Category Archives: Technology

Animax UK on PS3 (Finally..!)

animaxlogoUK Anime streaming service Animax opened its doors in late October 2013, filling the void left by its predecessor Anime On Demand. Website-only since its beginning, it has been promising a PS3 app “really soon” which arrived. Today. With no announcement.

At the time of typing this (just before 8pm) there is still no word on their official Facebook or Twitter feeds. Although one fan thinks a premature announcement may have gone up last night, before getting hastily pulled. And there was nothing in the EU Playstation Blog in the list of this week’s releases that went live this afternoon. I know Animax tend to put their announcements out in the evening, but after the app has gone live is a little late for something they’ve been promising for months.

The Service Itself

Before I talk about the PS3 app, there are a few things I need to mention regarding Animax’s service itself. If, like me, you were waiting for a TV-compatible app to go live before subscribing you may not be aware of these things.

  • Firstly, yes, it’s a legal Anime streaming service. So fluctuations in quality are to be expected, depending on available bandwidth. And subtitles translating the opening and ending theme songs are likely to be the exception, not the rule. It’s not that these aren’t problems, more that they’re common problems to most streaming platforms.
  • You need credit/debit card details when signing up for the free trial, also they don’t currently seem to have PayPal as an option. Again, this is hardly unique to Animax but it is something that can vary between different subscription services., so it is useful to know.
  • When you sign up, they promptly email you your password in plaintext. Not exactly off to a strong start, here.
  • Simulcasts are free, to subcribers and non-subscribers alike, for two weeks. This isn’t unheard of.Before the episodes go behind the subscription paywall, though, they stream ads to all viewers. Yes, they force their paying subscribers to sit through adverts. For a service they are paying to access. This is something I hope they change because, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, I send to pay to join site and services specifically to get rid of the advertising BS I have no interest in seeing. i’d rather pay for a service directly. I don’t like paying to be advertised at, however.

The PS3 App

I’ve given is a quick look through and my initial opinion is mixed. Very early on it becomes apparent that the app is designed to be run through the PS3 gamepad. I use the official media controller and I wasn’t able to get any reaction from the ENTER button on the remote. Worse, it is the only thing on my PS3 so far that positively refuses to work with an external keyboard. I have a wireless one currently connected for using with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn because I find trying to enter a password with a gamepad is an exercise in frustration. For Anime, however, my “Password Keyboard” is rendered completely unusable.

In its defence, though, once you log in it will log you on as the same user each time you load it up. So you only have to go through this pain when you first install it, or change your password.

Even with the media remote, you are forced to select items with the X button and to go back with the O button. None of the nice useful shortcut keys here.

Browsing

Like the website, the Animax PS3 app is a little clunky to browse. The opening “page” lists some of the available titles, followed by some of the latest episodes and anime movies. Sadly, these are listed by episode number or title, or by movie subtitle. The series name is not listed at all. So if you recognise one of the characters, you’re fine. if you don’t, it’s impossible to guess whether it’s a show you don’t follow or a thumbnail of a scene with someone new in it.

Once you start getting into the “Shows & Movies” or “Free Simulcast” sections it gets a little easier. you’re now presented with series names. Not being able to use the remote as a normal remote is odd, though. I keep finding myself wanting to hit ENTER. Getting to the genre bar also feels a little fiddly.

Viewing

It starts to fare a little better here. Well, apart from the adverts on the newer episodes. But, once the episode gets going, it very quickly adjusts to the best quality your connection can handle. Although the first second or two can sometimes be a little bit too low definition for the subtitles to be easily readable.

The controls are counter-intuitive, though. There is no getting around this. The Triangle button is the pause/resume key. Start doesn’t do anything. And if you have the media remote, the play and pause buttons do nothing more but bring up the OSD that tells you what buttons you’re supposed to be using. Fast-forward and rewind are done by holding down the R1 or L1 buttons, and the timeline jumps in ten-second increments until you let go, at which point it seeks to that part of the stream.

Conclusion

For a “Version 1 release” it’s OK. It works well, if not very elegantly. The quality is comparable to other legal streaming services and i’m hopeful that improvements (and apps on other platforms) are forthcoming.

I can’t help being a little bit disappointed, though. Compared to Crunchyroll, which has been a streaming service for much longer, it just doesn’t hold up as well yet. Not the website and certainly not the one solitary console app. I’m sure things will improve but at this exact point in time it’s a little lacking. Actually having a PS3 app is a major incentive to people like myself, who will only watch on a TV and really dislike web-viewing. But there is still a long way to go.

And, for a service whose small catalogue has a rather high percentage of exclusive titles that other regions have via Crunchyroll, it is all distance that really needs to be closed sooner rather than later. This app is a very important first step. Going forward, though, being “like Crunchyroll, only not quite as good, and costing more per month” isn’t going to cut it. Especially if they continue to get the exclusive UK rights to come of Crunchyroll’s catalogue, rater than acquiring the titles that CR doesn’t have (and hence are less liekly to get out over here), they are going to get held to CR’s standards.
And as much of an important step the PS3 app is, it is also another thing where it still can’t match up to what Crunchyroll has to offer.

Playstation 4thoughts

So, Sony just announced their next console. I’ve had a very quick look at the revealed features and there are a few that greatly interest me. And some that don’t of course.

Let’s get it out of the way: I care little for the social stuff. I’m a primarily single-player gamer. A console’s primary function is to allow me to play games. if I can see what friends and acquaintances are doing too then fine, but only as an optional extra. If the “newly designed PS4 menu screen” puts that stuff front-and-center then it’s going to make me less likely to want to invest in one.

(Decent single-player gaming experiences. That is what will make me invest in a console.)

Suspend mode sounds useful. No more hunting for a save point before going out, getting food, meeting people, etc. Just put your console to sleep and it’ll remember where you’re up to later.
Per-game suspend/quicksave files would be even better, mind you, but this is still useful for those times when you finally beat a difficult boss fight at bedtime and get locked into a half-hour story-mode before you are allowed to save.

Second Screen Gaming. I hope that all future consoles have this functionality. For years I have wished that things like maps, inventories or control panels could be their own screen.

Remote Play doesn’t interest me, unless it works in reverse. The Playstation Vita has a few games I want, but they are (for me) perfect armchair-and-large-TV games. Let me throw Persona 4: Golden‘s new HD graphics out to my 37″ TV. Seriously, I’d’ve bought a Vita specifically for that game if the Vita had some sort of HDTV Out.

Pre-emptively downloading games that a computer thinks I might buy? Screw that! I’d need to be able to disable that f I were to consider a PS4.

Making digital titles playable as they’re being downloaded? Interesting, but I’ve seen implementations of that sort of technology before. it’s not that i don’t think it can work, it definitely can. But it sounds like a Patent Lawsuit War just waiting to happen.
I’d be more interested in one of the following two ideas:

  • Play new game from disc before/whilst it is being installed to hard drive.
  • Whilst installing game from disc, also start downloading any latest updates at the same time and then patching them in upon completion.
    • Also, digital titles really should be pre-patched to the latest version. No following one long download with another long download.

Still, it looks very interesting. Like any console, though, it depends on what games come out for it. For me, this means RPGs. Until a console has at least a modest catalogue of games I want to play, I’ll save my money. Decent back-cat tends to correspond to price-drop and bug-fixes anyway. But I am more interested, and slightly less cynical, than I was.

iOS6 and Podcast Playlists

With iOS6 has come a change in how Podcasts are handled. The standalone Podcasts app now handles e on-device updating, but then overrides the Music app stopping it from being able to see the Podcasts category. This also then removes any podcasts from your playlists,

You can switch back to using Music to handle the playback, but this does come at the expense of losing the on-device updating. You can then only update podcasts on Desktop iTunes.
This is less than idea, but until Apple fix playlisting in the Podcasts app itself (or allow podcasts to coexist in both apps like they could in iOS5), you have to choose between playlisting and on-device downloading.

  1. Delete the Podcasts app
  2. Stop the Music app
  3. Shut down and restart your iOS device

Podcasts are now once more in their own category in Music, and your playlists will have returned.

Hopefully Apple will returning playlisting functionalty to the Podcasts app so that podcasts can be both updated and playlisted from the device itself.

Information found from the Apple Discussions forum, and other sources. Verified as working on my iPad. Put in a place I can remember, so I can put the link out whenever I see people hitting this particular design oversight.

iOS Wishlist

With iOS6 due for release this autumn, Apple have already released a list of a lot of the upcoming features and improvements it will bring.There are definitely some useful additions in there, as well as some features I know I will never use.

I have been using an iPad for just over a year at this point, and there are a few key features that I would dearly love to be added. The iOS platform has grown from strength to strength since its inception but there are a still a few minor niggles where the way it works is at odds to some logical-seeming use-cases.

When I thought of this topic a few months back, I had originally made notes about the rumoured “Podcasts” app.
This has already arrived and, although far from perfect, it allows me to do what I had hoped from it. Here’s hoping some of my other ideal features arrive…

Games

One of the current drawbacks of iOS as a mobile gaming platform is that saved progress is not kept separately form the main app. As a result, when you remove the game you remove your saves. There is currently no simple way to delete a game for space without completely losing all progress.
This is not useful if a game you’re not currently playing is taking up space on your device. If you ever intend to return to it, you are forced to leave it sat there taking up space.

Make it part of the backup-via-iTunes. Hell, make it available through iCloud. I don’t currently use it, but this would instantly make it into something worth looking into.

The ability to store and manage save files will become increasingly important as mobile devices are starting to become the mobile gaming platforms of choice, Why carry a DS or PSP with you (along with their charging cables) when you already have a cellphone and tablet?

The thing is, as the bigger games companies try to bring entires onto iOS and Android, they are competing with much cheaper games in the same store. Yes, you are often paying for increased gameplay and brand recognition, but this is where space runs into a problem,
Do I really want to pay £10-20 on a game that will eat up a chunk of the fixed storage space on my iPad? Currently, no. Not if I can’t shift the save files around to use later. But if I can move games on and off the tablet, yet always have access to my save files when I put them back on the device, I am going to look into more of them.

User-Defined Default Apps

Whilst you can get alternative apps for things like web-browsing and email, there is currently no way a non-jailbroken iOS device can change the default app.

For example, unless an app specifically knows to look for Google Chrome as a possible web browser, you can only open URLs frpm other apps in Safari.

A way of allowing apps to officially announce themselves as being alternatives to default apps would be really nice. Being able to also set a default would, of course, be ideal but even adding an menu option of “Open in Other Browser” would help a lot.

Higher Cellular Download Cap

I understand why they want to stop some of the larger downloads happening when people are on cellular as opposed to wireless. The current 50MB limit, however, is increasingly restrictive. With Retina-compatible apps having larger additional graphical assets and some podcast episodes going over 50MB, it is harder to find things that fit within this limit.

My iPad is on a contract that includes 15GB per month. I go nowhere near this – I just chose it as 3 have the highest cap for the same price as everyone else. It would be nice to be able to use the merest fraction of this when I am trying to download an app, game or episode when not near a wireless signal.

By all means still impose limits. It’s just that 50MB is too restrictive these days. If I want a half-gig game, yes make me find a proper internet connection. But for something under 150MB? Really?

Anything Else?

It’s hard to think of any other features I’d class as must-have. The only other currently-lacking features that I can actually think of are things (like per-account email signatures) that are already in the next version. So I will be very curious to see what else shows up, and where they can go in iOS7.

eBooks and “Agency Pricing”

I own a Kindle. It’s probably the greatest thing that happened to my reading habit, specifically in that it restarted it.

Don’t get me wrong, physical books are great. For long-term ownership, for lending to friends, for quickly flipping through to double-check something. For all these things they are great. But for general reading, I find an e-ink reader just far superior.
They’re portable. You can bring a collection with you easier than a single book. you can lay it down ona  table and not have it lose your place, great for reading during mealtime. Just place it on the table, read it there, only touching it to hit the page-advance key.

Pricing-wise for the books themselves, they sort suck at times.

For one thing, I dislike paying full price for a digital copy of something, especially when it carries DRM restrictions. To me, that is a rental not a purchase. So I favour cheaper eBooks. I don’t see them as a long-term investment (that’s what I buy dead-tree versions for), I see them as a long-term loan.

This is not the only reason, though. I always favoured paperbacks over hardbacks. They’re more convenient to carry around and less bulky to read. So yeah, the same reason I favour my Kindle over a physical book. I like to read, I don’t like the hassle of a bulky form factor.
It has always bugged me having to wait the extra six months or more to get something in my preferred size-class. It’s not just the price of paperbacks I favour(ed), it’s the actual medium.

Enter the eReader and the problem just escalates, especially given Agency Pricing. This is what stops the various online stores (namely Amazon) from heavily discounting popular eBooks toa  point where other stores can’t compete and that people won’t buy the paper copies.

News Flash: Some of us have Kindles specifically to avoid paper copies.

Now, there are fair reasons behind this, but it then has the slight disadvantage that is especially noticeable in long-running series.
The latest hardback-only book will have an eBook price of £7 or more. Sounds reasonable, right? Maybe it is, but the rest of the series is available for under £5, which can make it hard to justify the price. Especially if you already own the book. Why pay almost twice the price of what it’ll be later this year when you already own it in one format?

Did that make no sense? I guess it wouldn’t to most people. And that’s the problem. Nobody really envisioned a case where you might want to get a cheap digital copy of a book you already own shortly after getting it.

Like maybe wanting to re-buy a convenient form-factor of something you were given as a gift?

I mean, hardback books are great to own. Hardback booked are a wonderful gift to receive. hardback book are also a bugger to read, and the opposite of portable. The idea situation is to have both. One to keep (if you like the book) one to read.
But not at these prices.

“The Publisher has set the price for this book”.
I guess the publisher wants me to read stories published by their competitors, then. Because for a DRM-encumbered platform-locked copy of a book, price is a deciding factor. It can make the difference between “impulse buy”, “maybe alter” and “not happening”.

New Camera Adventures

So after about 18 months of consideration and about three months of real thought and research I got a DSLR this weekend. I went for the current Canon entry level DSLR, the EOS 1100D (also know as the Rebel T3). So far I have only taken a handful of shots but I am already impressed. The real(including outdoor) test will be today, as the light was going by the time I got home and the box unpacked yesterday.

Now I am very much the beginner when it comes to photography. I have a little Samsung compact camera which takes reasonable photos for most of what I do, and this is more or less the correct camera for most of my needs,
Those “mosts” though are why I needed something more. My niece turns five this year, and she becomes a big sister in a few months time. And if there is one this she has taught me it is that small children can outmove a cheap point-and-shoot camera.

Continue reading New Camera Adventures

iPad Podcast Playlists

If, like me, you use playlists to keep on top of your podcasts you might experience a problem if you have moved to iOS5. I started to use playlists a few years back, as I can connect my iPod to my car radio but its menu doesn’t include podcasts. It does, however, include playlists. So I would queue them up in order and play them that way. It worked so well for me, I stuck with it for general use. So I just fire up the playlists whether in iTunes or on my iPod. Or my new iPad… until changing to iOS5.

iOS5, on the iPad anyway, has a shine new “Music” app that sorts and displays things totally differently.
It will put the contents of podcast playlists into the podcasts section (sorter by show, not in your order), but it won’t show the actual playlist anywhere. I found a workaround that works for me, though.

  1. Add a music track to the end of your podcast playlist
  2. Put the playlist into a folder
  3. Ensure the playlist is selected for syncing both under Music and Podcasts
  4. Re-sync your device (this might require turning it on and off first, it might not)

You will now find the playlist on the main page (i.e. under Music), under it’s folder. Order or tracks is preserved.

Time to Fix – Choosing Sides

So, what is it? Do things take time, as I keep stating, or do they get sorted straightaway? Both sides are mutually exclusive and it’s really reached a point where I have to fall hard on one side or the other.

Basically, Work and Personal lives are clashing over the whole concept of time-to-fix.

In the case of my home tech, when things don’t work it’s a case of “sit back and be patient”. Nothing can be done to speed things along. Whether it’s getting a phoneline installed or having said phoneline checked on behalf of my ISP owing to broadband failure. Right down to things waaaay outside my control like the PSN Store being down.
I don’t like it when things don’t work and I have to wait, but as I’m a techie by trade I accept that this is how things are. after all, haven’t I blogged to that effect a good few times here?

Problem is, I’m a techie by trade. End-users don’t like the idea of waiting. If it’s broken, it has to be fixed. Right now. Being without working tech is simply not an option. No way. no how.

Now on a personal level, I get where they’re coming from. It pisses me off to no end, as I mentioned above, when my stuff takes “too long” to get fixed. But that doens’t make it any quicker to fix. Or change my basic overview.

So basically, I have to choose one outlook and stick to it. As I can’t be one way at work and another way at home. It’s one of the other. Only, which do I chose?

Do I become an Unholy Terror towards any support-lines I have to contact? Taking noting short of “it’s done” as an answer? Refusing to accept the fact that things might involve an inconvenient level of downtime?
Or do I become totally unswayable at work? Reposing to every “urgent” query with “things take time to sort out” – and potentially getitng a bad reputation of being unhelpful.

I can’t be neither, though. That’s for certain. The idea of not only switching sides on a world-view but always taking the side that is going to cause more hassle for me is really not an option. As it’s doing my head in.

BBC iPlayer – A different type of TV download

This is a repost of a comment I left on a thread on the BBC Internet Blog back in September.

Yes, the tone was completely humourous but the points I raise are valid. The feature-set of the iPlayer, along with some of it’s most persistant bugs, really let it down in comparison to other… less official means of acquiring TV content.

It all becomes clear whe you realise that, above all else, BBC iPlayer is a legal download service. As such, it has to distance itself from any other method of viewing content via thw internet, just to make sure that nobody gets confused and uses… other means for catching up on what they missed.

“Unofficial downloads are illegal. BBC iPlayer is not.”

Good start good start. Fantastic in fact. This is exactly how it should be. So now we’ve got our theme, lets run with it.

“Unofficial downloads are free of social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. BBC iPlayer ensures you are not missing out of the social networking revolution”

Ummmmmm. OK. I guess. I follow a lot of people on Twitter whose recommendations I trust. Were I to use iPlayer, this might be useful. Maybe.

“Unofficial downloads can work on almost any platform you can name. iPlayer makes sure that you can only use the hardware and software we endorse.”

If you say so… After all, you’re the BBC. Anything you don’t support obviously isn’t worthwhile as a media player.

Although… I do seem to recall my Xbox 360 handling DVD, downloaded and streaming content quite well. But I must be mistaken. After all, no iPlayer. So it can’t be any good. Right?

“You can watch unofficial downloads offline. Whereas with BBC iPlayer, all but one of our solutions works purely by on line streaming.”

Good. Good. Because I wouldn’t ever watch to watch files when out of signal. Or during a peak time of the day. It’s not like those hours I’m asleep or at work could be used by any of the devices I might have when I’m not in the lounge.

“Unofficial downloads can be kept after you’ve watched them. BBC iPlayer deletes things before you’ve even had the chance.”

See. Another feature that you don’t get from the Torrent sites. No why would anybody wish to break to law when we offer functionality such as this?

So yes. It’s a marvel of success. BBC iPlayer is a download service that works nothing like the non-legit ones. There’s no way anybody could confuse the two whatsoever. 100% legal. 0% like Torrents. After all, it’s not like any of those “other features” could ever be of use to anybody…

– Tiggs
(with tongue firmly in cheek)

The Futility of DRM

I’m following several discussions relating to DRM (and other methods of content restrictions & protection). They’re mainly in conjunction with the BBC, owing to some changes they recently made to the iPlayer service in freezing out unofficial third-party clients – such as XBMC.

Many people bring up the quite valid point that the restrictions are seen as stupid because people getting caught out by them will just turn to Bit Torrent.
This is not to say that it’s legal. Just that it’s convenient, and such acquired media files tend to work with pretty much any media player going.

The responses against that tend to be “this is illegal”.

No… kidding… Sherlock!

But that’s missing the point that people are trying to make.
They (we) are not trying to advocate illegal means. We’re trying to say make the legal means easier and more convenient.

To put it simply, illegal downloads are a competitor. This does not make them legal. But them being illegal does not make them any less a competitor. You need to make the legit options appealing, convenient, and pretty much platform-agnostic.

Everybody “loves” a car analogy. Mainly as they suck, and everyone loves to slate them. So here’s mine…
Only, it’s more of a car boot analogy.

The BBC iPlayer is like a drive-in movie theater. It has a certain barrier to entry, naturally.
Between the limited platforms and DRM requirements, it is like having a dress code (or restriction to certain specific car brands) to get in.

This is the only legal way to watch the content. We’re not arguing that other methods are legitimate.
We’re just poking at the idiocy of the situation that trying to pitch a platform-limited legal alternative whilst Bit Torrent exists is akin to the following part of the analogy…

You’re opening your drive-in across the street from the weekly car boot sale where Pete’s Dodgy DVDs operates on a constant basis.

The alternative is not legal. But it’s convenient, accessible, and doesn’t have the same barrier to entry.

The thing is that the moment you drop your barrier to entry then people don’t need to visit Pete’s car boot. (Or whatever torrent aggregation sites are popular and active on any given week).
But the problem with this is that the people who mandate the barriers honestly think that merely being legal is enough of an incentive. Even if it restricts someone’s choice of player.

Well here’s the real choice you give people by locking the content down. If people don’t like the restrictions, they go one of two ways.
They acquire it anyway. You lose. Or they just don’t watch your content at all. You still lose.