Archive for September 19th, 2006

Bloody software…

Wasn’t myself who said a few months ago that cellphones are becoming very complex and hence bugs are to be expected? Well, it bit me today: I upgraded my E61’s firmware to the latest version (dated from July) and now its included IM application can not “see” wifi connections anymore, only GPRS ones. Come on Nokia, it’s ok to have a few bugs, but not bugs that can be found so easily via smoke testing! And they haven’t added NAT Traversal support yet on their VoIP stack and so SIP registration only works with a few routers only (doesn’t work with my Netgear router for example) or when you go through a PBX instead.

Update: Ooh, goodie, more bugs. Apparently the E61 can not anymore connect via a static IP address on my WiFi router, only DHCP works. This rules out the possibility of trying more Port Forwarding tricks just in case the bloody NAT Traversal thing works.

Digicam video recording is a joke

A lot of people these days don’t buy camcorders because digicams are now able to shoot QVGA and VGA video at 15/30 fps and this seems to make a lot of people think that they don’t need anything more than that. As a result, camcorder sales are down the drain the last 2 years.

I have a very cheap camcorder (a Canon Z-series that costs less than $300) and I only use it once or twice a year at important social events (if you ask me where all its cables and accessories are right now inside my house, I wouldn’t be able to answer you). However, even if I use it so rarely, I still want it around and here’s why.

When we go to places we take with us our digicams, and while I have 4 of them (excluding the 7 cellphone cameras I have laying somewhere around) I mostly use the 6MP Canon A700 I bought last Spring. This camera can shoot VGA video at 30 fps, at a quality almost comparable to my camcorder (my camcorder doesn’t have as good quality but it has higher resolution, so I classify them as equal). Now, here is the catch: There is NO digicam that can compress fast-enough MPEG4 video and so the resulted video recordings are extremely uncompressed and unoptimized. You can barely fit 8 minutes of VGA video on a 1 GB SD card (and you need a high speed SD card for VGA recording).

Take as example this video which is VGA at 30fps from the new Canon A700 IS. For 10 seconds of video it resulted in 18.1 MB of file size. Now, use a utility like the 3GP Converter to convert this to either Microsoft’s AVI or Apple’s h.264 MP4 files (still at VGA, 30 fps, high quality). The resulted file size is just about 2 MBs on each case. In other words, depending on the digicam, you will get 9 to 10 times worse compression rate that you would get by normal and expected compression rate. Hence the huge file sizes.

You see, digicams need to encode in real time and there’s pretty much zero CPU power in those things. They need a custom chip, but custom chips cost a lot in R&D. In Canon’s case, their DigicII CPU can encode JPEGs very fast, but that’s all it does. Custom chip design is really really complex, especially if you want to encode video in any format more complex than MPEG-1. Even worse, most digicams only support Motion JPEG data format recording (with a .mov or .avi container format), which is not suitable as an output format in the first place.

And then there are the cellphones that can encode MPEG4 and 3GPP but even their “best quality” settings is actually pretty low. And most cellphones can only record either 3GP or just QCIF or QVGA resolutions. The Nokia N93 has the best encoding atm at high quality VGA, but as in the case of digicams, compression rate at these settings goes out of the window too in order for the Symbian OS to keep up with recording.

So, if you have the cash and you must attend your brother’s wedding, buy or rent a camcorder. Don’t take the easy way out of using your digicam or even worse, a cellphone, to record video. At least until Canon comes up with Digic III that is able to compress MPEG4 in real time at acceptable compression rates (and without running out of battery so easily on video recording), camcorders must have a place in your… closet.

Stuff…

* I just spent 7 hours under intensive pain in my stomach due to indigestion. This (spicy) lamb biryani I ate (one of my favorite foods) really crapped up my stomach tonight. I was in such pain that I was seriously thinking of going to ER. I even called the Lord twice to stop the pain (and you know that I am an agnostic…). Thankfully, I feel better in the last couple of hours (time is 3 AM right now I am writing this).

* So some rioters put a TV station on fire in Hungary. Talk about shooting the mailman…

* Lots of new TV series this season. I like “Vanished” cause it is really fast paced. I can’t wait for “Heroes” to start next week. “Prison Break” continues to be “ok”, but in my opinion it is not as cool as last year. And apparently “Standoff” is really boring while CSI:Miami is cheezy (amazing, colorful HDTV shots on tonight’s episode though, shot in Rio de Janeiro: I was like “wow… ouch my stomach… whoa, great shot… ouch…”).

* O2 is preparing to launch their Stealth PocketPC phone. I am kinda bammed that the screen is only 2.4″ wide and carries a UI that was originally created for 3.5″ screens. The phone market brought down that size to 2.7″, which proved to be the smallest screen size that an average human can use comfortably for that specific UI. But at 2.4″, this is going to be a huge problem for most people. It doesn’t help that its headphone port is completely non-standard either (why do the do that? previous models used standard ports).

* I have an idea about DRM and piracy. I will write about this later this week. Going to sleep now.