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Scott's Column
Academic Software, New DVD Player, Switching to Dreamweaver

May 1, 2007
By Scott Lewis

This month I finally got back to gaming. I also started the switch of this web site to Dreamweaver. I read an article that led me to a site that sells academic versions of software at greatly reduced prices.

Current Topics:

Gaming

Well, now that my Toshiba Laptop is back to Windows XP I loaded the game I was in the middle of playing... No One Lives Forever. I lost the saved game folder for this game. I do not remember exactly how. I thought I had backed it up, but when I restored the saved games folder it left me quite a few missions behind where I know I was.

This meant I had to replay a few missions over again. This was not too much trouble and gave me a chance to get familiar with the controls again. I did manage to get past the level that was giving me trouble right before I stopped playing. I am coming to the conclusion that this game is boring. I may stop playing it before reaching the end. We'll see.

My next game is going to be Splinter Cell. I know this is old, but I have a copy that came with a video card or something and I was part way into it on my main computer. I haven't looked to see if I backed up its saved games before switching my main machine to Windows Vista. If I did not back that up I will have to play this game from the start.

Starting over will be a bit of a chore. One thing about the game I didn't like was how much I had to rely on game walkthroughs online. I don't look forward to that part, but I really enjoy playing the game itself. Sneaking around and sniping people is a lot of fun.

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New DVD Player

I bought a new DVD player for my 65" TV in my living room. It has been a long time since I wrote the review of my 65" Mitsubishi TV. Wow, this TV is almost 8 years old and it still looks excellent. I finally was able to make use of the HD capabilities of this TV when Time Warner finally supplied me with a HD DVR. It took over four years to get HD content on my HD television. When I covered the HD DVR I compared a couple of movies in HD to some DVDs I owned. The results were an improvement in the picture quality.

That brings us to today. The DVD player in the living room went out. I have yet to be able to track down the receipt so I can return it. I had a gift certificate to Best Buy (Thanks, Chip) and used it to buy a new DVD player. This time I was going to skip a DVD changer. It is a nice novelty, but we rarely use it as such.

I bought a Sony single disc, progressive scan DVD player for $59. I could have stepped up to an Upconvert DVD player for $79 that would upconvert the signal to 1080i HD. Why didn't I? That's a good question. It would require an HDMI cable and my TV does not have an HDMI connector. This is the one pitfall with having a TV that is over 7 years old. It is not completely up to date. I do not know if I could use component cables with the Upconvert DVD player and get 1080i from it. It hardly matters as my TV only has 1 set of inputs for 1080i and that is being used by my HD DVR.

So, how good is progressive scan. So far it looks excellent. I bought Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn the same day I bought the new DVD Player. I went through all the setup screens to get my TV to use one of its non-HD component inputs with the component output on the Sony DVD player. I then setup the DVD player to know I had a 16:9 screen and to use progressing scan output.

Overall I was very pleased with the looks of Star Trek II. It takes quite a bit of effort to switch back and forth from progressive scan, so I will not compare it side-by-side on this TV. What I really want to do is compare progressive scan DVD (480p) to HDTV (1080i). I am going to monitor the HD movie channels to find a movie I own on DVD. This way I can do a side by side comparison.

I am expecting the progressive scan to fare well in this comparison. Why? Because I believe that watching a movie on HBO HD is similar to watching a DVD though a Upconvert DVD player. Do they have a movie that was recorded in HD? Certainly older movies do not have this advantage. And that would include most of my DVD collection.

I expect I am really going to be comparing two ways of watching the same DVD. It should be interesting. I'll keep you posted on the results.

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Lost 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound

In the transition to progressing scan I lost 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Oops! How can this be? That is a bit of a story. My stereo system is almost 9 years old, but it works perfectly. Back then DVDs were relatively new and the players were still expensive when we bought this theater-in-a-box. The receiver part of this setup is Dolby Digital ready. This means it has the appropriate speaker outputs, but did not have the Dolby Digital decoder. This was an expensive thing in stereos at the time. We bought a DVD player that had the decoder built-in and connected it to the stereo with six RCA jacks. This gave us all the benefits of Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound for about $150 less than any other method.

That was then, this is now. Receivers with Dolby Digital are commonplace. In fact, it is probably harder to find a stereo without a Dolby Digital 5.1 decoder built-in. But there is nothing wrong with my stereo. Granted, when we built our house we put in high-end speakers in the walls/ceiling, so we are no longer using the speakers that came "in-the-box." I never did get around to permanently hooking up my subwoofer. It is currently in a closet gathering dust. I wanted to open the wall under my components and put the sub in there and cover it with nice looking material that would let the sound through but look good. Anyway, we are hardly doing the theater-in-a-box anymore.

So my receiver does not have Dolby Digital and the DVD player does not either. Oh Well! I hooked up the left and right RCA outputs on the new DVD player to the TV with the component outputs for the video. I have a set of RCA cables connecting the TV's audio output to the stereo, which is pretty much the only way we most of the time anyway. I did not have any more RCA cables long enough to reach the back of the TV from the DVD player (I have to go through a hole in the wall between them), so I disconnected my CD changer to use its RCA Cables. The CD changer is clear on the other side of the TV and had really long RCA cables. I never use that CD changer anymore anyway. In a pinch I can put a CD into the DVD player.

So, all is working. I set the receiver to Dolby Surround Sound. Star Trek II had this as an option on its audio setup. So at least I am getting some amount of surround sound.

I will start looking for a new receiver, however I don't expect to buy one for quite some time. For one thing I am a cheapskate, and don't want to replace something that is
working... and working very well.

Second is HDMI. This is a new connector for High Definition devices. I assume my next TV is going to have a HDMI input. Eventually the cable company will probably force me to upgrade to a HD DVR with a HDMI output. After all, HDMI includes some level of copy protection. HD DVD (the discs) or Blu-Ray will need HDMI as well. Plus upconvert DVD players require HDMI. Heck, I will probably end up with a gaming console that uses HDMI. That's three HDMI devices I can think of right now. When I get a new receiver I am going to want one that can act as a video switcher. All the devices will send their HDMI output to the receiver, and the receiver will send one HDMI connection to the TV. So I am going to need a stereo receiver that has at least thee HDMI inputs. Last time I looked this was going to cost significantly more than $1,000. Ouch!

I also want to upgrade to 7.1 sound. When I wired my house I ran speaker wire in the wall that is the "back side" of the living room, opposite the TV. I believe I have all I need for 7.1 sound except the speakers themselves. Speakers are easy, so why not add them when I can send output to them. Of course, I want to properly setup the subwoofer as well.

So, it will be a while before I need a receiver and a TV. I will do it when HDMI forces it on me.

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Switching to Dreamweaver

Since Microsoft doesn't see fit to allow MSDN Subscribers to have Expression Web, I am converting this site over to Dreamweaver MX 2004. After working with it I am slightly disappointed. Pages that look fine in Expression Web's WYSIWYG editor look like crap in Dreamweaver. Maybe the upcoming Dreamweaver CS3 will be better. I plan to download the trial version of this and load it into a Virtual Machine to test it out.

Dreamweaver does not spell check on the fly. FrontPage 2000 has spell checking on the fly. You know, with the squiggly red underline. I have to manually invoke the Dreamweaver spell checker. Again, maybe this will be part of CS3, but for the time being it is poor that a 2004 product doesn't have such a simple feature.

I don't like Dreamweaver's file management. In FrontPage you can drag and drop pages around a site to various folders. This is easy and any internal links are automatically fixed accordingly. Dreamweaver seams to do this, but you have to work in the small sidebar that lists pages. FrontPage let's you use an Explorer like interface to manage your site.

Overall I like Expression Web better than Dreamweaver. Granted I have a static web site with straight up HTML and CSS. I am not running any server side stuff. The content here doesn't really lend itself to those needs. Dreamweaver is definitely overkill for this site. But my old copy of Dreamweaver is already here, and I would have to buy Expression Web. Microsoft is offering Expression Web as an upgrade to FrontPage for $99. Do I really want to spend that much to maintain this web site? I don't know.

For the moment I am migrating to Dreamweaver. This month's articles and the main navigation pages (home page and archive list pages) are in Dreamweaver. All old content pages are in their original format. Once I make up my mind for sure which tool I will use in the long run I will move the entire archive to the current format.

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Academic Software

Hey, I was reading an article during April that said you can get academic versions of software at substantial savings. I know that Microsoft has done this in the past for Office. However, the "Student/Teacher" version of Office always lacked some components of Office from the Standard edition.

Well, the article pointed to a number of web sites that specialize in selling these educational copies of applications. The site I liked was Academic Superstore. I decided to poke around a bit. They have Microsoft's Expression Web for $79. That's cheaper than the upgrade price of $99 they offer me as a FrontPage user. Oops!

Just to be fair I checked out Dreamweaver. Academic Superstore sells Dreamweaver CS3 for $189. That's $210 off the list price. I wanted to see what it would cost for Windows Vista. Academic Superstore offers Windows Vista Home Premium Upgrade for $69. And as we all know (or should by now) you can install the upgrade to Vista without having a previous version of Windows.

The selection of software is not great, but the prices are. And it is easy to qualify for the academic versions of these applications. Most of them are similar, but the gist of it is to have kids in your home in K-12. That works for me. My wife is a teacher, so that is a second method for my household. You can see the requirements on the pages for the software themselves.

Overall this is a great way to save money if you need the software that is available this way. In fact, after I get a chance to check out Dreamweaver CS3 I will have to decided if it is twice as good as Expression Web. I may buy 1 of them. I'll keep you posted.

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New Format

I have made some minor tweaks to the format of this column. Notice I said this column, not this web site. I recently subscribed to Scot's Newsletter (notice the spelling, Yuck!). Anyway, when I saw Scot Finnie's Newsletter/web pages I really liked how he put a list of topics at the top of the page with links to those sections on the page. I copied this idea from him. I am not going to incorporate the list of topics in my other columns because they usually have just one topic a month.

I was also reading Jacob Nielsen's Alert Box looking for things I could to do make improvements. Nielsen's research shows that you don't read this page, you scan it. So, if you only scan it then hopefully the items in the list at the top will grab your attention so you will want to read this page, or at least the sections with items of interest to you.

Nielsen also says you scan your mail even more. So I am going to try and add some changes to the way I write and format my newsletter for better usability. Granted, this is a column based web site. Articles is what it has. But I am going to try harder to put conclusions and other important points near the top of the page (above the fold, in newspaper jargon) to better temp new viewers to read further.

We'll see. The list of topics at the top of this page is my way of both copying Scot Finnie and making use of Jacob Nielsen's tips. The improved breadcrumbs in this current design (now in its third month, whoopee!) was an item I came up with. It is not much different than the previous design's breadcrumbs, yet they match the format Nielsen advocates. I was glad to see I was a step ahead there.

I am going to keep track of any changes I make over the next few months and let you know. Will you read that... or just scan it and move on. We'll see.

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Conclusion

That's it for this month. I spent much more time on the stereo thing because of my DVD purchase. We'll see what next month brings. Here are a few topics I have planned in the near future:

Apple TV
Switching to a Mac
MacBook vs. MacBook Pro vs. Windows laptops
Web Hosting
More on Dreamweaver
DirectX 10

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