Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for the ‘Digital Video’ Category

8088 Domination

Posted by Trixter on June 17, 2014

A few days ago, I debuted 8088 Domination at @party 2014, which is an official sequel to 8088 Corruption that I made 10 years earlier. Like the former, 8088 Domination displays full-motion color video with audio on a 1981 IBM PC with CGA, a Sound Blaster, and any hard drive — but, unlike the former, Domination uses full graphics mode whereas Corruption used only text mode. This is significant because graphics mode requires 8x more memory and processing, and I had to combine a lot of creative and technical disciplines in order to pull it off.

Here is a capture of 8088 Domination running directly off of my IBM PC 5160; video is the composite CGA output signal, and audio is from a Sound Blaster Pro 2.0.

I am working on a postmortem write-up so you can all learn how I did it, but until then, download the party version at https://www.scene.org/file.php?file=%2Fparties%2F2014%2Fatparty14%2Fdemo_oldschool%2F8088_domination_party_version.zip&fileinfo if you’d like to run it on your own vintage hardware.

PS: A second round of thanks to Great Hierophant, for without whom I wouldn’t have been able to show off my production. He provided the hardware locally that I was unwilling to ship across the country.

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Programming, Vintage Computing | 15 Comments »

I grow tired of the technologically ignorant

Posted by Trixter on February 29, 2012

(This post is overly subjective, more opinionated than my usual efforts, and contains some cussing.  Consider yourself warned.)

I am sick and tired of people who shun technology and progress under the guise of “I’m an old tech veteran, I’ve been working with technology for 30 years, and the new stuff is crap compared to the old stuff.”  People who defend this viewpoint are idiots.  I’m not talking about audiophiles or other self-delusional “prosumers”; I’m talking about people who have worked a tech trade or had hands-on access to technology for many years and think that their perceptions trump reality.  It’s a perverse combination of technology and anti-intellectualism — a form of hipsterism for the over-40 set.

I was prompted to cover this by a recent post on why widescreen monitors are a rip-off (which I will not link to because I truly enjoy the other 99% of this person’s blog, and linking to it would imply that I don’t like him or his site), but the underlying irritation of the entire mindset has been percolating for many years.  Viewpoints that drive me crazy include:

Widescreen monitors don’t make any sense

People think that widescreen monitors are stupid on laptops because most people use laptops for text work, and since text is more comfortable to read in columns, wide columns are harder to read.  This mindset has had the doubly idiotic result of making people think that websites need to be column-limited.  I just love going to a website and having the text squished into a 640-pixel-wide column with 75% of the screen unused.  Don’t like how narrow columns look on a widescreen monitor?  Use the extra space however you want — put up two web pages side by side, or simply don’t look at the unused space.  It’s people like these that also complain that 4:3 video has black bars on either side of it when viewed on a widescreen TV.  It’s called pillarboxing, you idiot, and it’s there to prevent your movie from looking like a funhouse mirror.

Widescreen monitors have made modern laptops better.  A widescreen laptop monitor allows the keyboard to be wider without the depth of the laptop getting too high (to support the height of a 4:3 monitor).  Having a decent keyboard on a laptop used to be impossible without clever wacky engineering tricks; now it is.  Widescreen monitors made ultra-small netbooks possible, so if you’re reading this on a netbook but somehow still disagree with me, you’re a hypocrite.

Analog audio is better than digital

There are entire websites (and wikipedia pages) dedicated to this, usually under the guise of “vinyl is better than CD”.  Most opinions on this subject were formed when analog audio had several decades of mature mastering and production processes, and digital was brand-new (for example vinyl vs. CD in 1983).  Early efforts to put things on CD resulted in some less-than-stellar A/D conversion, which created a type of distortion that most people weren’t used to hearing.  People formed opinions then that have perservered more than 25 years later, even though the technology has gotten much better and all of the early mastering problems have long since been corrected.

People who think vinyl sounds better than CD have nostalgia blinders on.  They bought an album in their youth, played it endlessly, loved it.  Then they buy the same album on CD decades later and condemn the entire format as inferior because it sounds different.  Want to know why it sounds different?  It has a wider frequency range, lacks rumble, lacks hiss, sounds exactly the same after 10+ playbacks, and was remastered with better technology and mixing conditions under the guidance and approval of the original artist when he wasn’t coked or drunk or stoned out of his mind.  People like Pete Townsend, Neil Young and Geddy Lee not only approve of the latest digital technology but are actively utilizing it and going through great pains to remaster their classic albums with it.  People are missing the point that it is the mastering and digital compression that causes issues, not the technology itself.  Neil Young recently spoke at a conference where he damned digital music, but not because it is digital — rather, because it is delivered differently than the artists intended.  Neil Young would like nothing better than for everyone to be able to listen to his music at 24/192.  Can’t do that on vinyl, bitches.

Even people who write about the loudness war get it wrong, despite that it’s an easy concept to understand.  Massive dynamic compression drowns out subtle details and can add distortion, which is horrible — but it is not exclusive to digital audio, nor caused by it.  One author correctly notes that massive dynamic compression butchers mixes, but then subtlety implies that all CDs that “clip” have distorted audio.  Digital audio “clips” only if you drive the signal beyond its digital limits.  If you took an audio waveform and normalized it such that the highest peak reached exactly the highest value, it is “positioned at maximum volume”, not clipped.  Nothing is lost (to be fair, nothing is gained either).

The problem is the mastering and production process, not the technology.  Which segues nicely into:

“I will never buy Blu-ray”

The only valid argument against Blu-ray is that it is harder to make a backup copy of the content.  It is indeed harder than it is for DVD, or laserdisc, or videotape.  That is it.  All other arguments are beyond moronic.  Even the cheapest possible 1080p HDTV viewing setup has five times the resolution of DVD and lacks signal degradation in the output path.  If you view a Blu-ray and can’t tell the difference between it and DVD, you have either a shitty viewing setup, a shitty Blu-ray, or a shitty visual cortex.

Someone recently tried to argue with me that DVDs have the same or better picture than Blu-ray and used Robocop as an example.  The comparison was weighted, as they were comparing the $9 Blu-ray that MGM belched out when Blu-ray was only a year old to the Criterion DVD treatment.  I own both, so I checked them out and I agree that the DVD has better color tonality throughout the film.  However, the Blu-ray thoroughly stomped the DVD in every single other area, most obviously resolution.  So much picture detail is added by the increase in resolution that I actually prefer it despite the lack of Criterion oversight.

The real problem, as previously stated, is how the mastering and preproduction process was handled.  Even with new 2012 DVD releases, you can still see the “loudness war” video equivalent of digital ringing, which used to be an accident but was later introduced on purpose as part of a misguided “sharpening” step.  Listen up:  Any sharpening filter added to any signal doesn’t make things sharper; it makes them appear sharper by overlaying a high-frequency permutation signal over the original content, which increases the acutance.  Quality is actually lost when you do this, as the high-frequency info obscures actual picture detail.

This is another example of perception vs. reality, which not coincidentally also segues into:

“Computing was better in the old days”

I love retrocomputing as a hobby.  I think about it nearly every day; this blog was partially created to talk about vintage computing.  But even I wouldn’t say that things were better in the old days.  People who say this don’t realize they are really trying to say something else.  For example, people who say that “BBSes were better than web forums are today” are actually referring to the sociological fact that, when you communicated with people on a BBS, you were communicating with people who met a minimum level of technical competence — because, if they hadn’t, they would have been too stupid to access a BBS, let alone be proficient with a computer.  The overall technological quality level of everyone you met on a BBS in the 1980s was higher than other places, like a laundromat or a bar.  What such people fail to consider is that modern web boards, while having a higher quotient of trolls and B1FFs, are open to the entire world.  The massive scale of humanity you can encounter on even a tiny niche topic is levels of magnitude higher than it used to be.  The sheer scale of information and interaction you can now achieve is staggering, and completely outweighs any minor niggle that you have to deal with 3 or 4 more asshats per day now.

Here’s another example:  “Computer games were better back in the old days.”  This is wrong.  The proper thing to say is that “Some computer game genres were better back in the old days.”  I can get behind that.  For example, graphics were so terrible (or non-existent!) at the birth of computer gaming that entire industries sprang up focusing on narrative.  For such genres (mainly adventure games), several times more effort was put into the story than other genres.  As technology and audiences changed over time, such genres morphed and combined until they no longer resembled their origins.  That doesn’t mean modern games are terrible; it just means that you need to shop around to get what you’re looking for your entertainment.  Don’t play Uncharted 2 expecting a fantastic story with engaging narrative.  (Dialog, maybe, not not narrative.)  Heck, some genres are genuinely awesome today compared to 30 years ago.  For example, Portal and Portal 2 are technically puzzle games, but the storytelling in them — despite never interacting directly with a human — is among the very best I’ve ever encountered.

About the only argument that does work involves the complexity of older computers — they were simpler, and you could study them intensely until you could very nearly understand every single circuit of the board, nuance of the video hardware, and opcode of the CPU.  Today, a complete understanding of a computer is no longer possible, which probably explains why Arduino sets and Raspberry Pi are getting so much attention.


I have no conclusion.  Stop being an old-fogey anti-intellectual technophobe, you ignorant hipster fuck.

Posted in Digital Video, Entertainment, Sociology, Technology, Vintage Computing | 10 Comments »

MindCandy Volume 3’s First Review

Posted by Trixter on November 30, 2011

Blu-ray.com gave MindCandy Volume 3 a Recommended rating with 4 out of 5 stars, and I couldn’t be happier.  I really respect blu-ray.com’s reviews for their specific coverage of picture quality, sound quality, and extras — the things that blu-ray massively improves on over DVD — so getting a good rating from them means a lot to me.  Picture Quality got a 5 out of 5, of course :-)

One of the things we got dinged on was the audio rating (3 out of 5), not because the sound was bad, but because the audio tracks weren’t lossless.  I agree lossless audio would have been best, but we couldn’t use lossless because of a technical limitation in Adobe Encore.  Encore had trouble dealing with .wav files over 2gig, which was the original RIFF .WAV format’s limitation (the W64 and RF64 extensions to .wav have overcome this, but Encore doesn’t support them).  At 3.5 hours of stereo audio @ 48KHz @ 24-bit resolution, a lossless track is 3.6gig.  I ran into odd random problems trying to use lossless 24-bit audio, but had no problems at all using Dolby AC3 audio.  So I chose the devil I knew.

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 6 Comments »

MindCandy Volume 3 Is Now Available

Posted by Trixter on November 22, 2011

After 4 years of hard work and many setbacks, I’m very pleased to announce that MindCandy Volume 3 is finally available.

The official launch date is December 6th, however the first shipments will be going out to people who pre-ordered as early as Friday of this week.  You can order directly from us, from a reseller in your hemisphere, or from Amazon.

I’d like to thank the entire MindCandy crew past and present for getting “that  demodvd project” to this point.  From capturing some clips of a Capacala demo in 1996, to a professional Blu-ray in 2011 with over 3.5 hours of demos and 7 hours of extras, it’s been a long great ride.

And special thanks to my family, for putting up with me and my hobby :-)

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 12 Comments »

MindCandy Volume 3 sent to replicators

Posted by Trixter on October 14, 2011

After 3+ years of setbacks, MindCandy 3 was sent to the replicators ths morning.  Assuming there are no further issues, we should be shipping at the end of the month!

Update: As corrected by Dan, pre-orders before Black Friday and launch in December.  Assuming no problems at the replicator, of course.

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 6 Comments »

Blu-ray media size mismatches

Posted by Trixter on October 3, 2011

This weekend, I finished the second (and hopefully final) Blu-ray release candidate for MindCandy 3.  (The DVD-9 is already final.)  Some major tweaks involved normalizing the audio across the entire thing, and a minor tweak was to re-encode the main video at a higher quality, so it could grow larger, so it would need to be split across layers, so that the disc is more compatible with old hardware players (it seems that if you’re going to do a layer break on a Blu-ray, it should be in the largest file, as there is apparently a minimum acceptable filesize for the break).  The size of the disc grew to about 46GiB, but since a Blu-ray is 46.6GiB, we were still under (by a hair).

Well, imagine my surprise when I tried to burn it to my rewritable test disc and saw this:

Considering our premastering tool is highly accurate, and hadn’t shown any errors when I was premastering the project, this was confusing.  Fifteen minutes of research didn’t pull up anything concrete other than someone claiming that BD-RE discs take a few hundred meg as “reserve space”, whatever that means.

Rather than trust tha interwebz, I decided to check the media sizes of my rewritable BD-RE DL (50G) disc, and a regular BD-R DL (50G) blank using the media information window of ImgBurn.  Results:

BD-RE DL: Sectors: 23,652,352, Size: 48,440,016,896 bytes
BD-R DL:  Sectors: 24,438,784, Size: 50,050,629,632 bytes

Well look at that:  A rewritable dual-layer blu-ray has nearly 1.5 gig less available space than a regular blank.

Now you know!

Posted in Digital Video, MindCandy | Leave a Comment »

MPEG-2 Encoding, The OCD Way

Posted by Trixter on September 17, 2011

Remember that AssemblyTV advert that said we would ship MindCandy 3 in September?  We won’t, because we found several bugs in the first release candidate that we’re fixing.  In one instance, a Samsung BD-P1000 (a very early player) wouldn’t even get to the main menu!  So we’re going back and doing more compatibility fixes and testing, and adding a few missing features along the way (like pop-up menus for the NVScene talks).  We should be shipping in October.

However, with the Blu-ray build taking several hours at a time to test changes, I have some time to concentrate on the DVD (and write blog posts).  Let’s talk about MPEG-2 encoders.

Ever wonder what the very best MPEG-2 encoder is?  Each have different strengths, parameters, quantization matrices, sensitivity to noise, and so on.  There’s no way to see which one is best for your source footage until you try one.  So you may be tickled to know that we tested pretty much every single Windows encoder that someone claimed to produce decent results (with the exception of ProCoder, which kept crashing on my rig, which is a shame since I recall it produced great output).  A few months ago, I prepared the then-current 480i version of the main timeline, a thoroughly interlaced 3h29m27s 30i video.  I made an avisynth wrapper for it that presented itself as a YV12 colorspace format (what MPEG-2 uses) and fed it to several encoders, each set to the same average bitrate (4.7 mbit/s) and set to DVD-compliant settings.  I then ran the encoded results through the MSU Video Quality Measurement Tool and concentrated on five metrics:

  • SSIM (the metric x264 uses)
  • 3SSIM (a modified version of SSIM)
  • VQM (a metric that exploits the DCT to simulate human visual perception)
  • PSNR (older, depreciated)
  • The color results of PSNR (U and V components) since the previous four only looked at luminance (Y)

Finally, I took the average metric score for all 376642 frames, stuck everything in a spreadsheet, and color-coded each from green (most similar to the original input file) to red (farthest):

Encoder Notable Configuration Parameters Average SSIM (Y) Average 3SSIM (Y) Average VQM (Y) Average PNSR (Y) Average PSNR (UV) Average PNSR (U) Average PNSR (V)
CCE SP3 CBR 4.7mbit/s (intentionally bad) 0.9562 0.95988 1.14252 34.36616 39.05231063 38.9542 38.53384
Adobe Media Encoder CS5 Quality 5, max render depth 0.96163 0.96772 1.00816 36.35463 39.09635214 39.8727 39.42966
CCE SP3 default settings 0.96511 0.96949 1.01146 36.45595 39.00388083 39.41969 38.96111
HcEnc 0.26 9-bit DC, defaults 0.96355 0.97021 0.98358 36.63967 38.966577 39.57915 39.15758
CCE SP3 10-bit DC, CG1 matrix, no filters, Q16 0.96428 0.97053 1.03151 36.72093 38.86613 39.32893 38.8701
CCE SP3 9-bit DC, CG1 matrix, no filters, Q16 0.96446 0.97075 1.02869 36.75945 38.788335 39.33256 38.87439
TMPGEnc 5 9-bit DC, defaults 0.96324 0.97108 0.9676 36.93709 38.630765 39.53456 39.12228
QuEnc 0.72 9-bit DC, all quality settings on (slow) 0.96679 0.97581 0.9007 38.36719 37.93311 38.11264 37.75358

Some interesting things can be noted from these results (keep in mind that my source is a noise-free, digitally clean, computer-generated video):

  • Adobe Media Encoder, which uses MainConcept’s engine, clearly uses PSNR as its comparison metric when optimizing 2-pass encodes (unfortunately, PSNR is not a good metric to optimize to, which is why it doesn’t do well in the metrics that actually matter like SSIM and 3SSIM, and why it looks worse visually)
  • CinemaCraft readily sacrifices color accuracy during a CBR encode, presumably to fit the target bitrate better and try to preserve as much luminance as it can.
  • CinemaCraft’s default settings produce, for it, the best SSIM metric.  All attempts to make it better by me (10-bit DC precision vs. 9-bit, different matrices, different filter settings, etc.) actually made it worse.

The subjective viewing quality of each of these results was mostly in-line with the technical results with one exception:  The QuEnc output was noticably worse than its SSIM score above would suggest.  It’s hard to explain without showing individual frames as comparison, but there was just something in QuEnc’s output that made it feel worse to the viewer than the others.  The PSNR metrics confirm that somewhat.  I think I must have made a mistake somewhere along the way with my testing of the QuEnc encoder, so I mentally ignored it when making my comparisons.

So which one did we end up using?  To understand that, you should understand my motivation.  I have a history of using psychology in most of my projects to gain a slight edge with my target audience wherever I can:  I chose nerd-familiar material for 8088 Corruption, I played virt’s rickroll composition during my presentation of MONOTONE, the contribution point reward system in MobyGames was my idea, etc.  So while TMPGEnc produced the best overall results in subjective user observations across the entire video, we went with CinemaCraft SP.  Why?  CinemaCraft SP allows you to skew the bitrate for any number of user-defined sections.  I used this feature to ensure perfect visual quality for the very first and last demo in the timeline.  Start strong and finish strong.

Posted in Digital Video, MindCandy | 4 Comments »

MindCandy: What’s taking so damn long?

Posted by Trixter on May 24, 2011

Work on MindCandy 3 continues, and I wouldn’t be posting something if the end wasn’t firmly in sight.  After three years, it is 99% finished and the end really is in sight.  Here’s the status:

  • All the demos, intros, NVScene footage, production notes, and easter eggs are completely finished and through production.  (And the blu-ray footage looks absolutely stunning.)
  • All the group commentary is in, except for the very last one which I hope will come through because it’s pretty important in my opinion, but I’m not going to wait until MekkaSymposiumBreakpointRevision 2018 to get it.  (edit: we got it!)
  • Our cover is done, another masterpiece from fthr.  Our booklet is 95% done.
  • I dusted the cobwebs off my Cinema 4D knowledge and put together an intro animation for the disc.  (Just a 15-second abstract thing, mind you, but it’s better than being dumped unceremoniously into the main menu without so much as a how-do-you-do.)  I also did some background drone and foley for it — shocking, I know!  Don’t be too impressed; I used loops.
  • The blu-ray is finished authoring, which was an arduous process because Adobe Encore is so damn buggy.  Phoenix did some great menus given the limitations we had to work with.  I had to start over from scratch a few times, and even then there are some bugs which will just have to stay in.

If things are looking so rosy, why are there still about 8 weeks left before you can hold this masterpiece in your hands?  One word:


At my most maximum speed, typing between 90-100 wpm with a clear understanding of what is being said, it takes at best 4x realtime to subtitle what people are saying on the commentary.  Because there is a mixture of accents and varying degrees of being able to speak English, this can take as much as 10x realtime.  And you can only do about an hour of it before your hands start to cramp up.  So let’s do some math:  If it takes, say, 7x realtime on average to subtitle, and we have 4 hours to subtitle (main feature+intro featurette+production notes), it would take one person about 28 solid hours to complete the subtitling.  I have about 90 minutes a day to do subtitling, from my train ride back home from work where I can get a good seat and fall into a groove, to free time during evenings.  Still, that means the soonest I can get done is about 18 days (2.5 weeks!) from now.

Luckily, I have some weekend time too, and other members of the group are taking chunks, so hopefully we’ll be done in less than 2 weeks.

I hate subtitling.  I really, really hate it, especially since you are creating subtitles for something that should never be watched without audio in the first place (these are demos for goodness sakes!).  But because we have an international audience, and that audience may not understand English all that well, we are going through this ordeal for you, the customer.  All praise attention to detail!  All hail the customer!

I haven’t thought about who is going to do the translation of the subtitles, which is unfortunately going to extend time even further.  Maybe we’ll only offer English subtitles.  I really don’t want to delay MindCandy 3 beyond Assembly — I want it to be ready by Assembly.  Which is also the reason I’m not going to subtitle the additional TEN HOURS of NVScene 2008 footage, even though it is hard to understand sometimes.  I’m sorry, but really, do you want MindCandy 3 to be delayed until the end of the year for subtitling?

Enjoy a frame from the opening anim:

Posted in Demoscene, Digital Video, Entertainment, MindCandy | 3 Comments »


Posted by Trixter on February 13, 2011

I have free time to work on a single project at a time, and that project this weekend has been MindCandy.  (We’re very close to a test disc (yay!) — minus subtitles.  Subtitling 4 hours of multi-speaker dialog is a massive chore, multiplied by the number of languages you want to have, so we’re strongly considering not doing subtitles.)  But if I had time to work on multiple projects simultaneously?  I’ve always wanted to produce videos about classic hardware and games, 99% centered on the PC/DOS platforms of the 1980s.  Imagine how happy I am to have discovered the following people:

Lazy Game Reviews – Produces 10-minute reviews on both hardware and games, with a touch of humor and lots of footage captured from the real hardware whenever possible.  The Carmageddon review in particular is perfection, having been captured from a real 3Dfx card and with meaningful illustrations of gameplay, including some accurate history of the development of the game.  His Youtube channel is easier to navigate past shows, but the blip.tv channel earns him a modicum of cash and has better quality video, so… choose.

Ancient DOS Games – While LGR covers the gamut of classic personal computers and gaming, Ancient DOS Games covers only DOS games, and the thoroughness and attention to detail is astounding.  Features like tips and tricks on how to play the game, recommending the best graphics mode or DOSBOX settings per game, noticing what the framerate of the game is and how it affects gameplay, and even a comparison of dithering methods in Thexder and whether or not they were effective — these are all OCD traits that I would have put into my own coverage of the material.  His fly-outs are pixel-art amusing.

Those guys are doing such an amazing job that I really don’t see the need for me to do so.  The both of them combined equals a quality of work that I can’t see myself improving upon, which not only makes me very happy, but frees me up to work on other projects.  Check them out, dammit!

PS: I found I have a true doppleganger over on tumblr.  We have very much in common — moreso were I lesbian.

Posted in Digital Video, Entertainment, Gaming, MindCandy, Vintage Computing | 3 Comments »

Soundcard Museum flythrough

Posted by Trixter on July 17, 2010

MindCandy work is on hiatus for three weeks while we wait to see what magic Assembly 2010 produces, so I thought I’d try to learn Adobe Production Premium CS5 a little better with my free time.  A few hours with Premiere, Photoshop, After Effects, Soundbooth, and Media Encoder produced this little HD 1080p beauty:
It’s a 2D photograph extruded to 3D (although the 3D effect is very subtle) and rotated/panned/zoomed around a bit.  It shows one of my shelves that has soundcards stacked on it destined to be properly showcased on my upcoming Sound Card Museum.  Cards shown in the video include:
  • Sound Blaster Pro
  • Sound Blaster 16 ASP
  • Adlib Gold
  • Covox Speech Thing
  • IBM Music Feature
  • Pro Audio Spectrum 16
  • Pro Audio Studio 16 (Same as PAS but with different software)

I’ve written about my plans for the Soundcard Museum before.  Like MobyGames and MindCandy, it’s a project that gets me excited every time I think about it.

Posted in Digital Video, MindCandy, Vintage Computing | 4 Comments »