May 30th, 2009
One of the serious drawbacks of blu-ray is that it’s exceedingly difficult to rip a blu-ray disc into a form usable on, say, an iPod or AppleTV (not that an AppleTV can actually handle 1080p, but that’s a separate problem). Blu-ray folks understand this limitation, and so some blu-ray movies come with a “digital copy,” which generally is a DRM-protected MP4 movie file.
When buying blu-ray discs for movies I don’t have, I’ve tried to to steer toward those with a digital copy included. However, some movies apparently include a digital copy even though this isn’t made explicit. In particular, the copy of the The Matrix that I picked up on blu-ray includes a digital copy, even though it doesn’t say so.
The Matrix was the first DVD that I owned, and was arguably the “killer app” that really launched DVD in the first place. I’ve ripped it many times at different sizes and bitrates; this is the movie I used to use to see how much playing with the dimensions and bitrates of the rip affected the picture quality. So, of course, I have a ripped version on my hard disk for watching on the AppleTV. So I thought I’d take a look at how it compared to the digital copy which came with the blu-ray.
First, some information on the the files: the rip was done using Handbrake 0.9.3, 63% quality, full-size loose anamorphic. The resulting file is 2.77 GB, 838 x 352 pixels. The digital copy is 1.59 GB, 853 x 354 pixels. So the digital copy is a much smaller file, but some of that is due to the fact that the ripped file has the full Dolby AC3 5.1 audio in it, while the digital copy has only a stereo AAC track. Still, the video-only part of the ripped version is about 2 GB, so it is running at a higher bitrate.
But how do the results compare? Actually the difference is quite striking right as soon as you see the Warner Bros. logo: digital copy and ripped. The colors in the digital copy are obviously much more saturated.
However, the ripped version appears to be a little sharper than the digital copy, at least on rendering text. I suspect that this is a result of the higher bitrate in the ripped version.
A great illustration of the difference between the two can be seen in this shot of Trinity: ripped vs. digital copy. The colors are much different and the digital copy shows some banding (particularly around the flashlight on the right), which again might be a bitrate issue. (Note that this is less visible when it’s moving video).
OK, so last one, not in the Matrix, but in the “real world:” ripped vs. digital copy. As per the other, the ripped one shows more detail, but the colors are a bit different; perhaps slightly better in the digital copy.
So, you can judge for yourself if the digital copy is acceptable. My take is that it’s OK for how I’ll actually use it; that is, primarily on my iPhone. I won’t watch it on the AppleTV since in my living room I can watch it in blu-ray, and the BD is absolutely fantastic. Now, when I travel I sometimes hook up my iPhone to a TV, but that’s at best with s-video, so the slight loss in detail and lack of 5.1 audio is acceptable, and the smaller file size is welcome. Overall, I’m happy with the digital copy and now I really wish all blu-ray discs came with one.
May 29th, 2009
A long time ago (late 1980s) the best word processor for the Mac was Microsoft Word version 4.0, no contest. Basically, it was that or vanilla MacWrite. Word was much smaller then, more lightweight. Edges of the bloat could be seen with version 5, and version 6 was one of the most colossal disasters in office software history. I’ve also owned Write Now, MacWrite II, MacWrite Pro, various flavors of Nisus Writer, WordPerfect Mac, ClarisWorks/AppleWorks, FrameMaker, Mariner Write, Pages, and I’ve taken several others for test drives (Mellel, a few others whose names I can’t remember). There is a clear winner in terms of history for the best word processor for the Mac, ever. In my opinion, MacWrite Pro was, hands down, the king. Things printed where you put them. Style sheets always made sense and worked in sensible, predicable ways, and there was a differentiation between character styles and paragraph styles that promoted a mental model of the system that actually worked. It had just enough page-layout-style features that you could control things, but it never overwhelmed you with that stuff.
But, unfortunately, MacWrite Pro is dead. The last version released was a long time ago, and once development stopped, it didn’t last long, mostly because it had issues with newer printer drivers, and if you can’t print properly from your word processor, it’s done.
Now, because I’ve tried so many, I now have a standard test I do when I take any new word processor for a spin. Before I get into that, though, I think it’s important to mention what kind of writing I typically do with word processors, because what works for me might not work for other people depending on what kind of writing you do.
I’m an academic, but I don’t write books. I write scientific journal articles, conference papers, book chapters, and grant proposals send to federal agencies. I also write exams and homework assignments and answer keys for those. I write almost no memos or letters; that’s what email is for in my world. I don’t write fiction, advertisements, brochures, forms, or anything like that. I don’t use my word processor as an outliner; I have an outliner for that. (Yes, there will be a series entry on outliners.) So, my primary use is technical writing.
So, what’s my fist test? I try to generate a document in what I think of as “conference proceedings format.” This is pretty straightforward two-column format, which virtually all word processors can handle with very little pain. The tricky bit is that the first page is different; it requires a single-column start with the paper tile, author information, and sometimes abstract. I also need style sheets to handle various heading levels, figure captions, and body text that sometimes does and does not require a first-line indent depending on whether or not it follows a heading. Maybe this doesn’t sound complicated and it definitely should not be hard for someone with a graduate degree in computer science to figure out.
Most word processors, however, make this task way, way more difficult than it should be. I can usually get most word processors to do it, more or less, but the issue isn’t usually whether or not they can, but how much of a pain in the ass it is to get it running and how sensible the outcome is in terms of mapping from what it shows on the screen to what gets printed on the page. I dislike most implementations that require “sections” to do this. Doing it with a header that appears only on the first page is OK, but doing it with a WYSIWYG text box is the clearest and easiest way I’ve seen to handle this. This is, of course, how MacWrite Pro handled this.
When MacWrite Pro was no longer feasible to run, then I switched to FrameMaker for a while, but that never made the OS X transition, so that wasn’t a viable option. I had been floating around trying different things, none of them quite what I wanted. Mariner Write is non-awful and Nisus Writer Pro has some things going for it, but neither is quite it.
A word, then, on Microsoft Word. I hate Word with a passion. It’s slow (NASA launches things faster), it’s bloated with zillions of features that I will never, ever use, the UI is klunky (exactly how many modal dialog boxes are there?), the implementation of style sheets is horrible, its behavior is completely unpredictable (gee, I wonder where that figure will actually end up, or how it will reformat my text if I somehow accidentally delete the invisible formatting character), and so on. It’s a mess. I only use it when I absolutely have to, generally because I’m working with a colleague who uses it. Even then, I’ll generally translate from Word, edit in something else, and then save back to Word. This is not to say everything about Word is bad, as Word has been the source of some very good ideas. For instance, the first time I saw the dynamic red underlining of misspelled words was in Word, and even if Word didn’t invent that, it popularized it, and that’s a seriously good bit of UI.
So, what I use is Apple’s Pages. It’s the closest thing to MacWrite Pro out there, it’ll always run on the latest Apple hardware and software, it plays surprisingly well with Word, and the UI doesn’t suck. It’s certainly not because it’s an Apple product; I have to say that the first couple of versions of Pages weren’t especially great, and I didn’t really use it. However, the 3.0 (or ‘08) version (actually released in 2007) was good and the 4.0 (or ‘09) version is a useful improvement over that. When people email me Word documents, I almost always open them in Pages because it takes dramatically less time to launch Word and Pages usually does an excellent job of importing with formatting intact. And as much as I dislike “track changes,” Pages does a good job with it and generally handles Word files that have this turned on quite well.
However, it’s not perfect. For example, MacWrite Pro’s style sheets were still better, and it’d be nice if Pages did auto-numbering of figures and equations, but other than that, it’s good enough that I almost don’t miss MacWrite Pro anymore, which is an accomplishment. So, that’s what I use. For now, until someone finds something better.
May 19th, 2009
OK, so it’s not football season and my blog is suffering from neglect. But classes are over and I can only watch so many movies, even on blu-ray, in a week. The last couple summers I’ve used the little down time I have in the summer to read a couple novels. Since the sequel to The Name of the Wind isn’t going to be out for a while, nothing on that front really grabs me right now. Thus I’m starting a new series on the blog, which I’ll try to update about once a week. So, what is this all about?
I’ve been using Macs since I started college in 1987 (insert your own age joke here). One of the things I often find myself asking when I meet other Mac aficionados is “what X do you use?” where X is software for some particular purpose, or hardware, or whatever. And I’ve noticed over the last few years that people ask me that question a lot.
So, I thought I’d document some of the storehouse of Mac knowledge and preference buried in my brain. Why should anyone care? Well, I have to confess that I have a problem: I’m a junkie. I’m completely addicted to Mac stuff, hardware, software, peripherals, you name it. There are (at least) four fully licensed word processors and at least three such spreadsheet programs on my hard disk. There are probably five or six keyboards in my study right now. I spring for MacUpdate Promo bundles and MacHeist bundles pretty much whenever they happen. I am, sadly but most definitely, addicted to this stuff—but it means my opinions are generally pretty well-informed and backed by a fair amount of experience.
Here are some planned topics, though I probably won’t go in this order:
• Word processors (and maybe reference managers)
• Mice & keyboards
• Web browsers
• Presentation software
• Utilities (this will take many posts as I’m especially addicted to these; I’ll need to generate multiple sub-categories)
• Audio editing
• How I keep my multiple Macs in sync (I get asked this particularly often)
• Drawing and diagrams
• Text editing
• Image editing for the non-’shopper?
And I’m open for suggestions on others. Let my addiction work for you…
One last sidebar. This will most definitely not be any kind of Mac vs. PC holy war stuff. I find that tiresome. I made a choice, it’s my choice, it’s not a choice borne of ignorance or incompetence, and I really don’t give a rip if there are people who don’t agree with it. Nor do I expect other people to be swayed by my choice, so I’m not going there. If you want that kind of utterly unproductive nonsense I’m sure there’s a thread on Fark or Gizmodo where people are fighting it out—there nearly always is.
Now, I will dip my toes into some the muddy waters of dissent on the Mac side, because it is germane to the topic. LaunchBar vs. QuickSilver. BBEdit vs. other text editors. There will be Microsoft-bashing, but only for some applications; and don’t worry, there will be Apple-bashing, too.
May 15th, 2009
So, my Oppo BDP-83 arrived over the weekend and we got to experience the new tech. In a word, WOW.
I guess I didn’t fully realize just how used I am to upscaled video. The first thing we watched was Planet Earth. This is terrific but I’d seen it in HD when it first came out and the Discovery blu-ray is only 1080i so it’s not much different from watching it off the DVR.
Next was WALL-E. This is outstanding on blu-ray, no question. Of course, it’s a digital image to start with, and animated, so while it looks terrific, it was somehow not mind-blowing that it was so perfect. Well, that’s not quite true–the audio is pretty astonishing. The lesson, as always: lossy compression blows.
What really rocked me was The Matrix. I think what impressed me the most were the skin tones–just amazing. And smoke. And backgrounds. No banding or speckling or blurring. This movie was the “killer app” for DVD in the early days of that format and it’s one I’ve seen on DVD many, many times, so I’m really used to what it looks and sounds like in that format, so the contrast between blu-ray and DVD was particularly salient.
We watched The Dark Knight last night, and it’s also spectacular. However, since we didn’t have the DVD prior to the blu-ray, the contrast between blu-ray and DVD was obviously not at the forefront. Great blu-ray experience, though, for sure–I was actually holding off on buying this movie until we had blu-ray, as I did with WALL-E. Good choice.
The other thing I’ve really been enjoying about the BDP-83, and one of the reasons that I went with that despite its somewhat hefty price tag is SACD playback. The BDP-83 can output raw DSD multichannel, which my Denon receiver handles beautifully, and it just sounds fantastic. I know this isn’t a format which really took off, and I don’t have a lot of titles (mostly classical), but it’s fantastic where I do have it.
So, good stuff all around. Now if the price of media would only come down a bit, it’d be fantastic. The way to make this happen, I think, is for higher demand. So, if you have a decent HDTV, get a blu-ray player, dammit. If you don’t care about things like SACD, even a cheap one will be a big upgrade in terms of picture and audio quality.
May 15th, 2009
A little housecleaning before the weekend. First, the blog’s been upgraded to WordPress 2.7.1.
Second, of course, is the name change. “SunBBlog” was always a horrible name and it really, really needed to go.
So, why “Raised Weird”? It’s a play on the age old “heredity vs. environment” or “nature vs. nurture” question that came up in my family when I was a kid. I was giving my parents a hard time, noting that regardless of which mechanism was in play, how I turned out was their fault. So, the only real question was whether I was born weird, or raised weird—but whichever it was, it wasn’t my fault, but theirs. It’s silly, I know, but it sure beats the hell out of “SunBBlog.” I really don’t know what I was thinking with that one…
Of course, my brother now has a blog called “Born Weird.”
So, now that the name change is in place, I plan to start a new series of posts next week. Keep an eye out for it, Mac fans…
May 4th, 2009
The problem with Twitter is that I post stuff there that should also be blogged… So, a bunch of quick hits:
• I’ve been thinking about getting a netbook. Based on specs, since the Dell Mini 10 supports a hi-res (720p) display and a six-cell battery, it looks perfect—except for one extremely major detail: it can’t be hackintosh’d. Total bummer. So, I either need to settle for a Mini 9, which seems too small, go for an MSI Wind, or wait for whatever thing Apple has up its sleeve. We’ll see how long it takes Apple to pull the trigger on whatever that is…
• I’ve almost completely given up on Facebook because of Twitter. Why? Because Twitter is lightweight and the mobile clients are just as good, if not better than, the Web client. (I use twitterfon on my phone and Canary on the desktop, both are free.) FB seems like work every time I log on, but Twitter is so lightweight that it’s just easy.
• I’m finally going blu-ray with the Oppo BDP-83. No, it’s not for sale publicly yet, but I tried to get on the beta program and wasn’t selected, so my consolation prize is getting to order it prior to its public release. This will be my first foray into blu-ray, but I’m a long-time Oppo fan, as the home DVD player is has been an Oppo DV-981HD for quite some time. I’ll post a review on it after I’ve gotten to play with it for a while. It should come in time for next weekend, so don’t expect to hear much of anything from me for a while once it gets here. The TV might now be the weak link in the chain…