HD-DVD: Out of the Box

C|net has a new Out of the Box feature where they cover the unpacking and set-up of new technology. Their debut video caught my interest, as a new Toshiba HD-DVD player is unpacked and — without even powering it up — dissected for all to see.

While I think it’s premature to choose sides in the upcoming format war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, I do enjoy checking out how the players work. The opened HD-DVD player featured is essentially a Pentium 4-based PC with a few add-ons like the HD video decoder chip and a USB attachment containing the firmware. Surprisingly, the heavy lifting of the video decoding is done not by the Pentium 4, but by the HD decoder chip, leaving the P4 for tasks such as generating a pretty interface.

I look forward to see what other new technologies Out of the Box will cover, especially new Apple gadgets. WWDC is coming up in August, and I’m hoping for shiny new somethings from Apple. (Not glossy, mind you.)

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HD-DVD: Out of the Box

Soldering SMD Devices

Today I found myself in the position of needing to re-solder a video connector to a laptop motherboard to resurrect the machine. Without the connector, the display couldn’t be connected properly and the laptop would have otherwise been a paperweight. I dug up a tutorial on SMD soldering I discovered a while back and decided to give it a shot. After all, with a broken video connector on the motherboard, things could only get better.

As the name states, surface mount devices attach only to the surface of the circuit board but do not have pins that pass through it, making soldering them much more complex. With today’s increasingly complex electronics and multi-level circuit boards, SMD electronics are a necessity, but aren’t quite tinkerer-friendly.

Written by Andy Green, one of the original Xbox hackers and Xbox-Linux members, the tutorial details a clever way to solder surface mount components to a board, however it requires a little faith. Soldering each pin individually on a surface mount chip would be a nightmare, especially considering the hair thin spaces between them. But by completely drowning the pins in solder and removing the excess, a solid electrical connection can be formed. Normally, a short between two or more pins is a very bad thing, but Andy’s tutorial shows how to carefully remove the unneeded solder and leave only what’s required to make the connection. It looks risky — almost hopeless at times — but it can be done. After trying it myself, I had great success.

Soldering SMD Devices

Buffalo LinkStation

Recently I bought a network-attached hard drive to store my movies, music, and TV shows on and share throughout my home network. Normally, a simple shared folder on a low-energy computer would do, but I was curious to see how well a dedicated, non-computer solution would work. Ideally, the device should be available at a moment’s notice, be able to store large files, and provide fast and reliable transfers.

After looking at dozens of expensive solutions, I found an affordable home or office use networked hard drive made by Buffalo (makers of one of the only AirPort range-extension compatible WiFi base stations). I ordered the 250 GB version to try it out, although capacities of up to 400 GB are available. Much to my delight, the Buffalo LinkStation fit my needs well, offering Gigabit Ethernet, backup options, and (arguably most important) an affordable price tag.

Having created a shared folder for movies, music, TV, and general storage, I configured Xbox Media Center to default to my Movies share where XviD versions of all my DVDs are stored. I also added the TV and Music shares to XBMC’s configuration file so all my media is accessible in from one place.

iTunes can also play music off the LinkStation after being told to not copy files into its own folder. Mac OS X is smart enough to remember network shares even after they’re disconnected, so double-clicking a song in iTunes automatically connects to the share and plays just as you’d expect.

Storing all your important files in one place makes for a great media hub, but also allows for everything to disappear should the built-in hard drive fail. Luckily, Buffalo allows two forms of automatic backup. Two LinkStations can be mirrored across the network to provide redundancy, or a USB 2.0 port is also available for external hard drive backup.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with my purchase and would recommend it to anyone looking for fast, spacious, and always-available storage.

Buffalo LinkStation