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For the past few years I’ve usually bought CDs that are “special edition” or have bonus material. I have also bought DVD-Audio discs to get 5.1 mixes (mainly Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree stuff). These formats get archived as tagged FLAC files on my home server. FLAC is my lossless codec of choice because it is an open specification, supports a wide range of resolutions and channels, has good metadata support, and is supported by a wide range of software. I don’t currently own any FLAC playback hardware, but that’s not critical to me. I play back FLACs on the computer using Foobar2000. It’s also my main ripper/converter and librarian. The only gap it has for me is that it doesn’t support writing album art metadata natively. I use either Album Art Downloader, MP3tag, or iTunes for that. Speaking of metadata, in addition to the essential metadata, I make use of album artist, disc number, and ReplayGain tags.

When I buy music online, I prefer to buy FLACs. I also prefer to buy music that has moderate dynamic range. I’ve found that I enjoy music that has a ReplayGain value of -8dB or less the most. When I see ReplayGain values at or above -10dB, I usually have a bias against the mastering, which probably used at least some brickwall limiting to produce such a high volume. Unfortunately ReplayGain values aren’t a primary specification prior to purchasing music, so I usually have to purchase on reputation. I probably shouldn’t display ReplayGain values in my primary view on Foobar2000, but I do. It’s mainly to make sure the files are tagged with it, but like I said, it does color my anticipation of the music.

My FLACs get transcoded to LAME MP3 v2 (~190kbps) for normal playback, which could be on the computer, an iPod or iPhone, or to an Airport Express via Airplay. If I’m at a computer that has access to my FLAC archives and Foobar2000, I’ll listen to those.

I rarely purchase iTunes Plus (256kbps AAC) or MP3 files (190kbps or better), but when I do it’s with the expectation that I will not transcode them into another lossy codec or to the same codec at a different bitrate. I will burn them to CDs with a note like “from AAC” or “from MP3” to let myself know not to rip the CD later expecting a lossless copy of the original. Sometimes if I’m using a playback device that’s storage-constrained, I will transcode down to AAC or MP3 at ~128kbps. These files aren’t anything I would archive – they’re for playback only.

Speaking of burning CDs, I do burn discs to listen to stuff in the car with a little more quality than just plugging my iPod or iPhone into the aux jack. Like many, I have quite a few CD playback systems around the house and at work. One little quirk I have is that I like to write CD-TEXT on my burns; my car stereo and a few of the players I use support displaying that info. When I burn CDs, I don’t apply ReplayGain or any volume processing. I burn CDs with Nero, CD Architect (rarely, if I want to do some limited mastering, crossfades, or track adjustments), or Foobar2000 (if I don’t want to write CD-TEXT).

…right now, not so much.  It’s shaping up to be the choice I made between MP3 and Ogg Vorbis: MP3 makes the most sense to use for compressed storage and playback on devices, and Vorbis is preferred for streaming.  In this case, H.264 is like MP3 and WebM is like Vorbis (appropriately, since WebM includes Vorbis audio).  Right now it’s not as easy for me to create WebM videos as it was for me to create Vorbis files back in the day.  I remember using the “spinning fish” applet that Xiph published before there was more embedded support for Vorbis.  Miro Video Converter has a WebM output mode, but it doesn’t appear to be tunable.  Spelunking with the ffmpeg or vpxenc parameters tp create WebM videos doesn’t appeal to me.  It’s one thing to get into the LAME and OggEnc parameters when you’re dealing with a single audio stream.  Add video with its more complex set of parameters to that and it’s scary.

I really like being able to crunch out H.264 videos of decent quality from Handbrake that I can use on my iDevices and computers.  While I would like it if the Handbrake developers would provide similar support for WebM, I really don’t have a reason to use WebM videos right now other than for computer playback in certain scenarios.

Google’s decision to remove native H.264 support from Chrome (and hence, Chrome OS) is going to be great for the web because the trickle-down effect of this will be to:

  • Force MPEG LA to choose whether or not to sue Google for patent infringement over the technologies in WebM and finally get some resolution to the same argument that has always prevented companies like Apple from supporting Ogg Vorbis: the lurking possibility that patented techniques are embedded in the open-source media solution.  I don’t think this will happen since it appears that some of the On2 patents have been infringed by MPEG LA’s solutions.
  • Incent hardware makers to add support for WebM because websites, led by Youtube, will make it their native format.  There were (are?) several makers that supported Vorbis decoding in hardware, and I’m not aware any of them got sued.
  • Make H.264 a completely free implementation for all uses because if it isn’t available for free, software and hardware makers will favor the lower-cost WebM technology.

As far as VP8 video not performing as well as H.264 at similar resolutions and bitrates: it took quite a while for MP3 encoding to catch up to, and in some cases surpass, Vorbis.  There no reason to think that with more development, VP8 won’t catch up.  I look forward to using WebM when I have an easy way to encode to the format and I can use it in as many places as I can H.264/MPEG-4.

I see this decision more like HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray; different logical formats that could be equally supported by hardware and software.  In fact, until Toshiba killed HD-DVD I thought that (playback of both formats) was the solution that was going to win out.  There’s no reason other than these licensing issues that support for H.264/MPEG-4 and WebM couldn’t co-exist.

How about this?:  Google will continue to ship H.264 support in Chrome if Microsoft and Apple agree to support WebM in their browsers.

I received a Google CR-48 netbook from their Pilot Program yesterday.  One of the first things I wanted to do with it was get it to play music from my home library, which is hosted on my Windows Home Server.  I have used both Firefly Media Server and Squeezebox Server on there for a few years.  Firefly serves out iTunes-compatible DAAP, and Squeezebox Server can serve to Squeezebox-compatible clients like MainSqueeze on the Roku.  Since I knew Squeezebox had an HTTP interface, I thought it would be the way to integrate with ChromeOS.  But I’d forgotten that that was only a control interface; playback happened on a device, not the web page itself.

That reminded me of the Fireplay add-on for Firefly, which I had read about but never had a need to use.  While there is a packaged add-on of it available for WHS, installing that didn’t put the necessary files in the Firefly web interface directory.  Manually putting the files in the directory and restarting the Firefly service did the trick.  Fireplay is a flash-based player that communicates directly with the Firefly Media Server.

Fireplay on ChromeOS

Brief instructions:

  1. Obtain and install Firefly Media Server.  I have mine configured to use port 9999 for its web service.  It has an admin password, but not a music (streaming) password.
  2. Obtain Fireplay from here.
  3. Unzip the Fireplay files into your Firefly instance’s admin-root folder; mine’s at “C:\Program Files\Firefly Media Server\admin-root”.  Detailed directions are here.
  4. Restart the Firefly Media Server service.
  5. Browse to the Firefly server using a URL like “http://<servername&gt;:<port>/FirePlay.html”; mine is http://ghostrider:9999/FirePlay.html
  6. Login with a blank username and your admin (not music) password.
  7. Enjoy!

Since I received my iPod Nano 4GB (1st gen), the included earbuds stayed packed in the box.  For years I’ve preferred Sony’s in-ear-sideways-based headphones.  The cord on my favorite white Sonys started to fray, so I decided to give the Apple earbuds a shot. After slipping on the foam and snugging them in, I have to say they’re not too bad.  I’ve listened to a little bit of music on them and might have stronger opinions if that’s all I listened to on them.  However, I still use the Nano for podcast listening 95% of the time, so the earbuds will be fine.

I haven’t been this pleased with Foobar 2000 in a long time. The default user interface (UI) in 0.9.5 has been significantly upgraded, with integrated support for things like album art, autoplaylists, and themes. I’m already tweaking out a new config that uses the default UI combined with the Facets plugin I linked to before, changing away from Columns UI after using it a few years and dabbling in the Panels UI a little.

FB2K is my favorite app for encoding, tagging, organizing, and, oh yeah, playing my digital music. If only it would stream to my Airport Express…

Update: Added a screenshot of my current config.

Foobar 2000 0.9.5b1

In this day and age, I’m completely miffed that I can’t upload DV footage from my Canon Elura 100’s IEEE1394 (Firewire) port to my new computer. I moved the cheap TI-compatible Firewire card I had in Earthshine to FarCry and haven’t been able to get the camcorder detected in either Windows XP x64 (using WinDV) or Ubuntu 7.04 x64 (using Kino). I may try to load up 32-bit XP to see if that’ll do it, but that seems too much like giving up. I still need to check and see if a Firewire-capable external hard drive I have is recognized on FarCry before I completely blame the OSs. I’ll probably end up getting another Firewire card for what’ll end up being the new Ghostrider (ie. the old Earthshine with a spiffy new 32-bit Windows install) and trying to upload the DV there. We’ll see. This problem has vexed me (admittedly part-time) for a few weeks now and I had to publicly complain. 😉

Update:  I’m going to try this adapter since one of the reviewers said specifically that it worked with their camcorder under XP x64 using WinDV.

Scobleizer: Sony didn’t learn from Beta format mistakes

Beta and VHS were physically different media formats that could not be played by the same player.  Dual-format media and dual-format players (which I’ve advocated for two years) along with the PlayStation 3 will keep both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD in the marketplace.  Would adoption occur quicker if there were one format?  Sure.  But it’s not necessary.

I linkblogged the Wired article that purports that the majors are going to consider selling unprotected MP3s with watermarking technology.  I support this.  I’ve long felt that users should be trusted with unencumbered content.  This move would go a ways towards making mainstream music consumption friendlier, but there are still the Catch-22’s of the cases of broken media (did I buy that plastic disc, or did I buy the right to listen to that content?) and copy-protected CDs versus music CD-R/Minidisc tax (I paid your stinking tax, now why can’t I legally transfer the music to taxed media?).

My mother-in-law, Linda, gave me Neil Peart‘s Roadshow: Landscape With Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle, which I’m reading now.  I love Neil’s books as much as I enjoy his drumming and lyrics in Rush.  Highly recommended for new BMW motorcycle owner Jonathan.

Melissa gave me iWoz, Steve Wozniak‘s bio.  Should be a fun read; I’ve enjoyed Woz when I’ve heard him on podcasts over the past few years.

Melissa also gave me Superman II – The Richard Donner Cut, which is highly recommended by fellow BDFLer Andy Bolin.  I’m looking forward to seeing this; I haven’t seen the original in at least a decade.

Melissa surprised me with the remix single “re: free” from OSI; well, it was on my wishlist!  I dig all the OSI/Kevin Moore stuff I’ve heard, and this is no exception.

Why is it that kids pick the week before Christmas to act up the most? We’re having to have a “strict” day with Ryan today before what we are hoping is a joyful and relaxing Christmas week.

I usually have a few Porcupine Tree CDs in my car’s changer and I use them to “charge up” before work. Since it’s just a 10-minute drive, I usually have time for one or two songs. One of the songs I’ve discovered I have more appreciation now than when I first heard it is “Prodigal” from In Absentia. I’m going to totally learn that on the bass, even the syncopated part at the very end of the song. Steven Wilson’s outro solo is very Lifeson-esque, and it gets me air-guitaring every time.

Speaking of bass, I’ve been wanted to pull the trigger on a bass switch; my old Hamer Slammer Series Chapparral 5-string for a new Fender Geddy Lee Jazz (or possibly the Squier Modified 70’s Jazz). I haven’t tried to trade anything in to Guitar Center yet, so I’m a little nervous. What I definitely haven’t had the nerve to do is to make the switch before Christmas. This self-indulgence can wait. My 5-string Ibanez SR1205 is still in great shape and is my main ax.

My enthusiasm in improving ICYG is stagnating. Every time I think I’ll sit down and code the ultimate playlist-generating Python library, I feel I’m not up to the task. I’m actually thinking seriously about building a small-form-factor Linux box for various media-serving, though I doubt I’ll find a stream renderer that suits me more than my current Foobar2000/Oddcast combo.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

Update (12/30): The Hamer bass I mentioned is for sale.