my Motorola Xoom a week later and I see the Xoom's being sold in NZ still are on HC. The Galaxy Nexus comes with ICS out of the box and in my view it's a great improvement over HC. Plus the large form factor of the phone makes web surfing, ebook reading and other applications so much nicer to do. And the large form factor in my view does not make the phone unwieldy. I also can't wait until BNZ goes live with their electronic wallet app so the phone with NFC installed can be used instead of an EFTPOS card.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I haven't updated this blog for ages as you can see.

My main issue these days in the HT arena is the firmware release of the Syabas Popcorn Hour A200. This player is the only player I have that can play the AAC-HE LATM audio broadcast by Freeview in NZ. Alas during the middle of 2010 a firmware release using a new SDK from Sigma Designs broke the ability for the player to seek or fast forward the captured video from Freeview DVB-T. But it add features like being able to play Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master audio in a m2ts or ts container. Up till now the video would have to be encapsulated into a AVCHD container.

But since I would much prefer to be able to skip forward a video (to skip ads etc.) ro be able to resume a video from last playback I am stuck in time with firmware that is almost 9 months old. Other Kiwis with the A200 are experiencing the same problem but it appears difficult to provide samples for Syabas to reproduce the problem. So we are stuck basically.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Review Oppo BDP-80 Universal Player

I decided to upgrade my DVD player because the Samsung HD-841 SACD and DVD Audio player I was using began to play up in that the door wouldn’t always open and close. It has served me well with a firmware hack that allows it to be multi-region as well as up-converting any title to 1080i over component video. I had been using component because the projector I had been using did not have any digital inputs. The player, out of the box only allows up-conversion of any title that is copy protected over DVI.

To hear lossless audio I had been using 6 analogue cables from the player to 6 inputs on my Onkyo receiver. This works well and allows me to hear lossless audio from both DVD-A and SACD with the player doing the decoding.

I recently had upgraded to a full 1080P projector in the main viewing room. Since I don’t have a BD player in that room using a Popcorn Hour A200 as the main display device displaying video from my server, I decided replace the player with a universal player.

Looking around at choices it seemed the best choice was the Oppo BDP-80 which is a balance between cost and functionality. Since the Oppo is not sold in NZ though official channels I decided to purchase the player directly from Oppo’s website. Shipping would be $82 but after that together with the cost of the player itself, it would end up not costing much more than a high end BD player available locally without the ability to play SACD and DVD-A discs.

This is where my first encounter with Oppo customer support occurred.

The day after placed the orders received an email from Oppo saying the player was Region A and DVD Region I only and since I lived outside the US I would not be able to watch my content. There was no way to change these settings via any controls and if I didn’t reply in 7 days my order would be cancelled. I of course knew this since the majority of my BD content is either Region A or Region free and my DVD’s are almost all Region 1. So I confirmed the order immediately.

7 days later the player turned upon my doorstep which is pretty good service given it shipped from California to New Zealand.

Unpacking the player revealed one of the nicest packaging I have seen in a while. The player was packed in a canvas bag which was then encased on both ends by what looks like some sort of recycled foam. In a separate box were the accessories including the (non backlit) remote, a standard IEC power cable with a US plug which I replaced with one having a New Zealand plug and HDMI cable. In keeping with the quality of the unit, there were no RCA or s-video cables and who would use those with this unit. The instruction manual, a 50 page affair, was nicely encased in a plastic zip lock bag. One note to Oppo – perhaps you could have used egg carton type packaging rather than foam to save on the environment.

Installation was a breeze with connecting the HDMI cable to my HDMI switch which switches various inputs to the Vivitek 1080P projector and 6 analogue cables to the receiver.

I then put in a BD title (I chose The Dark Knight) and sat down to watch. Firstly I was very impressed with the image quality of The Dark Knight in full 1080P, especially in the sequences filmed in IMAX which pretty much filled the entire screen. When the scenes transitioned to those shot in standard 35mm so the aspect ratio was 2.25:1, the picture was still very impressive. The Dark Knight has DTS HD Master audio which the Oppo decodes internally and sends out via the analogue inputs. This again was an added benefit of purchasing the Oppo since lower-end BD players don’t usually provide analogue outputs with either HDMI or Toslink being the choices.

So I was able to experience the full movie experience with 1080P video on a 100” screen and lossless audio. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. I had already purchased a new receiver for that room (a Harman Kardon 254) in order to experience lossless audio but now I wonder why I had bothered since the Oppo provides the same facility without a receiver upgrade.

Next on the list was to check out how it would play AVCHD titles. Both the PS3 and Oppo can play m2ts files burnt to a DVD in AVCHD format with lossless audio. For this I use a tool called multiAVCHD which takes a large m2ts file, cuts it up into 4G segments and creates a directory structure that can be burnt to a DVD (in UDF 2.5 format) or copied to a USB thumb drive and when inserted in the PS3 or the Oppo will allow the content to played with full audio (lossless if it exists). The players will transition from segment to segment seamlessly since this is a standard in BluRay discs.

To my initial disappointment, while a disc so burnt was recognised, the video broke up constantly with blotches of video artifacts throughout the picture although the audio was fine. The PS3 played the content fine which eliminated disc faults as a reason for this problem.

So I placed a call to Oppo support to ask about this problem. In about an hour I received a reply saying the problem was likely due to the H.264 content being compressed with Weighed P frames and the Oppo cannot handle this feature. However it was due to be addressed in a subsequent firmware release.

I admit not really understanding that so posted a query on in the H.264 forum. Once again I received a quick reply saying that if I inserted the parameter weightp=0 in the x264 command line (x264 is the de factor open source tool for compressing video in H.264 format) it would fix the problem. To cut a long story short I did this on a short video segment, created the AVCHD folder and the Oppo played it with no problem at all. Once again I was very impressed with Oppo’s quick response and their apparent commitment ongoing improvements in their products.

So in summary I am very impressed with the Oppo, both the player and their customer support. I would highly recommend this player to anybody wishing to purchase a higher-end player than the $199 specials one sees in the big box stores.

As an aside I installed my PS3 in the living room temporarily and compared the images between the PS3 and Oppo. Since I don’t have the same content on two discs, I haven’t been able to do AB comparisons between the two players but relying on memory, there wasn’t much difference I could see between the two but once I obtain two copies of the same disc, I plan to perform more AB comparisons.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

MKV still has problems with the Popcorn Hour A200

Well I might have spoken too soon about MKV's. The other night I tried to play a couple of videos encoded as 720P in the MKV container. On a 100Mbs connection both stopped once and froze. After a minute or so and pressing stop on the remote, they would return to the splash screen and when Play was pressed, restart at the point of freezing. It must be a MKV problem since I have been able to watch ts files encoded as 720P for 2 hours with no freezing at all.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Well it looks like the new firmware has done the trick. After loading it I have been able to watch over 3 hours of HD content streamed in the MKV container with no stops and starts and loss of network connectivity. That's good though given how fundamental this feature it, one wonders how much QA did Syabas do before releasing the product.

Next step for Syabas is to correct the issue where the A200 cannot process HD audio in the ts or m2ts container (or for that matter MKV but that's not relevant or standard) and only when the video stream is in a BDMV file structure.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Popcorn Hour A200

I got fed up with waiting for Syabas to provide a firmware release for the A100 to playback AAC-HE LATM audio so picked up an A200 player which handles this audio format and also has HDMI 1.3 so it can process bitstreamed lossless audio.

Alas this hasn't been the greatest move. Firstly while it does playback the AAC audio now, it cannot playback lossless audio in a MKV, ts or m2ts container because of a but in the Sigma chipset or SDK. The only way it can handle lossless audio is if the ts files are wrapped in a BDMV folder which means more work to prepare for them the server. And I am also now experiencing random network issues where playback of HD content will stop randomly, freeze and the Popcorn will lose the share off the server - none of which happened with the A100.

Even moving from HD Powerline to 100Mbs ethernet has not fixed this issue. I was about to RMA the device but was advised by Tech Support to wait for the latest firmware which might fix this problem. It arrived today (15 May) I have installed it and initial experiences are positive. I was able to watch a ts stream at 4500kbs streamed over Powerline HD to the server and then via 100Mbs ethernet to the Popcorn with no problems.

Next step is to see how it handles a MKV stream.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The benefits of video card (GPU) acceleration

I finally got around to installing a Sapphire HD 2600XT video card I had purchased over year ago in my HTPC! I delayed because the case I have is rather cramped and this card occupies nearly two slots and plus, I didn't want to break a working system.

Well I should have done it sooner. Once it was shoehorned in and installed I noticed I was now able to play HD content recorded OTA smoothly whereas before it was unplayable. The software I am using (GB-PVR and PowerDVD8) both can take advantage of the GPU on this card and pass off signficant amounts of rendering work via DXVA to the card. So what was taking 100% CPU before and still not being able to play content smoothly, is now only loading up the CPU about 20% with completely smooth playback.

There were a few hurdles on the way. Firstly I had to update to the latest drivers for the card from Sapphire. Since this is a AGP card and the ATI 2600 chipset is PCI, Sapphire have written custome drivers to enable the card to work. Luckily they seem to be keeping up with ATI drivers with their latest drivers dated March 2009.

Secondly my HTPC is connected to my HDTV via HDMI. But the card also has an analogue VGA out which I also connect to my HDTV (so select the appropriate input on the TV to see analogue or digital). The problem I hadn't realised was, in this dual monitor configuration PowerDVD8 crashes on startup and GB-PVR goes into a CPU loop! So I had to disable the analogue monitor which I don't use anyway.

Finally there are still some driver problems. Playing HD content 720p 0r 1080i with hardware acceleration works fine. But when trying to play SD content such as OTA 576p material with hardware acceleration enabled causes both PowerDVD8 and GB-PVR to display garbled video with flashes of recognisable images. I have to disable HW acceleration to view 576p content which works fine with the CPU running at abtou 60%. The problem is, while I can disable HW acceleration in PowerDVD8 I don't appear to be able to do so in GB-PVR - it's on all the time. This means I cannot play SD content in GB-PVR which makes the setup less user friendly.

Still it's a major leap over what I had before which basically was no viewing capability at all.