Archive for the ‘Film/TV’ category

Eurovision Song Contest 2009

April 25th, 2009

Our legendary Eurovision commentator has quit. A new voting system is in place for the second year running. The final, held on the 16th May 2009, will be the first contest to have the points decided by both the voting public and a panel of music industry experts with a 50/50 split. I think these are all positive steps towards moving away from the baised political voting patterns seen in the past. It seems a shame that the system seen in the final will not be used in the two semi-finals preceeding the final on the 12th and 14th May. Here are my hot picks based on merit and not what countries Gordon Brown tells me to like or hate.

Azerbaijan

Belgium

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Denmark

Finland

Lithuania
 

Ukraine

United Kingdom

I think our entry (United Kingdom) sums up what we think should happen this year although there are a lot of decent songs this year. I just hope they get through to the final and aren’t penalised through politically charged voting. As I’ve always said, it’s a song contest. Not a stage for countries to scratch each others backs. See you on May 16th!

iTunes U: Fun Learning

July 23rd, 2007

iTunes UI was perousing around the iTunes store the other day looking for some science and IT based podcasts when I decided to click on a small link that said ‘iTunes U’. It was a spontaneous decision – one of very few I make – and has probably been one of the most fulfilling clicks I have ever made on my computer.

It makes a welcome surprise that, for me, overshadows the absence of TV content on the British and European iTunes stores – but that makes for another rant post. iTunes U is a way for university students – or anyone for that matter – to watch lectures on a number of subjects whenever they want. I’ve been watching a lecture every night for four days now.

Long Distance Learning

The service allows you to download video podcasts of your subjects from a number of American educational institutes and watch them on your iTunes U start pagecomputer and/or video iPod. Over the past few days I’ve been watching lectures on ‘Introductory Astronomy’ from Michigan Tech University with Prof. Robert Nemiroff. The lectures that I’ve watched have been quite interesting and, although recorded from September last year, up to date. The lecturer, Prof. Robert Nemiroff, is one of the people responsible for writing the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) descriptions as well.

I have found that in the first five lectures to be extremely interesting and it was funny to see the class slowly decrease in size as more and more people found out they didn’t have to attend the lectures. Some of the content was pretty basic while some went into more depth such as the lectures on black holes – this was very interesting and I learnt a lot more that I would have at my current A-Level course. I must warn you that Prof. Nemiroff attempts to inject some humour into the lectures and if I’m honest, fails the majority of the time but you may appreciate it more than me.

Are U Ready?

I don’t know the figures of the uptake on this service but as a British A-Level student it’s been interesting to learn things on the side while I have some spare time. There are other more hardcore Physics courses on there and a host of other subjects that you can subscribe to. Watching ‘Introductory Astronomy’ with Prof. Robert NemiroffThe list of institutions that provide these courses seems to have increased since I first laid eyes on the service a few days ago and I only hope that more continue the trend.

Personally, I don’t agree with courses that don’t require attendance at lectures as I think that’s half the reason you go to University but I love the fact that these places are recording lectures and allowing people from around the world to learn more about their interests.

I know it may be a stretch to ask Windows users to download iTunes but do it anyway, for me. Check out the library of lecture-casts under iTunes U in the iTunes store and give it a go. Download 7 video podcasts and watch one every day for a week. Give us a comment.

Oh, and thanks to Derby University for supplying the iPod.

The Venice Project

January 10th, 2007

The Venice ProjectA couple weeks ago I was invited to take part on the ongoing beta test of The Venice Project, the new creation from the people who kindly revolutionised VoIP and brought us Skype. The Venice Project aims to do with TV what Skype did for phones; it wants to be able to provide on demand television content to who ever wants it, when they want it. The concept is simple but the hardware, software and legalities in making it a reality are far from it. I’ve been using it almost every day and I have come to the conclusion that it’s a promising piece of software that could change the face of IPTV as we know it.

Using the Software

Once you’ve downloaded and installed the software, it’s a simple matter of logging into your account – whether or not accounts will be needed when it becomes publically available remains to be verified. The user interface is very nice and does not get in the way of the video you’re watching. The current beta is definitely not a ‘proof-of-concept’ such as the early releases of Songbird were. Although it uses much of the same technology, it’s quite a smooth program to use and the user interface has been designed with simplicity in mind. The icons for the controls are easily recognisable and you pick up how to use it pretty quickly.

The Venice Project - Playback Controls

At the moment, there is only a Windows XP version of the software but the creators are saying that there will be versions available for Intel Macs and Linux in the future.

TVP Content

At the moment, the content available isn’t that substantial but what is available is a nice look at the potential of the concept. I was pleasantly surprised to find clips from the highly popular British motoring show Fifth Gear on there but most of the other content is American and honestly not pleasing to watch.

The quality of the video was rather surprising. It’s not quite DVD quality but it’s better than most PVRs on the market. The idea behind The Venice Project is to allow you to watch what you want and when you want it so there’s no need, or reason, to save the content locally. This idea is important because it means that content providers such as the BBC, ITV, Fox and ABC etc. don’t need to worry as much as they would. Saying that, The Venice Project is meant to deliver programmes from big content providers such as BBC and Fox because they’re high quality (both in content and in resolution) and they’re recognised names in TV and film.

The Venice Project - Channel Chooser

Other Features

Although not fully functional there are additional features in the software that have real promise to make the TV watching experience more interactive and more integrated into our daily lives. Because it’s based on the same technology as Songbird and Firefox, there is the future possibility of extensions such as news tickers which could allow extra connectivity and a world of new options.

Current features in the program include channel chat, clocks and although it currently doesn’t function, The Venice Project also appears to want to integrate instant messaging via the Jabber system. That means that you can chat to your friends or complete strangers while watching TV. The extensibility of the software is promising.

The Venice Project - Channel Chat

Final Thoughts

The Venice Project is both an exciting idea and even more exciting to actually use. It’s got a lot of features to brag about and the software engineers and all the team behind it certainly have something to be proud of. It will certainly make an impact on the way on-demand content is watched on the computer but the mystery is how it will impact; especially with the imminent release of Apple TV.

Certainly here in the UK, I can say that the concept is something I welcome dearly. The closest things we have to a product like this is Sky+ or Freeview coupled with a DVR. The problem is neither of those are free. I’d love to see The Venice Project take off but the problem herein lies with the content providers. Recently, Channel 4 launched an on-demand service for the computer where you rent shows to watch. ITV have their own on-demand service and I was told today that the BBC are going to launch their own service in the very near future. I can only say that what differs TVP from other on-demand services is the fact it’s on your PC, it’s peer-to-peer technology and its free. The fact that it’s free for consumers would most likely put off content providers from showing anything.

Another worry is that people who have caps on their download and/or upload bandwidth will face problems. According to the site “In one hour of viewing, approximately 320Mb data will be downloaded and 105Mb uploaded, which means that it will exhaust a 1Gb cap in 10 hours.” I don’t have caps so it wouldn’t worry me but even people who don’t are subject to ‘fair use policies’ which mean that excessive viewing through the software will most likely make your ISP a little unhappy.

So, is The Venice Project going to be plain sailing or is it going to get lost? We’ll have to wait and see…

Sidenote: United 93

October 21st, 2006

United 93 - Film PosterI’m not going to make a habit of making these notes, but I just needed to get this one out. I’ve just finished watching ‘United 93‘ which is a film documenting that fateful day of September 11th 2001 but focusing on the United Airlines flight 93 that crashed outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania on that day. The film documents how the passangers of the forth plane to be hijacked fought back against their hijackers and refused to go quietly.

Although you know the dreadful fate of the passengers and the other planes that are referenced in the film, I was on the edge all the time with my hands tightly bound together. I was immersed into the gravity of the situation the film was portraying and for some reason I was expecting, hoping that the outcomes of the different events would be different – I wanted them to be different. The film is simply heart-wrenching. It shows emotions of all that were involved on that day from air traffic controllers to military personal and their reactions. Right until the end I was gripped by the scenes. Again, although I knew what was going to happen next, I waited impatiently to hear the answer. The scenes onboard the plane were surreal. The reactions, emotions, movements and feelings of the passengers and hijackers could be seen, heard and felt. The film portrays it as it was. The hijackers were nervous, sweating but composed. The film didn’t make me hate them, but when the time came for the passengers to revolt, I will admit, I wanted the passengers to succeed by any means. Near the end, a scene where the hijackers are praying cuts to the passengers also praying – I think this is a very moving scene. Both groups are talking to their God for the same reasons but because of different circumstances.

This film is one of the very best I’ve seen in a long while. It’s moving, emotional, detailed, graphic and honourable at the same time. It reminds us that 5 years on from a turning point in history that although a small group of people wish to take our freedom, our values and our liberties away, we must always fight them, always resist even if it means the worst. We must must never use their own tactics against them, never stoop to their level. Right up until the end of the film, the passengers resisted, fought back. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; every one of those who lost their life on September 11th 2001 shall be remembered throughout history and those who fought back as brave and honourable individuals. Anyone who has been killed or injured in any terrorist attack shall be remembered – maybe not by name – in some way.

Watch ‘United 93′ regardless of anything you believe. Put aside any beliefs you have about that day, throw away any prejudices you have for just one hour and fifty one minutes. You won’t regret it.