Hard News by Russell Brown

84

Connecting the Box

What with the new channels arriving, I thought I'd better get down to it and install the Freeview decoder yesterday morning. I prepared myself for a lot of mucking about trying to make the MySky and the little Freeview decoder play together, but it turned out to be entirely straightforward.

Not that the support material filled me with confidence. The two pieces of A4 paper that came in the box with the Zinwell indicated I should run the cable from the satellite dish into the Freeview decoder, then "loop out to another receiver". But the "troubleshooting" guide on the Freeview website said: "To connect both a Freeview set-top box and a SKY decoder to one dish you need to use a single power pass splitter and connect the power pass side to the SKY decoder as shown below."

No I didn't. I just screwed the cable into the Freeview box, then out of that (using a handy length of cable that came in the box too) into the MySky, then connected the Freeview box to the TV with the composite video cables and standard audio with RCA plugs. I didn't bother arsing about with the RF aerial lead, which stayed in the back of the MySky. I had to do a soft reboot on the MySky, but after that, everything just worked. They should tell people that.

A replay of the All Blacks' game on TV3 offered a good opportunity to compare the two services. Conclusion: both the video and audio quality are appreciably better on Freeview (which uses MPEG4 rather than MPEG2), and the Freeview electronic programme guide is quite attractive and even offers picture-in-picture while you browse the listings.

Correction: The current Freeview satellite service uses MPEG2, and it will be the terrestrial version launching next year that uses MPEG4. The current different in sound and picture quality is down to Sky using a lower bitrate so it can squeeze more channels into its satellite capacity.

The only downside was that I realised how annoying I find television without a PVR. I don't really understand why Freeview couldn't have anointed a couple of PVR devices along with the vanilla decoders in the shops at the moment. But I gather that's coming.

Installing Freeview was what I did instead of going to the launch of TVNZ's first new Freeview channel, TVNZ 6, at the museum events centre. I did say I was going to go, but they were pushing it a bit having a launch at 9am on the first day of Daylight Saving Time the morning after an All Black test, weren't they?

Speaking of which: although Glenn Anderson's Daylight Saving Time patch thought it had done its job, my new iMac didn't move forward an hour overnight. The other Macs in the household did the adjustment fine, so I wonder if there's something different about these new iMacs. Anyway, I'm living on Samoa time for the next week.

Correction: Oh God I'm an oaf. I forgot that I hadn't restarted my iMac after patching (hey, I was too busy loving it) and it all actually worked fine.

These new iMacs are, let me tell you, very fine. And they seem very good value to me too: there's quite a lot of computer here in one sleek, slender case for $2800 (actually, retail is $3049 if you take 2GB of RAM, which you'd be silly not to, even though that makes it a build-to-order spec, which means you have to wait up to two weeks for your computer).

I got quite excited about how cool Cover Flow looks in iTunes (which gives you the option of downloading all available cover art from an Apple server) on the new screens, and (once I'd sorted out a little software glitch) Leo was struck dumb by the way World of Warcraft looked. The Safari 3.0 beta runs very fast indeed. It looks and feels like a significant step up from the 20" loaner iMac I'd been using.

Or, rather not using, the loan machine having suffered a critical hardware failure and spent the better part of the last two weeks being diagnosed and restored. I was in danger of getting a bit dark on Apple. And then Steve lays this insanely great computer on me, and I wake up and find myself right back at Cult of Mac Central.

Karl from CactusLab brought around his iPhone on Friday, and I can see an obvious connection between the tactile UI on that and Cover Flow -- one that will be further enhanced with the arrival of the Core Animation API in Leopard. I do think they're going somewhere with this stuff.

Anyway, the other reason I wasn't going anywhere early today was that I went to see Blam Blam Blam play at the King's Arms. I was all set to take the easy option and stay in, but my Big Cool Friend picked me up and dropped me off. I'm glad I made the effort; or, rather, that she did.

I always see Blam Blam Blam as our version of one of those art-protest bands they had behind the Iron Curtain, but we got a much better deal than the Russians. Theirs always seemed to be unlistenable theatre bands fronted by bald chaps; we got invigorating agit-pop.

But there's the same sense of music made before the wall came down. Blams songs like 'Blue Belmonts', 'Respect' ("I didn't appreciate that crack about the Prime Minister!") and, of course, 'There is No Depression in New Zealand' are all about the fin de siècle years under Muldoon.

We arrived just as they started, and by the time I'd fought my way to the bar, they were playing 'Thomas is Guilty'. Listening to the lyrics, it occurred to me that the same song today would be about Ahmed Zaoui. Then, when I got back with the drinks, I looked to my right and there, looking slight and rock 'n' roll, was Deborah Manning. I smiled and raised my drink to her.

There was a lot of misspent youth in the room. There was also Barry Jenkin, who raved away madly but looked as fit and well as I've seen him. Not content with owning the Waiheke radio station, he now has a wireless ISP, with 78 customers on the island.

The Blams were great. I think there's a point where people get past any reticence about playing the songs they wrote when they were 20, and just embrace it. Creative people sometimes throw good shapes when they're young; shapes worth revisiting. The songs are still in those odd time signatures, and some still sound like experiments. They certainly didn't just get up and play them like the old days: I recall 'Bystanders', for example, as quite an oblique song, but at the KA they worked it up into a bit of a monster.

I thought it was a big step up from their first public get-together, at the St James a couple of years ago. They've clearly been practising together, and whatever they might have lost in mad youthful energy they pick up in just being able to play their instruments better. I hope they'll continue to pop up every now and then. Because Blam Blam Blam really are a very promising outfit.

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