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Apple Apps Desktop Other Shopping Windows

iTunes Without the iTunes Part

I have been archiving all of my purchased media for quite some time now, I like the flexibility of a digital copy, but also flexibility to view it how and where I choose (i.e. Plex).  That usually means a lot of disc ripping, and I have set up a decent system and workflow to do it.

Most of my movies come with a digital copy, usually on iTunes.  This is handy and useful, since I can stream to most of my devices that way.  Movies on iTunes sometimes have really good deals, and it’s tempting to grab something that way.  And once in a while, my physical media is damaged – sometimes incredibly slightly – and I am just unable to rip it.

Files contained in Apple’s digital library aren’t perfect though, since if I want to watch a movie at someone else’s place, it either means bringing my precious physical media (if I have it) or bringing a device to their place to watch it!  I can’t make a more highly compressed and smaller versions for those odd times I want lots of movie in little space.  It’s the inconvenience of DRM.

After a bunch of Google searches TuneFab M4V converter caught my attention.  They claim to be able to remove the DRM from my iTunes library and give me a high quality version I can use in more ways, including the above.  I thought I’d give it a try.  They offered either a free license (for high-volume bloggers) or a 30% off coupon for a review.  I’d probably review it anyway, so I’ll try for the coupon!

They offer the product on two plaftorms, Mac and Windows – separately licensed.  The first thing I tried was to download and install a version on my Mac.  When I ran it it came up with a message stating that High Sierra was not supported.  Since Mac OS has well moved on to Mojave as of this writing, I wonder if there’s a future in the Mac version of the app?  If you only have a Mac, be careful before purchasing this.  Apparently they’re looking into it, but for now… I hope you have Windows.

I downloaded and installed the Windows version.  The first thing I discovered when launching it was a big white screen like this:

Blank-ish screen
Yep, that’s most of it

You can’t see from the screenshot but the window is slightly larger than the available screen space, was not resizable and has its own non-standard window controls (close, minimize etc).  These window controls are glitchy and vanished after moving the window around a bit… the only way to exit the app was to Alt+F4 or right-click on the taskbar icon.

Their intention was to look cool and clean but honestly it causes some major issues.  (I have 3 monitors, so likely that was the problem.  I think they could fix it quickly by not centering the window across all monitors but only the active monitor).  TuneFab is not alone in falling into that trap, most Windows apps these days seem to want to blaze their own trail and make things look unique.

The options screen is very sparse as well – though it does have standard window decorations yay!  It’s not resizeable either.

2 options, it’s very roomy though.

Wait!  Don’t give up!

But I won’t be looking at this app all that often. I have a number of extremely valuable apps that are sadly pretty ugly.  So I’ll let the UI issues slide for now.  The TuneFab team is welcome to contact me to test some fixes for this.  The more important question is… does it work?

I click the very apparent “Add Files” button.  Ah, tells me I need to download a file through iTunes first before encoding.  Fair enough, it can’t work with what it doesn’t have.  I wonder if it would be possible through the iTunes scripting interface to get a list of movies in the library and trigger a download?  Still, another compromise I can understand and am willing to make.

So I downloaded a movie and clicked on “Add Files” again.  It tells me I need to have downloaded a movie.  But I just did?  Could they add a “Refresh list” button?  Eh whatever.  I restart the app and there it is, it shows up, along with other iTunes playlists listed in the sidebar.  At the bottom have appeared three buttons labeled “Add”, “Add All” and “Cancel”…

And… just as I was noticing this, my machine threw a BSOD.  Yikes.  Windows kinda makes it hard to cast the blame.  Is it a video driver?  Is it iTunes?  Is it this app?  All three together?  If it was Mac, it would almost certainly be the app, but I can’t exactly find out.

But BSODs happen.  We’re all friends and not looking to point fingers here, but try out an app.  I reboot and relaunch, select the movie and hit “Add”.  Nice, it comes up with video and codec information. 

Codec information
Looking good so far!

Off to the right (not shown) is a gear that gives you audio and subtitle information.  I had 4 tracks (AAC and AC3 in English and French) and all of the subtitles available.

Once I did all of that, I clicked “Convert”.  Since this is the trial version I only get the first 5 minutes, so let’s see.  It’s very quick on this machine (considerably faster than real time).  I’d guess it took about 20 seconds to run through 5 minutes of movie…  and boom the movie appears in the output folder!  Quality looks great and includes multiple audio tracks. 

I was able to take that file and run it through Handbrake for another resolution so yup the DRM is definitely gone!

The only option given in the Windows media player is to open a separate subtitle file (e.g. srt).  I ran CCExtractorGUI and the subtitles are definitely there.  I don’t use subtitles, but I know some of you really need them.

Value

Listed price is $49 USD, with a (temporary?) $5 discount, so $44 USD.  Is it worth this cost?

The polish on the app UI honestly isn’t great.  I expect more for an app this cost.  Maybe this is only an issue with the Windows version?  It appears they seem to be using Qt, and cross-platform toolkits tend to have these kind of issues.  I couldn’t test the Mac one so who knows?

But value for its functionality?  Let’s figure that out.

Well, if you figure a flexible backup of your existing iTunes movies is worth $11 each, it would pay for itself in 4 movies.  Or to look at it another way, if you can save $11 per movie by buying on iTunes instead of on disc, you’d break even in 4 movies.

Or, if you rip your movies, then maybe you can calculate the time it takes and average it out that way.  For me it takes almost 3 hours to rip and encode a Blu-Ray.  I don’t mind that much but this is much easier and faster – with the consideration that you still have to take the time to download a HD movie in advance.

So, it depends on your use and value of your time.  Personally, if it was $29 I wouldn’t even bother to calculate the time, it would be worth it.  Add another 10-20 bucks and it makes me stop and figure out things like this.

Wait.  If I get the 30% off coupon… (quick mental math).  DUDE.

Bottom line:

Once I got it installed and running, it was really impressive.  Very fast with excellent results.  The UI is very buggy but the engine works great.  If you want a DRM-free copy of your iTunes movies, this may be the way to get them.

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Apps iPad iPhone Shopping

Swype and iOS keyboards

I have experimented with replacement keyboards on Android from time to time.  Though I had SwiftKey installed for a year, I mostly used it as a regular keyboard.

So it wasn’t a real thrill for me when Apple announced third-party keyboards on iOS 8.   I found the iOS keyboard quite good, the design was really good and led to fast and mostly error-free typing.

The problem with most mobile keyboards is text prediction – autocorrect can never get you entirely what you want, and more often than not it was an exercise in frustration.  I didn’t find the iOS 7 predictions too bad, but when iOS 8 came out with QuickType, something happened.  It seemed like the autocorrect was much more aggressive, and more often frustratingly wrong.  So I started looking into third-party keyboards.

Fleksy was my first look, because it was free at release – it is not a huge leap for a new user to start using this keyboard, the keys are in the same spot and you just tap to enter letters.  However, this keyboard relies heavily on prediction.  Most of the time it does really well, but when it gets it wrong, you need to remember and perform a gesture to “unfix” it, or cycle through alternate replacements.  I found this more cumbersome than just using the iOS keyboard and being alert.

SwiftKey was free, and I liked the idea of gesture-based scribble-typing.  I had used it before, so it should be a simple switch, right?  Well, it was, but it still felt very clumsy. Once again, I hadn’t gained anything, it was just different.  I found myself fighting to switch back to the regular iOS keyboard more often.

Now, Swype came to my attention the past day or so, because they made it free.  That’s evidently a great way to get me to try something I am skeptical about.  Well, right away, I was impressed.  Multiple themes, a case-changing keyboard (it shows you the characters in caps when caps is on, etc), nice optional gestures, etc.  Mostly though, I liked the comparatively non-aggressive nature of the text suggestions. When an unusual word comes up, the quick type area allows you to dynamically add the word to your personal dictionary.  The personal dictionary can be edited at any time to remove accidental additions (or those times you were SURE that’s how it was spelled).  It even includes emoji in the autocorrect suggestions!  Just type “smile” and there’s a smiley.   That may seem slower than picking it, but remember you can swipe over the characters in order to kinda sketch out a little scribble that brings a smile to your keyboard, and maybe even to your face.

On top of all that, there’s a special calculator-style numeric keyboard available under the Swype key, if you want to enter numbers more comfortably.

There’s lots going for this keyboard.  Totally worth grabbing for free right now, if the deal is still on, and if not, it still might be a worthwhile investment if it has gone back to its regular 99 cent price.

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Apple Shopping

Apple Pay

The third punch in the Apple show was the biggest, in my opinion.  Again, on the surface it appears to be catch-up but this is much more significant.

The competition liked to throw in an NFC antenna and then claim it was a feature, but without deep integration all it is is more hardware.  Yes you could tap to pay, but you can also do that with your credit card.  Why introduce a phone into that?  I realize there were some apps like a google Wallet that integrated with that, and that’s a good start, but missing the last step.

What’s the last step?  Security!  Apple Pay runs only on phones that have TouchID, and the Apple Watch that has a simple form of biometric security (apparently it remains unlocked only with continued skin contact on the back of the watch).

The best (and most secure) component of this whole platform is invisible to users.  The channel between banks and Apple is HUGE.  I can only guess at the infrastructure, but if you think about it, it might be something like this… the phone (I presume) generates an asymmetric key and stores the private one in an enclave on the phone and registers the public one with the bank.  When a transaction takes place, it probably creates a transaction packet with the purchase details and signs and encrypts it, passes it through to the Bank.  The credit card details are nowhere in the transaction.  No signature, no PIN, no card number or CVC.  Apple is in the loop somewhere, but they claim they never see any purchase details.  Perhaps they check the signature, match it to a user, and pass it along as an inter-bank transaction.  Since the bank is RIGHT NOW already tooled up to accept this, they likely didn’t have to make significant changes to their back ends.

Talking through my hat of course, but it has to be closer to this than any current tap-to-pay tech.

The bottom line is, Apple isn’t trying to make credit cards more convenient, they’re trying to replace them.  They’re setting themselves up as part of the infrastructure of daily commerce, which is much much bigger than selling a few technology items.  They think much bigger than “slap an NFC chip in there”, and it’s going to have a big impact in the years to come.

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Shopping

Gunnars Glasses

I got myself some Gunnars glasses on a rather good sale the other day, after being a bit curious about them. I use a computer all day, every day, and I want to both protect my eyes and maximize their use.

They’re not the ideal shape I would have preferred (I would have preferred a drop in the corners rather than a rise), but there was only one in the store and I couldn’t even try them on before buying.

Finally found suitable lighting
Maximizing my cranium

They have a very slight near-focus tweak to them (+.2) so they are designed purely for close-focus work.  That, together with the yellow tint makes the screen significantly more clear.

The yellow tint isn’t dramatic, it only seems to do as designed and mute the intense blues that are a fundamental part of LED and fluorescent light.  It is a more satisfying adjustment than changing the colour temperature for my monitor.  This would be especially dramatic if in an environment lighted primarily by standard fluorescents. I have warm-toned CFLs in my work area so although I already have nicer light in general, my monitor is kinda shocking in contrast.

They are very light and comfortable, it is easy to wear them all day, in fact in the last couple of days when I sat down to work I found myself squinting at the monitor until I put the glasses on. It definitely made my eyes more relaxed.

Would I pay full price for these? I doubt it, unless I was really flush and maybe if I was working in a more “sterile” environment than home. They are definitely worth what I paid, though, and I compare them to a quality (and stylish) set of sunglasses.

Categories
Games Shopping

PSN Plus

I got a 50% off deal on a 3-month subscription to Playstation Plus the other day. There was one or two freebies that I was interested in (Quantum Conundrum!). I discovered that I again have access to games I downloaded when I had a free trial a year ago or so. That tells me if I let a subscription lapse and pick it up again, I get my freebies back! Very nice.

It was hard to find this information out, now I know first-hand.