Pure Foto Magic, a mini USB TV tuner, and how (not) to download movies

Posted by Kathleen Maher on November 6th 2006 | Discuss
Categories: Software Review
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I know, some of you think the “F” in PFM stands for something else, and it does, but in this case it stands for both—read on …

This is a sad story with a happy ending.

My dear aunt Joy died last week, in her bed, asleep, no pain, about as good a way to go as there is. She was 93, led a great life, had three daughters, five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, but only one nephew.

I flew back to Philadelphia for the funeral and met with my cousins, who I haven’t seen for five years. We grew up together and I thought of them more as sisters than cousins.

At the home of Barbara, the oldest, I took a picture of the three of them, and then someone took a couple of pictures of the four of us.

When I got home I transferred those pictures and the ones from the conference I had attended the day before flying to Phila. Or at least I thought I did.

I had the pictures from the conference, but not the ones of my cousins. The thought of having lost those photos was really upsetting, and you can imagine I used every search engine I had plus manual searching, to no avail; they were gone. And, I am such a neat freak, I empty out my recycle bin at least once a week and keep my machine clean and tight with cleaner programs and defrags regularly; here was a situation where a little less efficiency would have been welcome.

The good news, if there was any, was that I hadn’t taken any pictures since I thought I transferred them. That was also an unusual thing because we had several meetings, and dinner dates, and I usually take pictures at such occasions.

So I went searching for data recovery software. When a file is transferred and/or deleted, the data is still actually on the memory, just the file name and its pointers are deleted. Then when you save new stuff you write over the older images (not photos in this case, disk images). So theoretically, I still had the disk images of my photos, just without their file names and structure.

Now the task became finding a program to recover the files. A simple web search of photo recovery yielded a lot of choices, too much in fact to make an intelligent choice. So I examined a couple. One of them looked really impressive from Ontrack DataRecovery, but it was overwhelming with insufficient explanation of what I might be buying, and the stuff was not cheap, running from hundreds to well over a thousand dollars. I was willing to spend the money, but not until I could get a comfortable feeling that it would do the job. So I kept searching.

PhotoRescue to the rescue

Then I found PhotoRescue. The opening page got me (below).

PFM

Figure 1. PhotoRescue's website made it easy to try the software out before buying it.

How simple and well marketed was this? Try it, buy it. I did, and I did. I downloaded the demo and ran it. It took a while to search and restore the 1-GByte flash memory in my Exilim camera, and it consumed a lot of the PC’s resources doing it, but I wasn’t complaining. And then, like PFM, it had found and restored all of the pictures that had been on my memory. I could actually see them. I selected the four I was looking for and right-mouse-clicked, and it gave me choices, including Save. I clicked it and it let me save three of the four (it chose which three) photos. When I tried to get the fourth, it directed me to the buy-it site.

One ironic point is that the demo also found the names I had assigned to the photos, but not the file extensions (remember this). One of the other -choices the demo program gave me was the ability to save a disk image of the recovery. That would not allow me to recover anything without their software, but it would give me a great, compressed, backup.

So I immediately went to the Photo-Rescue site and bought it. Man, what a shocker, they wanted $29 for it. Twenty-nine dollars! Are you kidding? I spill that much at Starbucks. Talk about a no-brainer purchase. And, you can purchase an expert version or a wizard version, for the Mac or the PC, or all of them for just $49 (http://www.datarescue.com/photorescue/).

I gave them my credit card data and downloaded the full program—when loaded it uses a paltry 3.8 MBytes (compared to 44.8 MBytes for Firefox). I opened it and, not too surprisingly, it looked like the demo. I ran it and it went through the same process as the demo, which is to run 14 recovery methods (that’s the magic part). And it took just as long.

However, this time the recovery did not give me the file names, just a sequence number, but did give me the file extension; not a serious, but nonetheless, curious problem.

I next tried the program on the compressed disk image file the demo creat-ed. Alas, it wasn’t any faster, but it recovered the file names and extensions. Even more curious—I told you it was magic.

But now I was intrigued by this $29 program, having already spent far more time on it than I should and way more in billable time than it cost.

I took a USB flash drive and put several file types on it. Then I opened all the files to make sure that they were good, and would play in the various views/player. Then I deleted all them from the USB memory. I pulled out the USB memory and rebooted my machine. When the machine came back, I launched PhotoRescure and asked it to recover the now blank USB memory.

The following table shows the files deleted vs. those recovered.

Deleted

Recovered

WAV

 

MP3

MP3

M4A

 

AVI

AVI

WMV

 

MPG

MPG

PPT

 

The recovered files, however, did not have any extensions associated with them, although most of them had the titles, but only up to 12 characters. But, they all played.

thumbsupSo it’s not a total media recovery program, but it’s an excellent photo recovery program, and useful for some other file types as well. We give it a big thumbs up, and my cousins are happy with it, too.

ADS USB tuner

ADS Technology has been at it again (someone has to keep McCoy out of the lab). The company has introduced and is shipping its MiniTV USB TV tuner with MediaTV PVR software, its own all-in-one solution for turning a PC into a digital entertainment center.

This device uses a silicon tuner from Xceive. It’s analog TV so there is no MPEG decoder, and ADS is using the Trident TV Master chipset, which offers audio and video A/D and USB interface all in a single IC.

The company is shipping its Media TV software with full PVR capabilities. We can get you a version of 3.0, just being released, which provides access to TitanTV for a free Internet-based EPG fully integrated for scheduling recording of TV shows.

ads

Figure 2. ADS Technology’s MiniTV USB TV module. (Source: ADS Technology)

It is a worldwide analog tuner ... will work well everywhere except France, where analog audio is AM instead of FM. But ADS has a “special version” for them—the company is selling the tuners in North America, South America, and non DVB-T Europe (Eastern Europe).

The unit is not shipped with an antenna. We tested it and had a pretty good experience with it.

Watching TV

There was a lip synch problem: the sound lags the image a little, noticeable but not distracting enough to spoil the viewing. If you do a lot of other things like opening web pages and downloading files, the synch gets worse, but then if you were attentively watching TV you wouldn’t be doing all those other things, would you?

There was a loud static popping noise in between channels when switching channels. Closed captioning isn’t available although it’s on the options menu.

It displays a small window when you go to other screens for setting up the TV’s parameters and channels—nice feature.

It has a 4 x 4 matrix of the channels; it scans through and updates each channel about every two to three seconds.

Switching from the all-channel view to a channel (by clicking on the channel’s window in the matrix) takes about eight seconds for the picture to show up (the TV window is black until it does).

thumbsupThis little, affordable ($79.99) tuner is an easy tag-along traveler. And while you might argue, “Why, when I get to the hotel it will have a TV,” which is true enough, but what about when you’re waiting at the airport, or on a bus, or in a conference room before everyone else gets there (or even while they are)?

So we like it. It works, it’s easy to install, and the MediaTV UI gives you a nice UI for other media management.

Downloading movies

You may have heard about Cinema-Now, the online site that lets you download movies to your PC and watch them. Supported by Microsoft and Intel (MS Media Player, Intel Viiv), it’s designed to get us to put a PC in our living room as an entertainment center.

They have a huge selection of movies (over 800) and you can buy them at $9.95 and pay them three times, or rent them for $3.00.

So I went to the site to buy and download some movies. I clicked on http://www.cinemanow.com/ using Fire-fox, and got this.

You must use Internet Explorer Version 6 or higher on a PC running Windows 2000 or later to use this service.

thumbsdownNow if you ask them why they don’t support Firefox or Opera, they’ll explain that the double web check for DMA requires it. You can stop asking at that point because then the robot you’re talking to gets confused.

Oh, and all of yesterday, when I tried to buy a movie or two, the trustworthy CinemaNow site crashed. Must be running Windows …

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