Thursday, 28 February 2008

Turbo.264 Update

I've been using the Turbo.264 quite a bit and whilst the experience has been mostly good I have been having some problems. Certain movies and TV shows will simply not convert direct from eyeTV but some will in the direct drag and drop mode with the Turbo.264 software application; however, some won't. I've no idea why it doesn't like some shows as there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. I shall keep on trying though as other than these little teething problems the overall experience has been pretty good. It is a shame as eyeTV itself has been no problem at all since I started using it.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Drobo is here!

As you will have read in an earlier post one, I have been having problems with one of my Freecom hard drives (which is has been returned for a warranty replacement - I'll report back on this when I see it again!) and this brought into sharp focus my complete absence of any storage strategy.

Having decided to get a second Mac, it was obvious that I would need more external storage and so I decided to get sensible and go for something that would give me a bit of security. After much deliberation (which included extensive consideration of the Netgear ReadyNAS NV+) I eventually plumped for Drobo. I won't bore you with a run down as virtually every podcast and blog has done that to death.

It arrived, earlier than expected, yesterday along with two 500GB drives and I set it up. I've now transferred the first batch of content over to it and everything seems to be working well. The next thing will be to try out streaming from the Drobo to the Media Centre Mac downstairs to see how that works...

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Elgato Turbo.264

As part of my new set up I picked up an Elgato Turbo.264. It is a USB video encoder designed to convert video into H.264 format effectively as a co-processor.

The integration of the Turbo.264 into the eyeTV software was seamless (I have eyeTV 2 rather than the latest version 3). EyeTV simply carries on as normal but when you request an H.264 based conversion, as with iPod and AppleTV, it simply uses the Turbo.264 automatically. The way you know that eyeTV is using the Turbo.264 is that the encoding bar switches to red and a set of pulsing circles appears below it. The Turbo.264 also comes with it's own software application which allows drag and drop conversions - although I have yet to test this.

In general the Turbo.264 performed well with eyeTV, allowing me to continue using other applications on the Mac Mini without the dreaded beachball turning up; however, it subbornly refused to correctly convert some eyeTV recordings. Two in particular it simply wouldn't convert more than the first couple of minutes, in one case it dropped out giving a rather unhelpful error message and in the other it just posted a file into iTunes that was only 5 1/2 minutes long. I've no idea why this is occurring on only these two files as the other 6 I have tried (of various lengths) have converted correctly. I plan to reset the whole machine and see if this behaviour continues.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

New Mac!

My PC is getting a little long in the tooth and I'm getting a few video problems with it - so I decided I needed to replace it with a younger model. After much consideration I decided that I'd like another Apple but I wanted to minimise the outlay so I went for another Mac Mini. This allows me to use the old PC monitor (which has plenty of life left in it) and also run the two machines in parallel until the PC finally dies (the monitor has both VGA and DVI inputs - so 1 for each).

The new machine arrived yesterday and I've got it set up now. So expect a few posts on my experiences with Leopard and the like!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Hard Drive Slow Down

I've been noticing some major performance drop off with my older Freecom HDD (the 400GB one). When I checked all the bases I found that it was being mounted as a USB1.1 device rather than USB2.0 (i.e. 12Mbps instead of 480Mbps max transfer speed!). No idea why unfortunately. No amount of dis-mounting, re-mounting, switching ports, cables and like seems to have any effect.

So I've dropped a line to Freecom's support people and await their input with interest.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

iPod Touch New Apps - Worth it?

I had a sudden attack of fanboy last week and shelled out the £12.99 for the iPod Touch January Software Upgrade which adds five new applications to the Touch and some additional functionality. The big question, of course, is whether it's worth the cash. Here's a run down of my thoughts on the new apps:

The new Mail application allows you to set up a number of email accounts via the settings icon. Yahoo, Google .Mac and AOL are all given automatic setup buttons but there is an "Other" selection which allows you to configure it for other services. It supports IMAP, POP and Exchange services. Once set up your accounts are accessed via the Mail icon which also shows the number of unread emails when there are some. You can set it to check for email and download it periodically or only when you go into the mail app and, obviously, you need to have access to WiFi for all communications with your mail service but all the other email management can be done offline. The layout is typical iPod Touch / iPhone (which is pretty nice IMHO) but doesn't support landscape mode as far as I can see which, whilst you do lose some screen real estate for the keyboard, would make typing easier. The application supports all the standard folders and user created ones on your service but only downloads a configurable number of emails at a time. It also supposedly allows you to view MS Word and Adobe PDF email attachments but I've had problems getting these to download so far. Emails display fine with the .html ones rending nicely too. Now, of course, if your mail service has a web interface you can do all this stuff via Safari for nothing but I've found trying to operate mine that way has been pretty painful and that the Mail app is a huge improvement over that approach. So accepting the limitations of the WiFi baseline I have been pretty pleased with Mail and found it very useful and certainly worth paying for.

The Maps application is a specific implementation of Google Maps for the iPod and iPhone. It allows you to view maps, "satellite" and hybrid images as with the normal online application along with getting directions between locations. Obviously the iPod implementation doesn't have the same flexibility as the iPhone one as it is dependent on WiFi only - so, for example, it couldn't identify my location at home. However, it can get directions and store both the directions and relevant maps for use when you are out of WiFi range. Of course if you deviate from your preplanned route it can't adapt but given the limitations it is still useful. It is also nicely linked with the contacts application, although some of the Google address information is inaccurate which will result in some locations not being found. I think it's a little more limited that Mail but still a useful app.

Notes is a simple note taking application. I would have preferred a full to-do list implementation but the note taker does what it says and is a useful way of capturing information on the Touch.

I do use it but not as much as either Mail or Maps but unlike those it doesn't lose much in the way of functionality when out of WiFi range (not least 'cos there isn't a lot). Having said all that I do like it but on its own it wouldn't have justified the asking price.

Weather is a pretty simple widget which allows you to see a brief 5 day forecast for specified locations. It is very similar to the weather widget available on OS X but strangely didn't support my home location even though the OS X one does.

The biggest drawback of this app is that it is totally WiFi dependent. It doesn't seem to keep any of the data and so if you launch it out of WiFi range it doesn't give you much.

Not a complete waste of time but pretty limited I'm afraid.

Stocks is another widget like Weather. It allows you to select a number of stocks, monitor the changes in price and graph it over a specified period.

Unfortunately, as with Weather it is pretty WiFi dependent. It will retain the stock prices and movements along with the date of the last update but it won't manage any graphs.

Since I don't have much of a stock portfolio it's not something that interested me much anyway - so it wasn't much of a disappointment!

The main additional extra is the ability to customise your home screen by moving icons around and adding web clip icons. Obviously the latter are only available via Safari but it's a quicker way of selecting your favourites without having to enter Safari and select a bookmark. When you have WiFi it makes most web apps feel a little more native but just remember they won't be there when you're on the move. I like the ability to customise the home screen as I can now put my most used icons where I want. It's nice but not essential though.

Overall I think the package of apps is worth the amount Apple are charging. Just don't ask me why they're charging for them as the Sarbanes Oxley argument just doesn't work for me. As to whether they'll be worth it for you - well that'll depend on which ones you might actually use.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Following straight after Spiderman 3 we went on to watch Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. This series has a lot in common with Spiderman from my perspective; the heroes are just aren't dark enough for me. There's no doubting that the special effects are well done and the humour is certainly there but ultimately I like my spuerheroes to have a bit more edge.

Again there is enough here to keep you watching and Jessica Alba is always easy on the eye but Victor Von Doom is (as with the original) a desperately insipid villain. I liked the conflicted nature of the Surfer and some of the character interaction works pretty well but overall I'd say this was only a slight improvement on the original and doesn't make it to great status.

Spiderman 3

I finally got to see Spiderman 3 last night when a friend brought the DVD over. I've got to admit that I liked Spiderman when I was a kid and watched the cartoons on the TV but as I've got older I like my superheroes to have a bit more edge. Given that I only thought the original Spiderman movie was OK I approached this one with a little trepidation.

Overall it is an entertaining movie with some typical blockbuster special effects and new villains; however, I found it difficult to be interested in Peter Parker and MJ's personal life. When Peter's not Spiderman he's just too wet. The portrayal of his "darker" (quite literally in this case) alter ego was more interesting but still a little too light for my preference.

The villains were and major special effects were strangely unsatisfying and in some cases just too unreal.

So whilst Spiderman 3 keeps you nicely occupied for the whole film it drags a bit if you aren't interested in Peter, it has some nice special effects for the Sandman but overall it only falls into the OK category.