Monday, August 25, 2008

Slingbox AV
- I picked this up (refurb) for $75 shipped from woot a while back.
- Slingbox is great for location shifting your DVR/PVR content to maybe someplace else in the house or anywhere you've got an internet connection. It's more geared toward those who use closed box DVR's provided by your content provider (cable, satellite, uverse, fios, etc) or tivo. It even supports Vista Media Center. If you record most of your content using PC based pvr software like mythTV, sagetv, beyond, gbpvr, etc then the free software based ORB is probably a better fit. Someday I'll get back to messing with ORB now that I have a faster server to do the transcoding. That's the nice thing about slingbox is that one little box does it all. You don't need any kind of server, just the player software to watch the stream.
- Lots of different zoom/view/full screen modes to make the content fit your screen.

- When setting it up and you get to the network part I highly recommend you do NOT do automatic(upnp) but instead do it manually. Assign the slingbox a static IP, and on your router forward port 5001 (default is 5001 but you can change it to anything) to the slingbox IP. I had issues with upnp for some reason but once I went manual it's been working great.
- It comes with two IR blasters that should give good coverage over the front of your DVR STB, and I have say it worked very reliably with just a little bit of lag. Device support seems pretty broad. It worked fine with my SA 8300HDC. The little graphical representation of the remote control matched the real remote quite well, and made it really easy to control the STB remotely through the sling player. There are keyboard short cuts for almost everything (might have to wire this up to eventghost and usbuirt at some point).
- I can see slingbox used in another scenario. Say you don't want to have STB's connected to all your TV's in the house (say you need 4 or more!), and you don't want to pay all that money and additional fees for those STB's. You could have one STB and then sling that content to the other TV's if you have PC's hooked up to them. When slingbox PRO-HD is released you'll be able to sling around that content in true HD resolutions (current slingbox hd only does 640X480 max), 5.1 sound, and higher bitrates. If the quality is good enough I can see this as a money saving alternative. Add a usbuirt and eventghost and control it all from a remote control. The only other limitation is that you can't watch different channels at the same time. Also, DVR content is usually tied to a single box so this would allow you to watch that recorded content easily on other TV's. Again, those of us (like me!) who use HTPC's to record our tv can already share the recorded content easily across the network.

- Streaming SD content to my laptop (dell inspiron 8600) over 802.11g on my home network worked just fine. Quality was very acceptable. Sling Player 1.5:

- Quality over the internet is directly limited by your upstream connection speed. Most DSL speeds are 128kbps - 768kbps and cable is around 384kbps - 1mbps. More is obviously better giving you a higher bitrate but you also want a steady speed that doesn't fluctuate a lot. A good router with QoS on dd-wrt can help a bit here. My DSL is rated 768kbps up but only gets around 530kbps max real world. When I tested this over the internet at a friends house I was only getting around 480kbps or so with the bitrate dropping under 300 occasionally. It worked pretty well most of the time but I had it set to automatically optimize and when the upstream fluctuated there would be a hitch while it optimized for the new bitrate. You can also just set your own bitrate (say 300kbps) and that would even things out. At these low bitrates quality was kind of acceptable. Think average youtube video.

- I also gave sling player 2.0 beta a try which I liked even more.
This shot was taken while streaming over the DSL internet connection.

It adds a few nice features like a guide (data from zap2it!! same place tivo gets data) and live video buffer. Think of this last feature like timeshifting but done locally. Yeah you can do this on the STB side if it's a DVR but this lets you timeshift locally no matter what the video source is (say it's just a STB with no dvr). It's basically just saving a local buffer of whatever is streaming in (glitches and pauses in all). I was hoping it would act more like a progressive download buffer like in hulu or youtube. I thought if I just watched a few minutes behind live it would smooth out any bandwidth drop hitches but it doesn't seem like it. It's exactly what watching live video would be just buffered locally on your local hard drive. Still, it's a pretty nice feature. I highly recommend you give 2.0 beta a try. It seemed pretty stable to me.
- Finally I tried Sing Player Mobile on my HP IPAQ 4150 running windows PocketPC 2003. This is the only software that wasn't free. You've got 30 days to try it out and then it's $30 which seems kind of steep. This was streamed over my home network using wifi at around 30fps @ 500kbps. It wasn't too horrible. It's pretty neat but not sure how practical it is.

I also shot a little video of it in action:

I plan to install this on my wife's AT&T 8525 smart phone running windows mobile 6 sometime. It should be about the same over the 3G network.

All in all it's a great concept and a pretty neat device. For me I see the slingbox AV primarily used for over the internet location shifting. Shifting locally I would want something that could do true HD 5.1 like the hd-pro. Having said that, the quality of your experience is heavily dependent on your upload speed. Recommended for those with a good upstream internet connection. It was well worth the $75 I paid.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rosewill RX-358-S BLK (Black) 3.5" SATA to USB and eSATA enclosure

- On sale right now at newegg for $34 shipped:
- Use any sata 3.5" internal hard drive, has usb 2.0 and esata connections, comes with all the cables including an esata back plate.
- Nice ventilation and grills. 80mm fan is pretty quiet though audible. There is a separate power switch just for the fan if you want to turn that off.
- Fit and finish was good. It could use some rubber feet or a stand. Assembly was pretty easy.
- Bright Blue LED for power on the left and another on the right for drive activity.
- I've read it spins down if not in use but I think that works only on esata. On USB (how I have it hooked it) it doesn't seem to ever go to sleep. I've also read that it should not interfere with suspend/hibernation modes on the PC though I haven't tested this since it's on my 24/7 server.
- There are two reports that it works with the SA 8300 DVR though I personally did not try it. I'm using it for backups.

Highly recommended. Good price considering the features and the fan.

Adding an external hard drive to your Scientific Atlanta DVR

So I have a Scientific Atlanta 8300HDC DVR (SARA) from comcast that I use mostly for live and timeshift TV watching, as a backup to my homebrew pvr rcTV where I do most of my recording, and to work with my slingbox AV. So I don't actually use my SA 8300HDC all that much (part of it is b/c how much it sucks: slow remote reponse, audio drop outs on playback, and other issues) but I do use it once in a while. It has a pitiful 160GB hard drive compared to the roughly 4TB of space I have allocated to rcTV (Olympics is chewing up 85GB a day!). Anyways here is a quick and easy way to add more space to the SA 8300 by attaching an external eSATA hard drive.

SA 8300 HD Tips & Tricks -- SARA
8300 and External SATA

- Here is a nice list of compatible enclosures (SARA). I picked up an Antec MX-1 enclosure a while back. You can usually get it for $30 after MIR if you catch it on sale. It's a really nice enclosure, well built, 80mm fan, all cables included, and quiet.

- I had an old Maxtor 500GB sata hard drive sitting around which I used.

- Hooked everything up, connected the esata cable to the back of the DRV. After a few seconds I was prompted with this:

- formatting takes only a few seconds

- space used before and after:

- I believe it tries to fill up the hard drives evenly. Since my internal was nearly full the very next recording was on the external hdd (I could here it writing if I put my ear next to the enclosure). Anyways, it's a relatively inexpensive and easy way to add more space to your DVR.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Timex Clock Radio for Sansa (TS70)

- Got it for $35 shipped from for use with my sansa e280.
- I really like the design. It has a nice large display and takes up less night stand space than my old clock radio with it's more cylindrical tower design.
- Dual alarm.
- Battery backup uses 2XAA which I much prefer to the usual 9 volt since I always have lots of spare AA batteries.
- Has a thin wire for fm antenna and a detachable loop style AM antenna.
- It has a digital tuner (my old sony was still analog dial type tuning). It has 3 preset buttons. Hitting the radio button toggles through fm1, fm2, am, and line in. So you get 6 presets for fm.
- There is a standard 1/8 mini stereo jack on the back for line in and includes a short cable (had to clean the tips with rubbing alcohol) to hook up any mp3 player you want.

- Indiglo has 3 brightness settings including completely turning it off. I found the brightest setting to light up half the bedroom while the lowest setting was fine.
- Good positioning of the snooze bar. Volume buttons are kind of awkwardly stuck on the side.
- It does come with a remote control.

- The sound quality is average. It sounds a lot better than the typical cheap $10 clock radio but don't expect it to come close to any of the more popular ipod sound dock type devices. Then again this isn't really meant to directly compete with those. First of all it's mono. It gets plenty loud enough but will distort if you have the bass cranked up.
- I really like how when the alarm goes off it starts quiet and slowly increase to full volume. This seems to wake up more calmly instead of blasting you at full volume and startling you awake. This is probably the best feature of the whole clock radio. It really makes a difference in how you feel when you wake up.
- First odd omission is the inability to wake up to music from the sansa. You can only wake up to radio or buzz. It does have a sleep mode where you can listen to the sansa over a period of time where it slowly fades it out and eventually turns it off.
- I have a very recent build of rockbox installed on my sansa e280. With rockbox you can dual boot between rockbox firmware or the original firmware (hold down LEFT while booting). The good news is rockbox kind of works with the timex. The timex detects the sansa being connected, rockbox shows it is getting external power, and sound does work. What doesn't work are any of the play, forward, back, power buttons. Oh well at least it kind of works and you don't need to use the 1/8 aux input. The advantage of using rockbox is the ability to read the 8gb microsdhc card I have in it.

- When using the original firmware of course everything works as expected: it charges the sansa while letting you play music and full navigation/power buttons work from the remote and the buttons on top of the unit.

- With the cheap plastic crystal case I use the sansa doesn't quite work with the docking slot. If I angle it just right I can get it to dock enough to get power but not enough for anything else. So just a warning for those of you who like to use your sansa with a case on all of the time that this might be an issue.

As a clock radio I was pretty impressed with it: great size and physical design, good button locations for the most part, good sound for a clock radio, digital tuner, etc. The 1/8 aux input is a nice bonus feature. As far as sansa support it's ok. It's nice to be able to charge the sansa but the mono speaker isn't that great for serious music listening. It's not bad for audio books/podcasts though. I think $35 is a fair price for a device like this but I wouldn't pay much more. It's a great clock radio but an average sansa dock.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Custom Resolution by Application in Vista/XP

First I just wanted to apologize for not posting much lately. I've been pretty good at keeping my promise of at least one new post a week up until a few months ago. I've had some vacation time and then got sick for a week. That and surprisingly I haven't had anything that interesting to blog about. Anyways, enough excuses.

Sometimes you have an application or say some very old edutainment (for my kids) titles that don't behave well with modern high resolution settings and just don't scale or look right. Instead, they required you to change your desktop setting to something incredibly low (640X480 or 800X600) before launching the application. Here is a way to sort of automate it using freeware.

Sometimes switching resolutions can scramble your desktop icon positions.
Save and Restore Desktop Icon Layout in Windows Vista (xp too)

Use this to switch resolutions.
multires supports command line:

Sometimes the application requires the cd to be in the drive. First rip the cd to an iso using

Then use daemon tools to mount it which also supports command line:

Now create a batch file (.cmd) to automate it all. Here is a sample:

"C:\Program Files\MultiRes\MultiRes.exe" /640,480,32
"C:\Program Files\DAEMON Tools Lite\daemon.exe" -mount 0,"mycdimage.iso"
timeout 2
"C:\Program Files\DAEMON Tools Lite\daemon.exe" -unmount 0
"C:\Program Files\MultiRes\MultiRes.exe" /restore

640,480,32 is your resolution and bit depth.
E:\myprogram.EXE is whatever your shortcut usually launches to start your app. Timeout is there to make sure the image is mounted before you start the app. Create a shortcut that points to the .cmd file that you created above, and you can even change the icon in the shortcut properties so it looks the same as the old shortcut.