Monday, June 27, 2005

Transcoding boredom part 2

Almost finished!
So basically it takes about 4 weeks to transcode 200GB of video if you are going it when you can.

Lots of repeats required and strange Nero decisions - but nearly there.

Obviously it has to carry on for new files, but that;s not too bad.

It's now a pleasure to use the DLink DSM-320. It could still be better - but at least using Mpeg4 it works.

Friday, June 10, 2005

All credit to Telstra (in a way)

My ADSL was dead for a week. ><
There one day - gone the next. ><
Not my fault, not my ISPs fault.
But it still took a week to rasie it as a fault with Telstra.
Who fixed it in a couple of hours.

Hmmm can't help thinking that they accidentally killed my ADSL in the first place.
Perhaps during the recent DSLAM upgrade? You'd think I know what I was on about reading that wouldn't you? Well you'd be wrong. But it was recently upgraded and my ADSL recently died.

It works now - that's the important thing. :)

Transcoding boredom

Well - probably about 50% through transcoding to MP4 now. Great.

It wouldn't be such a chore if it wasn't for Nero Recode deciding that every fifth or sixth file needs to be ruined. It has an auto trim feature - which is great, apart from when it randomly decides to choose a random selection of the screen to trim down to, sometimes trimming 90% of teh picture away. Very strange. So you have to go through files by file and check it's crazy decisions.

Lappy was working very hard last night - I hope it didn't get angry! Transcoding 30 Xvid files to and from the Network Storage, burning a dvd and downloading at a furious rate. Probably a pile of smouldering slag on the dining table by now :)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Buffalo Terrastation & LinkTheater Bundle

Note the new spelling of LinkTheater - no wonder I wasn't getting many hits in google - I was spelling it properly! What was I thinking?

Anyway - found a UK company that sells this stuff (as it the closest I'm going to get to local availability) http://www.transparentcommunications.com/acatalog/Multimedia.html

GBP800 for both the 1TB Terrastation and LinkTheater. Certainly not cheap. Most definately.
But very desirable.

"She's not happy, is she?"......

.....said the iPod repair man.

Dammit. It's official - the iPod is on it's last legs - the disk is knackered.

Fortunately it can still talk to the first gigabyte of disk - so it has become a large, shortlived iPod shuffle - which I'm sure will last long enough for me to decide on the next mp3 player.

For those not in the know, you can put your iPod into diagnostic/setup mode by resetting - hold down menu and play for 5 secs and then holding down reverse+forward+select until it chirps.

I'm definately going to look at all the options before spending the big $600 though - so I'm off to http://www.pcbsearch.com.au/index.htm

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

$479 30GB iPod or $599 iAudio X5

There are some smaller, really good looking and well received mp3 players out there, but I want to put my whole collecion on so I don't have to worry about choosing - which rules them out.

The 20GB iAudio X5 does the lot and is very new
http://www.mstation.com.au/ms/products/?ID=398 but is more expensive at $599 than the 30GB iPod Photo which at $479 is much cheaper and I know how good it will be. In fact you can get the 60GB iPod for the same price.

But will 4G iPods die the same deaths as all of the iPods that have gone before?

Do I really have to pay on average $250 a year (assuming they last only 2 years) to have an iPod?
Doesn't seem quite right does it?

The issue is clouded even more by bigger and better x5s coming on to the market soon.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Buy another iPod? Or something else?

It's been a long and painful demise for my beloved iPod. Is suppose if I was being more accurate, it's not quite dead yet - but it's dead enough for me to not want to use it any longer.

The first thing to go wrong was the line out socket in the cradle, which knackered after about 10 months, this was still under warrantee though and was replaced by the nice people at Apple Centre.

The first battery died pretty much the day after my warrantee expired and was not replaced by any nice people associated with Apple as I believe the going rate was $AUD200. Which to be honest is outright robbery. So I got a replacement for $69 and installed it myself - which was fun but not as bad as you may think. I think that one might have lasted 9 months before going the same way - now down to about 4 hours running time.

More sadly [in a way] my headphones started falling apart. If you've never tried them - I highly recommentthem - Sony MDR-EX70 (or the latest equivalent). I should point out that they are 3 years old - which is about as long as I'd expect any small headphones to last. So I've been very happy with them. Very expensive to replace in Australia though :(

Now the end is very bloody nigh as it looks like the hard disk in the iPod is fairly dead - serious disk scans just hang. There seems to be about 4% of the disk available - about 260 songs. I've formatted, restored, updated, re-installed and even sung song to it in the hope of getting it to work again. No joy though. Bugger!

What to do now? I dunno. Here are the options as I see them

Apple Products

$149 0.5GB iPod Shuffle
$229 1.0GB iPod Shuffle
$299 4.0GB iPod Mini
$359 6.0GB iPod Mini
$439 20GB iPod
$499 30GB iPod Photo
$649 60GB iPod Photo

Creative Products
$340 5.0GB Zen Micro
$380 20GB Zen Touch

iRiver Products
$380 5GB H10
$450 20GB H320
$529 40GB H340

I really can't be doing with buying anything smaller than 20GB as I have at least that much music. Which leaves me at the following

$499 30GB iPod Photo
$649 60GB iPod Photo
$380 20GB Creative Zen
$529 40GB iRiver H340


God Knows!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Passed my motorbike test

Passed my license test on Sunday which was fantastic!

Considering I hadn't even seen my bike for 8 weeks and not been on one for 10 weeks I thought that that was a pretty good result. Still, should have it back pretty soon.

So now the 12 month clock starts ticking, after that the restrictions are lifted and I can go and get a real bike, and one that I fit on a little better :)

Maybe a Yamaha R1 - Tasty!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Buffalo LinkTheatre & TerraStation

Now, Jim and I have been getting quite excited by the Buffalo Terrastation since we discovered it a couple of weeks ago.

I won't go into what it is or does much - other than to say it instantly gives you 1 terrabyte of network storage (that's ~1000 gigabytes to the low-tech, or ~1,000,000 megabytes to the truly old-school). Nice eh? If you do want more details visit the website
here.

Now let's consider what I've managed to do with my NSLU box - it's become a media server. Can the TerraStation be a media server too? Yes it can! And a whole lot simpler it is too (if the claims are to be believed), see the diagram below.


Apparently the LinkTheatre and the Terrastation are designed to be used together.
Imagine that - network attached storage and media receivers that are meant to communicate. Awesome.

I. Must. Have. One.

Obviously at about AU$2000 (best guesstimate), it is a pretty expensive option.
Then again a DSM-320, NSLU2 and a pair of 250GB disks comes to about AU$1000.

From what I've read about the LinkTheatre its sounds really good - HD support, proper DivX support, USB connections and a DVD player. Sweeeeet!

There is just one problem, well okay, two - neither are avaiable in Australia yet. [sits and waits]

Another point to mention would be that teh linkTheatre is not fully UPnP compliant and so could not be integrated with a solution such as the NSLU2 mediaserver. You can use it with PCs though as there is software that allows the LinkTheatre to understand UPnP media servers.

If you want more information in the Buffalo Terrastation visit http://www.buffalotech.com/products/product-detail.php?productid=97&categoryid=19

If you want more information in the Buffalo LinkTheatre visit
http://www.buffalotech.com/products/product-detail.php?productid=96&categoryid=18

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Shroud Of Cartman Appears On My Sofa

This mysterious image of Cartman appeared on my sofa

It can't be explained - but it's real!

Click on the picture to see it full size.

Philips Streamium SL400i

I was asked the other day [by Jim] what media receiver I would recommend [as if I'm an expert!]. Considering I've only had used the one I own, I don't have a huge amount of experience to draw on in order to answer that. But I suppose I do know the kind of things to look for - and look out for, so I set to the task.

For starters I'm only interested in ones that support video, but for those interested in music streaming I'm sure the list would be very different as the requirements are very different - like the need for a built in display panel etc.

Another decision I made was that it has to support Twonkyvision as it seems to be the leading media server.

I did a lot of random web browsing but eventually came to my senses and realised that I should just look at the list of client devices that Twonkyvision supports. Which can be found at
http://www.twonkyvision.de/UPnP/devices.html. Of of the supported list the following are video enabled :-
  • Netgear MP115
  • Sony PCNAMR10
  • Sony STR-LV700R
  • D-Link DSM 320
  • GoVideo D2730
  • Philips Streamium SL400i
  • Philips Streamium SL300i
  • Philips Streamium MX6000
  • SMC SMCWMR
  • Zensonic Z400
  • Telegent TG100
Out of these 1 really stood out as a contender for best of breed,
The Philips Streamium SL400i:-


It has excellent posture, a nice flat back, and a glossy coat....haaaaang on, that's all wrong. Anyhoo..... seriously - it looks amazing, it's technical spec sounds amazing, it seems very simple and claims to support a LOT of video formats.

It also has a very intriguing USB 'PC-Link' - maybe this can be used to simply connect a media packed USB drive directly and remove the need for a media server, probably not and from what I can see - definately not at the moment.

There's also a very well subscribed streamium forum at
http://www.streamiumcafe.com/ so there's no shortage of discussion and help to be found there.

Only 1 problem. You can't buy them in Australia. Grrrrr. And at $US450 RRP or 300 in the real world - it isn't cheap either. Having said that, if I could buy one right now, I would - and sell the weaker one on eBay. Actually mentioning eBay reminds me - there is not a single streamium on eBay - that's got to be a good sign, yeah?

For more information on the streamium range visit
http://www.streamium.com/index.cfm

DSM-320 Widescreen Settings

This one'll only be for the visually anally-retentive out there, such as myself.

I've noticed a couple things with my DLink media player when it's set up for a 16:9 widescreen display:-
  1. If you watch a video that is 4:3 format - it is compressed horizontally (i.e. very big black bars on either side)
  2. If you watch a video that is wider that 16:9 (i.e. 1.85:1 or 2.35:1) then it is vertically stretched to fill the screen

Both a bit annoying!
Now I'm fairly convinced that this is down to the DLink rather than the media server software or hardware. I emailed DLink about it - as a reply to an existing support response, but no answer yet - I will just raise another support ticket I think.

I had a bit of a play with the setting and as a result I've set up the DLink box to give me 4:3 Letterbox display - which gives the most control as you can use the various ratios of the widescreen TV to generally get it showing right. Obviously loosing quality on widescreen as you have to zoom it - but it'll do for the moment.

Update: [Awaiting reply from DLink support team.]

Nero & Mpeg4

Okay the setup currently work for mp4s, so I'll transcode the files I want to watch to mp4 with Nero - easy.

Which it is, apart from the fact that Nero Recode likes to molest the resolution and aspect of the files it's transcoding. So for each file you have to go and disable resizing - not very annoying if you are doing 1 file, but when it's 10 or 20 then it can really get on your nerves.

Must investigate a way to disable it by default.

So once they are transcoded - and dropped on the NSLU2 drive they work perfectly. Excellent.

20 files down, ~200 to go :(


Update: [Awaiting reply from Nero support team.]

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

As of now......

So the back story is complete. Hurrah!

Here is a summary of the current situation :-


Hardware:

  • Linksys NSLU2 ('unslung' firmware 3.48)
  • DLink DSM-320 (firmware 1.05)

Software:

  • Twonkyvision 2.8

Streaming:

  • MP3s - served from NSLU2 & Twonkyvision
  • Mpeg2 - served from NSLU2 & Twonkyvision
  • Mpeg4 - server from NSLU2 & Twonkyvision
  • Xvid - server from Laptop & DLink media server
  • DivX - not working

Issues:

  • Xvid streaming from NSLU2
  • DivX streaming from anywhere (to begin with)
  • DSM-320 16:9 mode aspect ratio problems (>16:9 vertically stretched, 4:3 horizontally compressed)

What I'm doing about it:

  • posting issues and monitoring forums
  • transcoding divx and xvid files to mp4 with Nero

Here is a network diagram of sorts showing my current setup

LinkSys NSLU2

Two things happened at once:

  1. I ran out of disk space, and was trying decide between buying more or archiving onto DVDs. Whilst checking out external storage I came across the idea of Network Attached Storage (NAS). This is essentially a hard disk and a file server attached to the network.
  2. Reading the Twonkyvision website I discovered the linux implementation of the mediaserver for use on NAS devices.

The second point mentioned is the exciting one in terms of the ultimate in media streaming setup. Imagine that - no computer turned on, just your media receiver talking direct [effectively] to network attached hard disk. Just imagine it - mmmmmmmm. :)

There's a lot of options in terms of NAS, but none that are so cost effective (in the short term at least) as a Network Storage Adapter - which allows you to connect USB external hard disks to the network. Especially when you already have a 200GB external USB hard disk!

The cheapest of these is a LinkSys NSLU2, which is a tiny box that runs linux and allows 2 USB hard disks. Best of all this is one of the few NAS devices that is supported by Twonkyvision. Perfect.

Again a bit of shopping around and I find the cheapest local place on run off and buy it straight away for $155 from http://www.scorptec.com.au/index.php?prdid=00013071

You may see a bit of trend here? I buy the thing in a spurt of enthusiasm, and then go looking for all it's faults and what it can and can't do - rather than what it claims it can do. Well it works for me. Besides there's always eBay for dud purchases :) [Hear that DLink dsm-320 - you're not safe yet]

So what did I discover about the NSLU2? :-

  • No FAT32/NTFS Support.
    You have to re-format your USB hard disks to ext3 (linux) format. Not such a big deal providing you have somewhere to put your data or have a brand new disk and that you don't want to connect it to a Windows PC again (without reformatting).
  • Not for the technically shy.
    You have to go through a fairly complicated (including a lot of trial and error) process in order to update the box to run install and run the Twonkyvision mediaserver software. Though by the looks of it, it is a hell of a lot easier now. Once you get used to the process updating the twonkyvision software becomes easier.
  • Inconsistent implementation of twonkyvision.
    TV mediaserver does not behave and perform in the same way as it's windows based sibling.
    It does not like Xvid files. It [also] does not like DivX files.
  • Slow.
    Transferring 200GB of files onto a freshly formatted disk takes FOREVER. Okay so you don;t expect to get USB2 speeds (400Mbps) but I'd expect to get 100Mbps network transfer speeds (probably 50Mbps) over ethernet. So I was doing it over wireless from my laptop on 54Mbps network so I'd probably expect 20Mbps? Nowhere near - maybe 2 or 3 Mbps, confirmed by more googling research.

Anyway it does work. MP3s are great. Mpeg1,2,4 is great. The only thing lacking here is Xvid and DivX, and the problems there may be caused by the implementation of those formats on the DLink DSM-320.

For more information on the LinkSys NSLU2 please visit http://www.linksys.com/international/product.asp?coid=19&ipid=553

Twonkyvision

Okay 3 days in from first hearing about media servers I felt it was going pretty well. It was in, on and up. Still some remaining issues when it comes to xvid files though (and of course the unsupported divx format)

I discovered something else that is a common thought - that the media server software supplied with the dlink was not [ahem] the best. These comments may or may not have been aimed at older versions because I didn't have that much against it.
Something called Twonkyvision (WTF? I thought) was mentioned quite a lot if reference to the DSM-320, so I decided to check it out.


Turns out that the DLink DSM-320 will pretty much use any media server that publishes the correct UPnP interface and that Twonkyvision is one of the many(?) options, including Windows Media Connect (WMC) from Microsoft.

I tried WMC and found it to be pretty lame really - no need to give up on the dlink server to use that!

Then I took a look at Twonkyvision. It sounded good - it even promised DivX. And at $20AUD was not too expensive, especially with a money back if you're not happy guarantee. Paid up installed and setup within minutes.

I'm not sure why I went for it so quickly as Xvid and DivX files worked but with stutter. I think it must have been becuase it was new, supported and improving. Probably the online forum (http://www.media-servers.com/forums/index.php) that I found was very regularly read and written to by Twonkvision reps was the decider - they seemed to be listening to peoples issues and look into them.
There was also another incentive, which I will discuss later.


So - Twonkyvision became my media server of choice

A full list of the media servers i tried :-
  • Dlink Media Server
  • Twonkyvision
  • Windows Media Connect
  • TVersity (this looks promising when it grows up)

For more information on Twonkyvision visit http://www.twonkyvision.de

Networking with the DSM-320

Ignoring xvid issues for the moment I focus on the positives and mess around with the network configuration.

The dlink does not support WPA only WEP, so I disable WPA on my router and decide to leave it open for the moment and add the dlinks mac address to my mac filter - so I'm still pretty secure.

First step: go back to wireless with the laptop. MP3 - no problem. Video - no problem.
Next step: set the dlink to use wireless. MP3 - no problem. Video - problem.

Everything connects to the network properly, the server and dlink client can communicate correctly. But when checking video playback it has the jitters. I'm not sure if I was using too much wireless bandwidth on the internet at the same time - it didn't seem that I was - but it wasn't happy.
Needless to say I didn't bother trying to set up WEP - cus that was always going to kill performance and if it's this bad anyway - whats the point?

I did a bit of research (yes google again) and found that it was a generally accepted fact that the antenaa on the dlink is crap and that almost no-one has really got it working with video properly.
Okay follow the simple solution - the network goes into the TV cabinet [it has to go somewhere after all] and the dlink stays on ethernet.

There are people out there upgrading antennas and stuff so there are options on that front - but I'm happy with the TV cabinet network setup.

Unrelated note : If you are going to have a wireless network - use MAC filtering [at least]. You really don't want other people using your network for free [or at all]. Using up your bandwidth or download allocation could be the least of your worries - just think what the wrong person could do - using YOUR IP-Address!! Use WEP, use WPA, or use a MAC filter. As my dlink is going to be wired - I'm going back to a WPA/MAC filter combo.

DLink DSM-320

Initial thoughts were - 'It looks good. I wonder if it works?'

Apparently out of the box only Mpeg1/2/4 and Xvid are supported in terms of video formats which is a bit disappointing as most (80%) of my files are DivX. But files can be transcoded and support can be added for more formats so no real worries there.

I thought I'd break a lifelong tradition and follow the instructions step by step with this baby.
The instructions pretty much boiled down to connect the box to power/network and tv and install the dlink media server software, or get the latest from the website. Then set up your media shares.

I decided to just try mp3s at this point - nice low bitrate [compared to video] and to keep things as simple as possible to begin with I went fully wired at this point, both laptop and receiver. So everything is now wired though my NetComm NB5580W ADSL Router/Switch.

I should mention at this point that both the latest media server software was installed and the box flashed it's own firmware to the most up to date [which was nice].
Server version 1.03, firmware version 1.05 to be exact.

Both the receiver and laptop set up to use DHCP.
Restart the reciever for good luck.
And what do you know - it connects to the network, finds the dlink media server, connects to it and offers me my mp3s to be played - which it does without a hiccup.

Excellent!

Now for the real deal - and the reason for its existence [to me anyway] - streaming video.

I tried an mpeg2 file - an episode on John Doe. Played without problems. Occasional stutter, but that may be poor encoding more than anything else. This is a good start.
Feeling more adventurous I see how it likes the taste of an Xvid file. It looks good, no problems. Then dies after 5 mins, huge pause, stutters, pause. Hmmmm. not quite what i was hoping for.

For more information on the dsm-320 visit http://www.dlink.com/products/?pid=318

Enter the DMR

DMR - Digital Media Receivers

This is the point where Jim chips in on messenger with some throwaway remark about wireless media streamers. And I'm all like 'What? How? Nice!'

I'm straight on the case googling away like a demon. What do you know - they do exist, you can get them and they're available in Australia.

DMRs are [usually] sleek silver boxes that live in your TV cabinet with your DVD player and digital box and communicate [via Ethernet or wireless] with UPnP media servers running on computers. You have video/audio files on your computer - you tell the media server software where it is and it tells the DMR. The DMR allows you to on screen select which files to play and then gets them from the media server.
Simple!
Nice!

I find a product on the Dick Smiths website (http://www.dse.com.au) that sounds like the right kind of thing - a DLink DSM-320 Media Centre. But at approaching $500AUD it was far too expensive considering all it's doing is tidying up the setup a bit and allowing a bit of cool remote control use.

After a bit more hard googling looking for better prices I find a place that does them for 320 which is much more like it. But they don't have them in stock. And I need instant gratification - right now please, not later.

A plan quickly forms in my mind.

Off I trot to Dick Smith Superstore the next day with a pricematching plan that will never succeed. Ever. No way will they do a price match and reduce their price by over 1/3.

They Do.
I buy.
Oh Yeah!

3 years later

It's 3 years later now and the laptop is a bit old and lazy - it still does the job as it was top of the range back in the day, but it's time for an upgrade. So I get a monster DELL laptop 3.2Ghz processor 512Mb RAM 60GB hard disk dvd burner etc etc, it's still a pretty high spec machine 18 months later too, so money well spent I reckon.

Anyway - this laptop has an s-video output - sweet! I gets the cable and hooks it up. Nothing.
Gutted.
A bit of research later, I learn how to use my s-video out and it's all go. Good stuff. Nice and easy to hook up, decent picture. Some strange distortions around the edges of the picture - but, whatever - it works.

What I didn't like after a bit though was having to have the lappy sitting next to the telly and wires everywhere. And if you haven't heard one - a DELL 5150 is a loud beasty so the additional noise is unwelcome too.

Never happy am I?

But what's to be done about it? - I have the setup I wanted and it's fairly neat. Just not neat/slick/clever enough. Couldn't see any other options though so I stuck with it.