Thursday, October 15, 2015

And now for something completely different: The Ricoh Theta m15 panoramic camera and QTVR LIVES!

It's been awhile since I've posted, mostly because I've been in Honolulu/Oahu for over a week with the fiancée and her family, but that doesn't mean I don't love you. Well, maybe it does mean that, but I still like you. Well, most of you. At times. Mood permitting.

Anyway, ObTenFourFox news. The two biggest crash bugs are hopefully repaired, i.e., issues 308 and 309. Issue 308 turned out to be related to a known problem with our native PowerPC irregexp implementation where pretty much anything in the irregexp native macroassembler that makes a OS X ABI-compliant function call goes haywire, craps on stack frames, etc. for reasons I have been unable to determine (our Ion ABI to PowerOpen ABI thunk works fine everywhere else). In this situation, the affected sites uncovered an edge case with checking for backreferences with UTF-16 text that (surprise) makes an ABI-compliant call to an internal irregexp function and stomped over rooted objects on the stack. I've just rewritten it all by hand the same way I did for growing the backtrack stack and that works, and that should be the last such manifestation of this problem. Assuming it sticks, the partial mitigation for this problem that I put in 38.3 will no longer be necessary and will be pulled in 38.5 since it has a memory impact.

Issue 309 was a weird one. This was another Apple Type Services-barfing-on-a-webfont bug that at first blush looked like we just needed to update the font blacklist (issue 261), except it would reliably crash even 10.4 systems which are generally immune. Turns out that null font table blobs were getting into Harfbuzz (our exclusive font shaper) from ATS that we weren't able to detect until it was too late, so I just wallpapered a bit in Harfbuzz to handle the edge case and then added the fonts to the blocklist as well. This doesn't affect Firefox, which has used CoreText exclusively ever since they went 10.6+. Both fixes will be in 38.4.0.

The problem with restoring from LZ4-compressed bookmark backups remains (issue 307) and I still don't know what's wrong. It doesn't appear to be an endian problem, at least, which would have been relatively easy to correct. The workaround is to simply not compress the backups (i.e., roll back to 31) until I figure out why it isn't functioning correctly and it will be in 38.4.0 also. I've also been doing some work on seeking within our MP3 audio implementation, which is the last major hurdle before enabling it by default. It won't be enabled in 38.4.0, but there might be enough of it working at the time of release for you to test it before I publicly roll it out (hopefully 38.5).

Also, some of you might have been surprised that I didn't post anything at the time about Mozilla's new plan to pull plugins (TenFourFox has of course been plugin-free since 6.0). I didn't comment on it frankly because I always figured it was inevitable, for many of the same reasons I've laid out before ad nauseam. Use SandboxSafari if you really need them.

Anyway, moving on to today's post, one of my hobbies is weird cameras. For example, I use a Fujifilm Real 3D W3 camera for 3-D images, which is a crummy 2D camera but takes incredible 3D pictures like nothing else. The camera takes both stills and video that I can display on my 3D HDTV, or I can use a custom tool (which I wrote, natch) to break apart its MPO images into right and left JPEGs and merge them into "conventional" anaglyphs with RedGreen (from the author of iCab, as it happens). I haven't figured out yet how to decode its AVI video into L/R channels, but I'm working on it. Post in the comments if you know how.

Panoramas have also been a longtime interest of mine, facilitated by QuickTime VR, another great software technology Apple completely forgot about (QTVR works fine through 10.5 but 10.6+ QuickTime X dropped it as a "legacy" format; you have to install QuickTime 7 to restore support). Most mobile devices still do a pretty crappy job on panos, and even though iOS and Android's respective panorama modes have definitely improved, they could scarcely have gotten worse. My original panorama workflow was to take one of my Nikon cameras and put it on a tripod, march out angles, and labouriously stitch them together with Hugin or QTVR Authoring Studio. QTVR Authoring Studio, by the way, works perfectly in Classic under 10.4, yet another reason I remain on Tiger forever. Unfortunately this process was not fun to shoot or edit, required much fiddling with exposure settings if lighting conditions were variable, usually had some bad merge areas that required many painstaking hours with an airbrush, and generally yielded an up-down field of view as roomy as an overgrown mail slot even though the image quality was quite good.

The best way to do panoramas is to get every single angle at once with a catadioptric camera. These can be added as external optics -- unfortunately with varying levels of compromises -- to an existing camera, or you can do substantially better by getting a camera expressly built for that purpose, which in this case is the Ricoh Theta m15.

The Ricoh Theta cameras are two fisheye lenses glommed together for a 360 degree view in both axes generated as an equirectangular image; the newest member, the Theta S, just came out (but too late for my trip). The m15 comes in four colours, all of them silly, but mine is blue. You can either take free shots with the button, or you can control it with a smartphone (iOS and Android apps available) over Wi-Fi using either the official Ricoh app or the free Android HDR one (tripod strongly advised).

The m15 doesn't take exceptional images in low light, and the resolution is a bit low (6.4 megapixels at 3584x1792, but remember that it's two images that the camera firmware glues together, and there's an awful lot of spherical aberration due to the design). But it does work, and you shouldn't be scared by the reviews and instructions saying you need a current Intel Mac or Windows PC to view your images. That's a damn lie, of course -- connect the camera over USB and Image Capture will happily download them (even 10.4), or have the smartphone apps download the images to your phone and send them over Bluetooth or E-mail them. Either way, the images work perfectly as QTVR panos; you don't need the Ricoh desktop software. When you load the image into QTVR Authoring Studio and make sure it's oriented horizontally, it "just works" with no tweaking necessary:

And here's a frame from the result, in QuickTime 7 (rendered out at 1024x768, high quality, 100% Photo JPEG compression):

Unlike the ugly map-on-a-sphere distortion the Ricoh apps cause, the QTVR pano looks just like "you're there," and you can share it with all your friends without any other software other than QuickTime. You can look all the way up and down, ignoring the camera's limp effort to edit itself and its base out, and there are no stitch lines or agonizing hours of retouching. With just a few seconds of processing, I'm back along the side of Interstate H3, looking over the Kaneohe bay once again. A perfect memory, perfectly captured. Isn't that what you bought the camera for in the first place?

The new Theta S bumps the resolution to 14.4 megapixels (5376x2688), and both the m15 and S are capable of video with the S offering 1080p quality. In fact, I'm so pleased with even the lower resolution of the m15 that I'll be picking up an S very soon, and my suspicion is it will work just as well. It's wonderful to see that an old tool like QTVR Authoring Studio still works flawlessly with current cameras, and given that QTVR-AS was never written for OS X, it's another example of how Classic is the best reason to still own an Power Mac.


  1. You know I've always wondered if you could add Growl support to Tenfourfox similar to Firefox 3? I was a useful feature back when I used it.

    1. Boy would I kill for an edit button.

      *It* was a useful feature back when I used it.....with Firefox 3.

    2. The reason Firefox jettisoned Growl support was because it doesn't support all the needed features for HTML5 notifications. It's quite possible to restore it, but it wouldn't work right with some sites, and I'd rather not maintain a "Growl for some things and XUL alerts for others" solution.

      That said, I preferred the Growl alerts also, so I sympathise.

    3. Understood. That's a real shame.

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  3. It is awesome to still see Classic software being used in this day and age!


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