Introducing the Tech Guy and iPhone 3g/2.0 Problems

iPhone
I’ve been meaning to write a blog entry for a while, but I hadn’t quite gotten around to it when we ran into this iPhone issue. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to introduce myself and talk about the issue at the same time

Who Am I?
I’m the Tech Guy, and my team and I are responsible for keeping the site up and running. We implement new features on the site, maintain and monitor our systems to ensure that the videos keep streaming, and build toolsets for our internal teams to use for encoding and labelling content. In short, we’re responsible for everything from networking to storage, from servers to systems, and from code to video codecs. Now that I’ve introduced myself, let me talk about the issue we’ve run into.

The iPhone 3g / 2.0 Problem
Recently the iPhone 3g was released, and like most tech geeks we were really excited. Quite a few of us have iPhones, and we couldn’t wait to see what the new one could do. Unfortunately, when we got our hands on an iPhone 3g we immediately saw a problem – iPod resolution files from VideoBox wouldn’t play. We saw a “This Movie Format Not Supported” message when we tried to play these files on the new iPhone. The problem got worse quickly, when we realized that older iPhones that were updated to the iPhone 2.0 firmware suffered from the same problem.

Now this was surprising, as Apple had said that there were no video related changes coming in the 3g or the 2.0 firmware. But we’re not the only ones who’ve been bitten by this issue – you can see more here

The good news is that we’re on top of it. Our H.264 resolution files can still be played on iPhones of all types. And we’ve found an encoding configuration that is compatible with the iPhone, compatible with older iPods and other devices that play these files, and still maintains the quality of video we expect.

What We’re Doing About It
We’re currently in the process of reencoding all the files in this resolution. We expect to be finished with this reencode process in about three weeks. These updated files will appear on the site as they are produced, so fewer and fewer scenes will have this problem as time goes on.

I’ll be checking back on this blog post over the next few days, and I’ll try to answer any questions you may have about this or any other tech issue in the comments. I’m also planning on posting more frequently – once a month or so – about technology issues that might be interesting to our users.

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30 Responses to “Introducing the Tech Guy and iPhone 3g/2.0 Problems”

  1. nurtles Says:

    Well, while I have no interest in whatever the corporation featuring a bitten fruit is doing I in fact have a question about the tech.
    Why is the size of your high quality .wmv and .mp4 h264 files so big when they only feature so low resolutions ( 640×480 and the like )?
    That would be really interesting to know.

  2. jack_mehoff Says:

    hey tech guy, two quick questions: one what kind of a porn trail do i leave if i’m only streaming these scenes. and two, do you recommend a particular site or software that cleanses my hardrive, or is it even necessary since i’m only streaming. thanks

  3. Mike Says:

    Does Videobox have any plans to support streaming for IPhone?

  4. bobby1535 Says:

    Is this really serious? Watching porn on the iPhone? Where?? While waiting for the bus? In the elevator? Showing some porn to a someone in a bar??

    I don’t get it.

  5. Mike Says:

    bobby1535, ever heard of closet porn? there are lot of men who can’t just do it next to a computer in their bedroom or just dont have the privacy that many of other men have. for example college kids living in the dorm, the only privacy they have is in the bathroom or some other private room. iphone just provides the perfect way to watch porn and no need to bring laptop either.

  6. bobby1535 Says:

    Mike, you’re right. I’m just too used to the privacy of my home office where I am all alone.

    Was thinking loud.

  7. lemonade Says:

    Hey I just wanted to stop in and say that I am impressed with the awesome service you guys provide. I don’t just mean the awesome site and the amazing price with boatloads of content, what really impresses me is that you guys communicate to your customers. I’ve seen it a million times where web sites or businesses just don’t communicate and it’s very frustrating. Most customers (in my experience) are okay with there being a problem or hitch here and there, we’re only human, but it makes a world of difference if they would just tell us what’s going on and they know the issue is there.

    I personally haven’t had any issues with the site, it’s worked perfectly from day 1. So basically…yeah this may not have been the, well, most appropriate place but you know I just wanted to shout some praise to you guys. Keep up the awesome work!

  8. Anthony Says:

    Thanks for the update guys. (from my iPhone)

  9. anonymous Says:

    Hi,

    I have a question for the Tech Team. Is it possible for you to set up something so you can select a whole load of scenes, say everything in your favourites and then set it to download them all.

    This would be very beneficial for setting up and leaving them to download.

    Please let me know

    Thanks

  10. Frank Says:

    I can’t get the H.264 version to play on my PS3 either… It shows the titles, but then wont play them.

  11. Hanacoco Says:

    You guys are right on it! Apparently, you knew of the problem before many of the users did (including myself). It’s rumored that Apple is working on an update to 2.0 in order to fix the problem.

    It’s terrific that you are pro-acting and applying a fix for us! Only one request: is there a way that you can indicate on the site that the file has been updated?

    I’m with Frank (previous post), H.264 won’t play on my PS3, but the iPod version does. Why is that?

    Keep up the great work! Thank you.

  12. temporary Says:

    The H.264 vids are an awesome addition & it would be nice to see the “ipod” versions actually play on the iphone.

    One thing that would be great, which maybe it’s too late for, would be to have the ipod/iphone compatible videos tagged as “explicit” so that one could enable restrictions on the iphone to block visibility of these files.

    “Explicit” files downloaded from the iTunes store can be blocked in this way (when the explicit files are set to be restricted, they are just not visible on the device), but I haven’t had any luck re-tagging any non-itunes files (using MetaX, Lostify, or PAD), so that they are blocked in the same way. You can use these programs to change the tag, and it will show as “explicit” in iTunes, but once imported to the iphone, the explicit tag is not recognized and the file won’t be hidden when restrictions are enabled.

    Thanks!!!

  13. Boeber Says:

    since i see a couple of questions/requests here i have to drop my request again. Please consider an email notification (or RSS) when a favorite star (that i select) has a new scene on the site!! It truly amazes me that such an feature is not available and i find it soooo useful!!
    love your site!

  14. maegorfromow1 Says:

    Hey guys. I love the site and just about all aspects of it. I have the same question as Mike. Are there any intentions of making it possible to stream scenes to the iPhone?

  15. temporary Says:

    On a 3G iPhone, you can view the ipod resolution clips with no waiting over 3G. With a fast enough broadband connection and wifi, the H.264 vids can be viewed in real time as well.
    If the iPhone had flash support, the streaming feature in the browser would probably work too.

    A VB app for the iPhone would be the ultimate… If it could work as well as YouTube one.

  16. Saxmonkey Says:

    Lately it seems that when the new videos are posted it takes several minutes (at least 30) before I can actually instant view or download them. When I try, I just DL an empty file. I think this started when the iPod function became an option. Did something change for everything else at that time?

  17. tech guy Says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I’ll try and answer all of your questions:

    nurtles – We always try to keep file size as small as possible and video quality as high as possible. Unfortunately these two goals are often in conflict – smaller file size means an inferior video quality and vice-versa. Several factors other than resolution (keyframe rate, etc.) help determine the ultimate size of the file.

    That said, 640 x 480 isn’t that small a resolution. Here’s a list on Wikipedia of common video resolutions. For a non-HD video 640 x 480 is pretty respectable.

    jack_mehoff – This is a relatively complicated question and a full answer is too long for a blog comment reply. We may do a future blog post on the topic. But for now, the short answer is that you need to take a variety of steps to ensure that your web activity leaves no trail on your computer. There are a number of browsers designed explicitly for porn surfing (Heatseek, etc.) that will eliminate any trail.

    Mike + maegorfromow1 – I’m happy to say that we already support streaming for the iPhone. Our iPod resolution was sized to support streaming over a 1 Mbps connection. This means that you can stream this file on a first generation iPhone over a WiFi connection, and on a iPhone 3g over either a WiFi or (in most places) a 3g connection.

    If and when the iPhone supports Flash we will ensure that our ‘Play Now’ functionality works as well.

    lemonade – Thanks so much. We think communicating with our customers is important and we’re glad to hear that they think so as well.

    Anthony – No problem.

    anonymous – We’ll look into it. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Frank + Hanacoco – Unfortunately we had to make some compromises in choosing our encoding parameters. Generating files that are high quality, suitably small in size, and work cross platform is a challenge. After spending a great deal of time experimenting in our compatibility lab we found that generating a higher resolution H.264 file for the PS3 that met our other requirements was simply not possible. So we restricted PS3 support to the 320 x 240 resolution iPod file. You can see more information here.

    temporary – Thanks for suggesting the explicit tag. We’ll discuss it and see what we can do. Have you tried using Atomic Parsley to tag the files?

    Saxmonkey – We’re not aware of any such problem, nor have we had any reports of such a problem from other users. Have you contacted VideoBox support? You can reach them at support@videobox.com.

  18. alison Says:

    jack_mehoff – You might want to check out a post I did a while back called How to Hide Porn From Your Wife

  19. temporary Says:

    Hey Tech Guy – thanks for the suggestion. I just tried Atomic Parsley (probably the guts used in all the other apps I tried) on both OSX and Windows XP, but no luck, same thing – after re-tagging, iTunes shows that the file is explicit with a little icon, but the iPhone restrictions wont apply to it.
    Totally annoying… there’s probably more to it, but I don’t know what. I’ll keep trying to figure it out.

  20. Boeber Says:

    “tech guy”, what about my suggestion :( ??

  21. tech guy Says:

    Boeber – Sorry I missed you the first time round.

    We’re definitely looking into such a feature for our members. But we want to make sure we make something suitably powerful and flexible to meet all of our users’ needs. Look for some sort of notification feature in the next several months.

  22. Boeber Says:

    thank you for your reply!
    looking forward for this

  23. G man Says:

    I am experiencing exactly the same delay problem that Saxmonkey describes.

  24. tech guy Says:

    Saxmonkey and G man – It looks like one of our video servers was suffering from clock skew – the clock on that server was running about 30 minutes behind the true time. This meant that videos could not be downloaded off that server until about 30 minutes after the actual time of release.

    Thanks for making us aware of the problem. We’ve corrected the skew and you should no longer see this issue. Please contact support if you’re still observing this problem. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  25. G man Says:

    Thank you for that. Your efforts are very much appreciated!

  26. czj1111 Says:

    Hi Tech Guy,

    As a Mac user, I’m happy with the H.264 files – however, I find that for some files, they tend to be cut off before the end of the scene unlike the wmv file version e.g. for the Michelle B scene in Fuel Injected 2 Scene 1, the H.264 file is cut off before the scene ends.

    Thanks!

  27. tech guy Says:

    G man – Happy to help.

    czj1111 – We try to properly encode every scene in every resolution with correct start and end points. But there are occasional problems during the encoding process. If you find such a problem file, please use the Contact Us page to let us know. By selecting the ‘Report a Problem with a Scene or DVD’ subject line you ensure that the report goes directly to our encoding team.

    Once they’re aware of a problem file our encoding team can attempt to resolve the problem. We always appreciate it when users let us know about a problem through our support form – it allows us to fix the problem. Thanks.

  28. temporary Says:

    Tech Guy,

    FYI, I’m not sure anything has changed since the recent iPhone updates, but I’ve now been able to get the restrictions to apply to videos that have been tagged with a rating of R, NC-17, or UNRATED using MetaX (a front end for Atomic Parsley). Adding the “explicit” tag still doesn’t seem to do anything except add the red explicit icon in itunes. So, I guess “unrated” is the way to go… not sure you guys can implement that on the H.264 and iPod videos, but it would be cool.

    Another thing I wanted to mention, which might be better directed to the encoding team, is that lately a BUNCH of the downloadable videos seem to have been encoded with the wrong aspect ratio or something. They all look slightly squeezed. Kind of annoying…

    Thanks!

  29. SelArom Says:

    is there a way to watch videos on a windows mobile phone? they play wmv of course, but I can’t see the download links.

  30. John Kim Says:

    Historically I have LOVED Videobox because of the ability to watch streaming video on my iphone 3G by clicking the “iphone” icon on the scenes of my liking. For some odd reason, lately in the last 1-2 months, now when I click that feature all sorts of code appears on a blank page, and my iphone quicktime browser doesn’t open. What has changed and is there a step by step fix to the problem?