heyrick1973 -at- yahoo -dot- co -dot uk

Serendipity

In a way it is a good thing that I did not get the permanent evening shift. Because while I am always tired on morning shift, I can get more done. Work is from 5am to 2pm and that leaves a few hours in the afternoon. The later of the shifts, starting at 2pm and ending 11pm, is annoyingly late. Too late to catch a 9pm programme (i.e. Ugly Betty) on E4+1 (don't forget we're an hour ahead of the UK)... Waking around 9am, a nice slow get-up, potter around... We could do stuff in the morning but I'm not a morning person.

As well as that, there is something that mom is not pleased with, namely the rider that we will have to stay extra if the work is not complete. A half hour here or there is probably no great shakes in the big scheme of things, but when your mother is sitting in the car expecting you twenty minutes ago and it's 4°C outside air temperature, it is something that does not please me. Thankfully I think the boss that can got the subtle message I was outputting as now the arrangement is that we have to stay half an hour late if it is our turn at late shift and our day off is the following day. Why? To tidy up. What really annoyed was certain girls saying "that's it, done it". I mean, I'm used to it. When the work is done they bugger off to something else often without so much as the slightest attempt to tidy up their mess - after all, that's what the "menager" people are for. But when they go at 23h05 and expect somebody else to tidy up, it is a slap in the face if you are always on tidy-up duty. Now, about 6-8 people will tidy up (ought not take too long that way) and it will rotate who it is that stays behind.
If they offer me the lates again, I may well decline.

 

Whoo-hoo!

I checked my bank account on-line on Saturday in order that I might find where I stand because I totally forgot the 'cotisation'. That's a sort of subscription for having an account, and if you are British please don't email me to exclaim in horror about having to pay to have a bank account, it is quite normal and it seems to be thought rather rude to expect a full bank service and to expect it for free (the Brit way).
There was a nice big number sitting right there. Oh, get your mind out of the gutter, I'm talking an actual number not a rhyming euphemism.

Not bad for three weeks of work.

I got myself two things. First up, a Heroes DVD set, season two. I may get season one next month, and hope that season three will be out soon. I know it's on BBC THREE/BBC 2, but not on these hours it isn't! :-( I'm at the mercy of a tempermental (drive belt old, slipping erratically) video recorder. Not watched it yet. Not sure when I will have time to.

The second thing, an MPMan MP4-Fiesta. It is a 4Gb media player with a 1.8" screen. That translates to 160×120. It cost €50 which isn't so much, same as two budget meals out or one person in a swanky place (not that I get to go to places like that...). Review follows.

There is a third thing. It is more complicated to obtain. It's a Goodmans GFSAT100SD digital satellite receiver. £59 (ish?) from Argos (etc).

 

If Micro$oft did...

Hearts - I

 

MPMan MP4-Fiesta

This is a budget-end video-capable MP3 player. Model is 4Gb MP4Fiesta (1025). Firmware version 2008/02/28 9.1.52.6810 AK1025 2007/05/17 (don't ask me why two dates).

I think as my only media player, this would not be a terrifically useful device. I actually got it because I record quite a bit of stuff into the computer and convert to XviD (a form of MPEG4 video compression) and, honestly, I cocked up MP4 and MPEG4. Never mind, I was quite surprised at the idea of a 50 euro player doing DivX natively (can't see why it isn't commonplace, though, as most €25ish DVD players can do it); so it wasn't too much of a shock to find it couldn't do it after all. Conversion software was supplied, so I caught up with those episodes of "Lost In Austen" that I missed (don't tell RT's Alison Graham, I'm not gay and I quite liked this series...).

Overview

If I had to level any criticism at this device, it would be "unfinished". For example, the menus are all designed to look nice, but their functionality is very much lacking. Take a look at this:
We can see the volume is 31 (max), the directory is "Progs", the current file is "Pushing Daisies" with "Lost In Austen" following. It isn't part-way through playing, it is an AMV file, we're on "normal repeat all" mode, and it is apparently an 88kbit file (they all say that). Oh, and the battery has about two-thirds remaining...
I can't believe it only shows two files at a time, and while it appears to understand long filenames, it does not scroll the currently selected entry.
What do we need? More entries on-screen and less visual niceties. Functionality, not fluff. Do we need to know it's an AMV? I am not aware of it playing anything else (video-wise). Where's the play length - how long does this video run for? What's the full filename, say I have the last bits of "Ghost Whisperer" with titles like "Ghost Whisperer 1-19" and "Ghost Whisperer 1-20" - which is which? It appears to list stuff in FAT directory order, not alphabetised or anything.

Video playback

Video playback worked about as well as you can expect on a 160×120 display; you can see a real-sized display on the right, taken using the supplied "AMV player".
There was, in some cases, some odd jarring of the audio track. I put this down to a conversion problem as some of my XviDs run at odd frame rates, especially stuff grabbed from a videotaped recording. I'll try a 25fps resample and see if this fixes things. I think somewhere it said that the player works at 16fps - it might be capable of 15.625 to cope with 25fps video conversions (that said, 16fps matches neither ciné, PAL, nor NTSC), but what would it make of something running at 23.870fps?!?

There were a number of quirks, like you can't alter the sound until you have paused the video. Given the 'down' button is Vol and has no real purpose in video mode, you should be able to press it to pop up a volume indicator overlay where the Left and Right buttons can adjust the sound as the video is playing. Play/Pause fades in and out. Nifty the first time, but would be nice if it cut harshly instead of a two-second fade-away. Pausing returns you to the menu (necessary due to how volume control works). It would be nice if it just froze the picture and the Menu button called up the menu and Play/pause held for a second did a full stop (for three seconds is a power-off).
Other ideas: as it is, Left or Right, if pressed briefly, will go back/forward a video (fade-out/fade-in obligatory). It should act more like most MP3 players, in that going back will restart the current video and press it again to go back to the one before. Press-and-hold is fast forward and rewind. Going forward works, but rewind is absolutely pitiful. I don't know if it is a fault of the AMV file format (what, no backpointer to the previous frame?!?) but it appears to be as if it rewinds by seeking from the start of the file... so it isn't so bad for a conversion of Sofia Essaïdi/Florien Etienne's "Une Autre Vie" (3m12s), but trying to rewind in an episode of "Lost In Austen" (45m56) is pretty pointless. I've not even considered trying with that hour-and-a-half long horror film!

Music playback

The list for music playback shows one song at a time, as the bottom line appears to be a duplicate of the upper - not quite sure why. 'Random' playback seems to be able to play the same song more than once, out of sequence, and - depressingly - seems to be locked to the contents of the currently selected folder rather than "randomly play everything" which is how I have my music player set up.
The player appears to recognise music that has lyrics files, but does not seem to display these lyrics.
In some cases it messes up the information and displays gibberish. Don't know why, perhaps something wrong in the data (like a Unicode tag?, don't think I have any but...).

Photos

The conversion from a full-sized picture to something displayed is very crude. I suspect a number of 'issues' with this player can be traced back to a fairly capable DSP for the audio/video and a rather slow processing unit for everything else.
To give you an example, below are two pictures which have been sized to the same sort of dimensions as the player's display, then doubled so you can see them better. The one on the left is how it would appear on the player. The one on the right is how an anti-aliased version would look.
 
It would be nice if it was possible to rotate the picture, and to zoom/pan. My cheapo little digital camera can do this, so...

Recording

Not played with recording much. It seems you can choose one of two formats (like long play vs short play) and you can also choose whether to 'record blindly' or whether to 'voice detect'. The latter, if quality is okay, would make it a useful dictaphone by recording what you say and not the spaces while you think.

Voice

Voice recording playback. Works like music playback, but is arbitrarily restricted to only playing back WAVs. Why? On my other player, I have a Japanese course recorded, MP3ed, and put in my "Voice" directory. That way, it is available if I want it, but it won't turn up on the MP3 random play. Likewise, if you use this device as a dictaphone, you might want tp MP3 older stuff so it is there if you want to refer to it, but not wasting the space as a WAV compared to an MP3.

User interface

Clumsy. The Menu button opens the menus, selects items which lead to menus, but can you use the Menu button to set options? Try selecting the 'base folder' of something (like the location of photos) by pressing Menu.
I think you can if you press-and-hold for a second, not that the instructions are terribly helpful.

Why does "standby" not seem to do anything, yet "power off" does what it says with a time-out of 5 to 60 seconds? I'd like to set it to 2 minutes 30 as that's a good trade-off. 60 is often too short.

Why does setting the screen dim time also set, and override, the screen blank time... and vice versa? I'd like the screen to dim after 10 seconds and switch off completely after 45. Can't do that.

It'd be nice if the equaliser, instead of presets, offered 'sliders' so you can customise the equaliser, for - perhaps - your specific earphones. Even a three-band equaliser would allow a reasonable degree of customisation.

User guide

Barely correct. The layout of components (USB port, headphone socket, etc) seems different. The menus are partly the same, but numerous differences (like you can't select to record voice in MP3 mode - can this device record MP3s?). No mention of MP4 capabilities despite it being called that. Credit though, it appears to be the only thing I own that can play an 'Ogg' file. Can somebody send me an Ogg to test it with?! Oh, and where's my charger? The manual PDF says one is included!
Nowhere does it say the display size. I determined it by trial and error.

Bundled software

There is a media manager that auto-installs when you plug in the player (well, I have disabled AutoRun so I fired it off myself). It seemed to be quite slow at converting video until I realised it was multi-threading and doing about eight at a time. My only quibble is you cannot set the video 'quality'; and in this situation quality equates more or less directly to 'sharpness'. So I might lose a few Mb, I'd prefer a sharper more defined picture.
You can convert also using a special tool. This is a tad less capable (doesn't do FLVs) but you can set the quality. Expect a film of an hour and a half to run to around 250Mb (high quality). Well, you can still hold sixteen films (or the Lord Of The Rings trilogy?) on something only marginally larger than a Tictacs box!
Sadly, it appears that there is something of a serious memory leak in the AMV conversion tool. Watching with ProcessExplorer I could see the virtual size growing, growing, growing, topping 400Mb before the runtime (I think it is C++?) crashed with a big error box of which I can remember very little - it is fairly repeatable - just select a dozen-odd things to convert, let it get on with it, wait for the bang.
Don't read the user guide. It isn't descriptive and it recommends two sizes that are different to the MP4Fiesta's display.

I mention FLV files because it is my experience that most stuff downloaded from sites such as YouTube are of a rather appalling quality. I'm not sure if the original video is crap or if YouTube (etc) process it to reduce the required bandwidth. At any rate, scaling down to the 1.8" display makes for portability plus gets rid of most of the video conversion artefacts (though it introduces some of its own, obviously).

There's an AMV player. Only used it once, seemed slow to respond, shame there isn't a codec so I can use my habitual video software. There's a disc manager where you can format the player and partition it with a 'secure' part. I wonder if this would destroy the bundled software that is actually 'on' the player, or if it would copy it off and put it back later. It can also make the device bootable for newer PCs. There is also an upgrader for putting in place new firmware. This is only available to registered users, and the registration wants to handle itself and I cannot register as I have no phone line. It's a shame it can't auto-generate an email so I can contact them from whatever machine I have access to the internet from.

The physical hardware

It's a little thing, as you can see from the picture. The front is shiny plastic, the back is solid brushed metal. Between you and me, I'd pay an extra €2 or so for brushed metal on the front, it looks quite utilitarian but it also looks solid. The Li-Ion battery seems to be quite capable. I watched Lost In Austen and a couple of music vids and the battery indicator was not easy to see, but it looked like 15%-20% depleted, that's with full-brightness video playback the whole time.
It looks like it might promote stereo speakers. This is useless for two reasons. Firstly, the video playback turns the device sideways so the speakers are one above another. Secondly, much more importantly, the speakers are woefully underpowered. I have my TV on low and this playing an MP3 recording of the aforementioned Essaïdi/Eteinne song full blast, and I can hear CNBC talking about how the financial world is dying on its feet and it seems all they can do is watch and report (my words and interpretation, not necessarily theirs) and not the song.
In terms of USB transfer, I cannot see this device fly (if it can) as I only have USB 1.1, however in communication with the device, everything seems a bit tedious to get going. I wonder how much 'processing' is involved in handling files (as opposed to stuff implemented in hardware). Again, you can see my suspicions for a slow processing unit.

Verdict - consumer version

I mainly got this player because it had a large memory capacity of those on offer and I wanted to be able to watch recorded stuff, like in bed and such. With my work hours, I have a growing collection of 'to watch' items. I thought this could help. Indeed, I watched an episode of a programme series on it and, well, I'm not sure I would get the attraction of watching TV on my mobile phone, but it's an interesting start. I could see something like this doing better if it had ~4Gb on-board (plus an SDHC slot), could receive digital terrestrial TV, and had a kind of PVR function built in, so - reception permitting - you can have TV exactly to your beck and call. Hell, leave it on a windowsill 'recording' while you are at work, watch your favourite programmes on the train home.
Sadly, this device is far from that. It will play music, it will play videos. All a bit clumsily, all a bit 'unfinished' feeling. You can probably do better, even in this price bracket.

Verdict - geek version

MPman, just send me a tech doc plus the firmware sources and whatever you use to test/compile it. Like many things, this device has potential, but it is let down by an interface designed for style over substance. I'd keep the "plugged into USB port" display, I think the green monitor with those 'Z's is quite amusing. But I'd change just about everything else if I could get my head around it all. Make this little media player really useful. Interested? As always, my email is at the top of this document.

Addendum - or you could just...

...get rather more mileage, and a massively better display, from the Creative Zen. The Zen has it's own flaws too, but put it like this... I've not really used the Mp4Fiesta much, but I take the Zen with me everywhere - have watched recorded films on it, several interesting episodes of "Out and About" from NHK World TV... No need for a stupid conversion program, it will play XviD/DivX - all you need to do is size it down to 320×240 (a doddle using VirtualDub).
There's twice as much memory onboard, plus an SD slot (not terribly well integrated, but it works) for extra. It even has a radio and address book and calendar (albeit rather restricted implementations). Did I mention the display is outstanding?
I'd better point out - the Zen cost me €30 more (prices seem to vary considerably, shop around). For the difference in price, we are still in the budget 50-80ish bracket, but the functionality of the Zen feels like so much more.

 

If Micro$oft did...

Hearts - II

 

Hash-browns!

From BBC World teletext, as is usual:

I know it is wrong. I know this girl should be punished, excommunicated, whipped, beaten, thrashed, killed, gutted, shown her still-beating heart as it is ripped from her body, etc etc et-bl**dy-cetera... but don't you think it is kinda funny?

I wonder if she did it because she really liked her teachers and it all went badly wrong?

 

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yeo anselme, 13th May 2013, 11:41
coment mettre des video

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