The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for the 'Tivo & PVR' Category

Things pertaining to Tivo and other PVR Solutions

Slingbox AV

Posted by Deliverator on 14th April 2007

So, I bought a Slingbox AV at Compusa the other day. The Slingbox is a funky little device that fills a niche that nobody even new existed until a few years ago. It lets one watch YOUR TV (or other video outputting device) where-ever you happen to be. It streams the video to you over whatever network connection (including Internet) you happen to have handy, and is smart enough to adjust the bitrate on the fly to suit your connection. There is viewing software available for Windows, Windows Mobile, Palm OS and Mac (the latter two being long promised/advertised and only recently being delivered). The Slingbox also includes a built in IR blaster to allow you to remotely control the connected audio video equipment. There are tons of supported AV devices which currently work with the Slingbox and include nicely designed on screen controls. In principle, the IR blaster should be able to control just about any audio/video equipment, but there is no facility that I can see to “train” it to use your remote’s control code should your device not be currently supported.

Set up of my device was as painless as could be. I plopped it on top of my TV, positioned the IR blasters in front of my Tivo, hooked up S-Video and RCA audio cables (included), plugged in the Wifi Taco in bridged mode and plugged in the power cable. I then downloaded and installed the latest client software. The software found my device, updated the firmware, helped me adjust some settings for best viewing and a few short minutes later I was viewing and controlling my Tivo from my laptop. Video quality at 640*480 at 1700 kbps average bitrate was quite good. I watched Ronin, a movie with a lot of car chases (some consider it to have the best car chases ever seen in film), gun fights and lots of fast action and I was quite pleased with the video quality and lack of tearing.

I also set up my router to allow for remote viewing/control of the Tivo from the internet. The quality was quite watchable at 320*240 given my limited upstream bandwidth (3/4 mbit).

If you are a TV junky or frequent traveller, a Slingbox is a great way to get access to your media while out of the house, and a simple way to sling your media to whatever device is most convenient while within your home.

Posted in Media, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, The Boob Tube, Tivo & PVR, Wireless | No Comments »

Hawking HWU8DD 802.11g USB “Dish” Client Adapter

Posted by Deliverator on 4th June 2006

My brother wanted to check out Frys before heading back to Cleveland, tomorrow, so off we went. I always like to peruse the wireless section of the store to see what new WiFi gadgets have made it to market. I was thinking of purchasing a client bridge to try and establish a better connection to my mini media center box, but couldn’t find much. Ethernet to WiFi client bridges have almost disappeared from the brick and mortar stores. There are still a lot of situations in which an Ethernet to WiFi client bridge is the only workable solution, so it is frustrating that they aren’t more readily available. In some cases, bridges have been replaced by “gaming” bridges, designed to network your overpriced console gaming system of choice, but I have found these inadequate for most general purpose scenarios. So, what is a bridge needing geek to do?

I am still not sure of the answer, but I found a solution to my immediate need (to find a better solution for pumping high bandwidth data to my media center) in the form of a $70 USB WiFi client adapter (with a rather novel design) from Hawking Technologies. Most USB client adapters fit into two basic categories: a USB dongle similar in size/shape to a USB flash memory stick and a little rectangular box with a flip up omni antenna. The commonality to both these designs is their abysmal range.

Mini Dish

Enter the Hawking HWU8DD. This device is essentially a USB 802.11g client device with a small, integrated dish antenna, which can be oriented to a variety of positions. The antenna, according to the manufacturer, provides 8 db of gain. The box also advertises the device as “high power,” but doesn’t clarify what it means by that in terms of mw/dbm. The base of the unit includes an LED based signal strength meter to assist in centering the antenna on the strongest signal path. Driver installation was a breeze in Windows XP. The site survey application is fairly basic, but functional. I turned it off and used XP’s built in “Wireless Zero Config” application, instead. I was impressed by the HWU8DD’s receive sensitivity and power. I was able to connect to my access point at the next to highest possible speed setting in “g only” mode and stay connected through large file transfers.

My previous solution, an old Orinoco USB adapter hooked up to a small panel antenna, had difficulties punching through the floor and two walls between it and the target access point. The reliability of the connection using the Orinoco was marginal at best, at any speed. Most Orinoco products (at least the ones based around the “classic” silver/gold pcmcia card) have always had a good reputation for receive sensitivity, so its low 30mw transmit power may have been to blame. Its tought to punch through a building, especially one as ill-suited to WiFi as mine. My house is sheathed in aluminum sideing, making for a “hall of mirrors” effect.

As I indicated earlier, I was very impressed with the Hawking’s ability to deal with a difficult environment and deliver consistent, top-notch performance. I’ve been streaming high-bitrate video to my media center all night long and haven’t experiencd so much as a hickup. If you are in the market, I highly recommend it. My only complaint is the inability to aim the dish downward much, relative to the base. This was easily fixed by propping up the rear of the unit a bit, so not a show stopper, but it might be nice to incorporate in future products/revisions.

Posted in General, Media, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, Tivo & PVR, Wireless | 3 Comments »

Via EPIA SP13000 based mini-media center

Posted by Deliverator on 17th January 2006

My new Via Epia SP13000 arrived today. This is the 5th EPIA motherboard I have owned over the years and it is the fastest to date. The MII 12000 that powers the carputer comes close, but this new board edges it out in several ways. The SP 13000 has Via’s latest generation EDEN processor clocked at 1.33 ghz and is the first Via Mini-ITX system to support DDR 400 memory. All previous systems ran on slower PC133 or DDR 266. The SP 13000 also features 2 SATA ports (in addition to 2 eide ports). Given the small places people try to cram mini-itx boards, the nice thin cables used by SATA is a very welcome change from trying to deal with big fat eide ribbon cabling. The SP13000 also features USB 2.0 and Firewire, although the board only has two backplane mounted USB ports and all other ports are offered as pin headers only. Given the increasingly universal use of USB for connecting to virtually all peripherals, it would have been nice if they had included a few more USB ports on the backplane.

I installed my new SP13000 motherboard along with 512 MB of Kingston DDR 400 into my existing media center case and did a fresh install of XP and all the fixings. Along the way I updated the bios to 1.07, which I am happy to note adds support for 1280*768 resolution. The picture looks fabulous on the Hitachi 32″ now. I broke in the new system by playing some high resolution + high bitrate XVID encoded videos. The system handled playback like a champ and didn’t come close to pegging the CPU. I need to perform some additional upgrades, though before I am ready to call this project done. Here is what I have in mind:

– The existing single platter hard drive is lacking in capacity and voom. Will probably replace with 250 GB SATA drive from my main desktop and upgrade the desktop drive to a 400-500 GB SATA drive, likely one of the Seagate 7200.9 series drives.

– Replace existing case with a mini-itx case that can support a PCI card or two via a riser.

– Get a PCI 802.11g card with a decent external antenna to replace the Orinoco USB 802.11b client adapter I am currently using. I recently installed a Linksys WAP54G in G only mode upstairs and I just need a good G client adapter to go with it. I have pretty much decided trying to do streaming on a .11b link is a pain in the ass. NO, I CAN’T/WON’T RUN CABLE.

– Install recently purchase slimline DVD-RW

– Mount all gear out of sight.

– Set up software on minimedia to automatically download all Tivo content and de-drm it. Get .11G client adapter for Tivo to improve transfer rates (currently still on a WET11 bridge).

Posted in General, Media, Tech Stuff, The Boob Tube, Tivo & PVR | 27 Comments »

32″ HDTV – Hitachi 32HDL52

Posted by Deliverator on 3rd January 2006

The major gift at the Marsh household this year was a 32″ HDTV. It is a Hitachi, model 32HDL52. My dad has been itching to get a big screen for quite a while (major understatement). At his behest, I spent a lot of time reading reviews, prowling various forums and picking brains over at Magnolia HiFi (sorry, I can’t bring myself to call it Magnolia Audio Video). Despite all the “due dillegence” work, my father ended up making an unresearched impulse buy while at Circuit City, based largely on picture quality. I did at least make sure that the unit featured a ATSC (over the air) HDTV tuner, a plethera of video inputs and various other features, but I didn’t get the chance to do the slightest bit of research. All in all, this is a very nice unit with excellent image quality. For a LCD, it produces remarkeably deep blacks, has very few image artifacts, has impressive off-angle viewing and doesn’t seem to suffer from much (if any) motion blur problems. The unit features a motorized pedestal mount that allows one to rotate the display using the remote control, should you want to view the TV from another location in the room. This is a very neat feature and one that I hope becomes more readily available. I do have a few caveats that may limit this unit’s appeal for certain types of home theater enthusiasts.

– While the display itself is first rate, the remote control feels cheap and has poor quality, small round chicklet buttons for many major functions. The remote is not ergonomic in the least and one has to constantly shift ones hands to access major functions. Because of the often uniformly sized keys, one needs to glance at the remote to choose the appropriate key. As the keys are not backlit, one pretty much needs to keep a light on to use the tv, which really spoils the whole “home theater” experience. I would definitely recommend a good programable remote if you want to use this TV.

– Only certain video inputs can be displayed in combination using the picture in picture and splitscreen views.

– No Cable-Card or HDMI inputs.

– Analog RGB and DVI-D inputs are a plus, but it appears that the RGB input will only display at very specific resolutions and vertical/horizontal refresh rates combinations. The display will supposedly sync to a number of resolutions between 640*480 at the low end to 1280*768 (actual native resolution of the display is 1366*768) at the high end, I could not get it to sync to ANY of the resolution/refresh rate combos offered by the VGA output of my current VIA EPIA based media PC. I will try playing with the DVI input tomorrow, but this unit may be a poor choice for hooking up to a PC. If they weren’t going after the PC market, why not throw some HDMI connectors on and go after the home-theater crowd? They even went to the trouble of including a very high quality VGA cable in the box.

– The HDTV tuner takes a LONG time to do its initial channel scan and didn’t find several of the major channels in my area, despite a strong signal. I had to add these channels manually. My brother’s 56″ Samsung DLP on the other hand took hardly any time to set up and detected all channels in his area, whether it could get a good picture from them or not.

– The “Operating Guide” is a poorly written joke. I honestly nearly returned the TV because it would not power on when I pressed the power button on either the remote or the TV itself. The manual made no mention of the fact that there is a hidden, recessed main power button located out of sight on the bottom side of the LCD. My dad found it by accident after I had already placed several irate calls to Circuit City. Not only do none of the diagrams show this switch, but the manual mentions several times to just push the power button on the right side of the screen to turn the unit on/off. The manual isn’t even an “all your base” style bad translation. It is just plain bad.

All in all, this unit has a great picture and some unique features, but is lacking the “total package” feel that it really needs, especially given that it is priced unfavorably compared to many other, more feature rich units in the 32-37″ range.

Posted in General, Tech Stuff, The Boob Tube, Tivo & PVR | No Comments »