Monday, 3 June 2013

Comparison of digital video formats

With the old analogue TV signal finally consigned to the history books, pretty much everything that we watch on TV and video is coming to us in digital format.

From YouTube to iPlayer, we’re exposed to more digital video than ever before. This means that the race is on for manufacturers and developers to create the ‘go to’ format that will dominate the world of digital viewing. Until the next big thing comes along that is.

So what is the difference between HD and AVI and what does it actually mean in terms of quality and user experience? Here’s a quick guide to help you tell your MPEG from your DVD so that you can get the most out of your viewing time.


For many of us, YouTube was the place that we first saw any kind of digital video online.

Created in 2005, YouTube originally only offered one level of video quality. Today it has multiple options, from very basic to HD and supports a number of digital formats for upload.

The quality that you’ll actually be able to view videos in will depend on your computers capability, your bandwidth and the size of the video. YouTube was the original home of internet based digital video.


MPEG stands for Moving Picture Experts Group and is very popular in the world of digital video.

There are three main types of MPEG, MPEG-1 gives you rather poor video quality, sometime no better than old-fashioned VHS videos, whereas MPEG-2 gives much better results and is the compression technology behind much HDTV as well as DVDs.

One of the fastest growing MPEG formats is the MPEG-4 or MP4. The format is easily streamed over the internet and so is used by iPods and iTunes as well as video sharing websites.


Created by Microsoft, AVI or Audio Video Interleave can be played by almost any digital video player and so has become one of the default video formats.

The downside to AVI is that the files don’t contain pixel aspect ratio information and so videos can appear stretched or squeezed when played back.


The MOV format was created by Apple so that users could store and play videos on their devices.

Now compatible with both Windows and Mac platforms, this format can only be played on QuickTime player, but does offer great compression ability so is perfect for storing lots of films and TV series.

Created by Apple, MOV is great for storing all of your digital video files.

720p HD 

As video makers and video consumers begin to demand better quality, the move towards HD video will become unstoppable.

The first step in this revolution is 720p HD, which is half the quality of ‘true’ HD. Seen by many as a poor man HD, the format doesn’t have the sharpness or clarity of HD, but is a big improvement on previous formats.

Thanks to its smaller size, more people are able to view 720p as it doesn’t clog up as much of your precious bandwidth.

Full HD 

At 1080p or 2.1 mega pixels, full HD is significantly bigger than 720p, and the proof is very much in the pudding.

Watch any video in full HD, and the difference between it and other formats will be immediately obvious.

The downside though is the size and capacity needed to play HD videos over the internet.

However there’s no doubt that as technology improves, the number of videos available in HD will increase, something which can only mean good news for the viewing public.

Digital video formats are evolving and developing constantly. Always looking for ways to advance their products, manufacturers never tire of bringing out new formats and improving old.

So watch this space for new digital video formats that haven’t even been though up yet, they’re likely to be even bigger and better than you can imagine.

Author bio: Tom Reynolds works for Bushey DVD, the vhs to dvd converting service. Picture credits: Wikipedia 1 & 2

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Free Tools for Managing Social Media Accounts – a look at what it says in the title

The debris of social media can weigh users down on a daily and even hourly basis. And without the right tools it’s a cluttered world out there in the big wide world of the likes of Twitter. Thankfully, however, there are some great tools for managing social media accounts. And they cost absolutely nothing, so here’s some of the best currently on offer.


Have you got Klout? You might be dipping your toe into the social media waters, or it could be your job and passion, whatever stage you’ve reached, it can worth examining the effectiveness of what you’re doing. And Klout is the handy tool for just this. It measures your power via the likes of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, crunching the numbers to tell users about their influence. Klout is scored on a scale of one to one hundred with the average score being 40. So log in and find out about your Klout.


As the popularity of Twitter grows, so people find themselves in the position of having multiple Twitter accounts: one for work, one for personal use, and perhaps one for a hobby or side project. So it left people pondering how to keep track of all of this Twitter information without letting important tweets or messages fall through the cracks. Handily Hootsuite offers just the solution to this problem. Its web-based dashboard allows users to keep track of several social accounts, all from the once place. And it’s all for free. Hootsuite also offers the opportunity to up the social ante with additional paid features which include Facebook integration and the Hootsuite Conversations. This works almost like an instant messaging service.


With some 72 million active account and around 400 million tweets being sent every day, using Twitter to its full business advantage, can be a tricky task. Some people tweet fervently, some knowledgeably and some not at all. So how do you sort for wheat from the chaff in a social world? Well, try using Followerwonk. This free tool works on different levels. Users can search via Twitter bios those of potential interest. It is also possible to identify about your most influential followers and when the best time is to engage via Twitter.


Dubbed the Twitter Yellow Pages, Twellow works as a twitter directory. Launched in 2007, the free service has been modified and upgraded along the way with the most recent 2.0 version boasting new features including Twellohood. This allows users to sift through tweets by location, making it easier to connect and find out information being tweeted from or about your local area. And with Twellow’s 31 million profiles and 3000 categories, that’s a considerable amount of potential information.


Sifting through the Twitter chatter can be time-consuming and labour intensive, so make life easier and use Topsy. There’s a free option which allows users to search for a specific word or topic across a multitude of outlets such as photos, videos and tweets. Course, if you've cash to splash then you can cast your net wider but the free tool still makes for useful analyse of topics.

Social Mention

If you’re looking to keep track of specific mentions, then streamline and simplify this by using social mention. It collects content across a plethora of different platforms including Facebook and Twitter and puts it into a single stream. There are no hidden charges and it’s so easy to use that it’ll make you wonder what you did before using this tool.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Dedicated Servers vs Virtual Servers

Choosing between dedicated and virtual servers for your business can be a big decision. But you don’t need to be an expert in CPU cores, RAID disk space and disk transactions to be able to make the right choice.

The key is to known the main requirements for your business, look at the advantages and disadvantages for each solution, and work with the best internal and external specialists to achieve the right results.

The main difference between dedicated and virtual servers is simple. With the former, you pay to control a dedicated box, whereas the virtual option gives you space on a server that may host several other virtual environments, and is optimised to allow the best allocation of that resource.

Server room

Virtual Servers:

There are some big advantages to using Virtual Servers. One of the primary ones is cost – as low as £9.95 a month for a Virtual Server package from some providers. That compares to the entry point for a dedicated server starting at £89 per month.

That’s a big amount over the course of a year for small or medium-sized businesses, especially if you’re not sure you’re going to use everything a dedicated resource will give you. And even larger companies can use a virtual server to launch small or experimental projects at far less expense.

Although there are some concerns around the use of virtualisation software, this has developed and evolved to make little difference to server performance, and means that your share of resources will be optimised at all times. For example a company I've worked with uses Xen, which operates at around 2% of total performance, and provides a high level of isolation between virtual instances.

Other benefits include the fact that a shared resource is easily scalable. You can get an upgrade in the event of a huge surge in traffic, without committing to a big new piece of hardware. If that business sticks around, you’ll be happy to pay a little more. If it doesn't then at least you don’t have a dedicated server sitting around doing nothing except costing you money.

You also get the benefits of fast and easy migration. The connectivity and software controls mean that it’s possible to not only shift servers without problems, but also to restore a backup hosted on a different virtual machine, for example.

Virtual servers are largely isolated and are closely managed to meet stated performance guarantees, but the one downside is if peak times and larger surges occur – particularly if they happen to a number of services at the same time.

Dedicated Servers:

Purchasing a dedicated server means that somewhere there’s a box with your name on it. For larger businesses, it can be necessary to have completely dedicated resources, especially if you’re dealing with huge traffic numbers or specialise in streaming large quantities of video and audio. In terms of hosting websites, you’d often need to hosting thousands to require a high specification dedicated server.

It’s still a more cost effective option than creating your own server room, which incurs costs not only for potentially valuable real estate, but also for the necessary cooling requirements. Plus there are health and safety rules to follow, including fire safety.

Your server is completely isolated, with no shared hardware, and you have full control over the hardware components as well as software.

But there are disadvantages. Firstly, the entry cost is much higher, and requires a significant upfront investment. If you’re not sure of traffic or success, it can be a lot to pay for redundant power until you actually need it. Often, hosting companies will allow you to easily scale up on a virtual server and migrate across when dedicated power is needed.

It’s also less flexible than a virtual equivalent. The resource you have is essentially static and requires downtime to upgrade – when your server is offline, so are you.  In terms of emergencies and hardware failures, RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) should keep you going until support staff can make a fix.

Choosing between Virtual and Dedicated Servers:

Essentially the choice is simplified to what purpose you have for the server, and what the realistic potential traffic will be. In most cases, a virtual server will be more than enough to get started, and run your business for some time. If you need to switch, then it’s always an option when the business needs require it.

Dedicated servers are always an option, but it’s important to be realistic about whether you’ll need the extra performance and options unless you’re a very large media-streaming or high traffic website (Or group of websites). And unless you’re prepared to administer the server manually, you may also need to pay for a control panel to se your server.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

IPv6 – The effect on web hosting and customers

One of the biggest changes in internet infrastructure really began this year with the World IPv6 Launch in June 2012. The move to IPv6 revises the primary protocol on which the entire Internet is built, but how exactly will it affect hosting companies, those wanting to run their own website, or even general internet uses?  Should you be looking at hosting companies which have already upgraded to support IPv6 and buying a new router?
Data Center

What are IPv4 and IPv6? Why change?

The basics of Internet Protocols are actually fairly simple when you strip away the technical discussions. Just as with physical mail, sending packets of internet data requires somewhereto send from and a destination. So every device (computer, smartphone, router etc) connected to the internet requires an Internet Protocol (IP) address, along with every website.  This also applies to every website, and the current IPv4 system which was standardised at the start of the 1980s allows for a 32-bit number, which you’ll see as ‘’, regardless of whether your website can also be reached by or your laptop is named as MyLaptop.

The problem is that this allowed for just under 4.3 billion IP addresses, which seemed plenty at the start of the 1980s. Even by the mid-1990s it was apparent that this wouldn’t be enough for future development, and then came the explosion in smartphones, tablets, games consoles and the ‘Internet of Things’ which covers everything from connected sensors in factories to internet-enabled fridges and cars.

Work on the new revision, IPv6 has gone on since the mid-90s, but given a global population of seven billion in 2011, and our multi-device lifestyle, the current range of addresses has been pretty much exhausted.
So the main reason for IPv6 is the switch to 128-bit addresses which gives an amount of possible address which is unlikely to ever run out.  It also brings other improvements to efficiency and security, but the switch to IPv6 has been a long process as it isn’t directly compatible to IPv4. In case you’re wondering, a typical IPv6 address would be ‘2001:db8:1f70:999:de8:7648:6e8’.

Hosting with IPv6:

Adoption of IPv6 should be part of your choice of hosting provider going forwards. Although IPv4 will continue to function for the foreseeable future, all new addresses will follow the IPv6 protocol. That means that you’ll need new IPv6 address assigned for your sites to function for everything that wants to visit them.
It also means some existing applications, such as FTP access to sites, will require changes to function for IPv6, so you want a host which has already worked on ensuring you still have the tools you need.
You’ll also want to ensure that in the short term, customers who do not have equipment and support for IPv6 sites can access your website via either ‘Dual-Stack’ implementation (which implements both protocols side-by-side), or Tunnelling (which puts IPv6 packets within IPv4). This latter is the option which allows the most widespread access, but does potentially introduce some latency.

IPv6 for general web users:

The gradual adoption by Internet Service Providers, hosting companies and websites has meant that IPv6 hasn’t become noted by most consumers – indeed, the hope would be that there’s minor disruption if any!
Indeed, even governments have been slow to transfer, such as the U.S. and Canada.
The important thing to remember is that IPv6 will only become adopted more widely, so when you are upgrading or replacing equipment in the future, you need to make sure it fully supports IPv6.
Most operating systems are already compatible (Windows, Linux, Mac OS, iOS etc), so really the main consideration will be when you are looking to purchase a new router. Although almost every major router manufacturer already produces IPV6 equipment it’s well worth checking before you make a purchase as not everything on the market has support built in, and the level of compatibility can vary. The good news is that IPv6 support is already reaching the £100 price bracket and will come to cheaper products very shortly.

Avoiding IP pain:

As with any change – you can minimise the potential problems with a bit of planning. Start talking to hosting providers which offer IPv6 now, and look at what solutions they have for on-going IPv4 traffic.
Make sure you don’t buy a new router without checking the IPv6 support, and you can check whether your current set-up is compatible via a handy tool from Google.
The change will continue to be gradual over the next 5 or 10 years, but the sooner you work with prepared companies and equipment, the less traumatic it will be!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Is Cloud Computing Environmentally Friendly?

Today we have a guest post from Sally Rogers:

Cloud computing is rapidly changing the face of business IT. Companies both big and small are increasingly making the move towards cloud virtualization. From greatly simplifying the world of IT support to cutting overheads, having the ability to centralise company IT in a virtual cloud format offers many advantages. By using the cloud, companies are also able to reduce their hardware and software requirements, making it a truly cost-effective IT solution.

However, with the current widespread concern over global warming, companies are trying to reduce their carbon footprints. Because of this, many businesses are asking the question; is cloud computing environmentally friendly? Here are some ways in which moving to the cloud can help make companies that much greener.

Reducing Power Consumption
With the IT industry consuming a large chunk of the world's energy, it is vital that companies take a more eco-friendly approach to computing. One of the main ways in which cloud computing allows companies to reduce their power demands is by decreasing their hardware requirements. When IT systems are virtualized in the cloud, companies only need an internet connection in order to access their resources, meaning there is no need for the likes of in-house servers. Being able to get rid of servers and the cooling equipment they require can dramatically reduce company power consumption. This large-scale virtualization enables companies to retain the same IT functionality with less energy needed.

In-house servers can consume a lot of power.

Efficient Data Centres
On paper, being able to get rid of in-house servers is a great step towards more environmentally friendly computing. However, some may ask whether or not the problem is merely being shifted around instead of being solved. After all, cloud service providers still require a lot of raw computing power in order to provide IT virtualization. This is a completely valid and important question to ask, however, the cloud is a lot greener than it may seem.

Cloud data centres usually endeavour to use the most power-efficient hardware possible in order to minimise their environmental impact. Instead of every company housing their own inefficient hardware, cloud servers consolidate computing resources into effective and efficient data centres. Cloud servers may require more energy than a single company, but cumulatively, the energy consumption is significantly reduced. With cloud service providers striving to use the most eco-friendly hardware available, companies can rest assured that they aren't simply masking the issue of going green.

Cloud service providers try to use the most energy-efficient hardware.

Limiting Resource Redundancy
One of the main problems when companies run their own servers for IT services is idle time. Almost no companies are going to be using 100% of their computing power 100% of the time. In reality, only a fraction of the server's capabilities will be harnessed over a given period, meaning most of the time the server is idle and not being used for anything productive. Companies are still drawing on power even when their servers are idling, meaning that extra energy is simply going to waste.

One of the great things about cloud computing is the flexibility of resource allocation it confers. Companies are only given those extra resources when they are actually needed. By using only what is needed, idle time is minimised along with waste power consumption. Being able to scale resources quickly and efficiently is of great benefit to both companies and the environment.

With the impact that the world of IT has on the environment, companies need to do their part to reduce their carbon footprints. With great efficiency and minimal energy waste, cloud computing offers a viable solution to enable companies to become more eco-friendly. From cleaner hardware to proper resource allocation, cloud computing is making the world of IT a greener one.

By Bradley Houston

Image source: skreuzer and clayirving

Author Bio: Sally Rogers is a writer at Cheeky Munkey IT Company, offering posts on many fields of IT including cloud computing, network security and web hosting services.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Frustration with Leopards and Apple

Time for a sound off rant...

I'm a bit of an Apple fan but have never been one of those Fan Boi's... Or I was...

I then updated my iPad and iPhone to iOS 6 via WiFi and all sorts of issues started in ensue.

You see, I bought my Macbook about 4 years ago, just before Snow Leopard came out and never really saw any reason to upgrade to it. I'd seen that Lion and Mountain Lion came along as time went on, but I could still do everything that I needed, and I didn't see the point in paying for an OS upgrade when what I had worked.

But iOS6 was not compatible with Leopard - or rather, Apple chose to stop supplying upgrades to iTunes for Leopard, meaning that the Phone and Tablet could no longer talk to the Macbook.

This was intensely irritating, so I tried to look into upgrading through Apple. But I couldn't - the only OS they offered was Mountain Lion. Fine I grumbled to myself, but thought that I could look at purchasing that and be done with it.

Only, I couldn't do that either. My Macbook was one model to old to handle Mountain Lion without upgrading the technical specifications, which I wasn't too fussed on doing (remember - this laptop still did everything ELSE I wanted it do - just it now wouldn't communicate with the iPhone or iPad).

From the research I did, it became clear to me that I probably needed to get a copy of Snow Leopard to allow me to get the App store added to the OS. So, off I popped to the Apple Store in West Quay, where I spoke to a few of the hip fellows that they had there.

They didn't have a clue... They had to use Google to find the tech specs for the various operating systems, which I already knew and told them.

They also couldn't sell me a copy of Snow Leopard, or offer any "official" path to buy this through them - I was trying to give them money for their product, and they DIDN'T WANT IT...

I left fuming, due to their incompetency, and my continued inability to communicate with my iOS devices. I wanted to change the music, add new video (ok, real "first world problems", but it was frustrating!), but was unable to do so. The last guy I spoke to in the Apple store told me to try eBay or Amazon to get a copy of Snow Leopard, and that it might work with iOS 6, but that they weren't sure.

Seriously, what are these Apple staff paid for? They don't appear to have "expert knowledge" about their product range, from even the near past - only talking about the lifestyle that their new devices can bring.

I sort of gave up after doing some research on prices etc on eBay and Amazon - Snow Leopard looked like it would cost around £70, but it also seemed that these were not described very well, and lots of people on forums were moaning that they'd bought copies that were not compatible with their devices.

Then, I lucked out whilst staying at a friends - when we were looking at a few things on their MBP, I noticed that he had a Snow Leopard disc sat right there!

I wasn't quite sure if this would be a Windows like affair, with 1 disc tied to a single licence, but no, lo and behold it works!

I'm glad to have a working device back, but I'm fearful of this happening all over again in the next few months. You see, Lion is no longer available as an update, only Mountain Lion, which I can't support.

So, when that happens, I will be faced with a choice. Continue Apple, or perhaps see what all the fuss is about with Windows 8!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Frustrations with Digital Copies of Films

I'm a big lover of technology and also am a lover of films.

Despite my love of digital, I've not found moving away from DVDs a particularly easy process - I watch Blu-Ray for some films where High Definition is more of an issue, but don't have Blu-Ray capability in all rooms (yet).

As a result, I've been buying double and triple play packages recently. For watching in the various rooms of my house, this works fine, but I also have mobile devices, which is where complications arise.

All these "legitimate" options use DRM - Digital Rights Management. I hate this - it limits you to using this on persons iTunes account, which doesn't work particularly well when like me you share this media with your partner, but have separate accounts.

So, we bought a few films recently that came with digital copies - these were the A-Team, Crazy Stupid Love, This Means War and Sherlock 2.

2 of these used a system called Ultraviolet and interfaced with Flixster. It wasn't immediately intuitive that you could get these on to the iPad or iPhone. Eventually I worked out that you could use the Flixster Movies app, which you could then download the film to.

This is then locked to those devices, but at least we could get it on there.

Sherlock 2 was fairly simple - iTunes allowed us to enter a code and that downloaded nice and smoothly straight away.

The A-Team experience was a massive fail on Fox Movies part. It came with a digital copy on a disc, but the code that came with it didn't work. It did say that a few issues had been had with some, and that you could request a second code. So I did that, and it said I had no allocations left!

I then had to email Fox, who did a day or two later email a fresh code, which did work.

What frustrates me with all of this the most, is that whilst these are now available on my girlfriends mobile devices, I can't use them myself on my mobile devices (maybe I'm greedy, but we each have our own ones to help us with our digital lives).

Also, for one of the Harry Potter films, I didn't immediately download the copy of the film, which resulted in "losing" the copy, as it expired. This drove me insane - I wanted to get a copy of this digital film, that I'd paid for, and was blocked from doing so!

Whenever we've been given copies of video from more dubious sources, using an App like Buzz Player allows you to use just about any video on all devices. 

I avoid deliberately, illegally downloading. But I can see why people do it. It's easier, it's faster, you jump through far less hoops, you can use it more easily across devices.

I understand that the big film studios want to protect their assets, but they actually make it considerably harder than it needs to be. DRM has been dropped from most music sources, and from the figures I've seen have shown digital revenues increasing. This hasn't been happening that I can see for the film industry - I'm sure there is growth, but most digital video I've been using has been coming along with physical copies.

I think ultimately, the Oatmeal sums it up perfectly, with "I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what Happened"! Go read this, it's excellent and funny!