wnd's weblog

Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium

7 Aug 2008 16:46:17 rant

Enjoy your entire digital entertainment library in full glory on your PC or even on your TV with Windows Media Center. View your photos in a cinematic slide show, browse your music collection by cover art, easily play DVDs, watch and record TV shows, download movies, and project your home videos – Microsoft Corporation (Link).

After having three days of first hand experience of Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Media Center, I beg to disagree. Let me elaborate.

Task one: View photos

Photos on hard drive

Alice has had the most wonderful holiday in Paris. She has lots of digital pictures from there. When Alice returned back home she copied the files to her computer, placing each set of pictures in separate directory to keep the pictures in order. The pictures are saved in JPEG format.

One evening Alice wants to show her pictures to Bob. Her computer runs a copy of Windows Vista Home Premium. Alice uses Windows Explorer to navigate to the directory where the pictures are stored. She double-clicks one of the files to open Windows’ picture preview program. The program says the pictures are ordered by date of photography. However clicking “next” jumps to seemingly random picture.

It turns out that while each file has date properly set in EXIF-data, Windows uses file timestamps instead. (Why the files are not timestamped properly is beyond me.) Ordering the files by filename solves the problem.

Photos on 4 GiB SecureDigital flash card

Charlie has just spent two weeks in China. He has trekked the countryside and taken some breathtaking pictures with his digital camera. Charlie has also taken short video clips. His camera stores pictures in JPEG format and videos in MJPEG in AVI container.

One weekend Charlie visits Dave. Explaining about his trip Charlie realises that he has his camera with him and that he hasn’t emptied the memory card yet. Since Dave’s computer running Windows Vista Home Premium has built-in SD reader he removes the card from the camera and plugs it in to the computer. Nothing happens and after a few idle moments Dave takes over. He opens Windows Explorer, which shows three devices, one for each memory card slot. He double-clicks the first one. This causes Explorer to freeze and mouse cursor to turn to busy indicator. Dave tries to close Explorer but this doesn’t work. After a minute or two Dave presses ctrl-alt-del to open Resource Manager. Dave kills Exporer’s process, and Windows’ desktop disappears. The cursor stays as busy indicator. After some 30 seconds the desktop is restored. Dave opens Windows Explorer and clicks the next removable device. Explorer freezes again. Dave kills Explorer again and waits for desktop to be restarted.

Dave removes the memory card from the computer. Suddenly he realises that a led next to the card slot was not lit, although it was lit when Charlie first inserted the card. Dave plugs the card back in and the led turns lit. Dave uses Explorer to access the third removable device. Not unlike before, Explorer freezes again. Dave gets frustrated and mercilessly removes the card. At the same instant Explorer returns to life, and requests user to insert media.

Charlie spots a mini-USB cable next to the computer. Charlie gets his camera, plugs the card back in, and suggests Dave to connect the camera to the computer. Dave does this. Windows recognises the camera and asks if Dave would like to view the pictures. Dave allows Windows to start picture preview. The program shows blank window with a label that says the picture is corrupted. Clicking “next” goes forward in series. Everything apart from the first picture looks ok. At some point Dave reaches short video clips, which the application is unable to play. Dave continues until he reaches the last picture. Charlie realises that the application is actually showing the first picture which was supposedly corrupted a few moments ago.

Task two: Play a DVD

Eve has recently returned from a trip to South Africa. She went on a safari and filmed some material with her digital video camera. Back home Eve saved the video on a few DVDs using her DVD recorder.

Eve sends a copy of the DVD to Frank, a friend that Eve doesn’t see too often. Frank inserts the DVD to his computer running GNU/Linux. He types “vlc dvd://” on command line to watch the DVD. Everythig works smoothly. One night on IRC, Eve, Frank, and Gary talk about Eve’s trip. Since Frank and Gary are real-life friends, Eve suggests Frank would show Gary her video. The next day Frank takes the DVD to Gary. Gary puts in the DVD. Gary allows Windows Vista Home Premium to open Windows Media Center to play it. Media Center starts to play the DVD, but the video is broken. Audio works fine, though. Gary closes Media Center and opens another commercial DVD player. This application plays the video but not audio.

Gary ejects the DVD and throws it in in his laptop running Windos XP Home. Since Windows’ stock applications are not able to play the DVD, Gary launches the same application he tried to use on the desktop. The applicaiton plays the DVD and Frank is finally able show the video to Gary.

Task three: Copying a VHS tape to a DVD

Helen and Ian are childhood friends. Back in early 90s Helen recorded an animated cartoon from TV on a VHS tape. Helen and Ian watched the movie frequently and it soon became an important part of their childhood. As things progressed, Helen moved out, got married, and finally got rid of her VHS player.

One evening Helen and Ian chat on IRC. They talk about the movie, and suddenly Helen realises she still has the tape and that Ian has a VHS player, a computer running Windows Vista Home Premium, and a TV receiver in his computer. Helen and Ian agree that they should try to copy the tape on a DVD. The next morning Helen brings the tape to Ian. Ian inserts the tape, and start Windows Media Center. He checks that he can watch video from the VHS player. Since he can’t find a way to record the video feed directly to a DVD, Ian starts to record the video to the hard drive. Even though this means that the video is compressed twice with a lossy algorithm (once when saving to hard drive, once when converting to DVD), Helen and Ian want this done.

Once the movie reaches the end, Ian checks the recorded file. To his surprise Windows Media Center has save not one but three clips. The first clip is just two minutes and from the start of the movie. The second is ten minutes and from the middle of the movie. The third clip is just five minutes somewhere after the middle of the movie. Ian checks the hard drive and finds out there should be 160 GiB of free space. Media Center also confirms that this should be enough to record nearly eight hours of video. Ian rewinds the tape and tries to capture the video again. This time Media Center only saves one 15 minute clip from the beginning of the video.

Ian tells Jerry about his attemps to record the tape. According to Jerry, Ian should be able to record the movie by setting a timed recording and pressing play on tape when Media Center starts recording. Jerry also mentions that it is possible to stop the recoding at any point once Media Center has started to record. Ian and Helen give up and end up ordering the movie from Amazon.

Final words

These adventures of Alice, Bob, Charlie, Dave, Eve, Frank, Gary, Helen, and Ian are based on real events. Names and places have been changed to protect the innocent. To sum it up, beware.