NZ's cheapest price on 4GB iPod Nano's

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 16-Dec-2007 14:06

If you're after one of these for Xmas then today is your lucky day!

Right now on Ferrit these are available from Hill & Stewart for $218 incl free shipping. That's a deal that's hard to beat! I have no idea how long this price will last for so it would pay to get in now!

Vista's annoying DRM

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 5-Dec-2007 09:56

I've been using Vista Ultimate as my PVR/HTPC machine for several months now after upgrading it from XP Pro. I run GB-PVR as my main PVR application and use this for all my TV recordings.

One thing I had been meaning to do for some time however was hook my PC up to my amp for 5.1 audio, I had this hooked up previously but when I changed motherboards I had not got around to making a SDDIF output cable to hook up to the motherboard pinout as my motherboard had no external connector.

My aim was to have both 5.1 and 2ch PCM stereo output via SPDIF and stereo audio simultaneously output via the 3.5mm line out which is hooked up to my TV. This means I can hear the audio my TV without running it through the amp but also allows me to turn on my amp for full 5.1 or 2ch stereo audio when I'm playing a DVD. This is easily done under XP but Vista is another story.

After spending numerous hours playing with my system configuration I did a quick Google search to find that this can't be done under Vista with a Realtek audio chipset. Infact it can't be done with most soundcards. Microsoft have changed Vista so that it's only possible to output via SPDIF and analogue simultaneously if you want stereo PCM from both. It is not possible to have a 5.1 feed via SPDIF and 2ch PCM stereo via analogue. This is one of the great new DRM "features" built into Vista that MS didn't tell is about!

So now I'm stuck unable to do what I want to do which I don't believe is an unreasonable configuration for anybody who uses a Vista machine as a HTPC/PVR. I don't always want to turn my amp on to watch a simple TV show and am happy with my TV's audio for many shows.

My only option is to find a cheap SPDIF->analogue converter so I can split the SPDIF feed both into my amp and adapter which will give me a stereo analogue feed. Unfortunately these aren't cheap. Even better would be for MS to fix this "bug" and restore the configuration that has worked for years but I don't see this happening. They dropped their pants for the motion picture and music industries to impose tough DRM and don't seem to care how these can affect end users.

Oh no it's the return of the Christmas Carol

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 1-Dec-2007 08:50

If you're a a retail outlet and want my business in the leadup to xmas then steer clear of the carols.

I guarantee I'll be walking out of your shop at the hint of away in a manger and will support stores who are interested in keeping their customers and not scaring them away! :-)

NZ Government announced analogue TV shutoff date

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 29-Nov-2007 17:35

Broadcasting minister Trevor Mallard today announced that analogue TV broadcasts in NZ will end within the next 6 to 10 years and expects a switch off date to be announced by 2012. This means that your existing TV will need either a DVB-T (terrestrial) or DVB-S (satellite) set top box to continue watching TV broadcasts after this date.

There has already been misguided comments by the media today that your current TV will become worthless which is not the case. Any existing TV will still continue to function after the analogue shut off however you will not be able to receive TV broadcasts without a STB that's compatible with Freeview, Sky or TelstraClear (or whoever else is around in 10 years time!) Within the next couple of years expect virtually every flat screen TV that launches in the market to have a built in DVB-T tuner that will receive the Freeview service using a standard UHF aerial so an additional STB will not be required.

Is Tone Magazine impartial?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 24-Nov-2007 07:00

I find Tone Magazine an interesting read. It's the only magazine of it's type in NZ focussing on home theatre, audio and other g33ky toys and I've found the quality of their articles to generally be very good over the years.

That was until this this month.

Tone have apparently done their homework and asked a few techy audiophile people to talk about cheap vs expensive HDMI cables. If you've ever read Gizmodo or done a Google search  on the topic you'll realise this is a very hot topic with varying opinions on the matter. Typically however there are numerous tests available online that do show that there is no real difference in the quality of a signal transmitted over cheap or expensive HDMI cable unless you're talking about cable lengths in excess of probably 10 metres. HDMI is a digital signal and the quality of cable is nowhere near as relevant as with an analogue signal such as component.

So why then did Tone get a whole pile of "experts" to write on the topic and all write about how essential an expensive HDMI cable is and that buying a cheap one is a waste of money? There were a couple of people who said that picture degredation was very obvious with the cheap cables, how about providing us some proof or some research?

The whole issue of expensive cables has been a hot topic with years, lead by Monster who sell very expensive cables, give great commission to stores to sell their products, and use deceptive marketing* to sell their products. There is a little more about Monster here on Gizmodo.

If you're in the market for a HDMI cable I suggest following some basic advice. Buy a $20 cable. Buy a $200 cable. Keep your receipts and try them both. If you can't tell the difference then take the $200 one back for a refund. It's as simple as that. Don't get sucked into wasting your money on a piece of wire that's supposed to have magical properties.

*Monster have a stand that is typically on display at various Harvey Norman stores showing 2 LCD screens playing the same DVD. One shows a monster cable in bright crisp colours, the other shows the same picture looking quite pale on cheap cable. This display is used by salespeople to push people into buying $200 cables to hook their Sky box up to their new flat screen TV to ensure the best picture quality (completely ignoring the fact Sky TV have an extremely low bitrate and poor picture quality anyway). Look at the back of this display and you'll see the Monster screen uses the component output, the other screen uses a composite signal. Hardly a fair test is it?

Sounds music stores in liquidation - blames illegal music downloads

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 22-Nov-2007 07:54

For those who haven't kept up with the news in the past day or so on Tuesday Icon Digital Entertainment who own the Blockbuster Video store and Sounds Music store brands in New Zealand went into voluntary liquidation on Tuesday, the first such company to enter voluntary administration under new laws that came into effect on the 1st November.

What astounds me is that the company seems to only have one explanation for this situation - illegal music downloads are apparently damaging the music business so badly they were unable to continue trading.

What BS!

Somebody tell JB HiFi who are currently in the middle of a huge store rollout program in both New Zealand and Australia that the music industry is suffering and they'll laugh at you. There is plenty of money to be made selling music. If Sounds are so happy to blame illegal music downloads then why aren't they also blaming legal music downloads? The fact that it's illegal in NZ to rip a CD to an iPod leaves people with no choice but to buy music online if they want to legally listen to music on a portable device so logically they don't want to pay for music twice - once for their iPod and again for a CD. And what about their pricing? Who wants to pay $33.99 for a new release CD from a Sounds store when JB HiFi and The Warehouse can sell me the same product for somewehre around the $22 - $25 range? With the $US at it's current level it's also cheaper to buy CD's from the USA and ship them to NZ than to buy product from Sounds.

I'm sorry that your business failed guys but don't go blaming illegal music downloads. They are the least of your problems. Despite illegal downloads existing music company executivies are still waking up each morning and going to work and running extremtly profitable businesses and there are plenty of very music retailers such as JB HiFi who are doing extremely well even with legal music downloads now taking a huge chunk of the music market.

BP leads the way in ripping off Kiwi consumers

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 21-Nov-2007 17:22

The fear of their 12 month unbeaten record of having lead every petrol price increase coming to an end has today lead BP to yet again raise their petrol prices. Not happy with having sold diesel at 4c per litre more than all the other chains for the past 2 weeks they have today increased the price of both petrol and diesel by another 5c per litre with unleaded 91 now selling for 173.9 and diesel for 127.9

A quick survey on my way home shows that no other chains have yet followed.

BP have lead the way in the NZ fuel market and have been first to increase their price every time over the past 12 months. My quick market research shows the only times BP have been first to drop has been on the 6 occasions where their price increase has not been matched by competitors forcing BP to reduce their price.

BP have been selling diesel at 122.9 for over 2 weeks now whereas Shell, Mobil, Challenge and Caltex have all kept their price at 118.9 and not followed BP's increase. BP also raised their petrol prices by 5c per litre over the busy Labour Weekend period, again an increase that all other chains did not follow on.

If you're a BP customer I think you really need to ask yourself why you're supporting a company that takes pride in always being the first to raise prices and typically the last to drop them... Vote with your feet (and wallet) and go elsewhere. Don't give them your money. Boycott BP.

I'm now a VFX convert!

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 13-Nov-2007 17:35

I've been trialling VFX's Asterisk support for around a month now and have been so happy with it that today I ported my main phone number from iTalk across to VFX. Since I live in Wellington and have a TelstraClear Cable connection with no requirement for a landline a VoIP phone has been my only landline phone connection for over 18 months now and because of this uptime and voice quality are important to me. 

I'd been happy with iTalk up until their recent platform change which has caused their voice quality to turn to custard and they have also experienced several outages over recent weeks which was the final nail in the coffin. Porting was a painless exercise and so far the customer service from WorldxChange has been superb!

Keep up the good work guys!

KiwiBank - Your marketing sux0rs

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 8-Nov-2007 09:05

This morning while driving into work from Lower Hutt into Wellington we were stuck in slow moving traffic from Maungaraki all the way through to the BP on Hutt Rd. Was there an accident? No. Road works? No. The idiots at KiwiBank had decided to hire a barge with a shipping container it on towed by a tug boat and tow it along side SH2 as a mobile advertising hoarding. This in turn caused a traffic jam as every idiot tried to read the sign.

Great marketing? Maybe. If I could read what it said. The text was so small I couldn't read anything that it said and I've also checked with a few other people who drove in this morning and nobody else knows either because of the size of the text!

Way to go KiwiBank. Waste your money with a billboard nobody can read while holding up the traffic. I certainly won't be moving my accounts any time soon.

Stuff's Poor Journalism

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 8-Nov-2007 06:48

While looking at stuff this morning the headline screamed out at me

"Power outage blamed for 111 malfunction"

You could be mistaken for thinking that there was a failure of the 111 system couldn't you? But no there wasn't, all that happened was that one of the three communications centres for the Police and New Zealand Fire Service suffered a power fault last night which resulted in all calls being diverted to Wellington and all communications with Police and Fire being handled in Wellington. This is something that is planned for and regularly occurs during training for such an event.

There was no malfunction of the 111 service. There was a malfunction in the communication centre that handles Police and Fire communications.

sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
New Zealand

I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems.

I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)

  -xDSL deployments

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.

+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.

You can contact me here or by email at