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A Look At Talkies

Did you know that the first few years during the commercial film industry, few companies were willing to make a movie that was an hour long? The reason was not technological; it was thought that people were simply unable to tolerate sitting down and watching a film for that long. In fact, it took a few years longer for the U.S. to create a full-length feature film (over 60 minutes in length) for this very reason. In 1906, however, some Australians became the first to do so by creating a movie based on Ned Kelly's gang (entitled, "The Story of the Kelly Gang"). Up until 1911, Australia was the only country that regularly made feature-length movies. Of course, it wasn't until the 1930s that films started including the sound of the actors. You could actually hear them talk! People called these kinds of movies, "the talkies," to differentiate from their silent precursors.

And look where we are today. We can watch music videos online, documentaries online or even interviews and news reports online. We can see movies on gargantuan screens with delicious sound, or we can download them and watch them on our computers. Personally, I like going to the theatre. There's something about being around a large group of people when you're watching a comedy, so as to hear a large group of people laughing. Or in a drama, when you know people are wondering, "What's going to happen next?" knowing full well everyone has their own ideas. But what if you have a movie already, for instance, and it's on VHS or Beta and you just want to lend it to someone. In the age of DVDs, a lot of people don't even have VHS machines, nevermind its forefather, the Betamax. Heck, I don't even have an audio cassette player. So what do you do if you your copy can't be used abroad? One solution is to buy some pretty expensive hardware and transfer it from one medium to another. Definitely feasible, but what if someone has already done it? Well, then we have options.

You could download it or, if you know someone who has the same movie and transferred it onto the computer medium, you can borrow or copy it from them. One of the things you will notice is how very often you can have a copy of a movie or television show, but your computer won't play it. It mentions something about a "decoder" or "codec" problem. Without getting into too much geek-speak, a "codec" just means "coder/decoder"; the software that understands the kind of coding that went into creating the file and then decodes it for you to watch. If you don't have the right codec, the file is as useful to you as a VLB video card in a machine with PCI slots. So what do you do? The first thing you do is make sure you have the latest version of DivX, a codec that has become hugely common. You can find it by clicking this link. Just download and install it. It won't change any of your programs or your operating system; it just adds the codecs. It also comes with an application, but that isn't necessary to use if you already have Winamp, Windows Media Player, Quicktime, Real Player or some other type of video playing program. The codecs give those programs the ability to play these files.

It is because of the influx of people downloading videos that created a need for a program that can discover what codec is being used in case what you have isn't working. Otherwise, how would you know what to get? I once spoke of finding free software and it is that sort of thing that led me to find a program that will tell you what kind of codec you need. Finding the actual codec is another issue, but since it tells you the name of the codec, going to your favourite search engine and typing in "download (codec name)" should get you off and running. Trust me: When your player can't play the file you have and gives you no indication whatsoever why it can't or what it needs to play, this program is a god-send. So the name of this program is called Gspot(click the link to go to the download page).

Once you download and install the program, load Gspot, wait for a few seconds while it loads the codecs you have installed on your system (it shows you the progress) and the following screenshots are what you'll see (click on the images to get a larger view):

There is a lot of information that Gspot offers, but we're going to focus on how to get the answers you want. This first image shows the name of a file after I clicked on the ellipsis beside the "Path" field in the box on the upper-left hand side. After you select the file, click on the Render box, shown on the bottom left hand side.


In the first box on the top right hand side, which is called Video, you can see that I have "2 compatible codecs installed". If I clicked on that box, it would tell me which codecs it uses.


The same goes with the audio codecs (the box below video). I have 3 compatible codecs. So, the bottom line here is that Gspot is telling me I have all the stuff I need to play this video. Huzzah!


Just for safe measures, if you like, you can click on the "Rendering successful. (click here for details.)" box. This will give you all the information Gspot garnered from rendering the file; that is, this will help you find out what kind of codec you need if you are unable to play the file.


If, after all this, you have trouble viewing the video, don't give up hope. There is another codec pack out there called K-Lite. It often comes with Kazaa Lite, but you can download it by clicking this link.

That is all I've ever used to get things running. It's a beautiful program. Good luck in your efforts. I think you'll find this to be superbly useful!

On an unrelated note, last week, I decided to try something: I set up a spare name on my mail server called "subscriber". I used it specifically for this one site that said, when I signed up for their service, that they reserve the right to pass on my information to third parties they deem appropriate. I thought, "Okay, we'll see what happens." In the week since signing up, I've had one mail from them, the actual company, and 27 e-mails that anyone would consider spam. The substance behind the company's newsletter is meagre and the spam I've received because of them is terribly intrusive. Gleefully, I can just delete that mailbox and I won't hear from any of these companies to whom they've passed my information. The point here is that even the most professional companies will do this. I read their "privacy policy" before I signed up, which is where I found that they would be willing to pass my information on. This isn't so much of a "privacy policy" as it is a "public policy", but the bottom line is: They stated their intentions. If you're going to sign up for anything on the Internet, even if it's just to get a product, use a spare account from Yahoo, or some such provider. If they're authentic and you find you're not getting spam, you can always change your address later. Chances are, you're going to get more than you anticipated. Speaking of which, I have an account to delete.

Next week, we'll look at digital cameras and the various types there are out there. A lot of people wonder what kind they should get, what with the hundreds to choose from. How do you choose one you know that you'll like out of the hundreds out there? Easy. You'll see how.

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