Tag Archives: blu-ray

DRM Rant: Brought On By Civilization IV

I am not a fan of DRM. You sell your product, now let people use it. I can understand why the companies put it on, of course, they don’t want people copying their product. That’s not unfair, of course, but the end is not achieved by the means. People break the copy protection, and share the cracked games, ripped movies, and so on, and then other people go looking for them and downloading them. Don’t put the DRM on and pass the savings on to your consumers, more people will buy the product.

That’s not the only issue, of course: DRM can negatively impact legitimate users.

Like, I can buy Blu-Rays and not watch them on my computer, because I stick with VLC and most Blu-Ray discs don’t work on VLC.

Or, I can put Myst 5 or Star Wars: Empire At War in my machine, and they (at one point) complained that I had VirtualDrive on my computer. I didn’t, and that’s not any of their business anyway.

Had a legitimate disc of LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, it worked once, then every time after that told me to put in a legitimate disc rather than a copy. Got Battlefield 2142 second-hand, wouldn’t let me use the CD key in the box (“already registered to somebody else” – well deregister them! The key is mine now), and I wouldn’t pay more than twice what I originally paid for it, to get a new key (“throwing good money after bad”). I was only interested in the solo campaign, not multiplayer online, apparently didn’t make a difference.

Players of Civilization IV on Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 machines have noticed that their game doesn’t work on those systems any more. Games of its era often used Digital Rights Malware (that’s what it really stands for, right?) that put files where they didn’t belong, to check up on their users.

Microsoft have recently issued updates that stop these kinds of shenanigans. It causes a big inconvenience to a lot of people still playing games from that era, but as these DRMs can leave security holes in a computer system, I’d say it’s a good call. And perhaps unusual for a company that has been known to have a level of paranoia about users being legitimate (I recall hearing of genuine users being negatively affected by the Windows Genuine Advantage check, when that was introduced, though I never had a problem).

I’d say this is another case of companies using DRM, and legitimate users being negatively affected. This harsh judgment is softened, however, by the fact the game worked for around 10 years without a problem.

On the other hand, why would a company be concerned about the DRM on a ten-year-old game, when they have more recent versions out?

for Civilization IV, at least, the Beyond The Sword expansion has had the 3.19 patch for years now, one of the benefits of it being that it doesn’t require the CD to run anymore, so it doesn’t fall afoul of this new problem.

Earlier, I used the 2K games support system to suggest they add a similar patch to regular Civ IV and Warlords (an earlier expansion). In researching the problem, I found one thread suggesting that 2K games might be giving away Steam keys to the game, for legitimate users.

I haven’t heard back yet, so I can’t confirm the accuracy of that suggestion. Yet.

As I actually run Beyond The Sword, and, more often, the Planetfall mod, I don’t feel that affected. I’m sure I have plenty of games that will now refuse to work, were I to try them.

How many people will be hunting for NoCD cracks for games? How many people are driven to pirated versions of games because they work better than the legitimate versions?

The great philosopher Princess Leia once said something along the lines of, “The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers”. Hopefully one day, the publishing companies will realise just how much this applies to them.

Placing The TV

Perhaps you’ve been following the saga of the TV, which is kind of an extension of the saga of trying to get Blu-Ray to work.

Short version: Got Blu-Rays, DVD player in my computer died, got a Blu-Ray player that works fine, but free software doesn’t play Blu-Rays very easily, because [judgmental comment about Blu-Ray publishers redacted]. Got given a standalone Blu-Ray player, projector didn’t have HDMI. HDMI to VGA cable didn’t give a picture on projector. Picked up an allegedly intermittent 55″ TV from a thrift store for $5, but so far so good with that. Needed somewhere to put this monster TV.

The thought was that we could put it above the basement fireplace. With the stand, the TV was too tall to fit on the mantle, and while there were some thoughts as to how to mount it on/above the mantle, there were some issues that made it tricky. It would basically have to lean against something, which wasn’t ideal, that something would have to be created, which wasn’t easy, plus chaining it to the ceiling just in case, and putting something on the mantle to make sure the TV didn’t slip off was mind-boggling because whatever it’s made of wouldn’t be happy with any plan of that nature.

Browsing Amazon one day, I found a wall mount, which itself wasn’t the best idea because it would have to mount on brick in that location. Sent the link to it to mother-in-law anyway, she fired back a link to a ceiling mount she found while looking at the wall mount.

The ceiling mount could attach straight up onto a ceiling, or at a 90° angle onto a beam. There is a beam up there…

I chipped in towards the mount, which was cheaper than the wall mount I found, anyway.

It arrived Wednesday, and my uncle-in-law cut through some plaster in the ceiling, to get to the beam. Which turned out to be not quite big enough. The next day he stuck some boards together to attach to the beam, which the ceiling mount would then attach on to. I lent the occasional arm to hold it in place while he attached it, and then attached the mount to it.

We put the TV up Thursday night, using a lot of brute strength. First time was fairly awkward, but we got it. Then we had to take it down, because the parts of the mount on the back of the TV had accidentally been put in the wrong way round, so the adjustment screws were unreachable. Putting it up the second time was a lot easier.

The adjustment screws wouldn’t tighten, though, and the TV gradually tilted more and more. Not dangerously, but not convenient, either. The pole part of the mount is in two parts, so telescopic. So today we lowered it, thinking that we could remove the TV that way to fix the tilt adjustment, now that we knew how we wanted it. Turns out, it telescopes quite far, and the TV was sitting on the fireplace, while the pole could extend a bit further. No taking it off that way.

While it was down, I could reach down the back of the TV with a spanner (US: wrench), to hold the nut in place while the screws were tightened. Bit awkward, and the wrench didn’t really get a lot of leeway, but uncle-in-law tightened the four upper screws that way (I was only needed for two, the other two didn’t have nuts), then we awkwardly raised the TV back to position. There were two more screws that needed doing, that could only be reached from underneath. I tried using a flashlight and looking, but in the end it was easier to go by feeling. Fortunately that worked, so the TV is now stuck in place.

We hooked it up to the Blu-Ray player, and proved we hadn’t broken the TV by watching the nearest Blu-Ray to hand (which happened to be The LEGO Movie). I’d played a bit of the movie up here when we were testing the TV and Blu-Ray together. The player remembers your place in the disc. So setting it up Thursday night, I called the kids over to see, and the disc resumed right before the song which was appropriate to the moment: Everything Is Awesome. We watched a chunk of the movie then, but then the kids had to go to bed. So tonight, proving we hadn’t broken it this time, the rest of the movie was watched.

So far, so good.

The mount advertised itself as coming with an HDMI cable. Which it did. And it came with a spirit level, a keyring flashlight, some cable ties. I claimed the keyring flashlight because I keep borrowing flashlight from kids, and haven’t got round to getting my own. Uncle-in-law claimed the spirit level. I think everyone’s happy.

Here’s the link to the mount. Strong, sturdy, comes with useful extra stuff.

Thrift Score

A day or two ago, I took Oldest and Middlest with me to the library, as I had to pick up a book that had come in for me.

On the way home, we stopped in at a couple of thrift stores, as is fairly common for us to do. We got Oldest a couple of books, and Middlest picked herself up some little Nerf contraption (she’s figured out how to ask for a toy from the Free Toys bin before she can be stopped). I considered getting her a stick horse-giraffe, before deciding it would be best to consult with Those At Home about it, first.

There was also a Rather Large Telly, which I described to Those At Home as having a screen size rivalling the size of picture we’re getting from our projector downstairs. The TV was on hold til Thursday morning.

So, this morning, I headed back over there. A bit later than I meant to, getting closer to 11 when they opened at 9.30, but still morning.

Both TV and horse were still there, and the TV still had the “on hold til Thursday morning” note stuck to it. I asked a lady who worked there about the TV, at what point in the morning it would stop being on hold. The person who had holded it had apparently called, and sounded like she’d cancelled the hold, but the message was a bit unclear, so they were contacted just to make sure. They didn’t want it after all.

So the next question is, “How much is it?” When I’d mentioned it at home, the instructions were “If it’s still there, I’d pay $30-$40 for it”. I figured if I’d needed to, I might be able to squeeze a bit extra out of my own reserves.

What I was told next, wasn’t the price, however. The person who’d donated it said there was a problem with it, that often after a time of working (which could be from 5 minutes to 2 hours), it would go dark and unresponsive, and you’d have to unplug it from the wall and plug it back in, to get it working again.

Could be tolerable, could be the other thing. All of a sudden, $30-$40 was sounding a bit much on a gamble.

“Well, I don’t want to spend too much on it, if it’s going to have problems like that”, I said. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d charged $15-$20 for it. I’m glad I kept my trap shut, she offered it to me for $5. If it cut out a couple of times during a movie, it’d probably still be worth that. “I’ll take it for that”, I said.

Apparently they’d sold a working one for $100.

I was told that if it didn’t work for us, to not bring it back, but to bring the receipt for a refund. Well now there’s absolutely no risk. Plus it had remote and manuals.

While she was running the till for the TV transaction, I went and got the horse. Said $1.50 on it. I’d fished out $1 from the quarters bag, and was reaching in to fish for the other .50. “Just a dollar”, she said. Can’t argue with that. Welcome to New-Favourite-Person-ville.

Getting the TV into the car was tricky. Another person who was helping in the shop, helped me out to the car with it. We tried a bunch of things to try and get it in the car. Eventually I had to let the back seats down, which gave just enough extra space to stand it up diagonally in the back (it didn’t need to overlap the back seat much). From the driver’s seat, I could only see slivers of the back window. Fortunately, it wasn’t very far to get home.

We stood the TV up on the dining room table (on a towel, to protect the table), thinking we might need to set the TV face-down on the tables, to get the back open. The TV was slightly wider than the table (inspection of the manual revealed it to be 55 inches). It ran fine all afternoon without going dark and unresponsive. My uncle-in-law researched the problem, and a few people have had it, with a lot of speculation about what the cause of the problem might be. Overheating is a likely suspect, with someone solving their problem by rigging up a computer fan to the back of their TV.

We turned it on, it worked, hooked up a laptop and the kids watched a whole film, then my wife and I fiddled with document layout for service books (well, she did all the work, I answered a couple of questions and helped look through it). We set up a “Welcome Home” screensaver for when my mother-in-law returned home. We eventually had to take the thing off the table, so we could eat the evening meal at the table. The only problems we’d encountered were the colour being set to a weird setting, and some background bits of DVD looking pixelly.

This evening, I tried hooking up the Blu-Ray player to it, mainly to see what resolution it could handle. We’d hooked up the player to a High-Def TV that was only capable of 720p (watching a 1080p signal sent to it was quite interesting). Initially, I forgot to change teh settings, but The Lego Movie Blu-Ray definitely worked. It actually resumed from where I’d stopped it a few days ago, after I’d tested the sound-without-picture. I switched the player settings to 1080p. And the TV handled it just fine. Tried a little more of The Lego Movie, then some of Star Trek Into Darkness. Looking good!

So, $5 for a working 55-inch TV, and we can finally watch Blu-Rays at home. I call that a win.

The challenge now, is to find a place to put it.

Experiments In Blu-Ray

A while ago, the DVD drive in my computer died, so I bought a Blu-Ray drive to replace it. We have a few Blu-Ray discs, in those combo packs that include both DVD and Blu-Ray.

Out of the somewhere-around-10 discs we have, last time I tried, I could only get one working in VLC (Kung-Fu Panda, the oldest title we had). And that’s with going round the internet, trying things people suggested.

The problem is, there’s so much paranoia at the movie companies that they insist on so much encryption and DRM, that it’s easier to rip the disc and watch the file (essentially pirate the disc) than it is to watch your legitimate disc on your legitimate drive.

I rather think these companies are shooting themselves in the foot, doing more to encourage pirating than to discourage it.

Having heard that saga, my parents offered to buy the family a Blu-Ray player (stand-alone box). I helped them pick one, but it didn’t seem entirely straightforward to link it with the system we have. The projector doesn’t have HDMI in and the sound system only has analog stereo in, the player has HDMI out and coaxial digital audio.

Did research at the time, found gadgets on Amazon that convert HDMI to VGA, so we got one of those. Haven’t tried it yet.

In the audio department, my past research was looking more at amps and new sound systems. Today I looked into digital-to-analog converters. Here’s what I found (just about exclusively from Amazon reviews):

For this type of job, there are two kinds of gadgets: converters, and decoders.

Converters only work when your device can be made to output in PCM or LPCM (I read what they were, I don’t remember now. Doesn’t really matter, check your device’s manual).

If you’re stuck with a device that will only output in something like Dolby Digital, you need a decoder. Decoders also seem to have a bit of an issue with lag: takes a bit of time to process the audio, so lips moving on screen are ahead of sound coming through speakers.

Fortunately, we only needed a converter.

Most had overall positive reviews, but it’s always worth looking at the negative reviews.

I looked at the one-star reviews: there were a lot of plain “it didn’t work!”-type reviews, that could easily be attributable to not knowing about the PCM thing. Then there were a few “it worked, then it didn’t”-type reviews, and you can find reviews like that for just about everything. There were also some “it says digital to analog, but it means analog to digital”, on a couple of similar products, which seemed to contradict the positive reviews of people it worked for, who are trying to do the same thing as me.

And then there were some weird reports on the type of power connector that came with one of the products: “came with a non-American plug!” “came with an American plug!” “came with some weird USB thing!”

In the end, you just have to give something a go, though, don’t you?

We’ll see how it goes.