10,000 CD-ROMs donated to (dumped on?) Internet Archive

Unless you’ve developed Macromedia Director titles, you may not know that their runtime license requires content developers to give Macromedia two copies of every Director-based title. (Similarly, Apple’s license requires two copies of every title that uses QuickTime.)

Internet Archive is an amazing site that’s the home of the Wayback Machine — an archive of the web that lets you surf over 10 billion pages in the fourth dimension (you must try if you haven’t before) — and other great projects.

Recently, Macromedia boosted the Internet Archive’s Software Archive department with over 10,000 Director-based CD-ROM titles. They’re now trying to figure out how to best preserve them for the long-term. [via Slashdot]

HDTV to get critical mass in 2003?

David Pogue wrote a good “Where’s HDTV?” interview with Gary Merson (senior video editor for The Perfect Vision magazine, and author and publisher of the HDTV Insider newsletter) for the New York Times.

The three major networks are broadcasting the vast majority of their prime time shows in HDTV. This week, for example, CBS will broadcast 19 of its 22 prime-time hours in HDTV. The networks have announced that David Letterman and Conan O’Brien’s shows will join Jay Leno in HDTV. Major sporting events and programs will also be in HDTV, including The Academy Awards, The Grammys, US Open Tennis, Basketball, Monday Night Football, and many more. Even the WB is offering shows in HD.

Also currently in HD almost 24 hours a day: HBO, Discovery HD Theater, HD Net and Showtime. (You can get these either by satellite or, within several months, cable.) Additional HD channels coming on board this year: Cinemax, ESPN, three more HD Net Channels (movies, sports, entertainment), The Hallmark Channel and Bravo HD.

HD-DVD is another critical piece of the puzzle, but I’m happy to see that there’s so much HDTV content out there. [via JD’s Blog]

Microsoft retreats on "Palladium" name

The much-reviled “Palladium” — a reference to items, generally passed from one person to another as gifts, that are believed to protect the the lives of those who carry them — is now the generic-sounding and much-reviled “next-generation secure computing base”.

Since Microsoft is apparently going the security-through-obscurity route even with the name, I hereby give “next-generation secure computing base” the name of We did not want to be in a position of rolling over them.

He also claimed that the name was not changed in an effort to dodge the massive criticism that Palladium received (and “next-generation secure computing base” will receive), but c’mon — of course it was. [via Ars Technica]

ISMA sets schedule to finalize MPEG-4 DRM spec

This week, ISMA (Internet Streaming Media Alliance) shared their roadmap for the digital rights management technical specification they’ve been working on for MPEG-4. It uses MPEG-4’s IPMP (Intellectual Property Management Protection) standard, and will work for both realtime and progressive (a.k.a. downloaded, a.k.a. shared) streaming content.

They intend to make it available for review at the NAB (National Broadcasters Association) convention in April, and to release the final specification by the end of June. ISMA has formed a content advisory board (members haven’t yet been announced, but it’s likely that they’re courting movie studios, the MPAA and the RIAA) and I expect that ISMA will want the approval of this board before releasing the final specification.

In another bit of very good news, ISMA has announced that they’ll be introducing a certification program. Vendors that are interoperable with the standard will be able to use a common trademark.

Next-gen DVD: There can be only one (standard)

The DVD Forum has announced that they’ll be choosing the video codec for the next-generation, high-definition DVD standard (tentatively called HD-DVD) by March. Here are the four options in the running:

AVC Also known as H.264, this is the next MPEG-4 video codec. It was created by The Joint Video Team (JVT), which is a cooperative effort of VCEG (the ITU’s Video Coding Experts Group) and MPEG (the ISO’s Moving Pictures Experts Group).

MPEG-4 Video This option is the Advanced Simple Profile flavor of the current MPEG-4 video codec. It’s not competitive with AVC or Windows Media Video 9

MPEG-2 with “enhancement layer” The current generation of DVD uses MPEG-2. This enhancement to MPEG-2 adds a complementary bitstream that makes it more suitable for HD-DVD.

Windows Media Video 9 This is Microsoft’s proprietary video codec, which is derived from MPEG-4 Video.

The DVD Forum’s technical working group has successfully used all three codecs to encode 9 GB of high-definition test content onto a two-layer DVD at bitrates as low as 7 Mbits/sec.

An anonymous source told EE Times that Windows Media Video 9 “doesn’t stand a chance politically” even though it’s technically adequate, and that many chip vendors believe that AVC will win out over an enhanced MPEG-2. This means that — for the first time — content developers may be able to use the same video codec to target mobile devices, PCs, and consumer electronics.

"Mastering Compression" class

My friend and streaming expert Ben Waggoner will be holding his next two 5-day Mastering Compression classes on June 30 and August 11.

These classes are held on the Stanford University campus. They’re part of Stanford’s Digital Media Academy program, so you get Stanford Continuing Education credits for taking the class — that means that your employer might even pay for them!

If you can’t attend,

  • Digital Media Academy: Mastering Compression
  • Posted in MPEG-4, QuickTime, RealSystem, Streaming, Windows Media, Wireless
  • Opera's fat lady sings on Macintosh

    Recently I discussed the imminent end to the browser wars, and predicted that iCab, OmniWeb and Opera will no longer be relevant even for web developers by the end of the year.

    Now, Opera Software has all but announced that they can no longer compete on the Mac platform. They’ve effectively asked Apple to subsidize their business, and if Apple declines, Opera for Macintosh will likely be no more. Says Opera Software’s CEO Jon von Tetzchner:

    I’m not a quitter, and our company isn’t a quitter, but it really is up to Apple. The Mac platform may not be viable for us any longer. We have contacted Apple and asked them if they want a third-party browser, and we’ll see what the answer is. They could say we want to use Opera as the core engine. If they want KHTML as a simple little browser, and also something more advanced, we would be happy to provide it. Obviously, if we don’t get any positive signs from Apple, then we have to think about it.

    Apple’s response was predictable and (IMHO) reasonable.

    We think Safari is one of the best and most innovative browsers in the world, and it seems our customers do too. No one is making Mac users choose Safari over Opera — they’re doing it of their own free will — and Opera’s trashing of Safari sounds like sour grapes to us.

    Even if they no longer spend resources on Macintosh, Opera Software will find it more and more difficult to maintain a business on something that’s rapidly becoming a commodity. As analyst Ross Rubin put it, “Opera is between the rock of Microsoft and the hard space of open source.”

    Posted in Web

    Gibson's peripheral vision

    MaGIC (an acronym of the forced-feeling Media-accelerated Global Information Carrier, “Magic” from now on) is a music networking technology that Gibson Labs has been working on for almost three years. As an example of its potential, imagine a Magic guitar transmitting audio (one channel per string) and control information (the state of knobs, whammy bars, etc.) to a Magic amp digitally over ordinary (i.e. cheap) Ethernet cables. Sweet!

    MIDI information can also be sent over Magic — a Gigabit Ethernet-based Magic connection is 32,000 times faster than a 31,250 bits per second MIDI connection — and it seems like Magic has the potential to revolutionize the industry at least as much as MIDI has. But according to Art Thompson, a senior editor of GuitarPlayer magazine, pooh-poohs it.

    The mainstream guitar player doesn’t have the slightest interest in this.

    I’m pretty sure that even guitarists completely uninterested in technology per se are very interested in eliminating hum and other unwanted noise (not to mention the deafness-inducing side effects of connecting a guitar to an amp without turning down the volume first). And ultimately, of course, guitarists won’t “choose” a digital interconnect standard any more than they chose the analog standard — it’s more about industry adoption and momentum.

    The current version of the Magic specification supports up to thirty-two 32-bit bidirectional audio channels with sample rates up to 192 kHz and latencies as low as 250 microseconds. The spec is available online, and can be licensed royalty-free for 10 years.

    The only missed opportunity I can see is that Gibson used a UDP-like packet format rather than just using UDP. (Image a guitar auto-finding potential amps using Rendezvous, etc.)

    Beware first "MPEG-4" DVD player

    Tom’s Hardware Guide (THG) has always confused the DivX codec (once a hack of an old version of the Windows Media Video codec, now an actual MPEG-4 Video codec) with the MPEG-4 format (which supports several codecs, including the MPEG-4 Video codec). The cluelessness continues in their review of the KiSS Technology DP-450.

    THG’s review of the DP-500 notes that it supports the DivX “format”, which they incorrectly equate with MPEG-4. The player does support DivX-style Franken-AVIs that use MPEG-4 Video (Advanced Simple Profile) for video and MP3 for audio, but it doesn’t support MPEG-4. The DP-500 doesn’t even use DivX for their video (which makes the THG review all the more bewildering), but uses REALmagic’s 8500 hardware decoder instead.

    In review, (1) the DP-500 does not support MPEG-4, (2) the DP-500 does not use the DivX codec, and (3) avoid Tom’s Hardware Guide when it comes to anything having to do with MPEG-4.

    Undesign (a.k.a. the trend toward minimalism in web site design)

    Liz Bailey writes about “undesign” in the new issue of Graphics International:

    The new, uniquely online aesthetic — termed ‘undesign’ by some after Tibor Kalman — isn’t so much about utilitarian minimalism as usability, reductionism and subtlety.

    Although this article isn’t great — just referencing the quote above, undesign obviously isn’t new (see Google) or uniquely online (see Charles and Ray Eames) — it is clear that we’re starting to see a backlash against the “more is more” philosophy that has generally pervaded web site design until just recently.

    I’d glad that PlaybackTime is one of the better examples of undesign compared to others cited in the article. Although this was intentional (my tolerance for bloated sites is lower than ever), it’s worked out wonderfully given that (1) I initially used the site as an excuse to learn XHTML and CSS (which required coming at site design with a “new mind”), and (2) time constraints which require that most of the time I put into the site goes toward function rather than form.

    Hopefully “light sites” are not just “this year’s aesthetic”, but rather a long-term trend in the evolution of this still-infant medium.

    Posted in Web