Monday, January 5, 2009

The Post Holiday FAQ

As a CIO, I'm asked to do many diverse things, but after the holidays the pace accelerates when I'm called by family, friends, and colleagues to give them advice about all the new complex technology they've purchased over the holidays. Here are a few post holiday FAQs.

I have new DVD player that can record DVDs. Can you explain the differences between DVD-R/DVD-RW and DVD+R/DVD+RW?

DVD's exist in two basic forms

a. DVD-ROM which includes DVD-Video, the read only media which stores commercially produced movies
b. Recordable DVD's

Recordable DVDs are divided into three incompatible formats:

DVD-R/DVD-RW - this was the first DVD recordable media released into the market in 1997. It was developed by Pioneer and then backed by the DVD Forum, a consortium of industry stakeholders. Because it was first to market, older DVD players/recorders tend to support this format. This format does not have advanced error correcting capabilities and tends to be less robust at higher speeds. DVD-R is recordable once and DVD-RW is recordable/rewriteable approximately 1000 times.

DVD+R/DVD+RW - this was developed by Philips and Sony via their DVD+RW Alliance in 2002. It was recognized by the DVD Forum as an official DVD format in January 2008. As with the DVD-R standards, DVD+R is recordable once and DVD+RW is recordable approximately 1000 times. DVD+RW had advanced error correcting features and is robust at high speeds.

DVD-RAM - this format has not been widely embraced by computer manufacturers but is used commonly in video cameras as re-writable removable media.

The bottomline - most modern DVD recorders can read/write DVD+RW. It's the most modern, robust and reusable recording media. Use DVD+RW for recording.

Should I upgrade to Blu-Ray?

First a bit about capacity. CD's hold 700 Megabytes, DVD's hold 4.7 Gigabytes, and Blu-Ray disks hold 50 Gigabytes.

CD uses a 780nm wavelength laser diode, DVD uses 650nm and Blu-ray uses 405nm. Smaller wavelengths permit a smaller pit to be etched on the media surface ( 1.6 µm for CD, 1.32 µm for DVD, and .160µm for Blu-Ray). The high capacity of Blu-Ray disks supports the density needed for true HDTV (1080p) video. DVDs play in standard TV densities (480p).

Blu-ray players are designed to be backwards compatible, allowing older DVDs to be played in the same player.

Although VCR tapes were rapidly replaced by DVDs because of their robustness and convenience, the transition from DVD to Blu-Ray has been slower. Only 3% of videos sold today are Blu-Ray because many consumers are satisfied with the performance and video quality of their standard DVDs. If you do not have a 1080p HDTV, Blu-Ray does not really offer you much.

Bottomline - At this point, Blu-Ray is more expensive than DVDs and does not offer much to the average consumer. I recommend you hold off unless you really want a really high end video player to complement a really high end HDTV and are willing to pay the higher price for movies on Blu-Ray discs.

I received a Bose Sounddock, a Belkin iPod FM modulator (for using your iPod over you're car's radio), and other iPod accessories. Will they work with my iPod?

There are more iPod variants than Carters has little pills. Wikipedia has a great table comparing all models sold to date.

Accessory manufacturers need to keep up with the ever changing collection of yearly new model releases.

For Bose, there is a hard to find online guide to iPod compatibility. Note that Bose provides a free adapter for the 2nd generation iPod that has a different connector position than other iPods.

In general, it's challenging to buy iPod accessories that keep up with the iPod product line. Plan to rebuy accessories when you upgrade you iPod.

That's it for the first round of post holiday consultations for the home CIO. I'm sure there are more to come and I'll post them here.


Unknown said...

I think geeks around the world should unite and create a Holiday Gift FAQ guide that must be included on CD with every electronic device.

Or else just handle tech support like this:

Henryhbk said...

There is a whole area of "hurt" (to quote Steve Jobs) with blu-ray that gets left out on the decision for Blu-Ray (they do look stunning, if you can figure out how to get the stupid thing working at capacity).

As someone who built his own high-end home theater (100" screen, tiered seating, 7.1 surround, tactile transducers in the seats, etc...) I recently made the plunge into blu-ray. Here are things that folks need to deal with.

1. Blu-Ray hookup is more akin to computer networking than to DVD video hookup
- There are different standards of HDMI (to get "deep color" you need 1.3b (my 1080p projector is 1.2a, audio suffers the same issues, etc...) which govern what features you get: See to get a summary

2. Audio insanity:
- So you bought a ~$2000 high-end 7.1 receiver a year ago, and of course you can't play your Blu-Ray signals with the full audio soundtrack? Why, same as above, my HDMI 1.2a receiver can't support DTS-HDMA or Dolby TrueHD! Of course with a high-end Blu-Ray player you can ask the player to transcode into PCM audio (unencoded digital audio streams) at 7.1, but of course the receiver will only accept 5.1 PCM streams... Gosh this is fun... Many discs do not include a 5.1 mix, so you're stuck. I get to buy a new receiver to replace a perfectly working high-end receiver purchased ~ a year ago! So for now we can watch stunning 1080p movies in dolby surround OR watch a regular DVD in 5.1...

3. Boot time??
- Who worried about the boot time of a DVD player? Well you can now worry about this as well. The Sony BDP-S550 brags about it's boot time (which for the record is SLOWER than my Mac Pro booting into OS X!). My player actually comes to life in about a minute, but then I get a progress bar as it loads the movie into the machine... About 3 minutes for an average movie to being able to actually watch anything.

4. BD Live profiles
- This is just a total disaster for the consumer. One of the major selling points of Blu-Ray was all the interactivity (running in Java no less)... Of course that supposes you bought a player with the right profile (Profile 2.0 has all the bells and whistles). So that should be easy right? Of course nowhere on a player or the box does it even mention anything about profiles... So first off, you need storage (i.e. a flash drive), some include it built in on the motherboard, some have a 1gb flash drive in the box and some don't include anything, thereby confusing the customer. Next you have to have an internet connection for profile 2. There are only a few profile 2 players on the market, despite being a new model. For more on this view the chart at

5. Viewing Regular DVD's
- Of course one would assume a Blu-Ray player would be a superb regular DVD player... They're not, and generally do a worse job of displaying regular DVD content compared to a good (read $200) DVD player. Of course progressive HD content processing is a very different than SD-DVD content, and clearly the GPU's are optimized for different tasks...

6. Frame Rates
- Frame Rates on Blu-Ray are variable, and come at either 24 or 30fps, depending on the content. If you are lucky (I am) you have a projector or HDTV capable of multiples of 24hz rather than just 30hz frame rates, otherwise there is the whole 3:2 pulldown, which works less well than with SD-DVD for reasons that have escaped folks.

Now all that being said, when one sees Master and Commander or Serenity, etc on Blu-Ray 1080p the video quality is unbelievable. The visuals are so real and lifelike, with a sense of depth and color gamut that just is unavailable on normal DVD's. Can normal people appreciate it? Of course, but whether that matters to you depends on the person.

Anonymous said...



On Demand said...

Lets be careful with the comparison because it depends on what you're trying to achieve. Blu Ray is retro compatible, and offers archival grade benefits that DVD simply does not.
Currently we have over 300 Terabytes of healthcare (DICOM and Non DICOM) data being archived to an automated blu ray library that will hold up to 500 TB of data. Now this is in the professional archiving space. DVD just like tape requires an environmentally controlled environment and that's not even a guarantee on data longevity and availability. While I hate to rain on Tape...we all know the issues...slow, lack of data integrity etc. Blu Ray overcomes all these flaws. Disk in the other end just means more physical space, increase in power and cooling costs, unpredictable disk failure..hard drives fail all the time and can never be predicted. Needless to say, disk vendors always say.."buy more disk" :-)
In the consumer space however, it's been cost prohibitive. Therefore it may take a while before prices comedown. However, with the adoption rate as high as it is, prices are indeed coming down. I saw a blu ray player at Best buy around $100 last weekend and that's a good start.
It's like the now defunct Plasmon UDO (Ultra Density Optical), it was a great idea for the optical archival space, but a business process gone wrong. They simply refused to license the technology to speed up adoption. They wanted to simply control the market...which is impossible. Sony and the blu ray alliance were smart to "collaboratively compete" on the blu ray platform. Thats why my company is literally making tens of millions swapping out legacy UDO and Tape libraries.
So blu ray is here to stay and is fast becoming the defacto standard.

Alani Kuye
Managing Partner
Phantom Data Systems
Norwalk CT