Who will test the testers?

What a day. What a horrible, puss filled, cankerous waste of everything.

Yes, folks. Today, I am trying to test a DVD. It’s quite a biggie – ten programmes taking up 2.5 hours, to be delivered on a single sided DVD-R.

DVDs used to be a nightmare. Compression glitches, authoring glitches, media glitches, it would all pile up together to form a single amorphous problem blob that everyone would describe as ‘it doesn’t work’.

We’re not talking Cinema DVD, here. We’re talking the journeyman titles pumped out by our massed hoardes of corporate, videographer and event producers. We’d have a clutch of DVD players at our disposal, testing out on our expensive home set, the nasty cheapo picked up at the supermarket, and the one we had ages ago which was great then but is now in retirement.

As time went on, troublesome DVD players fell by the wayside. Meanwhile, we learned that AIFF audio wasn’t a good idea, that few players could do 8 megabits per second, and only very expensive or very cheap media seemed to be consistently good.

Then a few years ago, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and DVD authoring was straightforward. Problems were bad links as we got more adventurous with our authoring. It’s been a sunny old time recently. DVD authoring was a quick process of assembling suitably encoded material into proven templates. Testing becomes a ritual. A sort of sugar topped process that really doesn’t mean much because a title plays, it works, it all looks lovely, and really feels superfluous.

So. Here’s today with my big 800 lb project, and it’s trickling through my nice big fancy DVD/BluRay player and I’m half ignoring it whilst playing with son. And I spot something. Oh. That’s wrong, thank heavens I spotted that – how did that get through? Right – back to the office. Fix it. Encode it. Burn it. Test on the DVD player in the office. First movie is fine. Second movie – it barfs.

And so I tried it again, reencoded, and it barfed in a different place.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

So try a newly authored disk on a different machine, whilst playing a known good disk on the retired machine. Aha! The retired machine barfs 30-40 mins into the programme, which is interesting. On my disk, I’m playing through a series of 15-30 minute programmes, and the barf happened towards the end of the second or in the beginning of the third programme. You’re getting the picture.

What’s so obvious now is that I am testing on my ‘retired’ home DVD player. It’s really useful because it’s old, it’s connected to a 4:3 CRT domestic TV set of similar vintage. The TV set is good at spotting Title Safe violations, the DVD player has been a reliable old brick for ages.

So I take a breather in search of cats to kick, when wife offers solace and a cuppa. And a reminder why I retired the DVD player – complaints from son that his DVDs kept hanging. Okay, at the time, I used this comment as an excuse to go out and get a nice BluRay player whilst providing the opportunity to get a DVD and TV set in my office for testing. And maybe watching my own TV when son’s Cbeebies or Cars or Nemo or Wall-e DVDs tipped me over the edge. Every man needs a shed to retire to.

But (sharply apply palm of hand to forehead and repeat ad nauseam at this point) I didn’t get round to actually soak testing the retired DVD player. Sure it worked for all the DVDs I’ve produced since then – all under 30 minutes. Groan. So I have had one real problem, and now I look at the disk, it may have been a scratch. But since then I’ve been doing the burn, test, tweak cycle for almost 24 hours on a damaged DVD player.

Madness is definitely doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

So the rest of today’s duties revolve around a little trip to the council recycling centre (aka tip), and my shed where I keep a 48 foot high Yard Arm which – if you stand close enough – the sun is always under, therefore signalling the time for a medicinal and industrial strength G&T.

Today’s lesson: don’t forget to test the test equipment.

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