Archive for October 23rd, 2008

UIQ is dead

Best news of the day. I have being blogging and reviewing for over 2 years now in various cellphone articles about how bad UIQ’s performance and UI was and is. Sony Ericsson said that UIQ “didn’t attract the operator, manufacturer or consumer interest needed to stop it from failing.” Well, how was it supposed to do that when consumers were ready to throw up on the phone with that appalling UI?

Update: Ooooh! Look at the fanboys! My blog post made them angry! Bwahaha!

Well, look guys. What I wrote above is what comes out of my heart. I don’t lie. I don’t try to make things sound better than they are just so I be more likable. I don’t care if you like me or not. I simply write exactly what I feel. Please be advised that I’ve owned not one, not two, but THREE UIQ devices over the last 2.5 years. The UI just sucked and I always regarded it as the worst of the major phone OSes. The UI felt like it was designed by 10 year olds. The usability simply suffers at all levels compared to most other touchscreen smartphones.

And you know what was the last beating UIQ took for me? Let me tell you. For a year now my brother in Greece was asking me for a touchscreen phone. I told him I had the P990 (with the latest firmware in it and some additional commercial software in it too) and that I would give it to him. He couldn’t wait for it. In August, at last I reunited with my little bro and I gave him the phone. Two days later, his reaction was this: “Eugenia, you wouldn’t be angry if I give the P990 to my friend Alex, would you?” I asked him “why?”, and he said that he would have preferred either Windows Mobile or PalmOS. And get this, my brother was already familiar with UIQ (he used to own a UIQ 2.1 phone in the past), so this wasn’t a bad initial reaction on his part. He just didn’t like the interface.

This was the last nail as to how unfriendly UIQ was. At this point it became apparent that it wasn’t just my idea anymore, it was real, and it was spreading. Others hated its suckiness too. UIQ just didn’t inspire anyone to use it religiously more than a few hours after the initial curiosity. The UI just never felt right. And so I write about it. Deal with it like grown up men, instead of how Ares, owner of the UIQblog, deals with it. He wrote on his blog that I “need serious treatment”, and he earlier wrote on my own blog that I am a retard. Yep, that was his insightful reply, that I am a retard. My guess is that Ares hates seeing his little pet blog project going down because Sony Ericsson is killing the product. It pisses him off. And he takes it on me. It’s easier that way instead of facing the truth about UIQ I guess.

H.264 encoder benchmark

The most widely used delivery codec today on the internet is h.264. There are at least 10 encoders out there from different vendors, but which one is the best? I tried MainConcept (via Vegas Pro 8.0c), SonyAVC (via Vegas Pro 8.0c), Apple’s h.264 (via the latest Quicktime Pro), and x264 (via the latest ffmpeg).

The maximum profile/level is used by the user interface offered. For example, if an encoder only supports the “main” profile I would use that, even if it goes against another encoder that supports the “high” profile. Same goes for CABAC and CAVLC — I used the best options an encoder or its UI can offer me. What I am comparing here is *end-user solutions*, not how the encoder itself could perform tweaked if the sun was black and the moon was red. The source file is a 4 second uncompressed Quicktime 720/30p progressive file. The machine used is my usual 630-P4 3Ghz with 3 GBs of RAM (more specs were given before in this blog). All encodings used 4 mbps CBR, 1 pass, at 720/30p. Quality is compared using a Perceptual Diff utility: I compared frames 1 and 41. Frame 1 is stationary, Frame 41 has lots of motion in it.

A note on Quicktime

I tested both the .mov and the .mp4 h.264 exporting options from Quicktime, just in case they are internally configured differently. Please note that a lot of the quality loss shown below for Quicktime, is because of the gamma change Quicktime applies to these files. In the past, you could go to the video track “properties” with Quicktime, and change the “blend” to 100%, in order to get the original color look back. I would have tested that kind of exporting too, but it seems that the latest Quicktime Pro has this feature broken (it used to work a few months ago with an older version).

So I had to do it manually: I played with a lot of gamma values on PaintShopPro and when I gave it a 0.75 gamma (making it darker, as it was supposed to be), the pixel difference went down to 18,826 and 31,794 points for frames 1 and 41 respectively (down from about 200,000 points). So if Apple stops adding that dithering crap by default, they can deliver a pretty good result by default. “Defaults matter” as users whine and whine.

A note on x264

I used the following ffmpeg switches for the x264 encoding: -me_method umh -subq 5 -coder 1 -trellis 1 -g 300 -qmin 10 -qmax 51 -qdiff 4 -level 41 -rc_eq "blurCplx^(1-qComp)"

I did try to further optimize the x264 encoding like this: -flags +loop -coder ac -refs 5 -loop 1 -deblockalpha 0 -deblockbeta 0 -parti4x4 1 -partp8x8 1 -me full -subq 6 -me_range 21 -chroma 1 -slice 2 -bf 3 -b_strategy 1 -level 41 -g 300 -keyint_min 30 -sc_threshold 40 -rc_eq blurCplx^(1-qComp) -qcomp 0.7 -qmax 51 -qdiff 4 -i_qfactor 0.71428572 -cmp 1 -maxrate 4000k -bufsize 4M, but the video file produced was not readable by Vegas’ MainConcept h.264 reader, and therefore I could not take PNG screenshots off specific frames in order to carry out the comparison. FFdshow and Quicktime could read the file btw. I don’t have all day trying to find needles in a haystack, so if anyone knows which switch creates the incompatibility, let me know and I will update the article.

Update: It’s the -g 300 that created the problem. I removed it, but the resulted video is not frame by frame identical to the original. Some of these “advanced” switches do something really nasty to the video in terms of timing. Because the frames I get at position 1 and 41 are not identical to the original, there can’t be pixel comparison.

Update 2: Now, get this. Using this pretty optimized command line: -me_method umh -subq 5 -coder 1 -trellis 1 -qmin 10 -qmax 51 -deblockalpha 0 -deblockbeta 0 -parti4x4 1 -partp8x8 1 -qdiff 4 -level 41 -rc_eq "blurCplx^(1-qComp)" I got over 55,000 pixels of difference. However, it seems that x264 uses a different gamma than the original file, just like Quicktime does so above. So when I changed its gamma using the “Color Corrector” Vegas plugin to 0.925, I was able to get the “true” quality that the encoder is capable of. And that comes out to 16085 for frame 1, and 19597 for frame 41. In other words, if both Quicktime and Ffmpeg were to fix their gamma problems, they are pretty much identical in quality (it’s just that x264 is way faster).

The tests

Conclusion

In terms of quality, it seems that Sony AVC and MainConcept are pretty good here. x264 would probably fair better too if some of their optimization switches are not so incompatible with some decoders or if it fixes its gamma problem. Nevertheless, x264 is the fastest encoder. Quicktime quallity suffers by default more than x264 because of its extreme gamma changes. If Apple wasn’t doing that gamma change by default, it would fair much better, as my gamma test shows. Download the OpenOffice .ods spreadsheet file here.

Disclosure and politics

As you might have heard, UK released some of their UFO files recently. There is a rumor in the UFO circles that “disclosure” is close, and that the UN is under preparation for that day. Some say it’s as close as 4-5 years from now. They believe that the stock market will crash when disclosure finally happens, as the world will collapse for many (mostly religious) people.

I take most of the UFO believers very lightly as most of them are freaks (rather than because UFOs don’t exist), but assuming that the aliens are already here, and that a disclosure date is already decided, I wonder what would make more sense:
1. Disclose the existence of aliens in that future date, as planned.
2. Do it now, as the stock markets and economies of the world are already down. This way you prevent a second stock market crash in a few years. You can only go so low.

I wonder if going with option #2 would push people to the max or will make them behave more. What I mean is this: when a country’s economy is going to the dogs, there’s a lot of uneasiness in the air. But when the world’s economy is on the dogs, then the chances of having many and major international wars are increasing (I will refrain from the words “world war”). It’s what usually happens, according to history.

However, when you know for a fact that there are intelligent beings watching you, do you go ahead and start that war, or you start feeling like the kid who’s left with the neighbor family for the night and must behave? I wonder what the psyche of the mass would be in such a situation and how citizens can be used by their governments to contain them. Will they become fearful children, or will revolt with double the anger?

Essentially, what I am claiming is that disclosure can be potentially used as political means to modify unwanted outcomes for earthly problems. So you might expect it happen at the lowest point of our modern civilization. A point we probably aren’t too far off with all these financial, environmental and climate problems we face.