Friday, March 21, 2008

Further Roxio Toast 9 HD DVD testing: Incompatibilities

I've been doing some more testing of Toast 9's HD DVD creation and have run into a few more issues:

1) I mentioned before that H.264 encoding doesn't work. This continues to be the case.

2) Even with MPEG2 sources, Toast 9 sometimes crashes when making an HD DVD, albeit infrequently. The good news is that Toast 9.0 is more stable than Toast 8.0 was.

3) With MPEG2 sources, even if Toast 9 finishes the burn process, the disc may lock up in certain parts of the video. This is not a media problem, because even if I save the image to the hard disk, playback will lock up in the exact same spot. If I do burn the image to disc, playback will stop in the same spot on both my Toshiba standalone as well as in DVD on my iMac. However, if I start over and make a different encode with same source material, the resultant HD DVD may work fine.

4) My Xbox 360 HD DVD does not like these discs. The disc will load and go to the menu, but I cannot navigate out of the menu to play the content. I tried using both my Logitech Harmony Xbox 360 remote as well as the Xbox 360 controller.

I have not tested Blu-ray because I do not have any Blu-ray playback device at my disposal, and DVD does not work with Blu-ray. I will likely buy a Blu-ray player once there is a Profile 1.1/2.0 player below about $200-250, but I fear that may not be until 2009.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Roxio Toast 9's H.264 encoding doesn't work

I've now installed Roxio Toast 9 Titanium (with the HD/BD Plug-in) and have burned a few HD DVDs on DVD-R. It does work, but with some serious caveats.

1) With the default encoding settings and with the advanced H.264 setting, it doesn't work at all with any of my files. Toast claims there are problems with the source material, but all of them encode to MPEG2 just fine in Toast. Obviously Toast has no problems reading the files. It just can't re-encode them to H.264 for some reason. (All the clips I tested are QuickTime HD files downloaded off Apple's website.)

2) I made my first MPEG2 HD DVD disc on DVD media with the video bitrate set to Toast's maximum of 26 Mbps. It starts to play on both my iMac and my Toshiba HD-A2, but skips on both. It seems to be a problem with the bitrate, in that the iMac's laptop drive and the Toshiba likely can't read the data fast enough off DVD media. If I put the disc into an external Firewire desktop DVD drive, the iMac handles the disc perfectly and playback is smooth. I also tried an 18 Mbps MPEG2 disc, and it still skips on the iMac if I use the internal laptop drive.

What this means for us is that we need to severely limit the bitrate on HD DVDs when using DVD media, for maximum compatibility with some DVD readers. I suspect a reasonable bitrate would be approximately 10-11 Mbps, but unfortunately, this is too low for MPEG2. MPEG2 is too inefficient a codec for good quality hi-definition material at that bitrate. At 10-11 Mbps, H.264 would be greatly preferred, but that is also not an option, since H.264 encoding in Toast does not work properly.

In short, Toast's hi-def disc support is problematic with DVD media at this time. Hopefully these issues will be corrected soon in a software update.

[Update 2008-03-20]

The skipping issue appears to be related to the DVD media type.

My iMac's Pioneer DVR-K06 and my Toshiba HD-A2 do not like Sony +R media (SONYD21). (These were burned as the +R booktype, not -ROM.) At 18 Mbps, both still skip. At 15 Mbps it plays smoothly on the Pioneer, but it still skips on the Toshiba. However, if I use Maxell DVD-R (RITEKF1) it plays perfectly with both machines, even at 26 Mbps.

Unfortunately, MPEG2 uses up too much space, and H.264 encoding still doesn't work properly.

The good news is Roxio is aware of the problem:
We're working on this... but I have authored AVC discs on DVD media.

I'll post an update when we have more information to share, right now we're gathering test files and working on a solution.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Roxio Toast 9 Titanium burns HD DVD & Blu-ray on DVD-R

Roxio's new Toast 9 Titanium has an HD/BD plug-in available to allow it to burn both HD DVD and Blu-ray discs, even on DVD media.
The new HD/BD plug-in for Toast 9 gives users the ability to author high definition video content on to Blu-ray, or even standard DVD discs! Take high-def video footage from AVCHD camcorders, TiVo and EyeTV and create Blu-ray discs that can be played on any standard Blu-ray set top box or Playstation3 game console. Did you invest in HD DVD? The HD/BD Plug-in even supports HD DVD formats and disc players.
This is a very nice addition for those getting into Blu-ray, and those who already have the (now defunct) HD DVD format players. It's now that much easier to play your HD content on your TVs. This is especially true now that standalone HD DVD players (which also make very good upscaling DVD players) can be purchased at a bargain-basement $70, and Xbox 360 HD DVD drives can be purchased for $40 in some places.

Furthermore, Apple's DVD Player application supports limited HD DVD playback, and it's possible that some of these HD discs created in Toast will work in DVD Player. I will do some testing once I have gotten Toast 9 and the plug-in.

[Update 2008-03-19]

Reports are coming in and HD DVD on DVD-R is confirmed to work on Toshiba standalone HD DVD players as well as Apple's DVD Player application. I have not yet seen confirmation about compatibility of Blu-ray burned on DVD, but hopefully some reports will surface soon. I was under the impression that Blu-ray formatted discs needed AACS to be fully compliant with the Blu-ray specification, but I am not clear on that. For this reason it would be good to have reports from more than just the Sony PlayStation 3.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Apple captures 25% dollar share for US computer sales

Reports state that new NPD numbers have Apple's total personal computer unit share hitting 14% in the US market in February 2008, an enormous jump over February 2007. Even more impressive is Apple's 25% dollar share last month. It would appear that Apple's iPod (or iPhone) halo is continuing to do its job, and well.

AAPL closed up $6.09 today to $132.82, an increase of 4.8% (which reflected the 4.2% rise in the Nasdaq and S&P 500, with the Fed's 0.75% rate cut).