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Book 3

My third book is released! Learn what you'll need to know in order to become an embedded engineer.

Book 2

Check out my second book; learn practical stuff about building robots and control systems around Linux PCs and the Atmel AVR.

Book 1

My first book gives you all the intro you need on developing 32-bit embedded systems on a hobbyist budget.

Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, iTunes; does it really matter where the future lies?

Visit any Internet forum catering to consumers of video media and gadgets in general and you'll doubtless see ongoing arguments about the recently-concluded HD movie format war. People with an investment in HD-DVD or an innate hatred of Sony are arguing bitterly about how HD-DVD was a "finished standard" sooner, and how it's technically superior. Blu-ray owners are stoking the fires with comments that essentially boil down to "nyah nyah, PWN3D!" A third group of posters - many of whom we presume to be former HD-DVD supporters - says that both formats are irrelevant, because downloadable HD movies from iTunes and/or the XBox online store will be the next evolutionary step from DVDs.

However, one problem with Internet audio/videophile forums is that they really don't reflect the Joe Sixpack demographic. Sure, on the Internet 40,000 rabid pixel-counters will jump down your throat with religious zeal if you dare to suggest that HD-DVD and Blu-ray are indistinguishable in any meaningful way, but in the real world, normal consumers will only remember whatever the last salesguy told them - if that.

The impression one gets from reading the aficionado press is that every household in America has a cinema-sized widescreen TV set that they watch through binoculars (so they can count pixels) with a thirty-channel surround sound system, and that it is a source of daily pain and suffering to the average American that a DVD has only 720x480 pixels of image with a few channels of surround sound. The aforementioned average American, we are led to believe, is yearning for more pixels and more channels, plus an interactive virtual machine running at all times with a picture-in-picture window of the director's head talking about the movie in progress and a live Internet feed of the sales figures for the disc that's playing.

While I'm certainly not a representative specimen either, being way at the other end of the spectrum, it might be instructive to look at what TV-capable devices I have in my [reasonably affluent, two-income, urban New York] household. Here they are, in reverse order of acquisition (i.e. most recent first):

  • An eyeTV Hybrid USB NTSC/ATSC tuner. I bought this with one of my $100 iPhone rebate coupons, so that I could view my PS3 screen conveniently on my MacBook while developing Linux applications on the Cell processor. As an experiment, I connected a length of baling wire (literally) to the antenna input, and I could see 24 ATSC channels, some in HD. So my household is digital-ready, for what that's worth.
  • A 27" stereo 4:3 CRT TV set my brother-in-law gave away in 2007 when he bought an LCD. This sits in our living room connected to a PS3, and is used exclusively for Dance Dance Revolution, DVDs and various downloaded DivX content.
  • An NTSC-to-VGA box, originally purchased in 2007, for the same purpose as the eyeTV. It happens to have an analog tuner built in, also - I've never tested it but I assume it works. This lives its life taped to the back of a spare 15" LCD monitor, which hasn't been switched on since I bought the eyeTV.
  • A 21" mono 4:3 CRT TV set I bought for $100, refurbished, in 1999. This sits in my wife's office connected to a $29 Wal-mart DVD player.

One side note that might not be immediately obvious from the above: All the devices I've just listed have at best an S-video NTSC input. No HDMI, no DVI, no component video. You'll observe that even the very latest and greatest HD-DVD players, Blu-ray players and HD game console systems ALL have a standard NTSC output, because it's the lowest common denominator into the wiring loom of Joe Sixpack's entertainment center. The omission of standard composite video on the Apple TV is a source of mystification and frustration to me; it's a glaring and silly feature to leave out. It's also the sole reason why I didn't buy an Apple TV when it came out; I would have liked to have this "stationary iPod" for the convenience of having my favorite movies stored on it, but since I can't connect it to any screen in my house, it would have been a very silly purchase. I'm not spending a minimum of $600 to buy an LCD TV set; $150 is about the highest I'm willing to go for any TV set.

Anyway, that's a side issue.