We've discussed here before the problems faced by festivals and other 
exnhibitors one one hand and makers on the other, inherent in the proliferation 
of different digital file formats. The problems of 'how do we put it all 
together to play it?' and 'what kind of file should i send them?' While, in the 
past, I had advocated trying to establish some kind of low-cost 
standardization, where exhibitors would have to agree to 'get on the same 
page,' there seems to be little interest in that.

As such, I've since concluded that the best practice would be for exhibitors 
and makers to invest in 'multi-media players.' These are devices, generally 
about the size of a hardcover book, are designed to create video signals from 
data files on a USB hard drive, and pass them on to a video display via an HDMI 
cable. (They often also have internet connections to display streaming video 
from Netflix etc. though that's not really germane to this particular 
discussion.)

--

I'm writing this post because I just noticed a sale on one of the most popular 
models of such a device: the Western Digital TV Live Plus HD Media Player is at 
Meritline.Com 'Daily Deals' for $62. 
http://tinyurl.com/855pu9g
I have no personal experience with this particular model, nor have I compared 
the Meritline price to other vendors. It seems like a decent deal, and I've 
generally had good experiences with Meritline. (A lot of their stuff ships from 
Asia and takes a long time to get to you, but they note that on the item page. 
This ships from the U.S.). But I don't think this is a 'get it now cause it 
will never be this cheap again' thing. Just worth noting FWIW.

--

Briefly, let me note how playback via such a device differs from playback via a 
computer:

There are two ways to get video output to a video projector from a computer. 

An 'HTPC' (Home Theater PC) will be equipped with a separate output (generally 
HDMI) designed to feed true _digital video_ format signals to an HDTV display, 
in addition to the output for the main computer monitor. 

In contrast, on a 'regular' computer (e.g. a laptop) you may have an additional 
_computer_ monitor jack (usually DVI or VGA). Most flat panel TV type displays 
cannot be driven by these, but projectors can be, since projectors are almost 
always designed to accept both computer video AND 'true video' video.

Video played via a conventional computer output usually looks OK, but there's a 
lot going on there technically. The computer screen most likely has a different 
resolution and frame rate (called 'refresh' rate in computer-speak) than the 
video files being played, and the software is EMULATING a video player: 
translating the video file into the format of the computer screen. On the other 
hand, if you do have an HTPC with the proper software, you're getting a 'real 
video' output (e.g. NTSC, PAL, 720P24, 1080P25, whatever...) This 'real video' 
video is also what comes out of the little standalone media players.

Obviously, the 'real video' option is better, since the processing involved in 
creating the emulation can only degrade the image. But leaving that aside, and 
comparing the media player to an HTPC:

* The Media Player is much smaller, simpler and it's firmware based OS is much 
less likely to crash. (HTPCs are basically small desktop computers.)

* The Media Player will most likely accept a lot more formats (MPEG2, MP4) and 
containers (AVI, MOV, MKV), and be much more platform agnostic than the PC. 
They don't necessarily play high-data-rate formats such as Apple ProRes422, but 
you can put your work into a 'best' quality H264 that will look as good or 
better than any BluRay.

* The interface of the Media Player will be more rudimentary, and have less 
flexibility in creating playlists. Thus it may be less capable of assembling a 
seemless program of shorts that play directly one after another, or doing so 
may require re-copying the files onto the USB drive in a certain folder 
structure or renaming the files to a certain convention (e.g. preceeding the 
titles with a number).

These media players strike me as very useful to makers who travel with their 
work and display it some digital form. This usually winds up being an SD-DVD, 
since that's what you can rely on to work. This is a bummer, though, if you 
have a version in any sort of HD. But the media player itself is small, as is 
the sort of laptop external USB hard drive on which you store the files, so it 
fits easily into a carry on. It has a variety of outputs (e.g. component in 
addition to HDMI), so you should be able to hook it up to any projection system 
that can accept any sort of external device. You just load your files onto the 
hard drive, no worries about BluRay authoring, or whether your home-burned DVD 
will work in the player at your destination. And you can load the drive with 
different versions of your piece (e.g. one in 720P24, one in 720P30, one in 
1080I60, etc. etc.) just in case the player only talks to the projector on some 
formats rather than others.


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