Breaking Eggs And Making Omelettes

Topics On Multimedia Technology and Reverse Engineering


Silverlight Codecs

September 5th, 2007 by Multimedia Mike

Today, Microsoft released some framework for delivering rich internet applications called Silverlight. One of its larger selling points is the ability to stream HD-quality multimedia over the internet. Naturally, I wonder what codecs the system uses. Various press releases play up the VC-1 codec, which of course only pertains to video. I can only assume that WMA3 would be a standard audio codec, and likely WMA2.

Microsoft Silverlight logo

But is that all? I started asking this question after I wondered how or if someone could possibly create a Silverlight YouTube clone. The secret to YouTube’s success is, of course, free software. The site runs FFmpeg and MEncoder (see my previous post on this matter) on top of free operating systems and web servers (and I read a forum post somewhere that alleges that Python scripts schedule the multimedia conversion jobs). Sure, you could build the same kind of site with purely Microsoft OSes and multimedia conversion software, but it would cost lots of money in software licenses. This is money that doesn’t need to be spent in, e.g., YouTube’s case and can go towards expanding the hardware infrastructure or lining executive pockets.

Maybe it will be possible to build a Silverlight-based YouTube after all. Here’s a post in a Silverlight forum that describes what codecs Silverlight is alleged to support: On the video side, there is WMV1, WMV2, WMV3, WMVA, and something called WMVC1 (not a proper FourCC): Windows Media Video Advanced Profile. For audio, the post lists WMA 1, 2, and 3, and MP3. Free software encoding support for MP3 is quite abundant. FFmpeg also has support for encoding WMA2. Out of that list of video codecs, FFmpeg can encode WMV7 and 8 (no XIntra8-type frames, of course, but the encoded streams are still compliant).

As is my custom, I have started a MultimediaWiki page tracking what is known about the multimedia formats supported in Microsoft Silverlight. It would be nice to put together a simple Silverlight platform to empirically test the capabilities. I just can’t get past thinking that Silverlight should also support raw PCM, though that’s not as sexy as MP3 for mentioning in a press release. Fairness dictates I should do the same for Adobe’s Flash Player (Silverlight’s obvious competitor), so I have started an appropriate MultimediaWiki page on that topic.

Mono Project logo

Meanwhile, there’s that Moonlight project offshoot from the Mono Project that is supposed to provide Linux support for the new hotness that is Silverlight. For some reason, the meme going around today is that MS Silverlight is officially out, and Linux has 100% perfect support (or is right around the corner). My cursory investigation leads me to believe that this is not the case. I have read stuff about the Silverlight install for Linux being a one-click affair. I have some direct experience with that type of goal so I am a tad dubious. My guess is that the one-click thing is supposed to be reliable for SuSE Linux (Microsoft partner Novell’s distribution) and hopefully adaptable, with modifications, to other distros. But based on the official status page, it’s not quite there.

But thinking about my primary obsession, multimedia codecs– how will Moonlight cope with decoding the aforementioned formats? The project status page recommends developers and early adopters download and install a particular SVN revision of FFmpeg. That can’t be relied upon to decode all the formats called for above. I have read some rumblings about how Microsoft will release binary codecs that will only be allowed to run with browser plugins. So there’s something to look forward in the binary-supporting components of the free Linux multimedia players.

I should probably mention that I help develop a program that operates in a similar space as Silverlight.

Posted in Multimedia PressWatch | 11 Comments »

BBC iPlayer

June 29th, 2007 by Multimedia Mike

This article in IMDb’s Studio Briefing was the first exposure I have had to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s initiative called iPlayer: BBC Chief Says New Software Moves TV Into a New Age. This is the official page (iPlayer is formerly known as IMP), and here’s Wikipedia’s treatment.

BBC’s player client allows users to download recent BBC shows and view them locally for a limited period of time. Any multimedia hacker who hears ‘BBC’ likely thinks of the Dirac video codec. There is no sign of the codec in any of the literature. Indeed, the container, codec, transport, and DRM capabilities all appear to be based on Windows Media technologies. Further, the client distributes content via a P2P protocol. I suppose this is a natural outgrowth of such a community-owned entity as the BBC.

The official iPlayer homepage links to a message board for the program beta. The board is closed now but the latest activity was from… February… May… even July? Oh wait, these messages are from 2006. The BBC is not known to be the most efficient or competitive enterprise in the broadcast market. So it is not a big surprise to see how gradually this project has progressed.

Presumably, subjects under the BBC’s jurisdiction will express the most interest in this media client. I wonder if foreigners will be able to use it as well? There was much consternation on the message board regarding the limitations of the service, e.g., not being able to sync the downloaded content to such portable devices as the Apple iPod and Sony PSP.

Does the BBC publish any content that would even make any hacking endeavors worthwhile? (Not in my viewing experience…)

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HD Hotel

April 4th, 2007 by Multimedia Mike

IMDb reports: High-Definition Movies Coming to Hotel Rooms. The story says that the capability will be provided by an outfit named nSTREAMS; they presently produce all kinds of large boxes that provide multimedia entertainment to hotels, hospitals, schools, and karaoke bars. I don’t see any boxes on their website that specifically tout HD support, but they must be coming soon.

I gained a small interest in these hotel-based entertainment solutions just recently when I came across a thorough investigation of something called the Famicombox, apparently a pay-per-play NES solution installed in hotel rooms a long time ago. These systems never made it to the U.S., but there were successors at least in the N64 generation and I believe for the SNES as well. I think PlayStation might have gotten in on the hotel action as well.

Posted in Multimedia PressWatch | 1 Comment »

HD I-movie

February 21st, 2007 by Multimedia Mike

Today’s IMDb Studio Briefing reports that when Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is released, it will contain a live-action version of the Liar’s Dice game filmed in high definition. Do you think we can qualify this as an HD interactive movie?

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Lossless Audio Blogging

January 5th, 2007 by Multimedia Mike

Karim sends word of a new lossless audio codec under development. The codec is wryly and appropriately entitled Yet Another Lossless Audio Codec (YALAC) that was originally named TAK. I had that backwards: YALAC was renamed TAK. Obligatory new MultimediaWiki page.

That’s not the most interesting part of Karim’s email. His email notified me of this post which was the first indication I received that there is a entire weblog devoted to lossless audio coding — The Lossless Audio Blog! And I thought this blog was niche. The blog’s sidebar mentions Sony’s ATRAC as being lossless, which I was unaware of (rather, a different variant called ATRAC Advanced Lossless). Also, DTS-HD and Dolby True-HD are listed as lossless codecs.

It’s amazing how much activity there is in the lossless audio codec field. I’ll be keeping an eye on that blog, as should you, the multimedia tech enthusiast.

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Blu-Ray Java

January 3rd, 2007 by Multimedia Mike

IMDb Studio Briefing carries a news snippet today about new Blu-Ray discs that can play in Sony PlayStation 3 units but not in standalone players: Sony Encounters New Blu-ray Glitches. It seems that the new discs use some system called BD-Java for processing extras and additional features. Just when you thought multimedia tech couldn’t get more complicated and bloated. So now players have to have some kind of Java VM?

As usual, Wikipedia is on top of it.

Posted in Java, Multimedia PressWatch | 5 Comments »

PlayStation 3 HackWatch

November 17th, 2006 by Multimedia Mike

Now that the Sony PlayStation 3 has hit the ground running — at least in the U.S. and Japan, and in fairly measured quantities — we might finally piece together some more solid information about running Linux on this little box and the exposed programming capabilities

Sony PlayStation 3 controller

Based on earlier blog and forum hearsay, I got the impression that there was some hackish method for getting Linux onto a PS3. It turns out that it’s not a hack, it’s a menu option. The user can install an “other OS” from basically any media format that the PS3 supports (a huge array of optical discs, compact flash, USB media device, and some others).

I’m still searching for actual programming information. Hearsay indicates that X11 will work by rendering to a framebuffer. No word of graphical capabilities beyond that. Still wondering about audio output, controller input, network I/O, and programming multiple Cell SPEs.

Meanwhile, the online user manual contains lists of video and audio formats that the PS3 already knows how to play (and here are the still image formats).

Since I am fascinated with the idea of programming game consoles (even modern ones that increasingly resemble boring, regular PCs), I will be keeping an eye on what people are doing with Linux on PS3. I won’t lose my mind trying to be an early, early adopter of this latest console. I’ll consider purchasing one only when I can walk into a typical store and pick one up off the shelf like a normal consumer; no sooner.

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Superfluous Source

August 16th, 2006 by Multimedia Mike

There is some news today about how Real will be releasing a Linux player with support for Microsoft’s Windows Media formats. For example:

Not mentioned: The fact that Linux multimedia players have already supported these formats for years, sometimes through closed source x86-only binary modules, but increasingly with portable, open source modules. I know, the difference is that Real’s player will have more licensed legitimacy. These news article make it sound as though there will be open source code to decode the Windows Media formats. I sincerely doubt that that’s the case (though if it is true, anyone who is still working to figure out Windows Media Video v8 J-frame coding or Windows Media Audio v3: you can stop now).

I’m still frustrated at Real for a plethora of reasons. One of the most obnoxious things they ever did was send out press releases mentioning something about doing something with open source. This would later manifest as the Helix Player (which, the one time I tried it on an out-of-the-box Fedora Core distro, couldn’t even play a PCM WAV file). But the announcements caused the mailing lists of open source multimedia projects to become inundated with impatient queries about why we didn’t have full Real support since “Real open sourced everything.”

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A Reason To Subscribe To The Sunday Paper

August 9th, 2006 by Multimedia Mike

Finally, a useful reason to subscribe to the newspaper again– at least the Sunday newspaper: Movie Previews on CD-Rom To Come with Sunday Papers. This reminds me of when Sony was experimenting with alternative methods for distributing promotional material. I went into a Best Buy store one day to find a large display with FREE Hellboy promotional DVDs. I took one home, checked it out, and found that it just contained proper DVD versions of all of the same teasers, trailers, and featurettes that were already available online. I’m not sure if Sony ever tried the same thing with any other movies.


Naturally, if anyone gets one of these CD-ROMs in their Sunday paper, let me know what kind of multimedia is on them. Also, it will be interesting to know what format they choose– 80mm or 120mm. The smaller size, with over 200 MB available, should be plenty of space to get the message across.

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CinemaNow DVDs

July 23rd, 2006 by Multimedia Mike

Sometime last week, IMDb’s Studio Briefing notified me that there was an online service for paying for officially licensed DVD images that can be burned (just once, officially): New Movie Download Service Launches Today. The service is CinemaNow.

So, I actually decided to boot into Windows XP and try it out. First, I had to find a movie that I actually wanted. Last Wednesday night, they had 101 titles to choose from, not too many that might be termed “mainstream”. I settled on In Good Company that I saw in the theater and somewhat enjoyed. The price was $3 less than what Amazon charges, as a basic value comparison.

I thought it best to go with all the recommended software. I bit the proverbial bullet and upgraded to the beta of Windows Media Player 11, which is the first I have heard of it. I wonder what new multimedia support challenges it will cause for Linux multimedia? The experience also requires a piece of 3rd party, .NET-based software called FluxDVD.

The whole thing goes fairly seemlessly and takes about 4 hours as promised:

CinemaNow FluxDVD app

The DVD plays in a standalone player as promised. I wonder if the DVD itself features the standard CSS encryption? Probably does but I haven’t checked empirically yet. The source file remains on my hard drive after download. It has a .fluxdvd extension, as seen in the screenshot, and contains some DRM-looking stuff at the front. Double-clicking launches the WMP 11 beta which performs some network activity before playing the file.

The disc image is 1.9 GB. I was wondering if the file was a Windows Media file that got converted to MPEG-2 on the fly by the above program (the “Convert and Burn” was my first clue). Colin Hill points out for me that the actual In Good Company DVD is a dual layer affair.

In other DRM news, I finally got a TV show off of iTunes. It was free. I was sorely disappointed, both with the content and the presentation. Content, because the Blade movie (at least the first one) was so awesome; but the pilot of the spinoff TV series is so bad that they have to give it away for free. Presentation, because the best that iTunes can do is display the 320-width window doublesized to 640. This doesn’t look so great on a 1280-width display. Is it really that tough to do full screen? I think not, especially if iTunes renders the video directly as YUV. I suspect that iTunes probably holds back the full screen feature for a premium version of the program, just as Apple’s QuickTime Player does.

Posted in DRM, Multimedia PressWatch | 5 Comments »

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