Breaking Eggs And Making Omelettes

Topics On Multimedia Technology and Reverse Engineering


Round 1

April 20th, 2006 by Multimedia Mike

People keep asking me which format I think will win the HD war, as if I’m some kind of authority on the matter. My answer: I don’t really care. I’m just interested in sitting ringside and observing the action like a drunken boxing fan.



Blu Ray

Seriously, from my perspective, it has never mattered which format I actually like. The mission of a multimedia hacker is to understand and support as many diverse formats as various factions can possibly develop.

Posted in General | Comments Off on Round 1

ROM “Images”

April 19th, 2006 by Multimedia Mike

Here’s something from my personal archives that is of practial use to almost no one– a gallery of ROM images: Technically, they are the printed circuit boards (PCBs) inside the actual NES cartridges. Much of the real estate inside a regulation NES cartridge went unused. I scanned these back when I used to be unusually interested in the technical workings of the classic 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System and was maintaining a Linux-based NES emulator. Perhaps the most interesting speciman of the set is the PCB for the unlicensed game Bee-52 from Codemasters:

Codemasters NES PCB

All PCBs for official, licensed games contain at least 3 chips: The PRG ROM (program), the CHR ROM (character/graphic data), and the CIC lockout chip (located next to PRG and CHR ROMs). The NES console had a piece of circuitry that interfaced with the CIC chip and the upshot is that the console refused to run a game cartridge if the CIC chip was not present. Nintendo held a patent on the CIC chip and was, for the most part, able to control which games could be manufactured for the console. Assorted ambitious game houses went the unlicensed route and developed various techniques to circumvent the CIC mechanism. That is what all those hacks on the Bee-52 PCB represent, in lieu of a CIC chip. Notice the switch on the PCB. That’s because when Nintendo rolled out a redesigned top-loading NES console, one of the cost reduction measures was to remove the console-side lockout circuitry. All licensed games continued to play. But it broke the vast majority of unlicensed titles. The switch allows the user to enable or disable the lockout-defeating measures.

Other interesting artifacts to note on the various PCBs are the stock TTL chips or custom mapper chips that games used to break through various limitations of the NES hardware, as well as shiny round batteries which indicate that the user is able to save their game in some RAM area also present on the PCB.

Posted in Nintendo | 1 Comment »

Early Adopter

April 18th, 2006 by Multimedia Mike

The IMDb Studio Briefing reported today that “HD DVD To Debut Today”. So I ran over to Best Buy and picked one up. Seriously. Here it is:

Serenity HD-DVD

No, I don’t have a player yet. That never stopped me from buying PlayStation or Xbox games just for studying the multimedia (that was different because I still have computer hardware that can read the raw sectors). Best Buy also had players available but I do not intend to get any hardware until an HD-DVD ROM drive becomes available. Ah, the burden of early adoption.

Best Buy had the HD-DVD material in the high-end home theater department. I asked if they had any HD-DVDs in yet. The employee said the titles were behind the counter but then eyed me suspiciously and asked if I was from Toshiba. I’m not sure what that exchange was about but after I assured him that I was sincerely interested in a purchase he brought out the 3 launch titles– Serenity, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Last Samurai. I certainly wasn’t the only early adopter. At this same time, there were other customers entering the same department asking for the HD-DVD player and all 3 launch titles. Take another look at those 3 launch titles. Do you think that anyone would actually like all 3 of those movies? My guess is that these people were really interested in the purchase simply for the sake of having the latest technology.

Their demo HD-DVD players were doing duty with some sort of demo material with a split screen that contrasted high definition vs. standard definition. The demo struck me as — what’s the word — bogus. Come on– standard definition can’t possibly look that bad. Can you say “blur filter”?

Click [more] to see scans of everything in the case so you know what the next generation looks like.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in General | 5 Comments »

Feeble Files DXA And Wiki Upgrade

April 17th, 2006 by Multimedia Mike

Kirben from ScummVM tipped me off on the DXA format. Apparently, it was only ever used in one game called Feeble Files. He reports that the Amiga and Macintosh ports used the DXA format. I was unaware that there were any commercial games for the Amiga past about 1995. Here is the requisite Wiki page on the format. It’s one of the simplest formats yet. It’s unusual in that it stores all of the audio data in a single WAV file chunk near the start. The known video coding format simply uses zlib’s deflate() function to compress a raw frame or the result of a XOR operation between the current and previous frames.

Speaking of the Wiki, I have upgraded the MultimediaWiki to the latest, and therefore greatest, incarnation of MediaWiki — 1.6.3. I don’t see too many major differences so far. There are supposed to be some useful counter-spam features which seems to be increasingly important. I still can’t generate math expressions in Wiki. I’ve traced this to the absence of LaTeX processing utilities on the host machine. Why does LaTeX always have to cause such trouble? We’re stuck with plaintext math expressions until I can get around this problem somehow.

Posted in Open Source Multimedia, Reverse Engineering | 3 Comments »

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