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Freeview.Friday 21st January 2005
Digital TV is currently being pushed strongly by the BBC. The government has even told the BBC off for not getting people to change over quick enough.

The big thing against Digital is, why bother having 30 odd extra channels when the 5 we already have are pretty crap. TV these days is just nowhere as good as it used to be, this is a commonly recognised problem, that the TV industry doesn't seem to care about. Instead they insist on broadcasting more reality TV and DIY programs. This is not entertainment, or informative, it's a waste of space.

For Freeview you have to shell out for a decoder box, which is fair enough, but I'm not willing to buy one that just decodes. I want a whole better product.

There are set-top-boxes that have PVR's, or Personal Video Recorders built in. These are basically hard drives which record the video digitally.

Can I find a decent one out there? Hell no. I'm surprised that no manufacturer has made a really good one yet, as there are plenty of people asking for them. This is no doubt because boards are too scared to take the dive into currently a fairly quiet market. Which seems fairly foolish to me. Digital IS going to be big, it's just a matter of when. The first company to make a really good box will be sorted.

So, if the chief designer for some major electonics company was reading this site, what would I want him to put into the product? Well, this:

- Dual tuner. Allowing me to view one channel and record seperately.
- EPG, or Electronics Program Guide. It's like the RadioTimes for a week, just on your TV.
- An option for a black case (sod off with your silver, my TV is black).
- RGB, S-Video and Composite out via SCART and standard outputs.
- AC-3 Optical, SPDIF and RCA Phono audio outputs
- Hard drive (to record, hense the dual tuner). 3.5" ATAPI or SATA using a standard interface, so I can yank it out and put in a bigger one if I so choose.
- Simple menu system. Nice and simple layout easy to navigate. Maybe even an XML based menu with skin support so you can create your own.
- Profiling. The ability to remove certain channels from view, and even reorder them. Again maybe an XML method of listing what channels you want displayed where.
- Ability to view the dual tuner as PIP (Picture-in-picture). Allowing to preview other channels when not recording.
- Ability to skip out adverts when recording.
- Ability to edit recorded video (e.g. cut and crop) to remove crap from either end, adverts, and pointless bits in the middle.

And here's the perfect thing:
- Video to be saved in a common format, such as MPEG-2 and an option to save them in MPEG-4 (Xvid and DivX)
- MP3 compression for audio
- Customisable levels of recording quality for both audio and visual.
- Fast Ethernet connection to allow saved data to be exported to a PC using Samba or FTP.
- HTTP interface for customising the XML and settings.
- Support to play back other MPEG4 files uploaded from a PC.

And of course, a sensible price. Shove in silent hard drives and make sure it's fanless, or a fan that cannot be heard. Keep processing power up and run as a computer. That way you can have it controlled by a Flashable OS ROM using current standards. Allowing easy upgrades for future formats to be bolted on.

Hell, shove a stripped down version of Linux on it, turn the everything into software, release it as open-source and get the open-source community releasing addons and upgrades. Perfect way to get a big take off.

People like products that will work straight of the box. People love products that they can modify.

This is why Cars are so much fun, you can do alsorts of fun things to them to make them just right for you. It's why we can change the wallpaper on our computer, it's why we can chose the wallpaper in the front-room.

Will it ever happen? Yes, of course it will. It will just take time until somebody does it. I might have to just go build a computer with a couple of PCI Freeview capture cards for now.


SqueezeboxWednesday 19th January 2005
I have just received delivery of my brand spanking new Squeezebox. Wow, what an amazing piece of kit.

I've often wanted something that will allow me to play music on my Hi-fi without having my rather noisy PC on at the same time. For one, the quality out of my Hi-fi is drastically better.

A friend at work found this device and bought one and was very happy with it. So I thought I would get one too. It's spectacular. It streams all my music off my Linux file-server over a Wireless connection (also has Ethernet, but hey why bother).

I was slightly concerned about the server software, thinking it would have to be something you run on Windows whilst logged in. Which is no good to me. It's not though, its a daemon which runs on multiple platforms. For *nix it comes in the form of a perl script that launches into the background.

Setup was painfully easiy. I just started the daemon on my server. Plugged in the Squeezebox and went through the on-screen setup. All I had to do was tap in my encryption key for the wireless (never fun, but could have been worse). It picked up the SSID and an IP from my DHCP server.

The interface is very simple, but very effective. Being able to quickly jump between menus and navigate about without interrupting the music.

Including support for SHOUTcast it is easy to narrow down searches for streams and select them to play. There is a slight delay before playing, but that is expected. It is worth noting there is no delay between song transactions - which is nice.

The screen is a crisp, clear, LCD screen. Data that is too long (e.g. long track titles) scroll automatically, and there is a size and brightness button on the remote to quickly change the display settings. Handy for being on the other side of the room.

Everything about it can be configured to just however you like it. It will even scroll news headlines from the BBC rss feeds when idle if you want it.

Down side is it currently only supports WEP encryption and not WPA.

It picked up all music files on my MP3 store, including my partner's iPod contents, but it cannot seem to play these files despite being able to read all the data from the files. I haven't looked into why this is and if it can be fixed yet.

From what I have seen on the manufacturer's website it is highly easy to mod the code and get plugins to do more weird and wonderful things.

Within a minute of seeing it my Father was thinking about buying two. That was, until I told him the price. It is a little expensive, but for the features it has it's well worth it. Perhaps a lite version would be better for those who don't want so many features.

I'd give it 4.5/5


My Life in FilmSunday 9th January 2005
Looked very bizzare to start with, it was nice to see that it was bizzare all the way through.

'My Life in Film', on BBC 2. I've always wanted to see something like this. Ever since seeing 'Signs', I wanted to see something which is based on people's paranoia where there was no real danger.

This pulled it off perfectly. Entirely plausable, just a number of standard events and misunderstandings resulting in the scene from a horror film. Superb comedy.


Band of BrothersSunday 9th January 2005
Bought Band of Brothers on DVD the other day in the sales. I'm not sure why I do things like that. I hate war films I can't stand the gore people losing limbs and such. Yet I still do it.

It's a very odd series, spectacular, horrific though.


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