Wednesday, July 25, 2007

HDHomeRun and EyeTV

[Update: check out Signal GH, an iPhone utility for monitoring the signal quality of an HDHomerun].
Cruising the AVS Forum Mac Home Theatre Forum I was gratified to see El Gato and Silicon Dust had come to together and done the obvious: bundle El Gato's best on platform EyeTV DVR software with Silicon Dust's networked HDHomerun high definition digital tuner.

This only makes sense, as El Gato no longer makes the closest approximation to the HDHomerun, the long lamented EyeTV 500 Firewire tuner with its support for digital over the air broadcasts and unencrypted cable streams. The HDHomerun can do both functions only better:
  • Two independent tuners
  • Shareable between computers
  • Placeable closer to roof antennas
  • Uses ubiquitous Ethernet port instead of specialized Firewire

If I were putting together a home theatre PC, the HDHomerun is the only ATSC/QAM tuner I would consider; it's just so much more flexible than something tied to a single computer.

Plus, using EyeTV with my HDHomerun cost nothing extra. I already owned a copy of EyeTV 2 and El Gato tech support gave me a link to the 2.4.2 update for free. New purchasers of a HDHomerun can get an EyeTV bundle for $200, meaning El Gato is charging $30 for a two seat license above the $170 price for just the HDHomerun.

The first problem was figuring out I had to run the Setup Assistant from the Help menu so EyeTV could find the HDHomerun; which it quickly did; and it immediately came up streaming 2 digital channels in separate windows. Then I had it search for available channels which took over an hour—812 frequencies @ 5 seconds each—using the exhaustive option. It found 15 digital sub-channels in my area, which is a bit low; but it is the height of summer and tree leaves down the street block my path to the Boston antenna farm. A later quick search found 12 channels, so the exhaustive search may be worth it. It would be nice if it would just take the information from my TitanTV account. Maybe El Gato could speed this up by using both tuners. A second exhaustive scan the next morning found 19 sub-channels.

At this point, I could watch TV, in fact, I could watch 2 separate TV streams at once on my MacBook, with sound from the frontmost stream. Not that I would make a habit of doing so; the combined effort of decoding 2 1080i streams into half sized windows takes 175% of a core, leaving a measly 25% to do anything else. Also, I was reminded of EyeTV's annoying habit of resizing the window every time a standard definition commercial comes on. Remember to fix the ratio at 16:9.

As I can watch HD from my MythTV via my home's 802.11g network, I was hoping to watch live TV direct from the HDHomerun over wireless, but this brought sputtering, stopping, and ugliness; El Gato should improve EyeTV's behavior over an unreliable network. Still, I have the whole house wired with Cat-6 Ethernet cable, so I have some flexibility.

EyeTV allows you to update the firmware to the HDHomerun quite easily. Much more easily than manually downloading the firmware and flashing the device with the HDHomerun's Windows utility. This is typical of EyeTV's nearly painless experience. EyeTV is the best I've seen at live TV viewing, and I've tried MythTV, VLC and SageTV (on the PC). I haven't tried it's DVR functionality, because I actually use my MacBook, and can't devote it to the task; if and when I get a Mac Mini for the TV room, I will give it a try. I just wish there was something to watch in the summer; I've 3 tuners in the house and nothing to see.

Friday, July 20, 2007

upgrading to Mythdora from Fedora Core 4

My Linux installation was not aging gracefully. I had installed Fedora Core 4 a couple years ago, and had intermittently added packages as needed to keep current compiled versions of MythTV running; if just barely. For instance, the DVD player didn't know what to do with DTS tracks, there was no overlay interface on playback (although this might be because I had a bad OSD theme selected). I wanted to try the new tickless kernel to see if it helped with using less energy and making less noise, but nobody is keeping the yum database up to date for Core 4 and a yum updage did nothing. So time to upgrade.

The Myth(TV)ology page recommends installing the Mythdora specialized distribution. This is Fedora Core 6 with pre-installed MythTV all on a DVD image. Also, I wanted to take the opportunity to bump up my boot disks capacity a bit, and also not destroy my initial installation, so I ordered a 400 GB from Frys.

Before I did anything, I backed up my MythTV database via:
$ mysqldump -u mythtv -pmythtv mythconverg -c > mythtv_backup.sql

I have a fairly uncommon configuration in that my master PATA (hda) drive is a Windows XP boot volume, while the slave (hdb) is my Linux disk. I replaced my hdb drive with the new 400GB drive, and booted off the Mythdora DVD. Now, I had to be very careful not to wipe out my XP installation; choosing to install on the hdb drive, and using the boot installer advanced options to install a boot installer on hdb. Experience told me that installing a boot installer on the XP disk would be bad. Then after installing Mythdora, I had to boot off a Knoppix LiveCD, and in the terminal make a copy of the first 512 bytes of the hdb1 volume:
dd if=/dev/hdb1 of=mydora_bs.bin bs=512 count=1
I mailed the resulting file to myself via a webmail account. I booted into Windows XP and followed the instructions for editing the boot.ini file to make my Linux installation an option for the Windows boot manager.

At this point, I could boot into Linux. I put my old Linux boot hard drive into a Firewire case, and attached it the computer, allowing me to recover the old database via:
$mysql -u mythtv -pmythtv mythconverg < mythtv_backup.sql
and to copy the contents of my recordings folder, the contents of my .mythtv folder, and anything else onto the new disk. My old recordings had been in a /video volume, but mythdora had created a /storage volume, so I created a symbolic link to point /video into the new partition.

After doing this, the overlay display disappeared, which caused me to discover that I had been using an invalid OSD theme (who names these things?) which came back after setting it to a valid theme, it took me a while to find the proper audio device settings to allow TOSLink pass through on my Chaintech AV-710 audio card (it's /dev/adsp), and of course there is always the nonsense in dealing with my complicated xorg.conf file.

And now I've upgraded, and everything seems to be working OK. I can play DVDs with DTS tracks. I have my overlay display. I'm getting used to Gnome instead of KDE.

Oh, and the energy use has not improved. If anything, it's using a few more Watts. Still worth the upgrade.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

How To: Fix Portrait Oriented Movies

If you are like me, you have dozens of video clips from digital "still" cameras which are rotated 90°. And like me, you find them hard to watch in their original form. Luckily, this is easy to fix with QuickTime Pro.

Open a .mov or .avi file from your camera using the QuickTime Player which you have upgraded to Pro:

Under the Window menu is a Show Window Properties item. A dialog pops up and you should see a list of tracks. Choose the Video Track, and then click on the Visual Settings tab.

Quicktime Visual Settings
Click on one of the circular arrows. Your movie will rotate 90° and you can now save it in a form suitable for friends and family.

I don't know why iPhoto doesn't do this. It should.