One of our Christmas presents this year is an Oppo DV-980H DVD player. It's a featureful little DVD / DivX player from a small A/V company that's building interesting products.

One of the player's features is upconversion. It'll take an ordinary DVD and convert the output to 1080p so it looks great on your HDTV screen. But thanks to the evils of DRM, it will only do this over an HDMI cable, not standard component cables.

Video up-conversion over the component output is only available for unencrypted discs such as home video and consumer-created contents. Most commercially pressed DVD discs are CSS-encrypted and will be limited to 480i/480p resolution. This restriction applies to the component output only. The HDMI output is protected with HDCP and has no such restriction.
Is your TV more than a year old and lacks HDCP support? Too bad! Been using the same component inputs for three years because you're a movie enthusiast and early HDTV adopter? Too bad!

Fortunately, the Oppo player has another neat feature, coyly referred to above as "consumer-created contents". It plays DivX and XviD AVI files; either read off of disc or through the handy USB port. And those movie files will be upconverted to 1080p on the component cables with no fussy encryption.

So in other words, if I legitimately buy a DVD I can't play it nicely on my TV. But if I steal the same DVD online and download it to my Oppo, it'll play beautifully. I love how DRM is protecting the movie industry.

  2007-12-30 20:33 Z
The best class I took at the MIT Media Lab was Principles of Visual Interface Design with John Maeda. It was an odd class, we did abstract graphic design exercises by writing Java applets. Writing code that made art. It was a huge stretch for me since I have no design background. But John's a great teacher and I learned a huge amount in that class. I still enjoy looking back at my class portfolio.
Java in 1997 was a rough medium for doing design work. Over time John and some of his students have worked to develop better environments for digital design. The most influential has been Processing by Casey Reas and Ben Fry. It's a great environment, a sketchbook and IDE that clears away all the nonsense of programming Java and gets you right into interactive graphic design.

For fun today I downloaded Processing and whipped out a little design exercise, playing with what a field of ovals looked like. Such a pleasure doing something like this in a refined tool. Processing gets you results quickly and makes it easy to iterate and tinker and try out various ideas. You can try out my applet yourself or just look at the source code. Of course there are lots more Processing examples online.

And congratulations to John Maeda on becoming President of RISD!

  2007-12-23 19:39 Z
Microsoft recently upgraded the Xbox 360 with a neat feature; Divx playback. That means the console can now play back most downloaded AVIs. All it takes is a little media server sending the files to it over the network. If you believe Microsoft, your only server option is Windows Media Player 11.

Except that WMP 11 is totally evil. Because if you turn on file sharing, somehow wmpnetwk.exe ends up consuming 100% of your CPU. Even when you're not sharing files, and even when you aren't downloading a new video. All the time. Judging by the Google search I'm not alone in having this problem. And what a pernicious bug; 90% of Microsoft's users will never understand why their computers are suddenly terribly slow.

Fortunately there's a bunch of third party alternatives for servers. The only one I've used is the demo of TwonkyMedia, but it seemed to work well on Linux.

  2007-12-17 17:08 Z
I've been listening to Woody Guthrie's 1940 album Dust Bowl Ballads. It's mostly pretty grim folk blues, the misery of people fleeing the economic disaster of the Oaklahoma Dust Bowl. So I was a bit surprised to find this funny little sexual entendre hidden in his Dust Pneumonia Blues.
If it wasn't for choppin my hoe would turn to rust
If it wasn't for choppin my hoe would turn to rust
I can't find a woman in this black old Texas dust
"Choppin" must be what the boys called it back in the 30s.
  2007-12-11 19:09 Z