I’m beginning to dream of analog days…

... could it be that life was oh so simple then ? 

I remember when Channel 4 arrived - a time before cable and satellite TV, when there were programmes we wanted to watch. And the newly affordable VCR meant we didn't have to watch it when it was scheduled. And when home computers plugged into the TV and let us play games like "Jet Pac".

Spool forward a couple of dozen years. I've just acquired my X-Box 360 - and I'm loving the games in X-Box Live arcade , it may be just as well I was sitting on the floor when I found that we have JetPac Refueled and "included in the package is the original Jetpac from 1983. See what's changed, or just wallow in nostalgia if you're part of the Spectrum generation." 

In this world off multi-channel TV I came to realize that there was no more that I wanted to watch, it was just spread more thinly. I abandoned Cable TV in favour of "Freeview" Britain's DVB-T system.  This doesn't fit with my VCR which only handles the 5 analog channels and isn't Widescreen. I'd get one of the freeview Playback Digital TV Recorders (like Sky's Sky+ box) except I don't want another box under my TV, and as I've already blogged, thanks to Vista Ultimate and a dongle from Hauppauge I'm getting broadcast quality playback of recorded TV on my laptop. Sooner or later I'll update my home PC and that will take care of recording, and the X-box will stream play back through the TV. But already I'm seeing a problem ...

When your TV programmes are FILES there's a different psychological relationship to them compared with TAPE. VHS cassettes were something you recorded over and over. You taped a programme watched it, taped over it. Every now and then there would be something you would want to keep - these days it's easy to buy the DVD of the show. An hour of something would tie up a 3 hour tape but you'd just buy more. But with files we're conditioned to Save them, why call them files if you don't, well, file them ? All my instincts also say Keep the Original, and I apply that to still photos so why not video ? Memory cards for photos have got so cheap, I'm seriously considering using memory cards only once (with back-up copies). I can fit all my photos on a 200GB drive, but I can see I'm going to need the same again for the video files which I'm reluctant to delete...

Coping media center's dvr-ms format files to DVD is just not efficient. A disk which would hold 150 minutes of DVD movie might take 2 programmes of 45 minutes and not have room for a third. I could convert to WMV format which makes better use of the space but is time consuming - besides shouldn't video on a DVD disk play on any player ? I've also found what seems to be a bug: if I tidy up the recordings in Movie Maker and burn the results with DVD Maker something strange happens to the aspect ratio, as if the picture has been squeezed from top and bottom. But it takes so long to do the tidying up why not just use the forward button ? So why bother burning DVDs routinely ? It takes time, resources and shelf space, and give the recordings a permanence they weren't supposed to have.

Which brings me back to keeping the files on hard disk, and the method I've been using for the last few years.

  1. Buy a large hard disk.
  2. Spend the next few months filling it
  3. Note how disk sizes have increased since you bought the last one
  4. Repeat from step 1.

I can't help feeling there has to be a better way.

Comments (3)

  1. Anonymous says:

    For some reason media seems to be on my mind at the moment…. The BBC i-player is to go live at the

  2. Chris Warwick says:

    Wow, this struck a chord.  I totally agree with everything you’ve said!  I don’t watch more TV with time-shifting (probably less because there’s no urgency anymore!), I do keep my Freeview recording for longer than I should and wonder whether it’s a good use of my new 250GB mirrored disks?!

    I have the same update strategy on disk space but worry that the upgrades are coming ever more often…

    I think CDs and DVDs as physical artefacts are almost obsolete – I was just thinking earlier today that it can’t be long before software and movies are distributed on SD cards.

    Hadn’t thought of buying new SD cards when I fill them up but it’s certainly an idea…. On the other hand what would I do with the growning collection of (probably unlabelled!) bits of plastic?

    I keep looking longingly at those external SAN boxes but my wallet keeps saying no.  Where will it end?  Like you say, there has to be a better way!


  3. AdamV says:

    +1 for JetPac! definitely my all-time favourite game (except for the ones I programmed myself, UDGs and all, of course)

    It is way too easy to record and store stuff – I already have about 50 hours recorded on my PVR I have owned for only a couple of months, and no idea when I will get round to watching it. Maybe if I move to a desert island, or in some post-apocalyptic world where there is still electricity but no broadcasts (or if a flood takes out the nearest transmitter this week perhaps).

    I too have a gripe with media player. My digital camera takes pretty respectable videos at 640×480 at 30 fps. I often record things my one year old son is doing, which I then edit in Movie Maker on my Vista laptop and put appropriate music over the top for a soundtrack ("I’m Still Standing" or "Walking on Sunshine" for example). When I save out the resulting file I have no control over the resolution and it gets upscaled to 768×576. Of course, upscaling pictures is pretty horrible, and even worse with video. The end result is pretty ropey to say the least. Why can’t it keep the original res or give me choices (if for example I had added clips from various formats and aspect ratios)? Anyone else getting this problem or know of a workaround? It’s nice to get a pretty capable tool in with the OS, but this one element lets it down badly for my purposes.

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