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Archive for October, 2011

Handbrake and MP4

When it comes to watching videos on a computer, there is one thing that can be really annoying: different video formats. Over the years, the number of formats have increased, leading to some confusion and incompatibility. Whether it’s DivX, XVID, WMV, AVI, MPEG2, MPEG, Quicktime MOV, Ogg Video, Flash video and others, it can be downright confusing. The other problem is that since some of these formats are proprietary, they don’t easily play outside of their own players. Of course, there are universal players like VLC or codec packs, but these come with their own cons as well.

The other downside is that some of these formats are quite old, and as a consequence eat up large amounts of hard drive space due to less efficient compression schemes.

A couple of months ago, I discovered HandBrake: a free and open source video transcoder that uses the free and open source x264 encoder. In simpler terms, HandBrake is a graphical frontend to the x264 encoder, which outputs MP4 videos.

Handbrake

HandBrake main window

Speaking of MP4, I learnt that both the older DivX format as well as XVID use an older MP4 standard, called Part 2 ASP. The MP4 output by x264 is called Part 10 AVC, and is more modern than the older standard.

What this boils down to is that with HandBrake, you can convert almost any video format into the standards based MP4-AVC format. The end result is a file that can be played by hundreds of devices and the output file is quite possibly a lot smaller than the source file.

I have managed to shave off over 80GB on my video collection by converting the files into MP4-AVC. Some video files refuse to convert, and some others end up larger in MP4 format than what they originally were. This however is the vast minority, with the majority converting exceptionally well.

One of the more interesting things about the x264 encoder is that it is multi-core and multi-processor aware. Simply put, once you start an encode, x264 will max out your CPU. If you plan to convert many files, make sure you have decent cooling on your CPU. x264 does not use the GPU in graphics cards, which means that encoding takes a lot longer. From what I read, the reason for this is that graphics cards don’t output the same visual quality or have the flexibility of what a CPU based encoder can do.

It takes a while to understand how HandBrake works, but once you figure it out, the reward is worth it. You can download a copy from http://handbrake.fr/ and start saving on hard drive space now. Be sure to spend some time reading the wiki and user guides first however.

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Accursed HP Printers

October 6, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday, I swapped out a computer for a member of our staff. She uses her computer day in and day out, and the old Pentium 4 machine she had was just not cutting it anymore. Although it still works perfectly, speed had become a major problem. As such, a replacement had been purchased some time ago, but I was unable to place the computer into the office until yesterday.

The new machine is a Core i3 and runs Windows 7 x64. It screams along and is responsive in the way new computers are. I duly copied over all her documents, installed a couple of custom programs and so on. Then came the time to install the printer in her office. It’s an old HP LaserJet 1010, a real workhorse of a printer. It’s not flashy and is not fast, but these printers just keep working and working. That is, until the printer met Windows 7. If you are interested, here is a link to the specs of said printer: HP LaserJet 1010 Series Specifications 

There are no drivers for this printer in Windows 7, and a look on HP’s website only reveals Vista drivers. A little further digging reveals that this printer is not supported in Windows 7, although bizarrely enough it’s supported under Mac OSX 10.7, a much newer OS than Windows 7.

I tried using the Vista x64 driver, which installed fine. The printer even printed a test page. However, when you right click the printer under Devices and Printers to configure Print Settings, it causes Windows Explorer to crash. Each and every time, Windows Explorer will crash if you try to configure the printer. This was obviously unacceptable, so I set out to discover if there was a work around. It turns out that the only way to make this printer work reliably is to assign another HP LaserJet model as the driver, in this case the HP LaserJet 3050 driver. It does leave an Unidentified Device under Devices and Printers, but there is nothing that can be done.

The thing that angers me about this is that we have a slightly later model around the school as well: the HP LaserJet 1018 – Specifications here. For all intents and purposes, the devices are near identical. They take the same cartridge, print at the same speed and look near identical, apart from the colour. The 1018 is supported under Windows 7. What’s even more frustrating is that there is a driver for Mac OSX 10.7 for the 1010, but no driver for Windows 7. Hell, all HP had to do is tweak the Vista driver slightly and make it available for Windows 7.

While I understand that the 1018 is a later model by a year or more, there really is no reason why the 1010 can’t be supported under Windows 7. This is one area concerning HP printers that I really don’t like, and I’m not the only one. I will look and see if the Universal Print driver won’t perhaps support the 1010, though I’m probably going to be out of luck on that one as well.