Mobile Fun

In honor of getting my new phone setup, I present you with some goodies:

Buster checks out my new phone while I take his picture.
The first picture I took with my phone.

In fact I’ve been playing with Gallery as an online photo album. I’ve set one up and even got it interfacing with my phone, so now I can send out an email with a picture attached to it and it is instantly posted to my photo moblog album. (That’s why I was so interested in getting email to work on my cellphone.) The interface is still pretty ugly on the backend. I need to clean it up more, but it works. These guys will do it for you but it kept bouncing back at me with password errors when I tried to use their service.

[Update: I would recommend not using the scripts at the “interfacing” link above. There’s some problems with them. I found a better method. Follow the link in my trackback section below for more information.]

I’ve been using iPhoto and a .Mac account to setup my photo albums. It’s so freakin’ easy it’s hard to say ‘no’ to. But it’s also a one-trick pony. I can’t do that whole moblog thing with it. Plus I have a lot more space on this server.

Now I just need to setup Gallery to interface with Movable Type. I love my job but it would be cool to figure out a way to get paid to tinker as a side thing. 🙂

Oh, and if you’ve got a cellphone that plays MP3s, here’s a sweet-ass little jingle for your ringtone. Those of you who know me and the cellphones that I’ve owned over the years, know that there’s one particular song that I have always programmed in for my ringer—not the one I’m giving you—I have to stay somewhat unique. I am very excited that now I can actually use a bit of the real song on my phone. I’m not going to tell you what it is, but I will say, “I pity the foo’ who don’t love my ringtone!”

Motorola V600, Wireless Internet, Bluetooth And The Macintosh

As previously mentioned, I have a new Motorola V600 cellphone and I got it setup with all the Wireless Internet fun you could hope for from Cingular Wireless, including getting it to talk to my Mac PowerBook via Bluetooth. It was quite a struggle, let me tell you. I’m going to document the salient points here so maybe others can learn something. If you’re a Windows or Linux user, it doesn’t mean there isn’t good stuff here, it just means not all of it will be applicable. There’s probably some useful stuff here for Cingular Wireless customers with other phones too. I should mention that I’m in Los Angeles. The settings should be the same here as in other parts of the country, at least for GPRS, but who knows.

[Update: You need to have some form of Cingular’s Wireless Internet Express turned on for this method to work.]

At first let me just say that I couldn’t have gotten through this without the help of information from a lot of useful websites. The NSLog(); post about the V600 and iSync is chock full of good information in the comments. And in particular, Ross Barkman’s homepage has a lot of great modem scripts. He also has a ton of information about GPRS networks around the world. This MacInTouch page, this page from All The Pages Are My Days, this Unofficial Apple Weblog page, and this MacRumors forum topic all have handy info. (Notice the lack of a mention of the Cingular website.)

Actually that’s not entirely true, Cingular has—in my opinion—nothing but fluff on their regular homepage. However, if you notice down at the bottom, there’s a link for “Developers Forum”. Here’s where the strings come in. I actually only discovered it after going through several “customer service” agents on the phone.

“I’m sorry, sir, we don’t offer email on the phone you have. Only on the Blackberrys.”

“No. You’re wrong. Let me talk to someone else.”

Finally they put me on with the floor manager of customer service or something like that. He tried to tell me that if I wanted to check my email on my phone, I’d have to get information about that from my Internet Service Provider. I informed him that since I was trying to do it on his phone, he was my ISP. He wasn’t buying it though.

Finally I said, “Let’s forget the whole email thing. What if I wanted to use the phone as a Bluetooth Modem with my laptop? What settings do I need for that?”

Again we went around with it and he finally suggested I sign up as a developer—no charge—because they could probably give me all the settings I was looking for. And for once he was right.

[Update: Actually those support people were kind of correct. It’s not a question of offering, Cingular doesn’t officially support setting up email on phone. Basically it works but the tier one staff isn’t trained in how to do it, and tier two staff will try to talk you into paying extra for Data Connect services.]

This little treasure of a document I found over at their developer site. All the dial-in phone numbers, APN, Username, and Password information you could ever ask for from Cingular. Some of this information is over at Ross Barkman’s site. There basically seems to be two different APNs—WAP.CINGULAR and ISP.CINGULAR—to connect to, and a few different usernames depending on compression—WAP@CINGULARGPRS.COM, ISPDA@CINGULARGPRS.COM, and ISP@CINGULARGPRS.COM.

Here’s how I got mine to work:

Part 1 — Setting Up Email On The Motorola V600 Phone

  1. Bring up the “Messages” menu on your cellphone.
  2. Press the “Menu” button to enter “Msg Center Menu”.
  3. Select “Email Msg Setup”.
  4. Change the “ISP Settings” to this:Connection Type: GPRS
    Password: CINGULAR1
    DNS IP:

The rest of the settings, you’ll need to supply yourself. As I was informed many times by many different Cingular people, they don’t give you an email address. You can use IMAP4 or POP3 to talk to your account. Obviously you’ll need to know the Username and Password for your email account. You’ll also need what they call a “Sending Host” and a “Receiving Host”.

The “Sending Host” is the SMTP server. You’ll need access to an open one. Many SMTP servers only offer access from their own domain. Unfortunately, if you need to supply more than a standard address like “”, it won’t work with the phone. I first tried to set it up with my .Mac account, but that requires “” and the phone doesn’t like it. Actually Cingular does have an SMTP server you can use “” but be warned that it will stamp a message at the bottom of all your emails:


Photo Messaging brought to you by Cingular Wireless
You can send the sender of this email a Text Message by simply replying to this message.

The “Receiving Host” is usually called the “Mail Server” or “Incoming Mail Server” by most email software. Put the appropriate info in that field. And don’t forget to fill out the “Return Address” field with your email address. I don’t think it derives it from the other fields.

That’s it. (Actually there are other settings like whether or not to download attachments, saving copies on the server, etc. but those are up to you.) Once you have that info in, you make a new email under the “Create Message” menu, and you can check your mail under the “Email Msgs” menu. Not too hard. And you have some big benefits. You won’t be using up any of your SMS or MMS quotas, and people will see an address that they’re used to—not “”. (That address works, by the way. You can receive emails as MMS messages on your phone if people send to that address. Well it works if you replace “phonenumber” with your actual 10-digit number. Hopefully that was pretty obvious. Any mail received through that address will count against your quota as an MMS message. But it does support attachments. Plain text email can be sent to the phone through “”. This will count against your SMS quota.)

I should also note that there is that other APN address, ISP.CINGULAR, and a couple different usernames to go with it. Those didn’t work on my phone. Only the WAP one did. I called Cingular back after getting it to work and explained everything to them and asked if the connection would be faster if I could use the other APN. The person I talked to couldn’t really say. And frankly, I was so happy to have it working, I moved on. If anyone else knows and knows what I should say to the Cingular people, I would appreciate a comment.

[Update: I have since figured out that the ISP.CINGULAR APN address is for their Data Connect service which uses the EGPRS (EDGE) network. This has faster speeds, up to 128kbps, but only for devices that support it. Not the V600. The Data Connect plans are much more expensive than the Wireless Internet Express plans. So if your phone only supports standard GPRS you might as well stick with Wireless Internet Express.]

Part 2 — Pairing The V600 To Your Mac With Bluetooth

This one is not too difficult either but it’s easy to get it mixed up because there are two different ways to do it. The first thing you need to do is delete the pairing with the phone if one already exists. If you’ve been having trouble with it dropping the connection when you don’t want it too, this should fix it. So delete away. You can also delete the pairing on the phone side by going under “Settings” to “Connection”, selecting “Bluetooth” and going under “Device History”. Select the computer, press the “Menu” button and select “Delete”. Now you’re ready to begin.

On the Mac, bring up your System Preferences and go into the Bluetooth pane. Make sure that “Support Non-Conforming Phones” is checked in the “Settings” tab. You might also want to check “Show Bluetooth status in the menu bar”. That menu will make things easier. That’s it with the preferences. You can close up System Preferences.

Under the Bluetooth menu in the menu bar that you justed turned on, select “Set up Bluetooth Device”. (You can also run the program “Bluetooth Setup Assistant” in your Utilities folder. Same thing.) Go through this whole assistant doing whatever it asks. Before you move off the first page though, you need to make your cellphone discoverable.

Settings -> Connection -> Bluetooth -> Setup -> Find Me

Now back on the computer, run through the rest of the setup assistant. You’ll have to respond to a few things on your computer and on the phone so keep it handy. One of the last things the assistant will ask you is if you want to set up the phone for wireless internet. Go ahead and say “yes”. We’ll refine this a bit in Part 3. You’ll need those WAP settings from Part 1. Make sure you enter the APN, WAP.CINGULAR, where it asks for the “Telephone Number”. Select any modem script, you’ll change it later.

Now you’re paired. You might want to set Bluetooth to “On” on your phone. It’s in that same Setup screen that you made the phone discoverable.

So what can you do now that you’re paired?

[Update: iSync 1.5 supports the V600 but through a USB cable, not Bluetooth.]

One thing you can’t do is iSync. I know. I know. Cry your heart out. I’m sure Apple will add support at some point, but they haven’t yet. You’ll deal. Trust me. The easiest way to get your addresses into the phone is like this:

  1. Create a new group in Address Book and call it “Mobile” or “Cellphone” or whatever.
  2. Drag all the addresses on you want on your phone into it. (You can’t do much more with this group right now. It’s basically just for organization, but in the future when iSync supports the V600, you can sync the whole group.)
  3. Select the first address in your group.
  4. Under the “Card” menu select “Send This Card”.
  5. Select your cellphone from the list that pops up.
  6. Accept the vCard on your cellphone.
  7. Repeat at step 3 as necessary.

You can only do one address at a time. You can select several at once if you want but only the first one will be imported into the phone. If any of your addresses are listed as a Company with the little building icon in Address Book, they won’t go over to the phone correctly. The “Name” field on the phone only reads the “Name” field on the vCard—not the “Company” field when the “Name” field is empty. You’ll either have to enter these manually or change the way they’re named in Address Book.

Another things you can do is send files back and forth to the phone. The easiest way to do this is to select “Browse Device” from the Bluetooth menu in the menu bar. Select your phone from a list. A new “Browsing” window will pop up in which you’ll see three folders on your phone—audio, picture and video. Want to guess what goes in each? If you take any pictures with the built-in camera on the phone, you’ll find them in the “picture” folder.

You can put MP3s in the audio folder and use them as ringtones, but let me make a few suggestions. You only have 5MB total memory on the phone. That’s for the address book, MP3s and other ringtones, pictures, plus any games or other software you might have downloaded to it. Keep the MP3s small. Use an audio editor to trim your song or sound to 15 to 20 seconds. I would strongly suggest making them mono MP3s at 64kbps (or less). If you’re using iTunes to make the MP3s, select “Custom” on the Importing tab of the prefences. Set the Stereo Bit Rate to 128kbps if you want a 64kbps mono file. Make sure VBR is unchecked. And under Channels select Mono.

There are programs that can do things with the phone now that you’re paired. OnSync will sync addresses between Address Book and your phone. It didn’t work very well for me. Maybe you’ll have better luck. I found the “Send This Card” method in the Address Book did what I needed it to. GSM Remote and BluePhoneMenu will also do various things. Maybe something there catches your fancy.

Part 3 — The V600 As A Bluetooth Modem On The Mac

The moment you’ve all been waiting for… internet from anywhere with your Mac laptop. First you’ll need some new modem scripts. Download these from Ross Barkman’s homepage. Copy them into /Library/Modem Scripts.

The rest is a bunch of settings.

  1. Bring up “System Preferences” and select the “Network” pane.
  2. Select “Bluetooth” from the “Show” menu.
  3. Under the “TCP/IP” tab, make sure that Configure IPv4 is set to “Using PPP”.
  4. Under the “PPP” tab, you’ll need to use the WAP settings from Part 1. They’re probably already filled in from when you ran the Setup Assistant in Part 2. But double-check anyway:Service Provider: Cingular
    Password: CINGULAR1
    Telephone Number: WAP.CINGULAR
  5. Click the “PPP Options” button.
  6. Uncheck “Send PPP echo packets” and “Use TCP header compression”.
  7. Under the “Proxies” tab, you shouldn’t have to change anything. No proxies.
  8. Under the “Bluetooth Modem” tab, set the Modem to “Motorola GPRS CID1”. This is the one that worked for me. There are several that came with the downloaded scripts that you could try. Some people have also reported success with the “Motorola iR Timeport (7089)”
  9. Uncheck “Enable error correction and compression in modem”.
  10. Uncheck “Wait for dial tone before dialing”.
  11. Click “Apply Now” and close the System Preferences.

You should be good to go now. Make sure you don’t have a current internet connection. Turn off your Airport if you have one. Put the computer to sleep. Unplug your ethernet cable if that’s how you are online. Wake the computer back up.

You need to run Internet Connect to dial-in with a modem (Bluetooth or otherwise). You’ll find it in your Applications folder. Click on the Bluetooth tab. Select “Cingular” from the Configuration menu. Click the “Connect” button. In a moment you should be online wirelessly.

Obviously this is slower than a broadband connection, infact it’s slower than a 56K modem. It’s about the speed of a 28.8K modem. You’ll probably want to limit the amount of downloading you do. You can tell Safari to not load images by unchecking “Display images when the page opens” in the “Appearance” tab under preferences. If you’re using .Mac or another IMAP-based email account, you’ll need to select “Synchronize” under the “Mailbox” menu to keep local copies of your email for offline reading.

So there you go. Hopefully some people find this helpful. If anyone has any other comments, suggestions, tips, tricks, questions, etc. please leave a comment below.

Update: July 30, 8:15 PM —

Ok, I must be foolish or something but I was concerned. After posting this, I went around to some of the websites that I referenced to see if I could add trackbacks or comments to generate a little more traffic. (Hey, we all like to have visitors.) I noticed a comment at the Unofficial Apple Weblog page that I have listed above, that mentioned that the WAP settings I’ve used are a “pay as you go” service. That person talked to a “tier two tech” at Cingular and had things setup properly using ISP.CINGULAR. I was concerned that even though I signed up for the $20/month unlimited media package, I would get a bill for all these connections through WAP. I spent a lot more time on hold, a lot of explaining what I was trying to do to “tier one” customer service trying to get them to transfer me. They finally did.

I talked to a very, very knowledgable and nice tier two tech who told me about some of their options. It sounds like they’re only just now setting up plans to cover this whole idea of outside email through your cellphone and connecting to the internet on your laptop through your phone. The MEdia packages that they’re offering right now are just for specific cellphone-based services like shopping at the Cingular Mall and going online through the phone’s browser. The data connect plans they have right now are rather expensive for not much data. Basically she said that the WAP settings I’m using right now shouldn’t work. It’s just a bonus that they are.

“But my understanding is that it’s a ‘pay as you go’ setting. Is there a bunch of data traffic on my bill? Am I going to get billed the $20 for the ‘MEdia’ package plus extra for this WAP stuff?”

She looked at my bill. “No, none of it has shown up. Because it doesn’t work, right?”

“Oh, of course not. I am not able to connect to the internet on my laptop through my phone. Thank you so much for all your help.”

So I don’t know what the deal is. Everyone who calls up seems to get told something different. I suspect that they will finalize their policy on all of this at some point soon. And at some point my unlimited data connect service for $20 will stop working—or at least I’ll have to start paying for it.

[Update: The deal is the Wireless Internet Express versus Data Connect that I’ve mentioned in my other “Update” boxes throughout this post.]

Anyone have any different stories?

Update: July 31, 3:15PM —

Another note about things. I was prowling around in the guts of my phone (the software guts, not the hardware ones). I was looking for a way to setup web bookmarks. Let’s face it, text entry on a cellphone is not exactly all that fun. Yes, Cingular is nice enough to let you setup bookmarks on the My Wireless Window webpage that are accessible from your phone, but you have to go through a couple pages to get to them from there. Direct access for some of the key ones is preferable in my book.

I noticed that when you go into WebAccess on the V600, there’s a option called “Web Sessions”. On my phone it was set up with two items: Cingular and MMS. I edited the Cingular setup and lo and behold! It has the same settings that I used for my email and laptop, WAP.CINGULAR and all that. So it seems to me that if the default “Cingular” setup of the internet uses that, it’s very likely that they are the correct settings. And even though the nice tier two tech support woman I talked to said I shouldn’t be able to do what I was doing, I don’t think that’s the case. It seems like a proper GPRS setup to me. Not a pay per use at all—unless that’s the plan that you have. Since I’m on a $20/month unlimited use plan, I shouldn’t have to pay anything extra no matter if I’m surfing the web from my phone, sending email from my phone, or wirelessly connecting my laptop to the internet through the phone.

One advantage that the WebAccess setting had over my email is that it also had settings for CSD dialup—not just the GPRS APN. I’m assuming the advantage would be if I were not in a GPRS zone like LA, and just in a standard digital zone, I could still go online. I would have to change my email settings manually to switch it over to CSD. Those CSD settings are clearly spelled out in that PDF file I linked to above.

And of course I was able to setup my bookmark as well—the actual reason I was poking around at things. All I did was highlight the “Cingular” Web Session, press the “Menu” button, select “Copy Entry” from the menu, give it a new name, and finally go in and edit the setting, giving it the new URL I wanted it to go to. Not too hard.

Update: July 31, 4:15PM —

Ok, I swear this’ll will might be the last update. I think I’ve deciphered the whole network connection methods vs. pricing plan deal at least as far as Cingular goes.

Cingular offers three different types of internet access:

  • Wireless Internet
  • Wireless Internet Express
  • Data Connect

Wireless Internet is their term for the older CSD method of connecting. It runs at about 9kbps and you pay for the access time. Hopefully you don’t have to use this method.

Wireless Internet Express is GPRS running at up to 30kbps. This is the method that most phones now will support. This uses the WAP.CINGULAR APN. On these plans you pay for the amount of data transferred not the amount of time spent. They also offer their MEdia Works package which gives you an unlimited amount of transfers for $20/month.

Data Connect is a EGRPS network, also known as EDGE. This is that extra fast wireless that supports up to about 128kbps. It will of course run at the slower standard GPRS speed if your phone doesn’t support it. This is method uses the ISP.CINGULAR APN. The data connect packages also are billed by the amount of data transferred. Their low-end package is $20/month for 5MB all the way up to their high end of $80/month for unlimited.

Cingular only “officially” supports connecting laptops to the internet through their Data Connect program—which also means you have to be running their software which is Windows only. Yes, it supports that fast EDGE speed but only if your phone supports it. The Motorola V600 does not. So if you have convinced a Cingular tech support person to turn on Data Connect access for you and you don’t have to pay those fees for it, I congratulate you. However if you’re using a V600 phone, you’re not getting any more speed out if it than if you were using the WAP settings.

But as I’ve shown if you use the settings above, you can get still get your laptop online—though in an “unsupported” method—and do it at the rates that they offer on their Wireless Internet Express service. Basically the only advantage in going with Data Connect would be if you had a phone that supported EDGE. Phone Scoop is a good place to look for stats on phones.

Update: August 10, 3:30PM —

Apple has released iSync 1.5 which supports the V600 with a USB data cable—part number SKN6311 from Motorola. I have a post about it here.

Update: August 15, 7:15AM —

A recent reader was looking for Cingular internet settings for his V600. He had the phone with AT&T but had switched to Cingular. He thought others might find it useful so I’m adding it:

Name: Cingular
Homepage: http://device.home
Service Type1: WAP
Gateway IP1:
Port1: 9201
Service Type2: WAP
Gateway IP2:
Port2: 0
TimeOut: 10 minutes
CSD No.1: +14152441012
Password1: CINGULAR1
Speed(Bps)1: 9600
Line Type1: ISDN
CSD No.2:
User Name2:
Line Type2:
GPRS APN: wap.cingular
Password: CINGULAR1

These settings are all available in the “Device Settings” document from Cingular that I linked to near the beginning of this page. But here it’s all spelled out for people with V600s. The setup menu for other phones will probably be a bit different. The settings are the same.

Eat Your Heart Out On Plastic Tray

Wow! What a wacky couple of days. And it’s not quite over yet. I’ve been in super-geek tech mode for a while now. I succumbed to temptation and decided to get a new cellphone. Motorola’s überfon, the V600.

The “talking on the phone” part of it was easy. Pop the SIM out of my old phone into the new and it’s all good. It’s all the other goodies—the Bluetooth and the Wireless Internet that took forever. It’s all working now. I’ll compile all my info into a post later. I’m sure that others will find it helpful.

And now of course I’m having trouble with my ISP. That’s the other thing that’s been driving me nuts. Charter Pipeline has some bizarro routing bug that’s popped up. Most websites work fine. However .Mac does not. In fact everything under the domain is not working for me which means I can’t check my email, I can’t mount my iDisk, I can’t get to my website. Nothing. When I talked to Charter tech support, they could get to it fine, so something weird is going on.

Plus FTP to, the kind people who host this website, is being wonky. I can connect to the server and download anything I like off my website but I can’t upload a thing. It keeps timing out. I noticed something rather suspicious in the Transmit log:

227: Entering Passive Mode (209,68,1,138,239,245)
Cmd: STOR SciFi and Fantasy Books to Read.txt
150: Data connection accepted from; transfer starting.
Could not read reply from control connection -- timed out.

Am I crazy or is the FTP port supposed to be 21? Not 49772. That’s what makes me think there’s a routing problem at Charter. But hey, what do I know.

I just checked again, and now everything seems to be working correctly. (knock wood) So it’s only been like 17 hours of downtime for me.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot… I’ve also started teaching myself Perl with the help of this excellent book.

A Game Of Thrones

I just finished reading “A Game Of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin. What a great fantasy novel! Or maybe I should say, what a great medieval novel. There’s definitely a touch of fantasy in there but it’s not full of wizards and goblins like many fantasy books. This one sets up a mysterious and possibly supernatural event right from the start and proceeds into the tangled web of politics.

It’s more of a high middle ages book with knights defending the honor of ladies, and the thought that dragons, and giants, and the Others are fairy tales told to scare children. Much of the book focuses on the intrigues and machinations of the various families all vying for power in the kingdom. In fact at one point I was despairing because it seemed that everyone was so evil and deceitful. “Where is the hero?” I asked myself. But then I realized that the Stark family represented those ideals of “truth, liberty and justice” that we look for in our heroes. Everyone’s bound to screw up at times of course, but they still hold to those ideals.

But don’t worry there’s fantasy in there too. Fairy tales must have some basis in fact, right? Late in the book when many of the diverse story lines developed into enjoyably unexpected areas, we start start to see that maybe dragons are real after all. Maybe there are giants out beyond the wall. And just who are these mysterious Others that everyone keep exclaiming oaths against?

Towards the end I was experiencing that delicious combination of anxiety—badly wanting to know what happens—and heart-ache over the looming end. Thankfully there are at least 3 more books in this series. I will definitely pick them up!

More At Eleven

Xeni, the author of the “Wired” article about spatial sound, wrote me a nice letter this morning about yesterday’s post. She basically said I should go read Iosono’s website and my technical questions would be answered. I was a bit abashed at first. Here I was proclaiming the problems I thought I saw with this new technology and I hadn’t even read their website. (Hey, our president has fully admitted that he doesn’t watch the news or read the paper because he doesn’t want to be exposed to those lies and biases. Can I use the same excuse?)

So I read it. I still have questions. Just more of them.

The one thing I noticed was that their theater system supports all the standard sound formats. You can feed it Dolby Digital, DTS, SDDS—even stereo—and it’ll happily play it back. You won’t get its super-bonus positioning features but you will get its “every seat in the theater sounds as good as every other” feature. That’s certainly nice. I have my doubts that theater chains will be willing to fork over cash for that feature alone. “We gave them their stadium seating. What do they want from us, blood?” People care about good sound to a certain extent. The “sweet spot” in every chair might be too much to ask. But maybe I’m wrong.

The workings of the “spatial sound” part of this new Iosono system sounds like it is basically audio files plus metadata—the master track plus information about where to place it and move it and whatnot. That makes sense. Their website says that their workstation can take up to 64 sound files and place them or move them through the theater sound space.

I have to admit I’m still confused. What is their master sound format? Is there a master sound format? Is it simply an open-ended thing? Up to 64 tracks plus meta data and that’s it? No built-in hard speaker assignments? So let’s assume that it’s something like that. How do you turn it over for encoding? Eight 8-track hard drives off the Tascam MMR-8 recorder? A firewire drive from Pro Tools with all 64 tracks on it? Maybe most people don’t care about these things but this is the nitty-gritty tech stuff that I like to understand. Now after it’s encoded, what gets shipped to theaters with the prints?

When you’re dealing with a 5.1 master sound track it’s pretty simple—6 channels of audio. That easily fits onto a hard drive. Since many stages make use of MMR-8 recorders, the drive from that machine will usually be sent to the NT Audio or one of the other facilities around Los Angeles that will encode the soundtrack on to the film. Dolby shows up on the dub stage with their own encoding gear and they’ll generate a couple of MOs (Magneto-Optical Disks) with their Dolby-encoded master audio. These disks get shipped to the lab facility as well.

With a 5.1 master sound track, each channel of audio contains all the audio that is played from one speaker in a theater. Usually the layout is like this:

  1. Left
  2. Left Surround
  3. Center
  4. Right Surround
  5. Right
  6. Sub

That’s what I’m wondering about with my questions. How does that process work for the Iosono system?

You need to have at least the 5.1 covered with this new system so you can fill up the space with sound. Pretty much all the dialogue comes out the center channel along with some of the sound effects and foley. Most of the sound effects and music are in the left and right speakers. The surrounds are used for reverb returns on music to give it more presence, backgrounds to create the environment, and sound effects for movement (i.e. bullet bys past the camera into the surrounds). At a minimum you need to recreate that in Iosono. Everything else is bonus.

But here’s a problem that I see: predubbing. When the sound editors on a film show up on the stage for predubbing they have lots and lots of tracks of sound with them. This might be a typical breakdown:

  • Dialogue — 16 tracks
  • ADR — 24 to 32 tracks
  • Group ADR — 24 to 32 tracks
  • Foley (Footsteps and Props) — 32 tracks
  • Backgrounds — 96 tracks
  • Sound Effects — 32 to 200+ tracks

Sound Effects of course is the difficult one. If the film is a talkie, light romantic comedy, then you’re probably closer to the 32 tracks. If you’re dealing with an action movie you can easily go well beyond 200 tracks of effects. Foley could be similar. If you’re dealing with a sci-fi or a period piece with lots of objects that are not “standard” to our world there might be many, many more tracks of props.

Now these cut tracks need to be predubbed to manageable amounts for the final mix. We usually deal with 8-track predubs or at least think of them in groups of 8-tracks. So you might wind up with something like this:

  • Dialogue — 1 8-track predub
  • ADR — 1 8-track predub
  • Group ADR — 1 or 2 8-track predubs
  • Foley — 2 8-track predubs
  • Backgrounds — 4 8-track predubs
  • Sound Effects — 4 to 15 8-track predubs

So even on a light show you can be looking at 104 tracks of sound after predubbing—and we still need to add music in there. That’s more than the Iosono system can handle. You almost need to do a second predub to get that down to the 64 tracks.

It’s not an impossible workflow to manage but it would take more time. And that is one of the critical points from my previous post. How much is a studio willing to spend on this?

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me on this—it sounds like a very cool system. I just wonder how it can fit it our existing time frame to accomplish our goals and will studios and theater chains be willing to shell out the cash for it?

This One Goes Up To Eleven

Wired has this article about a new “super” surround sound which uses more than 300 speakers in a theater to truly recreate an environment and place sounds anywhere within the room. Three hundred speakers is a couple more than the 6 that most theaters have today. (Actually theaters usually have more than 6 speakers. You’ll often see many along the sides and in the back corners but they broadcast the same sound. There’s still only 6 individual channels of source material that get played through those speakers.)

It’s an interesting idea and those of us in the sound industry have often joked about the fact that eventually there will be speakers covering every single inch of space in theaters. (Obviously there was a bit of truth in that humor.) However without having actually seen the demo myself—someone please add me to the list next time 🙂 —I have to say that I have some doubts about this system.

I don’t have doubts about the fact that we will have more than 6 channels of audio in a theater in the future. That’s a given. In fact it’s the present. There is actually a 6.1 system (7 channels) from Dolby called Dolby Digital Surround EX which adds a center surround speaker directly behind the audience. Often only the “high end” first run rooms in a movie complex are setup for EX. Plus not all soundtracks are mixed to support that. But all that aside, we will probably see other additional speakers added in the future. (If I had my way we’d have a high center speaker on the ceiling of the theater in the front. IMAX makes use of it because the screens are so large but for regular theaters it would allow sounds to not just go side-to-side but also up and down. Try to imagine a jet fly by with a high center speaker. It could be awesome.)

There are a couple of things that confuse me about this system. The first is how many channels of sound do you actually have? Ok, sure it has over 300 speakers. Does that mean there are 300 channels of sound? When we finish our final mix on a movie we wind up with a 6 track master. Dolby encodes that into data that sits between the sprockets of the 35mm print for Dolby Digital. DTS writes those tracks onto a CD-ROM which gets shipped with the print for theaters that support that standard. And SDDS writes it to both edges of the film—outside the sprockets. (Actually SDDS is a 7.1 system with 5 speakers up front instead of 3, but very, very few theaters have it anymore. Yet another proprietary format that Sony botched.) What do you do with a 300 track master?

Three hundred channels of sound is a completely unreasonable amount of material to turn over at the end of the mix. I’m certain that they actually use fewer but the question remains: how many?

Another big problem I see is their current interface. I have been on the stage with pretty much every big-name mixer in town and I cannot imagine any of them wanting to play with a light pen to place sounds around the room. It seems like it would take way too much time. Even though movie budgets are balooning to huge numbers, the vast majority of that goes to actors’ salaries and special effects. Sound budgets are often smaller today then they were 10 years ago. You no longer have 30 sound editors on a crew cutting film and 5 assistants helping them. More often than not it’s 10 editors and 1 or 2 assistants. And it’s a similar thing on the dub stage. Typical films today predub in 3 or 4 weeks and final in 2 or 3. That’s it. Seven or eight weeks on the final dub stage to create the master track.

Again, I wasn’t actually at the demo so I don’t know how easy it really is to use. But when I think of the time it can take on a stage just to pan a bunch of stereo car bys through the center speaker because an editor didn’t turn it over as an LCR—not to mention the time involved to create a large action sequence like a gunfight bullets and debris flying all over the room—it seems that the light pen positioning would be awkward and slow. The pictures included with the article show a Pro Tools system sending what appears to be a single sound into their positioning system. That’s not a realistic test for time, ease and usability. They should try it with the hundreds and hundreds of tracks that get turned over for your typical action sequence. How long does it take to do it then?

A final problem I see is the home theater market. DVDs are huge business for the movie industry. Lots of people have little 5.1 systems in their living rooms. How do you take a 300 channel mix and bring it down to a 5.1 for the DVD release? How many weeks are you willing to spend on that? And I do mean “spend”. How much money will a studio pay for that down-mix? That’s what it will really come down to. Your typical home theater cannot possible recreate the same range of frequencies that a good theater can, but at least the speaker assignments are the same. Now try to untangle a mess of sounds spread out over 300 channels and focus it down to 6. It seems to me that it would take weeks to do that.

After a day to do the printmaster on the final stage we usually spend 2 or 3 days making all the versions—Dolby Stereo, Dolby Surround, Mono, plus the M&E (music and effects) for the foreign versions. Now you need to extend that by what? A week? Two weeks? Just to get a 5.1 for DVD release? And what about the theaters that can’t afford the “super” surround system? You’re still going to need a 5.1 version for them.

It’s a pretty cool idea. I’m not sure how soon we’ll actually see it in action. Or if we’ll ever see it in this incarnation. (I’m telling you, they should have invited me to the demo. I’d tell those Germans what they need to focus on. 😉 )

Thanks (once again) to Boing Boing for making me aware of this. (It’s kind of like the old “Are you a Beatles person or a Stones person?” question. Only this one is “Are you a Boing Boing person or a Fark person?” I’m a Boing Boing person.)

The Best Of Both Worlds

No, this is not another Star Trek post. Nor a reference to the choice of Dave or Sammy in the new Van Halen greatest hits album. (We’re all desparately trying to forget the fact that for a brief time there was a third.)

This is actually heralding the newly announced Movable Type 3.1 coming to a weblog near you on August 31. Many have critiqued Six Apart, particularly with the recent change in licensing, for continuing to provide weblog software that natively only supports static pages, while many other weblog and CMS systems are PHP based.

No longer. (Wait for it.) Movable Type 3.1 will offer the best of both worlds where publishers can decide on a per-template basis whether to offer a dynamic or static page. (We have titular line.) This is a huge step forward. There are distict advantages to both methods. Static pages offer a much lower server load while dynamic pages can generate information on the fly, instantly incorporating new content.

Other improvements include post scheduling, a subcategory management system, and new hooks for plug-in developers. Not to mention all the winning plug-ins from the recent contest.

I personally am anxious for this new software. It should certainly add whole new levels to what you can accomplish with your weblog.

All Tomorrow’s Parties

I watch a lot of Star Trek. I love that show—in all of its forms. I know I’ve said it before that I’d rather watch an episode of Star Trek then pretty much any other TV show out there. That’s why I was glad when “Star Trek: Enterprise” was renewed for a fourth season. It’s also why I love the fact that you can get every episode of every show (nearly) on DVD now. Ok, so they’re about half-way through the “Voyager” release schedule and “Enterprise” hasn’t started to show up yet. Still it’s pretty awesome for Trek fans.

I’ve been making my way through season 3 of “The Next Generation” recently, and tonight I hit the episode. There are many good ones from that season and of course many would point to the Borg-intensive season finale “The Best of Both Worlds” as the point at which the series got really good. But for me, the episode is “Yesterday’s Enterprise”.

Yes, it is a “reset switch” episode where the hackneyed “it was all just a dream” story point is resolved through time travel, but it still stands out as one of the truly great episodes of any Trek series.

The Enterprise-D encounters a spacial anomaly and the Enterprise-C, thought lost 22 years before, appears through the rift. Suddenly everything is different. The Enterprise-D is no longer a ship of exploration. It is a battleship. The families are gone replaced by troops. And the Federation has been in a bloody war with the Klingons for 20 years.

This is one of those episodes where strong characters, a tight script and good acting evoke an emotional impact that is not often seen on television. Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes both display a subtly different Picard and Riker on the batteship, both with stronger personalities, more opinionated, which clash more often.

The true gem of course is the return of Tasha Yar. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” took a big step forward in world of television when it premiered in 1987. Sure there was a female doctor and ship’s counselor but that wasn’t stretching things particularly far. Tasha though was a different matter. She was the security officer and martial arts expert. How many TV shows or movies for that matter had a female action hero in 1987? It’s too bad that Denise Crosby decided to leave the show by the end of the first season so Tasha had to be killed off by an evil black ooze.

Seeing Tasha Yar back on the bridge, if only in an alternate reality, is a real joy in “Yesterday’s Enterprise”. Seeing all the characters deal with the decision to send the Enterprise-C back through the anomaly and face certain death is probably the strongest point of the entire show—particularly with Tasha. Her decision to go with them so that she wouldn’t have a meaningless death (via evil black ooze) is one of those times where even the strongest viewer gets a little misty-eyed.

If you haven’t seen this episode before, I would strongly encourage you to take a look. It’s truly a fine piece of television. And if you have, maybe it’s been a while. Maybe it’s time to enjoy it once again.

Trackback Spam Sucks

I have been getting hit pretty hardcore with the Trackback Spam today. It seems that every time a take a look at my email there’s another 50 messages from MT saying that I have new trackbacks. And they’re not real trackbacks of people writing about something I wrote—they’re links to sex sites. So every couple of hours I’ve been going in and clearing them out. It’s not terribly difficult under MT3, but it is annoying. I sure hope that Blacklist 2.0 is released soon. (Hell, I’d even go for a beta! hint hint.)

For those who have been experiencing the annoying Trackback Spam under MT2.6.x, Jay has some easy instructions for getting rid of it with Blacklist 1.6.4.

Occasionally Glancing Up Through The Rain

I’ve been listening to a ton of Pink Floyd recently. You know how you get in those “moods”—there’s that one album or maybe a particular genre is really speaking to you at the moment? I’m going through that with Pink Floyd. I’m not sure what sparked this. I’ve always been a fan, but I’ve only had the big four albums on CD. Ok, maybe the big 3 plus a smaller 4th: “Dark Side Of The Moon”, “Wish You Were Here”, “The Wall”, and “Meddle”. Oh yeah, I did have “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” for a long time too. Oh, and “Momentary Lapse Of Reason” and “The Division Bell”. Oh well. So I had a few of the very well known ones and some others.

I never owned a copy of “Animals”. Not sure why. I just never did. I had many other albums on cassette when I was in high school. “Final Cut”, “Atom Heart Mother”, etc. But something spurred this Pink Floyd kick in me so I went out and picked up pretty much all the CDs I didn’t have, and for about the past month now I’ve been listening to them a lot. Man! What good stuff. Of course those classic albums are amazing, but there are so many good songs on their other albums. They may not be a strong on whole but there are several great tunes from “Obscured By Clouds” and that live disk of “Ummagumma” is fantastic.

My buddy Ben gave the the “Live At Pompeii: Director’s Cut” DVD a while back and I hadn’t gotten around to checking it out. So that’s gone into heavy rotation too. I have to say, the original concert film is great. Sure, it’s pretty dated with its special effects, but it all fits with the time period. And the performances are awesome. It’s actually pretty similar to the “Ummagumma” live disk plus 3 songs from “Meddle”—“Echoes”, “One Of These Days”, and “Mademoiselle Nobs” (an early version of “Seamus” ).

I’m very disappointed with the Director’s Cut of the film however. Adrian Maben did himself a big disservice by releasing that cut. He had this great concert film, and he shot a lot of interesting stuff of Pink Floyd in the studio while they were making “Dark Side”. He should have simply released a separate documentary of that material. Instead he combines the two together and adds in a bunch of extra new b-roll—NASA space archive footage, newly shot footage at various Ancient Rome museum exhibits, and some really cheesy CGI outerspace planet fly-by stuff. What he winds up with is a bizarre hodge-podge of seemingly unrelated material.

If there is one thing that’s bummed me out about my recent music kick, it’s that I wish I’d had these albums in my collection years ago, particularly “Animals”. I don’t know what I was thinking. One of the best parts is when Dave Gilmour’s solo kicks in right around 3:30 in “Dogs”. I might just have to do another Cool Song Parts with Pink Floyd tunes.