NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, May 2005
The New, the Best, and the Worst
by Pim Borman
SW Indiana PC Users Group, Inc.
swipcug@sigecom.net (click to email author)

DVD Compatibility Woes
Last Christmas son Mike brought his camcorder along for the traditional Christmas Present Opening. The result was pretty entertaining, mostly thanks to the star of the show, our 4-month old Cocker Spaniel Puppy. She tore at the wrappings with great abandon and battled fierce fights with her new plushy, growling toy tiger. Afterwards we hauled out the old 8-mm film projector and recorded some old-time nostalgia on Mike’s camcorder. We used a Vivitar projection box, with a screen in front to project the image on (movie or slides), a 45-degree mirror inside, and an opening in the side through which to focus the camcorder on the image. After adjusting the frame rate of the camcorder to eliminate flicker the result was fairly good, taking into account the poor quality of the original 8-mm movies.

Mike copied the digital tape to a DVD on his new Sony DVD recorder, using Nero 6.3. He added a short menu including the Christmas live recording and the old movie copy session. The DVD played well on our TV set with the Aiwa DVD player, and I wanted to make a copy of the disk for later. I popped the disk in the Sony DRU 510A DVD burner of my computer and proceeded to make a copy. After reading the original disk, the program started to write to the blank disk and then stopped with an error message: blank disk was no good. After many tries with different blank disks, using a DVD-R disk instead of a DVD+R, and changing from my Veritas burner program to the Nero program I gave up. Mike took the DVD back home and tried to copy it on his computer – same result. I finally settled for copying the DVD from the Aiwa DVD player to a VCR tape.

Clearly, a television DVD recorder is not the same as a computer DVD recorder; it uses a different format (DVD-ROM, I think). When Mike recopied the original DVD from his TV DVD player to his TV DVD Recorder, without installing a menu on the new copy, we could copy that disk on our computer DVD burners. The menu on the original DVD had been causing the copying hang-up. Even so, when the DVD was played back on a computer the image was unacceptably dark.

I sent the VCR tape copy to my brother in Holland. The US and Europe use different TV standards, NTSC versus PAL, but his tape player was able to play either format, although the colors appeared to be washed out. I doubt that any DVD I could have sent would have played on a European TV-DVD player.

The confusion over incompatible DVD formats will only worsen when new, multilayer DVD burners become available. The Blu-Ray format is backed by Sony, Pioneer, Panasonic, Hewlett-Packard, and other computer and consumer electronics companies. The competing format, HD-DVD, is primarily the product of Toshiba and NEC. Both formats greatly increase the storage capacity of DVDs, but they are mutually incompatible (of course).

Google is rapidly adding additional features, including the recently added Google Desktop that lets you search your system drives for files. The latest free addition is Picasa 2 (http://www.picasa.com), an add-in that searches your hard drives for images and arranges them in easy-to-scan folders arranged by date, name, or size. The pictures can be rearranged, combined in albums, made into slide shows, sent via email, make collages, and other manipulations to sort through your collections. What especially caught my eye were the intuitive image editing tools. Most photo editors I have used are either too limited, or they offer so many features that they become hard to use. Picasa offers effective automatic contrast and color corrections, and even an “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. A “Fill Light” button serves the highly useful but poorly understood exposure-correction function usually called “gamma.” If these buttons don’t give the desired effect, there are Tuning and Effects buttons to further optimize your pictures.

Picasa leaves your stored images unchanged. Edited images must be “saved as a copy” or by “exporting” them to another location. I finally found out about that after spending quite some time looking in vain for the usual “save as…” menu item. Some day Google may be the Wal-Mart of desktop programs, offering one-stop universal functionality. Microsoft, Yahoo, and the other software moguls are warily watching its progress. (First found in USA Today 1/18/2005, thanks to Duane Morrow)

Now that COMDEX is no longer in existence, all the electronics media were gathered in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The only computer item mentioned was Apple’s new mini-computer. Otherwise much of the excitement was about a 101” plasma television screen (not yet for sale, and if you need to ask what it costs, forget it; and you won’t be able to afford the electric bill either). There were also endless gadgets combining PDAs, wireless Internet Browsers, Instant Messaging, GPS Locators, Cameras, MP3 Players, and Cell Phones in one handheld contraption. I hate to think about the complexity of programming and using all those features, considering the problems I had with my new, vanilla Nokia cell phone. That little gadget also lets me play games, strike up a Beethoven symphony to warn me of an incoming call, and all sorts of extras that I don’t need, and that probably are not included in my pre-paid contract with Cingular anyway. What I DO need is speed-dialing, but I had to dig through several layers of menus for the place to set up my contacts. Nowhere was there an option to assign a single-digit speed dial number. That is assigned automatically in numerical order, except that digit 1 gets you Voice Mail, not contact #1. Next I proceeded down the menu tree to reassign the opening message that is displayed when the phone is turned on. I wanted it to show my name and phone number, in case I lost the little unit. No matter how hard I tried to spell W F Borman, all I could get was something like Cabbage. It turned out that the unit, by default (!), uses “predictive typing,” important to kids who like to send cryptic messages to each other, but otherwise totally useless. After I disabled that, typing worked, clumsily, as expected.

I hate to think what it takes to program one of those do-everything gadgets touted at the CES show. I am still hoping someday to see the one badly-needed breakthrough I would gladly pay for: an electronic shower faucet that delivers water at a constant temperature even while someone else in the house flushes the toilet and washes his hands; but it better be waterproof.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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