Goldfrapp DVD surprisingly good

I bought the Limited Edition Goldfrapp Supernature CD/DVD set because I figured there would be enough on it to satisfy the rabid Goldfrapp fan. I wasn’t expecting much, as I had heard that it would have a documentary and an animation on it. Then they announced there would be a 5.1 mix of the album as well, but I really didn’t think much of it.

The documentary and the animation (basically an animated video for Fly Me Away) were decent, but that only really accounts for a bit more than 15 minutes of fun. What really impressed me though was the album portion of the DVD. This part includes three different audio tracks, an uncompressed LPCM stereo track, a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital mix and a 5.1 channel DTS mix.

Just the LPCM track is a bit better than the CD getting a bit more depth from being at 48khz, but what was really impressive was the DTS mix. I’ve heard lots of people rave about the quality of DTS sound for movie DVDs, but I really hadn’t noticed a significant difference before, other than a bit more dynamic range. And I ‘d also heard 5.1 mixes of album tracks, but they tended to be afterthoughts where they applied some echo to the rear channels and mixed only vocals to the center track, nothing really exceptional.

But the 5.1 DTS mix of Supernature is very impressive. The sound quality, dynamic range and depth is really quite amazing, and it’s clear that they actually did a real bottom up 5.1 mix of the album, not just some reprocessing of it after the fact. It might also have something to do with the bandwidth they gave it also. A typical DTS soundtrack for a movie tops out at around 768kbps. This mix is given 1536kbps to work with.

If you’ve got a 5.1 DTS system, I highly recommend the Limited Edition DVD of this album to give your ears a real treat.

Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy?

The Louisiana National Guard is limited in their response to one of the largest hurricanes to hit the US because most of them are in Iraq.

Residents were forced to wait in the rain for up to six hours to get into the Superdome because Homeland Security was doing full screening of those seeking shelter. I can understand some amount of screening, but hours long delays is just nutty.

Happy Birthday Lien Chan

Today when we went to dinner it was hard getting a Taxi near our house because our lane and the main street were packed with parked cars. Then once we got one and got out to the front of the hotel at the end of our lane we saw there were a lot of TV broadcast trucks out in front. We figured there must be some special event there tonight. Later as we came back just now, almost 11pm, we passed by the front of the Landis Hotel, we saw the broadcast trucks were still there, and there was a large bank of cameras arrayed outside the front door. So we were curious why they would have so many TV cameras at our hotel.

When we came back, we turned on the TV and found out that it was the birthday party of Lien Chan, former ROC vice president, two time (losing) presidential candidate and until earlier this month chairman of the KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party). Of course there were also lots of other KMT heavyweights there including Taipei Mayor and current KMT Chair Ma Ying-jiu, former vice chairman Wang Jin-ping and lots of others. Apparently Lien Chan likes the french restaurant at the Landis. It has a great reputation, but we’ve never eaten at the French restaurant there because it typically runs more than $100 a person. I’m a frequent customer at their bakery though. Their French bread and Pain au Chocolat are wonderful. Anyways, kinda weird seeing the top story of the night be the party at the end of our lane.

Heads Up: US Trip Tentative Plans

Maggie, Emily and I are finalizing our plans for a trip to CA. Our current tentative plans look like this:

September 15: Arrive SFO late afternoon

September 21 (approx): Drive to SB

October 3 (approx): Drive back to San Jose

October 6: Leave SFO Evening

Now’s your chance to look at your schedules if you want to meet up with us during this time. I will post further details once we hear back from a few people and actually buy tickets.

Nice people are everywhere

It’s pretty common on web sites for ex-pats in Taiwan to see a lot of complaints about the behavior of Taiwanese people. And actually I’ve seen some bad examples of this myself. But I’ve also seen plenty of examples of kind and considerate Taiwanese people.

Today we decided to go down to the Dajia Wharf park along the Keelung (Jilong) river. This is the area along the river in north Zhongshan district. It’s a fairly good distance from our house, but we decided to walk the whole way there. Unfortunately by the time we arrived, dark clouds had formed, lightning and thunder started up, and before we could actually do anything, it started pouring down rain. And we had also arrived pretty much unprepared for such an event.

We quickly walked across the field to the parking lot and huddled under a tree while Maggie tried to call a taxicab to come pick us up. (Normally it’s only a matter of going out to the street and lifting up your arm to get a taxi within a minute or too, but there weren’t any to be found in the park, and the traffic jam of cars trying to get out was probably preventing any from coming in.)

The rain was coming down hard enough that the tree was not providing a whole lot of cover. Just then a guy drove up and handed an umbrella out the window to us and then drove off even as we were thanking him profusely, just waving his hand out the window to us. Umbrellas are fairly inexpensive here, only about US$3 or so, but at such a time it was a most wonderful gift.

By this time, Maggie was having troubles with her cell phone, so since we had an umbrella, we started walking towards a main street where we were more likely to get a taxi. We had made it almost to the exit road when a small bus pulled up and opened the door for us. The bus regularly makes two stops in the park, but since it was raining, the driver was going around and picking up stranded pedestrians like us, and not just stopping at the designated bus stops.

The bus driver asked us (and each group of people he picked up) where we wanted to go. The bus route went near our home, and the bus driver offered to drop us off at the nearest intersection to our house, again not at an official bus stop, and even waited for the light to change before dropping us off so we wouldn’t need to stand in the rain long.

These may be simple gestures, but they certainly brightened our day in what otherwise would have been a miserable experience. Thanks to the donation of an umbrella, and a friendly and helpful bus driver, while we arrived home in soaked clothes, we were still happy that such kind people took time to help us out.

Converting DVDs to audio files

A few days ago sylphon mentioned trying to extract audio files from a DVD. I had been thinking of doing the same thing, but really hadn’t looked into it at all. I have a few concert DVDs that I’d like to listen to on my iPod or in iTunes without having to actually watch the DVD. At least for most concert DVDs, the music is still quite entertaining without the video.

sylphon had mentioned trying a program called “DVD Audio Ripper” but said there were some drawbacks with it. Unfortunately there are more than half a dozen programs with “DVD Audio Ripper” in the name. Going through the ones I found, they all annoyed me in various ways. I know that I’m a very picky person (or as I prefer to say, I have very high standards), but some of these programs were really awful.

This kind of takes me back to the mid-90s when digital audio on computers was still a fairly esoteric and difficult thing to do. I remember first hearing about it at the LISA 1995 conference where someone from (I think) Bell Labs was streaming audio between home and work. Sometime after that, I discovered the Fraunhofer mp2 encoder (this was before the mp3 standard was finalized) and a program that could read CDDA off of Audio CDs.

This stuff all came as source code that you had to compile yourself and were all controlled on the command line. I put a wrapper around them so that I could copy the tracks one by one, then it would ask me for the Album, Artist and Track names. This was before ID3 tags were invented, so this information was put only in the directory and file names for the tracks. Encoding a CD would take a few hours, given the CPU power of the time. Playback was also with command line programs. It was, to put it mildly, quite clunky.

Later we got CDDB which allowed us to get Artist/Album/Track info automatically, ID3 tags that allowed embedding that information inside the file itself, as well as improved compression algorithms like MP3, OGG, and AAC. Nowadays iTunes makes it so easy that you can set it to automatically rip a CD after it is inserted and eject when done. All you have to do is keep feeding it CDs. And most computers are fast enough to rip a CD in around 10-15 minutes at most. But it wasn’t until relatively recently that things were so easy.

So these DVD Audio Rippers take me back to the time in the late 90s where GUI based CD Rippers existed but were still limited in features, and clunky to use. One of the ones I tried didn’t even allow you to split things up by chapters, and most of them made things way more difficult that it had to be. A few of them were almost adequate, but not quite.

The critical feature I was missing though was the ability to rip at the native DVD 48khz sampling rate. CDs use 44.1khz 16 bit PCM stereo, while DVDs with uncompressed audio typically use 48khz 16 bit PCM stereo. (DVDs can also go up to 96khz 24 bit sampling, but those are uncommon.) If you’re going to want to put something onto CD, then you’ll want 44.1khz. Otherwise, keeping it at 48khz is better, and most sound cards and portable players support 48khz just fine.

I’m not sure why these programs insist on converting to 44.1khz by default, or why they either ignore it or produce broken files if you set it to 48khz, but the fact is that none of those I tried were able to correctly implement this fairly basic feature.

Then after some more searching, I came across DVD Audio Extractor. This program was fairly simple and straightforward to use, and it produced working 48khz audio files split by chapter without jumping through hoops. My two complaints are that it is a bit slow unless you bump the thread priority up on the encoding screen, and it doesn’t automatically get title/artist/track names. Since there is no CDDB analogue for DVDs that I know of, the latter limitation is certainly not their fault.

One of the really nice things about it is that they let you download a demo that is completely unlocked with all features activated for you to try for 30 days. That’s very generous, compared to other similar products. It certainly makes me feel comfortable that it will meet my needs before I fork over the cash.

I’ve now ripped a couple of concert DVDs, first ripping to WAV, then importing to iTunes, converting to AAC and then adding the title/artist/track info manually. It will also rip to MP3 or OGG format, but I prefer iTunes’ AAC encoding. It’s still a bit of work, but until there’s a central repository of DVD track metadata, this is about as simple as possible.

If you do decide to buy DVD Audio Extractor, please come back and use this link to do so and I’ll get a small commission. (In case you are wondering whether this influenced this review, I was going to write this up anyways but noticed that they have an affiliate program. If you are still worried that I was biased, then try it yourself free for 30 days.)