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HDTV: Shaw vs. Telus

Friday, July 27th, 2012 3 comments

I’ve been using Shaw for internet and cable TV for years.  And I’ve been leery of the quality of the Telus Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), especially when the last bit of the feed into my condo is over twisted pair wires originally intended for voice-only telephone.  But I noted the picture quality at my son’s (detached) house was quite good with Telus.  Further the Telus internet upload rate was claimed to be double that of Shaw’s for the same price.

But my main incentive to explore Telus was my desire to see all the games of the Montreal Canadiens, which would require the French sports network, RDS, which Shaw only offers in Standard Definition (SD).  Telus offers the HD feed.

So to make a long story a little shorter, I switched to Telus, despite the dire warnings from Shaw that I wouldn’t get the internet speeds promised, I found that I did get the promised 1Mb/s upload, and 14.5Mb/s download consistently.  And I found the following:

  • Music channel audio quality (which I use a lot) is much better with Telus, although they do not show the title of the current song playing like Shaw.
  • The Telus user interface is more responsive and much easier to use, for example I can filter the program guide to only the channels I am subscribed to, or further to just my favourite channels
  • Telus can record 3 HD programs simultaneously as opposed to 2 for Shaw.  (Telus does not promise you can get 3 HD, but the software tests the line quality and if it’s good enough, allows this.  Otherwise it degrades the capability to SD signals, only promising one or two HD recordings, the balancing being SD).
  • The Telus HD PVR hard drive was much quieter.
  • It was cool (but useless) to have the caller ID display on my TV screen when the phone rang.
  • The Telus PVR doesn’t auto-prompt to extend time on live recordings like Shaw, but does allow a max of 3 hours extra as opposed to 2.
  • The Telus PVR storage is vastly larger: 200 HD hours vs. 20 on my four-year-old Shaw PVR.  Not an issue for me as I don’t watch much TV.
  • Telus offered a free Samsung Galaxy Tablet on a 3-year contract.
  • …and finally the picture quality: Telus was much more pixelated and blurry than Shaw on movement in HD scenes (terrible for sports) and the SD quality was appallingly bad, even on static images.

So the Telus technician came back and worked hard on improving the quality, to no avail.

So it’s back to Shaw for TV, but I’ll stick with Telus internet.  And hope that Shaw offers RDS HD before the hockey season starts.  Bad news is that the quote I got for the package I wanted from Shaw was incorrect, it’s actually $3/month more.  Good news is that Shaw is giving me a six-month discount for switching back.

EDIT: So I just had Optik TV disconnected, and I have to say that the Telus customer experience was much better than that with Shaw:

  • Telus gave discounts, both on my initial order (took $5/month off on the long-term bundled rate) and even after I cancelled the TV they kept the discount for my remaining Internet service, which I had ordered at the same time and kept. They considered that I had my home phone with them for years as well, and had met my end of the bargain in trying to use all three services, so I got the full bundled pricing. They also let me keep the Samsung tablet.
  • Shaw stuck to listed prices and had no wiggle room. One Shaw rep misquoted me and the next rep did not honour that pricing and so I’m paying more for the TV.
  • Telus reps were friendlier, more understanding.
  • The Telus tech worked his butt off to try and make it work, including giving me his mobile number, and talking to me on his day off

So I’d definitely recommend Telus over Shaw from this point of view. Dang twisted pair!

Microsoft announces “Next generation flight experience”

Sunday, April 1st, 2012 4 comments

Only a few weeks after releasing Microsoft Flight, the company announced today that it is developing the next generation of flight software.  Here’s an excerpt from marketing VP Bög Uslãmé’s description of the new product.

“Microsoft has shown a keen understanding of the user experience when it comes to flying airplanes and stuff like that on computers.  There’s a certain magic which we have learned to capture, interrogate, channel and evaporate.  After developing progressively more intricate software for this market through many versions culminating in Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Microsoft Flight showed that we could simplify the paradigm, reduce the functional and geographic scope, convince ourselves we were broadening our appeal, minimize the UI, and still generate a significant return on investment.  All while ensuring that the user thinks they are having fun.  So now we’ll take this passionate approach one step further with the realization of a focused vision in our new product, Mi Fli. The name says it all: shorter, ambiguous and stimulating.  We anticipate that arguments over pronunciation of the name will provoke flame wars at AVSIM, raising consumer awareness with optimal marketing involvement, ie none.  And we’re honored that this will be first product of many from Microsoft using the new ‘Mi’ brand identity.

“The new user-centric feature scope and accessible two-key UI will allow us to minimize customer feedback and the need for infrastructure and support, maximizing the long-term viability of the product.  This also eliminates the potential for distracting third-party development enhancements.

“Of course we’ll make optimal use of user attention bandwidth, with a five-minute splash screen and subsequent contorted Windows Live Games sort-of-XBox-but-not-really online validation and ad-push process.  At every opportunity our valued customers will be presented with a slideshow to encourage purchase of expansion packs they already have, and others they don’t want.  If they do attempt a purchase, lucky users will randomly trigger a hidden gem: ‘Can’t retrieve information from LIVE. Please try again later.  Error code 8007271D.’  All part of our playful engagement with our valued customers, further augmented by our proactive Google … I mean, Bing-ranking of searches for that code with irrelevant and misleading KB articles on Zune.

“As always, we won’t specify availability date or features until well after the product is released, but we will publish periodic screenshots and low-res stuttery teasers without explanation that will encourage rampant and inaccurate speculation.  But, off the record, based on a reduction in the development team to one half-time employee and the one paragraph feature list, it’s likely the product will be released no later than Thursday.  Meanwhile, we’ll give customers attempting to harvest meaningful information from our website the opportunity to ingest content-free team member interviews.

“You might expect the usual discussion, ‘Is it a game?  Or is it a simulator?’ to be bypassed through our innovative approach of offering the features of neither.  But we know our true die-hard Microsoft … I mean, Mi … fans will still endlessly debate this question.

“From a personal marketing point of view, I’ve found it refreshing to work with half of a malleable gender-free ethnic-neutral location-nonspecific engineering team member who can design to specification without the need for dialog, discussion or any kind of human interaction.

“We’re excited about this cutting-edge next-generation user experience enhancement package.  I look forward to Mi Fli being open for business.  The future is bright.  Join us on our journey.”

Proponents of X-Plane immediately decried the new product, stating, “X-Plane has a much more realistic flight model.  And it almost has believable scenery.”

Billy Collins: Everyday moments, caught in time

Monday, March 26th, 2012 Leave a comment

The Shared Experience of Absurdity

Sunday, January 8th, 2012 1 comment
Categories: Entertainment, Learning

Humanizing Data

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 Leave a comment

Transforming how we look at things, from flight monitoring to music.

Some videos from a recent Kirtan in Victoria

Thursday, October 28th, 2010 4 comments
Categories: Entertainment, Music, Victoria

Speaking of footy…

Monday, June 28th, 2010 8 comments

Often it’s considered that association football (soccer) is not a big deal in Canada.  But I remember even as a kid in the Montreal suburb of Beaconsfield that there were 100 organized teams in a population of 20,000.  I think though that once kids reached a certain age opportunities vanished for growth, or interest went elsewhere.   Hence the fact that Canada has only once made the World Cup (1986) and was eliminated in the first round.

So what is there about soccer that appeals/does not appeal here?

The lack of scoring

I don’t think this is a big factor, the superb ball-handling, er ball-footling, skills of the players are amazing, as is the playmaking. 

The refereeing

It’s almost impossible for even a good referee with his assistants to see the details of every move, especially with the rampant theatrics (see cheating, below).  But there’s a danger of assuming that a fair outcome is what is intended.  Questionning calls adds an element of spice and controversy that I’m sure inspires much post-game discussion.  With such a low-scoring game, a single bad call can determine the outcome.  So perhaps the emphasis in the sport is more on adding excitement than having the best team win.  If fairness was important, they’d have replay reviews, even if it did slow the pace of the game somewhat.  So, if it’s the dynamic discussions after the game and in-game arguments at the pub you like, give a bonus to the game for this.  If you prefer a more meaningful outcome, the game misses the ball on this one.

The cheating

All sports have fakery, but the blatant and transparent trickery of so many of the players is hardly sportsmanlike, and makes the players look like pansies.  This I’d guess is a big turnoff here for anyone new to the game.  The commentor’s lame excuses of “it’s all part of the game” and “all teams do it” are just a further turnoff.  Big minus for the game.

The timing

Compared to the anal retentive pseudo accuracy of the timing for games like hockey and basketball (where tenths are second are meaninglessly counted towards the end), the playful and vague way the game is timed, with the referee throwing a mental die to determine added/stoppage/injury time is a refreshingly relaxed approach.  And I like the fact that they don’t whistle down a play in mid-flight, the referee will blow his whistle at a lull at whim.  Add that to the almost continous play, and you can score points for footy on this one.

Commercial interruption in broadcasts

The playing time is not interrupted with TV commercials in Canada and the US.  Yum. 

The competition

In Canada, our version of football, hockey and baseball (and to a lesser degree basketball and a myriad of other sports) are well entrenched.  And when that’s what Canadians grow up with, that’s likely what’s familiar and comfortable. 

But if that’s the case then since so many kids play soccer here, why isn’t it more popular?  The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation thinks it is, carrying as many as 16 World Cup-related programs per day, including up to five games on two networks. 

But I wouldn’t expect to see Canada winning the World Cup soon.

Categories: Entertainment, Sports

The Silly Season

Saturday, November 14th, 2009 1 comment

Between poorly managed 2010 Olympic protests and H1N1/vaccine hysteria there’s a lot going on these days. Add to that even more buzz recently (maybe because of the movie?) on the impending doom of 2012.

Here’s a differing view on the calamity.

For those who have finished Portal…

Sunday, July 12th, 2009 Leave a comment
Categories: Entertainment, Technical

Cables anyone?

Thursday, July 9th, 2009 Leave a comment

I don’t have an issue with retailers making profit where they can, especially with the current economic state.  But I also like to save money.  If you have audio/video/computer cable needs in Canada I highly recommend CableSalesCanada.  From my experience in offshore manufacturing I know that cables often cost less than $1 to make, and ever since the introduction of “monster cables,” sellers figured out that consumers will pay huge markups on cables, with no commensurate increase in quality.

A good quality HDMI 1.3b 1m cable sells for $9.50 at CableSalesCanada, plus shipping and tax.  The equivalent starts at $30 at FutureShop and you can pay absolutely silly prices for HDMI monster cables claiming superior video and audio.  I would challenge any viewer/listener to tell the difference.  HDMI is a digital signal, and as long as the integrity of the signal is maintained, the cable will make no difference.

Not that all substitute cables are good, some of the cheaper cables Sears sells have poor connectors that easily fatigue and fail.

For $110 including tax and shipping, I bought 15m (DVI to HDMI), 3m and 2m (HDMI) cables and got a lovely pen and mousepad (ok that’s not much of an incentive, I know!).  Arrived in just a few days.

Other countries I’m sure have equivalent suppliers, I can’t recommend from personal experience.

Catching up with Audio/Video

Saturday, November 15th, 2008 1 comment

In the 1960s I was fascinated with technology, and when colour TV came to Canada (years after the US!), the next big breakthrough was to be high-definiiton TV, and I recall it being discussed in the press.  That may have been the NHK system demo’ed in 1969 described in this article.  But for technical reasons the technology stagnated and did not become widely available until this century.

I also remember listening to my first FM broadcast in the 60′s on a portable radio, and was capitivated by the richness, relative to AM.  And I recall clearly when my brother bought his first cheapo stereo system and we listened to the soundtrack from 2001, A Space Odyssey.  I was amazed at the depth of the sound.

In the 70s I often helped friends purchase high-quality stereo systems, and knew a fair amount about the technology.

Despite this I never purchased a good-quality system for myself.  So recently I decided it was time to investigate audio and video technology and get myself a decent system.  I quickly discovered that audiophile systems were well out of my price range, as was the latest in HDTV.  But with minor compromises, the cost could be brought down dramatically.  So here’s what I purchased:

  • Panasonic 42″ 1080p TH42PZ800 plasma HDTV
  • Pace TDC-775D PVR (only choice with local cable company)
  • Panasonic BD50 BluRay player (now superseded by the BD55)
  • Yamaha RXV-1800 receiver (good price as the RXV-1900 is now available)
  • Grado SR-2 headphones
  • Panasonic DMR-EZ48V DVD recorder (for transcribing old VHS and Hi-8 video tapes)

And here’s my impressions:

  • The richness and clarity of the TV are amazing.
  • The colour depth of the TV is very poor, looks like 16 bit colour, resulting in very visible banding on graduated colour areas, whether from BD, computer or cable.  I went back to the store and looked at many plasma and LCD TVs, indeed this is a chronic problem with plasma, which I didn’t find noted anywhere in reviews.  How odd.  Of course, the newest, very expensive TVs (like $9k) don’t have this problem.  LCD TVs perform much better than plasma on colour depth.
  • The compression needed for cable HDTV results in massive pixellation on movement, it’s tolerable, but I think they (at least the local cable company) has gone overboard on compression.
  • Flight Simulator X looks fantastic on a 42″ plasma, and performance is quite good.
  • There is no hiss at all from the receiver.  Zero.  Amazing.  Overall the receiver specs are better than the best studio equipment of the 70s.
  • The Blu-Ray player takes forever to start up!  But movies look great.
  • The headphones are amazing.
  • Amazingly, neither of the DVD players can read .jpg images over 1Mb in size, something that aged DVD players can do.  A big hole in Panasonic’s capability.  I have to drive slide shows from the computer.
  • I once tested the Shaw digital audio channels because the sounded so crappy, and found they rolled off around 8kHz.  However either my system sucked or they’ve changed the quality, because now they sound great.  Definitely wide-response, although there still is some distortion on very low frequencies at times.  That may be the fault of the audio stream providers, who knows.

Now astute readers will have noted something missing: speakers.  Those I’m going to take my time with and save my nickels, as they are the most critical part of the system.  Meanwhile, the place I’m renting has some old Technics speakers that sound ok: they are missing the low end, but capture the tinkly highs adequately.  And clarity is good.

So I’ve caught up a bit, and am satisfied with what I have.

Merry Christmas with magic!

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007 Leave a comment

My son and granddaughter star in this amazing demonstration of magic.

Categories: Entertainment
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