Saturday, 9 February 2013

I've got the power!

Today I discovered that DSE were dumping some somewhat dated tech. Powerline networking has been around for a while, and I have considered putting my toe into the water before. However, the price has been fairly steep for possibly mediocre performance.This particular combination has previously been around AUD $140, even though it's been around a while and is not the highest spec.


Today, however, AUD 69 seemed cheap enough for me to take a punt. The big unknown is the level of noise on the power circuit you use to connect, and thus: how much throughput do you really get?  A theoretical maximum of 200Mbps (100 Mbps full duplex) is all well and good, but realistic figures are normally about a quarter of the maximum, from user experiences I have read.

Although I have yet to benchmark the performance, initial results seem to be comparable with the fast ethernet I have used hitherto between the MythTV PC in the lounge and the broadband router in the dining/family room.

Although there is a built in switch, the bandwidth throttling of all but the number 1 port (dark green in the pic) is unattractive to me.  So I link that fast port into another small 5-port switch, so that both my network tuner and my MythTV box have the best possible connection to the rest of the network.

Of course, almost all the use of the tuner is by the MythTV box, and hence it will rarely be pumped along the powerline networking.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Sitting on the Dock (of the Android)

I've been eyeing this Philips Android device dock for some time. Today I went browsing in DSE, only to see a sign that said "40% off Android Docks Saturday and Sunday."

So, for a shade under  AUD 90 I got this nice bit of kit.  Of course it:
  • Charges the device
  • Syncs time with the device
  • Provides great sound playback
It also provides an FM tuner, that can be controlled via the dock or the bluetooth-synced Android device.  Dual alarms, each with the ability to use internal FM tuner, buzzer, or playback from the Android device.

For higher-fidelity audio, it's possible to use a 3.5mm stereo lead.

It's not quite a complete replacement for a clock-radio, because AM is still significant here in Australia. However most AM radio stations are available through mobile aps, so - provided that data usage isn't limited, that's a great workaround.

A pie-in-the-sky wishlist would have it including a DAB+ tuner, also.  I can pipe the output from my digital radio via the 3.5mm jack, however.

So, at home, my phone will be sitting on the dock of the android, wasting time...

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Hitting a home run with Network DVB Tuner

This is the HDHomeRun network DVB (digital TV) tuner made by Silicon Dust.  In Australia, it is marketed by kaiser baas. I got mine for AUD 145 at JB Hifi (after haggling a little.)

It really is a fairly small device - about 12cmx12cm and maybe 3cm high. 

The front LEDs represent power (on the left) and each of the two independent tuners (on the right)
On the back, merely a power receptacle, a network port, and an antenna socket.

There is some bundled software that you can use, but it's not strictly necessary.  It will get a network address from a local DHCP server.  Then, pointing a web browser to that address from any computer on the LAN will give ID information and links to online instructions and downloads.

This is one of the pieces of the puzzle for me to build my ultimate convergence system.  Hitherto, my only computer tuner has been an analog TV card.  Not only was that limited to the analog channels, but the signal had to be converted to something that could be recorded on digital media.

This device changes all that.  A digital transport stream can be recorded from each tuner, already in a format ready to store and play back from.  Each tuner can grab an entire multiplex of channels.  Using Windows Media Center [sic] this is not fully utilised - the beast from Redmond only allows one channel to be recorded per tuner.

Using MythTv (on Linux, naturally) changes that. Theoretically, I could record all the channels on each multiplex on each of 2 tuners, which in current Australian conditions would mean 8 simultaneous recordings.  In practice, this is probably impractical without a Gigabit LAN, which I don't have. However 4 simultaneous recordings works very nicely on a Fast Ethernet (100Mb/s max).

It's also possible to have multipleHDHomeRuns, but I haven't got quite that ambitious yet.  I'm only now starting to make inroads on all the recordings I banked up during the university year that I didn't have time to watch.

This is an excellent TechToy that I highly recommend.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The new audio wave: Pure One mini DAB+ radio

Brisbane was (possibly one of) the first markets in Australia for the roll-out of DAB+ - digital radio.  Whilst some digital radio is receivable by DVB-T set-top-boxes, DAB+ is not.

In February 2010, having heard the advertising on the local stations whilst commuting, I had some spare pocket-change and lashed out on a (relatively simple but far from cheap) digital radio.

As well as DAB+ it also has a tuner for FM, as is common.  This one has audio jacks for headphone / line out, and line in.

The indoor performance is not fabulous, and being digital it either works or doesn't.  Start the microwave oven and it can just cut out.  Ditto for any electric motors nearby.

However the variety of specialist stations (more than 30) is great:
  • Having been a teenager in the 1980s, I particularly enjoy the 97.3 80's station.  (97.3 refers to the FM frequency of the station that broadcasts 3 different digital channels).
  • 4KQ Plus used to have a pattern of playing one artist's repertoire for a week, or a month, on repeat.  Great if you enjoyed the artist, not so good if you didn't.
  • ABC Grandstand gives live sport commentary when the main radio stations are presenting other things.

One remote to control them all: Logitech Harmony 525

As promised in my post on my television, here is the universal remote control I've been using for at least the last 6 years.  More recent models have fancy colour touchscreens, but are limited to a few activities and fewer devices.  I have had as many as 10 different devices and 10 activities configured with mine.

Want to watch digital TV using a digital set-top-box or PVR tuner? One remote, properly configured, sets it all up, sending the volume IR codes for the TV and the channel IR codes for the tuner device.  Again, watching a DVD, sending the audio through a surround amp, or whatever.

Some less obvious (but very helpful) uses have been:
  • Controlling one of my laptops that came with an IR interface - I've used this for presentations (aka PowerPoint, but using OpenOffice (now LibreOffice) Impress).  I've also found it great when sick in bed and using the laptop to play DVDs
  • Controlling Air conditioning - both the split system type that have ubiquitous remote controls, but also the portable, hook-up-to-the window type.
The backlit keys (a function called "Glow") are great in a dark room.

Some of the keys that have seen a lot of use (e.g. the coloured red/green/yellow/blue function buttons) are now a little bit hard to distinguish. Other than that, it still works perfectly, and every time I add a gadget, or change configurations, it's very little trouble to reconfigure the remote.  Highly recommend!

Still a CRT-TV - Sony WEGA 28 inch widescreen

Sometime around the end of 2005 I spied this TV on sale. Having made do with a 12 inch TV with no remote and no inputs save RF/Antenna since 1991, a model with somewhat better capacity was attractive.

Since Plasma and LED flat-panels were - already then - all that anyone wanted to buy, this was being dumped. Down from an original price approaching AUD 2000, it went for about one third of that, or maybe a little less.

Of course, 7 years on, you can hardly give them away.  A brief google search showed me that someone sold one for NZD 25 (less than AUD 20) last month.

It is, however, a fantastic bit of kit.  Yes, it's very deep (being a CRT).  No HDMI, of course, but component analog video for DVD connection, 4 analog inputs (3 at back, one behind the front fold-down flap), 2 of which also offered S-video as an option (1 front, 1 back).  1 analog output (great for driving infrared headphones), and direct speaker input, allowing the TV to play the centre channel in a 5.1 or 7.1 audio installation.

The sharp-eyed will note that there is no antenna connected. Of course, there is only an analog tuner built in.  It's a been a long while since we watched any analog TV!

Juggling multiple devices does, of course, mean a universal remote control is desirable to prevent juggling of remotes. Watch this space for more on that.

Lexmark E-120N laser printer: the start of serious networking

Some time in late 2007 or early 2008 I spied this printer at an ALDI Grocery store.  The asking price was a mere AUD 99.  Granted, it came with a small toner cartridge only.  However it was significant because from the first I  have used it exclusively as a network printer.  I can't honestly say whether I have ever hooked up a USB connection to it; I think not.

Until this purchase, network tinkering was a hobby thing for me.  Crawling under the floorboards to install CAT5 cable was "because I can" and "because I want to tinker" rather than "because I need to."

The attraction of this printer was that it promised high quality and reliability, and didn't require a host computer, because it connected directly to existing 10/100 Ethernet.  Yes, it's only mono, but now, 4½ to 5 years later, it is still printing reliably and well.  It has had one overhaul due to paper dust issues, and I now only feed it paper that has been laser-cut (as opposed to blade cut).  In Australia, Reflex is the most heavily marketed copy/print/office paper, but is not necessarily the best quality!

Starting with this tech toy a home network became an essential part of our tech infrastructure; hitherto, it had been just one more tech toy.