Saturday, 30 October 2010

Keeping up with Apple

I like to keep a regular note of what Apple might do and what I would like them to do. Here is my list

What they might do

1 Apple complete TV - unlikely
2 99c TV rentals, likely
3 iPad with AirPlay and AirPrint - certain in iOS 4 November
4 iTunes subscription service, a la Spotify... - likely, but audio quality MUST NOT suffer
5 iWork 11, Mobile me updates
6 New iPhone for Verizon/CDMA (or maybe 4G/LTE)
& update form factor, digital wallet, built in SIM, app programmable
7 Mac OS 10.7, Lion, summer 2011 - announced
8 Drop Flash from all OS X releases - announced
9 Drop white iPhone - very likely

What I would like them to do

1 iPad remove 30 pin connecter, use only USB and Bonjour/WiFi, plus AirPlay/AirPrint/AirPlay
2 'EyeTV'-like box with AirPlay WiFi streaming to iPad, ATV... control by iPad app
3 Mac OSX iTunes separate out:
a iTunes / shop
b iMedia / library mgr, books, PDFs, Audio, Video, play media and stream AirPlay
c iSync / all sync functions, phone, iPad... and have the iPad also initiate syncing, over WiFi
4 Lots more content on Apple TV. Including BBC iPlayer and in future YouView, open SDK
5 24/96 audio on iPad, Apple TV, iTunes, simplify audio to 16/48 lossy and 24/96 lossless downloads. Forget CD 16/44.1 standard. Push up audio quality.

So there, I have spoken. Listen up Apple.

A new TV

I am looking for a new TV. And it is the most confusing business I have ever got involved with. So many, many models and very little differentiation between them.

My requirements are simple

1 32inch screen, max 40 as we don't have too much space

2 Thin

3 White frame surround, not the ubiquitous black, complemented by a white VESA mounting arm, it will fit in a corner, not on a flat wall.

4 HDMI inputs - for Apple TV, Wii and DVD player

5 Built-in Freesat (not Freeview)

6 Simple remote control, I believe it should be possible to control a TV with no more than 5-10 buttons (not 50-100 as some think!).

7 There maybe some technical issues I don't yet understand, but which will be important, for example I need full HD (1920x1080), I need smooth action pixs (120Hz?), I need...

What is NOT required is

7 Internet access to specific, chosen by the makers, channels. The TV may be a network device (to my home WiFi, computers, iPads and NAS) but not a direct Internet terminal.

8 DNLA, I will use Apple TV (streaming from the internet, my NAS, my Macbook, my iPad etc) so DNLA is not of interest to me.

9 Any other connections, e.g. VGA, PC, USB, SCART, YRGB etc etc

Does anyone make such a simple thing????

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Musing on copyright infringement

Copyright infringement is the use of a person's work without his permission. It is not a criminal offence, it is a civil offence, particularly if you make money out of it.


So many people talk about 'peer-to-peer' as though it is illegal. OK so its the main technology for transferring files from A to B, but it is just a technology. There are many other ways of exchanging files: and if you want to do it so no-one can see what you are doing then 'peer-to-peer' is not the way, use an encrypted file vault.

So let's get it clear, peer-to-peer file transfer is nothing to do with copyright infringement.


Piracy is another emotive word that is bandied about. Piracy is stealing. Copying a music file is not stealing, it is copying, the original still exists. Also piracy is criminal. Copyright infringement is not piracy.

And, by the way, copying a work is perfectly legal for certain reasons, for example for education, for journalistic review and many other 'fair-use' reasons. Libraries can stock CDs/DVDs and loan them out, copying that CD/DVD would be illegal, but listening to it is not. There is a very strong argument that making a backup copy of your own CDs for your own safety is not illegal, but many people even want to block you from doing that. For DVDs you will have to break the DRM on the disks, but that is already broken thing anyway.


Blocking copying technically is called DRM - notionally meaning Digital Rights Management - or in other words using technology to enforce the rights under which a work is released. The trouble is that in many cases DRM actually blocks your perfectly legitimate rights, for example it can block you from freely using any player to listen to your purchased music, or watching a movie on any player or recording a TV broadcast or making a backup copy, or for convenience copying a movie to your home network storage hard drive.

BBC iPlayer

This is a mess. The BBC have many different versions for web browsers and as dedicated players on various platforms. The different versions use different video codecs, in particular web browsers and PC players use Flash, with DRM! While the version for iPhones/iPads uses MPEG4/H264 without DRM. Watching is limited to one week, on-line or for saved files (you can't save on an iPhone/iPad as, without DRM, they have no way to stop you watching after one week!

What a mess!

Watching TV on iPlayer does not require you to have a TV licence, the TV licence is only to use a TV receiver connected to an aerial at a specific premises. Recording a program from a TV broadcast is not illegal either and you can keep it for as long as you like.

The BBC seems likely to expand its use of DRM, which as a public broadcaster it cannot impose on over the air transmissions, by building a new set-top-box, called YouView, which itself will encode the received signals and prevent you from saving files to place on the internet... this is how it is planned to work:

Screen shot 2010-06-15 at 08.51.24.png

DTCP (networks), HDCP (HDMI connections) and AACS (Blu-Ray disks) are forms of DRM which are used throughout the system. It means you have to have dedicated, licenced equipment supporting each of these in your home theatre system. Notice that this DRM operates mainly for HD video, not for SD which can be copied openly! Creepy, creepy studios!

Of course the system architecture may not be the one you want in your home. If you prefer to have the system that Apple is proposing then it won't work with the BBC. Tough cookie, or is it? This is not what I call an open market.


Apple, again at the demand of studios uses its own, non-compatible, DRM called Fairplay! Not really fair, but hey ho.

This whole thing boils down to the studios wielding power of broadcasters, and the broadcasters not standing up for their customers. The BBC should just say no to DRM not play wormy games with our legitimate rights and wants.


Copyright protection is a legal issue, a moral issue, but not a technical issue. Stop messing with progress.

And by the way the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 gives the right to record a broadcast for viewing later at any time. So you should be able to save the iPlayers files for viewing later, at ANY time you chose, not just up to a week later. The BBC has taken away your legal rights.

DE Act

The DE act was passed in the infamous wash-up of the last parliament. 40 MPs debated it, then 180 streamed in from the bar to pass it. It is a bill to prosecute people who infringe copyright by copying files without permission, and it also stops you using any software to break DRM. (Don't worry most DRM is already broken... and is un-workable).

The DE act has already spawned some pretty ugly legal firms who have employed internet monitoring companies to record the IP addresses of people who they believe are downloading copyright works, pass these IPs to ISPs and demand the name and address of the user. The ISPs have then passed these names and addresses back , and the legal firm have sent threatening letters, tantamount to blackmail, to the downloaders asking for money. Foolishly some people have paid up, even though there is no firm legal evidence of wrong-doing and no court case. In fact these lawyers have never brought any cases to court. The solicitors society is jumping on them, but still the scam goes on. If you get a letter, just bin it.

OK, so it is right to try to legally stop copyright infringement, but the bigger picture is that copyright itself needs rewriting for the digital/internet age.

Fix it

End of rant. Let's hope some clear thinking will someday come.

Monday, 18 October 2010

More HiFi spectra - look at the difference

What I would like to start with is a convincing (at least for me) demonstration that you do need your HiFi system to have a wider bandwidth than 20-20kHz to reproduce sounds correctly. It is a simple test, the rattling of a bunch of keys infront of a microphone. Here is the spectrum, just look at the sounds above 20kHz... to get a realistic reproduction of the very fast rise times of this rattle sound you need a bandwidth above that of the human ear's perception. [Spectra are from SoundScope software, mon/left channel Red, right channel Green]

Key Rattling 2.png

Now to get a hang on what sort of bandwidth the music industry is actually delivering to us, and to understand why almost all of their recordings are useless when it comes to actually hearing the original instrument sound, look at these limited bandwidth offerings

The CD


iTunes current version AAC


ITunes early version - when they had DRM on the tracks

iTunes early.png

MP3 lossy compressed download

MP3 download.png

A couple of tracks from Spotify - Spotify seems to have a variable quality... the second one is terrrible!

Spotify 2.pngSpotify.png

And just yesterday I read in the paper that the BBC claim to be transmitting HD Audio on the internet, it is NOT HD, but simply MP3 at 320kbps and for Radio 3 only. Look at these spectra for Radio3 and the terrible quality of Radio 1. If they transmitted HD Audio in lossless format this would need 2000kbs, but anyway that is only what is needed for IPTV/iPlayer, so why is radio the poor relation?

BBC Radio 3.pngBBC Radio 1.png

Finally what we all need, a track delivered at 24bit/96kHz, look at the improvement


My belief is that the music industry has lost the plot, they over compress tracks, they refuse to move forward and use new wideband technology, and if they carry on this way they have no future growth potential. With us all having much wider pipes for our broadband today, now is the time for the industry to redefine its offering.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Demonstrating HIFI

While I was recently thinking about how to show everyone the limitations of various delivery streams for HiFi (MP3, CD, HD audio). I took a single track recorded at 24bit/96kHz and down sampled it to CD 16bit/44.1kHz and to MP3 at 128kbps. Here are the audio spectra for these



128k MP3.png
MP3 128kbps

Since many musical instruments produce sounds way above 20kHz, even up to 50-80kHz for some, you can see why MP3s and even CDs can never reproduce the sound of the original instrument. 24bit/96kHz is a bare minimum required. Its nice to see that the original was a true HD recording, probably extending way up to 48kHz or so.

PS These spectra were made in Sound Studio software running on a MacBook.

Thinking about it - TV for tomorrow

I just spent a few minutes thinking about tomorrow's TV. I am more and more convinced that Apple is going the right way, but to complete its offering they need some additional stuff:

Have now

- Apple TV (WiFi to HDMI, internet access limited to iTunes and few other media sources)
- Computers WiFI (iMac, MacBook)
- NAS and routers WiFi (Time Machine)
- Remotes WiFi (iPod, iPad, iPhone)


Needed to complete the picture

- Set-top-box receiver with WiFi interface for streaming TV and for remote control. View on TV, record on MacBook/iPad/iPod/iPhone...
- Expanded internet access (directly by ATV or WiFi stream from iPod/iPad/iPhone)
- WiFi sync computer to iPad/iPod/iPhone
- Audio amplifier (optical in, LS out) for HiFi system

This would give the perfect solution. With just ONE remote, an iPod, iPad or iPhone). Everything WiFi.


There is a big opportunity here for someone (EyeTV?) to make the STB and someone making HiFi amplifiers to come up with the missing hardware (who?), the HiFi part of the needs could be satisfied using active (Optical Audio input) loudspeakers (ADM?)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Grabing your TV

A quick first comment, more later...

There is a definite acceleration in the mish-mash of offerings for your eyeballs. Your TV set is about to be an internet thingy, a video-on-demand thingy, a catchup TV thingy, a gameing thingy. Offerings are coming from many new makers, of which Apple, Goggle and UK's YouView are just some of the media ones.

Apple TV - your TV as a monitor

The new Apple TV is an amazingly small and simple box. It links to the world via WiFi and to your TV by HDMI, and that's it. But what it does is put your TV into the Apple eco-system. You can browse the iTunes store and rent movies and TV programs, you can stream movies from your other Apple gear - your MacBook, your iPad, your iPhone... - directly to your TV screen. And all in 720 HD format.

Apple TV also streams audio to its Optical audio output, connect your ADM9.1 powered loudspeakers and you have a complete music centre, also based on buying music from iTunes. And playing from your iPad remotely.

But the Apple TV does not have the BBC's iPlayer. For some reason these two guys cannot get on enough to allow the BBC to create an iPlayer app (probably the DRM problem, Apple won't licence there's and the BBC can't implement iPlayer without DRM as the studios won't have it?).

The Apple TV also does not have TV!

And you have the frustrating business of using the TV remote to switch across to Freesat, another to watch a DVD or Blu-Ray, another to control your HiFi... More than one controller for your home system is too much.

Google TV - your TV as a nerd's paradise

Google TV is just an OEM software product, like their new Android OS. It is provided to equipment and TV makers to implement. When included it allows the TV to become a TV, a VOD source, and an internet browser (for YouTube, etc).

Google TV uses a QWERTY keyboard so you get the full computer/internet experience on your TV, much to the annoyance of everyone else in the room... A TV is a shared experience, not the domain of one person holding the remote.

There will also be Google TV boxes that link up to older TVs.

Google is working hard, at least in the USA (there is no sign of Google TV support in Europe) to get a lot of media sources signed up - the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and the TV channels.

YouView - your TV as a broadcaster's delivery terminal, but via the internet

YouView is the broadcasters idea of what the future of TV should be like. When they think they have to move from expensive TV transmitters, expensive Satellites and onto the internet as a delivery chain, YouView is what they have come up with. But it is a closed, gatekeeper system, not the open internet.

There's not a lot going for YouView, it has no eco-system, it is just another set top box you have to buy (after you have already purchased one or two generations of Freeview and Freesat boxes), great for the licensed electronic's companies, but very bad for the consumer.

What is worse is that the whole thing is to be dominated by the BBC who will control the User Interface - look and feel. Its a total lock-in.

Don't forget

Apple and Google are building huge data centres - to store movies, music, TV shows? They plan to be the complete offering, storage and delivery. Maybe the broadcasters don't stand a chance in this battle.

What could you imagine?

You don't want just a TV, you don't want internet on your TV - a TV is a shared viewing experience, not a individual one. You don't want multiple boxes, plus your DVD and Blu-Ray players, Wii and others connected by a forest of wires and half a dozen different remotes.

What you want is an eco-system that integrates your PC, your Pad, your Phone, your game box and your TV. In such as way that they can all be used separately, or can interact to give your eyeballs all the information they need, when they want it.

Who will win the battle? Well it depends how stupid we are.

YouView may be foisted on us, by politicians who don't know any better or care, and by the powerful media giants (BBC, ITV, Five, Arquiva (who run the TV transmitters), BT (who own the telephone lines and exchanges) and others). But it is probably not what we want or need.

Apple may like us to invest in their eco-system, and they have been pretty successful in doing that! But they don't have the media offering we need - no live TV, no catch up (maybe coming?), so far few rentals, no purchases. But they do have interconnectivity which others don't.

Google TV is a loser, like many of the other Google ventures. It depends on getting us to buy complete new TVs. It offers combined TV and internet, which means it reaches only one set of eyeballs, not a shared experience. Sure it is an interesting distribution channel, but so are the others.

My money is on Apple in the end, the TV as a monitor, it makes system sense. But they desperately need to have a long hard look at the UK market and give us the features we want.

The other battle - copyright sub-division and control

Of course the other battle is between the companies that deliver the media (Apple, Google, Netflix, Hulu, Seesaw, Cable, Sky, BT, Virgin...) and those that generate it. For too long studios have been controlling the delivery chain, licensing sub-divided permissions of copyright to others who want to carry the content. Even our public broadcaster, the BBC, has fallen in the trap of believing it needs to own the delivery chain and play the studio's game (viz DRM on the "free" iPlayer catchup service, and limits to the time programs are available...). Sorry but public broadcasting is just that, public. It has also chosen a strong encryption system (or DRM) for the YouView project. Our TV is now firmly locked up.

Rogue thought

I watch 1500 hours of TV a year, I pay £140 TV licence for this. Or about £0.10 per hour of viewing.

If I just paid £0.10 per view, and no licence fee. And had free and open access to all channels, VOD on the internet would this be better? Yes, Yes, Yes.

But then YouView has no payment mechanism, so this blocks even this outrageous suggestion.