Monthly Archives: May 2005

HDTV PVR: intial impressions

I use my video purely for timeshifting – watching a show that screens at midnight at a more socialable hour. But the quality leaves a lot to be desired.

My grand plan is to retire the VHS recorder, replacing it with a shiney new digital thingy – a PVR, Personal Video Recorder. Which you can buy off the shelf, one or two grand (AUD). And I would. But, then again, I’m a geek, and that means why buy something when you can build it yourself for twice the price and with the enormous expenditure of your own time?

For example, it would be nice to be able to burn TV onto DVD. And most PVRs have a single tuner – while we all know that TV stations schedule the show you want to watch at the same time as at least one other you want to watch; you can only record one; and, incidentally, you can’t watch the other unless you have another digital receiver like a settop box (I’ve seen ‘em for $80 at Safeway). Sure, you could tape one and watch the other, but that doesn’t work so great at midnight when it’s a schoolnight. And most PVRs are Standard Definition, not High Def – and if you’ve had the misforturne of trying to watch a SD signal, you know it doesn’t hold a candle to analogue (I’m not going to take a step back here). The biggest hard drive you’ll find in a PVR is 120Gig, and that’s the super-top-end-gee-whiz unit; most come with 40Gig – which might be fine with SD, but bites when recording HD at 15Gig/hour.

So in general, PVRs suck arse. I’m gonna build my own.

I got the bits last night – bottom end PC, two tuner cards (different brands – for reasons that will become apparent), 200Gig HDD (I figure I’ll upgrade to a decent sized RAID array later). Loaded up Windows (I’m using it to prove the concept, then swapping to Fedora 3 once I know the hardware’s good), dropped in drivers (God, what a nightmare; it seems like it eventually loaded) and hooked the whole setup to a bunny ear antenna.

One card can show me Channel 9. That card isn’t happy about the other channels it found, which was nowhere near what’s out there. They’re called things like “Ch@&&el T#n”.

The other card doesn’t show anything, but found all the channels. I think it found Channel 7 twice.

From the bunny ears I’m getting 75% signal strength.

So, now I can play around with recording SuperNanny and Enterprise, but I don’t think there’s much of a future with the current setup. I’ve got to try slightly more sophisticated antenna technologies. And I’ve got to see if I sucessfully can hook my creaky old TV up to the video card – there are a number of adapters that look promising.

I’ll keep you posted.

Upgrading OEM Nero 6

My new PC came with PowerProducer, which can produce DVDs, as well as an OEM version of Nero 6.0. On Tony’s recommendation I looked at the full version of Nero, but interestingly if you download and install the latest 6.6 version using your OEM licence, it doesn’t provide the MPEG-2 encoder required to produce DVD movies. To get that, you have to buy a key for the non-OEM version.

And before you suggest paying just for the upgrade from OEM to 6.6 non-OEM, it turns out that this special price isn’t available to users in Australia. Okay, so perhaps I could have lied and claimed to be in Europe or North America, but I have a nasty feeling that might lead to credit card complications further down the line. Thankfully the saving over the full version is only a few dollars, and even buying the full version online is heaps cheaper than going and buying a retail box.

So, after buying the full version key and re-installing 6.6, there it was, with DVD movie burning capability, and it seems to be a lot easier to use than the OEM PowerProducer, with a masterfully simple menu system letting you pick what kind of disc you want to burn. Now I can burn DVD movies of the kids’ antics for the family. (What, like I’d be using it for anything else??!) Obviously it lacks the subtleties of a more complicated DVD editing tool, but it’s good enough for me for now.

Don’t Believe The Hype

For iPod owners contemplating purchasing an iTrip, pause a second.

I’ve been unhappy with my iPod battery life pretty much since I purchased it six months ago. Finally I’d had enough and sent it off to Apple support to be checked. It took them three weeks to run a one day test and the test showed it was fine. They sent it back and, $20 later, I had my same iPod that still seemed to have a battery life considerably shorter than the promoted 12 hours.

It was only a few days later I realised what was wrong.

a) I mainly use my iPod in the car to and from work.
b) I use a Griffin iTrip
c) The iTrip FAQ told me ” it uses VERY little power from the iPod and has no real effect on battery life”.

It was believing C that cost me $20 and no iPod for almost a month.

I finally twigged that C may not be correct so I ran my own test.

I kept the volume level the same for each day, set it to shuffle play and did not touch the unit until the battery expired.

Day 1 – iPod, no headphones. Batteries lasted 11.5 hours
Day 2 – iPod with iTrip. Batteries lasted 7.5 hours (No power bars visible for about the last hour so it looked as though it had run out after 6)
Day 3 – iPod with headphones attached. 11 hours.

Now this is very unscientific and a sample size of one but the iTrip reduced my iPod battery life by approx 32% – that seems a lot more than a ‘VERY little’ reduction to me.

Regsvr32 goes wild

Task manager displayI was getting very odd results from Regsvr32 (the program for registering COM objects in Windows): it wasn’t doing anything other than creating a lot of processes which burned CPU for about 30 seconds before dying.

At first I thought it was the DLL I was trying to register. But even running the command with no argument produced the same result.

It turns out some errant install had replaced my pristine Windows XP SP1 copy of regsvr (version 5.1.2600.0) with some old copy (version 4.00.1381, which sounds suspiciously like it is from Windows NT 4).

Having found a colleague’s pristine copy, all was well again.

Mind you, XP complained shortly afterwards that some vital system files had been replaced, and asked for me to insert the XP CD. Do you think it would tell me which files had been replaced? Nope. Even the More Information button on the warning merely elaborated on the fact that the wrong CD was in the drive. Yeah, very useful.

Using Atomz free search with WordPress

I’ve set up the Atomz free search to index both my old site toxiccustard.com and my personal blog at danielbowen.com together. Atomz allows you to specify multiple entry points for its crawler, putting all the specified sites into the one index.

Given the free search only allows 750 documents in its index, the catch with WordPress is to avoid it indexing individual blog entries, but doing the monthly pages instead. This is done using the URL Masks feature, so for instance with my blog structure of danielbowen.com/year/month/day/entry-slug I specify

exclude regexp http://www.danielbowen.com/..../../../*

The other ones I’ve excluded are RSS feeds (which it chokes on, and wastes processing time on), comments and category URLs.

exclude http://www.danielbowen.com/category/*
exclude http://www.danielbowen.com/comments/*
exclude regexp http://www.danielbowen.com/*/feed/*

This keeps my current total number of pages (both domains together) down to 519, which is pretty good, and well under the 750 limit for the freebie version.

It’s also handy in that the crawler logs broken links. I’ve got quite a few that have shown up as I move my old blog archives into WordPress, so I can just work through the list and fix them.

That’s just stupid

Okay okay, I admit it, when my USB port at home was suspect, I loaded up my new iPod at work. Now I’ve got a new computer, I plugged the iPod into it, and fired up iTunes. I didn’t expect this:

Dialog inviting me to wipe the iPod clean, since I'm plugging it into a new computer

No two ways about it, that plain sucks.

I know Apple probably needed to show it was providing a degree of copy protection to get the co-operation to set up the iTunes store, but really, this is stupid. They could have at least allowed you to connect the iPod to a handful of computers.

There is an alternative: a Winamp plugin called ml-iPod which lets you copy tracks to the Pod without that kind of nastiness. I haven’t got it to work yet, mind you — it doesn’t see the device. Rest assured that I’m working on that…

Acquired by Microsoft

Just pondering Microsoft products that they originally bought (or bought with) or licenced from other companies:

What others?

RSS adverts go mainstream

Google has moved RSS adverts into a wider beta, and Robert Scoble has been considering the benefits or otherwise of them. And he ranks types of feeds from worst (Headline only, with ads) to best (Full text with no ads).

Deciding whether or not to put adverts in your RSS (and indeed if your feed has all your text or just the partial text) is, I think, a matter of what you’re trying to do with your content. To bring it to total black and white, are you trying to make money, or get your ideas out?

Reality, of course, is shades of grey. For one thing, if you go the total black option (headlines only, ads in the feed, and presumably more ads on the site — since that’s the only reason you’d want to provide only headlines in the feed) then unless your content is pretty damn compelling, you’ll get no readers (at least not from feeds, and this is increasingly the way people consume their web sites), and thus no money, and your content goes nowhere.

Other end of the scale (full text in feeds, no ads anywhere) is okay, as long as you don’t get snowed under by readers, and end up paying so much in bandwidth that you can’t afford it anymore. Not likely these days, but theoretically possible, especially if your content is multimedia.

For most of us, I suspect, the balance is somewhere closer to white than black.

Daniel’s new box – part 3

I asked Tony if he knew anything about a good broadband sharing router to buy. Now I’m a two PC household again, no way was I going back to using Internet Connection Sharing. Okay, so it works, but it’s fiddly, your main PC has to be on to use the second one, and getting the firewall (ZoneAlarm Pro) to work with it was a buncha hassle.

Tony said get a LinkSys WRT54G Wireless-G Broadband Router. So I did. Well okay, I read up on it a bit first to verify it was what I wanted, and then I got it. Widely available in AU for about A$130.

I don’t actually need wireless at the moment, but may at some stage, so I can turn it on then. It was surpisingly easy to do the basic setup… I’m betting there’ll be more hassles though when I try to get the work extranet software and BitTorrent running with its firewall (and the XP SP2 firewall), as well as enabling file and print sharing between the two PCs.

(Here’s one page about BitTorrent and firewalls, and ooh lookie, a shiny new page that uses the same model router as I just got as its example!)

Next step is to load up the new PC with all its software, and move my files over. I doubt I’ll write about it here unless something spectacularly bad or amusing happens though.