Two Tivos in one room??

OK I have a problem. I am trying to set up two Tivo boxes in one room. Unfortunately they both respond to either remote, this is bad. I don’t want them to both change channels, both record the current program, etc. AVSForum, TivoBlog don’t seem to have any suggestions. I can do stupid things to work around this but I am looking for the elegant solution.

You could ask why the hell I have 2 tivos in one room. And if you know me, you know the answer must be “Ohio State Buckeye Football” somehow. The BigTen network is only on DirecTV. But when the Buckeyes are on ABC, HD ABC is only available on comcast. Hence 2. If/when comcast resolves their BigTen network licensing issues, I can resolve this.

Music Management

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time with my music lately. Re-ripping everything I own in lossless format, and also trying a bunch of new stuff via lala. The amount of data involved now is substantial enough that I would be sad if I had to rerip everything. And we are a multi-listener, multi-ipod household, so I need to provide access to the music for multiple users. Here is what I currently do.

  • Acquisition. I rip everything in flac lossless format using dbpoweramp using accuraterip to insure quality. I used to use exactaudiocopy, it is a fine program too, but I find the dbpoweramp interface a little cleaner. From this effort, I get an ever-growing store of flac-encoded content as I rerip all my cds.
  • Conversion. Unfortunately the iPod doesn’t speak flac, and the ipod hard disks aren’t big enough to handle flac. So weekly I downconvert all my new flac content to mp3 using dbpoweramp again. works pretty well in batch mode.
  • Library-ization. I take the converted mp3 content once a week and add it to iTunes on one machine, and I let iTunes rename/reorg the files on this machine only. Because I am replacing old mp3s from previous rips, this sometimes creates some cleanup work for me — dupe files, etc. I’ve tried various strategies to limit he cleanup work but none of them work well.
  • Fanout. To get the library on all machines, I currently use beyondcompare. It seems pretty fast and has an intuitive interface for me. I can save my various configs, it is pretty quick and painless to get everything in sync. this gives everyone a copy of the mp3 lib, and on their machines they can keep their own ratings, etc. Oh one key thing I also use — on my mac mini I have just started using sharepoints — makes it easy to share an arbitrary directory for network use by pc clients.
  • Archiving. I also use beyondcompare to make a couple copies of the underlying flac storage, even though no one really uses those versions directly. I did install a flac filter on one machine so I could play the flac versions directly in WMP but I rarely do that.

The next two things I intend to do are:

  • add in another hard disk to the fanout/archiving mix, and rotate it to my office, so that I have offsite storage.I’ve already done this informally but I need to make it a core part of the process.
  • look into how to export the itunes ratings from one machine to another. I personally use two machines and I’d like to keep the ratings in sync on those two. I’ve seen articles on how to do this, just need to dig in a little.
  • I also need to start thinking about how to integrate multiple ipods for my own use. my music collection in mp3 format far exceeds the storage of the biggest ipod. so far I’ve been able to keep on top of this by rating songs and dumping all the 1-stars off the ipod automagically at sync time. but with all the lala-provided discs I am trialling, I have way too much music — I want to carry around all the songs I know I like, plus all the ones I have yet to listen to. Not sure what the right strategy is here yet.

I'm a sucker

The hype sucked me, I got a Dyson Ball. I have to say, this thing is seriously cool. It really does have great suckage. Super easy to clean out. My only beef — a cord you have to collect yourself is so 1980s, even my cheapo kenmore vacuum has a self-retracting cord.

Home phone solutions

I’ve never gotten around to redoing my home phone system to be all-IP but still have a deep interest. Here’s a couple more things to consider when the project bubbles to the top:

* Asteriskathome — a version of the open source pbx for the home. A nice web management UI and hopefully config’ed for the most common home features.
* Fonality. I met these guys last week, great guys. Complete PBX features at a price small businesses can afford.
* A list of open source pbx software if i want to go further afield.
* Or I could just use this to bridge all my analog handsets over to Skype.

TV and Media Center happenings of interest

Lots of posts recently as people realize that we aren’t going to see cable/satellite HD feeds into MCE machines for a long time — No CableCARD for Windows Media Center until Longhorn (probably), Say It Ain’t So Joe… Why HDTV Support in MCE Won’t Change Until Longhorn Arrives. Not at all shocking, the PC is DRM swiss cheese. Certainly suggests that the closed boxes — TIVO, captive settop boxes — have a long life yet in the home. I bet that you don’t see HDTV support on the PC until you can run a separate OS in a separate VM with hardware-enforced DRM — ie, until you can run a closed hardware/software box inside a PC.

Meanwhile tho, the MCE developer economy continues to grow — here’s a list of plugins you can install. Regardless of HD capability, these boxes make way cool DVD players. As does the XBOX 360. Sure seems to me that the DVD player market will break into two — cheap low-end fixed function players, and then at the high end, people will put in an XBOX, Mac Mini, MCE, or PS3 box.

Another interesting idea is the PocketDish. This seems compelling to me, if I could take all my Tivo or Dish content on the road, without futzing around with a full laptop pc, I’d be interested.

Some interesting thoughts by Mark Pesce on the future of TV — “The idea of an advertising payload attached unobtrusively to the television program has a certain appeal; it can be ignored, but it’s always present. The audience can’t edit it out of the program without destroying the content of the program. Audiences will learn accept them — so long as the advertisements aren’t too busy, distracting, or otherwise obnoxious.” We’ve watched this whole season of Alias via torrent downloads and I would have been happy to get an HD download direct from ABC or my affiliate which had modest advertising content in it.

Home networking resources

Boy Google has become pretty polluted on the topic of home networking, many of the top pages are thin bags of links, clearly just thrown together to generate google hits and revenue. Here’s my own list of home networking resources that I use.

* Blogs:
** practically networked — general home network coverage
** pvrblog — PVRs
** ehomeupgrade — all kinds of digital home and gagdet goodness

* Software Tools:
** pure networks — for file sharing, printer sharing, and generally keeping track of what’s on the network (Disclosure: Ignition is an investor)
** itunes — for music playing and sharing. We keep all our music on a server, I wish itunes would push tags and playlists back to the server.
** Remote Desktop — I use this all the time to manage different machines from the family room — requires XP Pro. I tried a bunch of freeware alternatives but none of them seemed particularly robust at the time.
** Beyond Compare — my backup strategy is to spread copies of photos and music around to 4-5 different places.

* Other websites:
** Annoyances.org — some handy troubleshooting guides
** avsforum — for av/hometheater stuff
** dslreports — nice speed test for your broadband link among other tools
** Sandy and Dave’s — a nice newsletter summing up industry events

That’s the primary list of resources. Anybody else have good ones?

Weekend household chores in the digital age

* Install Tiger on Mac Mini. painless.
* Rip latest CD purchases.
* Update ipods
* Install and tune surround sound system in game room
* download last 5 alias episodes using bitcomet. (lest you think i am a rampant pirate — i pay directv for satellite service, i pay comcast for hdtv service, we’ve purchased alias seasons 1, 2, and 3 on dvd. i am paying to watch alias every freakin’ way the industry will let me pay, so i don’t need to hear any crap about my downloads. give me a legal way to pay for HD alias downloads and I’ll pay for that too.)

Someone from 100 years ago would find my chore list to be incomprehensible.

Recent TV Notes

* Centerstage status. I really need to get the alpha running on my mac mini.
* Rich has discovered cable cards but let me tell you rich, it is a PITA to get these cards and to make them work. I have one TV limping with a card from Comcast — but the overall experience (ordering, install, daily use) is awful because comcast does not want you to use this product. and per this article, the movement towards cablecards is not accelerating.
* Good article here on coercing a settop box to accept an additional hard disk — wish the comparable work was done on the msft/comcast/moto box — and a reminder of what a great resource avsforum is

Home cooling

I am certainly on the bleeding edge here — but in the next 5-10 years home cooling is going to get more complicated than it is today.

I’ve got 4 pcs, a network attached printer, various scanners and cameras, a vonage ata box, hubs, speakers, monitors, router, cable modem, and phone system in my office/server room. Naturally a hot room, but it has become unbearable on sunny days — and so I’ve had to add a dedicated air conditioner for this room.

My media center has a similar problem — the cabinet next to my screen contains a receiver/amp, directivo box, comcast box, dvd, vcr, ld player, etc. I’ve had to punch a hole in a wall and install a fan to vent out to the garage.

The heat generated by consumer electronics is just too much. (Attendant with this is the fan noise problem which can be addressed by clever heat sinks and other designs — but you can’t design away the waste heat).

If I was building a new house I’d explicitly design for these issues. Ventilation, extra thermostats, extra cooling capacity — it is a pain to add this stuff later. House HVAC design is going to get way more complicated.

We can do some things to address the problem — moving away from incandescent bulbs for instance — I’ve done that in my problem rooms already. But the problem is just going to grow as we add more sophisticated electronics into our life — I am currently reading “The Bottomless Well”:amazon, on which I’ll write a full review later, but it is pretty convincing that we are going to have more waste heat, not less to deal with, in the future.

Working around comcast problems

I’ve given up on comcast fixing their IP lease time issues, I am still seeing very short lease times a week+ later.

I have found that my old sonicwall firewall was particularly perturbed by these short leases, so i replaced it with a Linksys WRV54G that I had purchased a while ago. No amount of coercion could make it work with the xbox tho — i tried port forwarding, turning on and off upnp, assigning the xbox a static ip and putting it into the dmz, etc. Just never clicked.

So I printed out Microsoft’s advice on compatible routers and trundled off to Fry’s this AM. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Microsoft’s list is very stale, not a single router with these model numbers is actually for sale anymore. So i picked up a dlink DI-704UP — I know dlink has great market share, and the number was similar to a router that was supposed to be compatible. Works fine.

Comcast DHCP problems

OK in the last four days Comcast has cut my IP address lease times down to 2 hours. At at the end of that two hours there are often 3-5 minutes when I cannot get a valid lease at all.

Spoke with comcast and got the run around — “reboot everything”, “remove your router”, “unplug your toaster”, “wear a little foil hat like joaquin phoenix did in Signs”. Finally they told me it is all the router’s fault (it’s been working fine for 1 year) and that I need to sign up for their home networking option.

So I am on hold to find out what that is. Anyone have any relevant advice?

UPDATE: spoke with a much better support person at Comcast. Issue has been escalated. I continue to see lease times < 2 hours. And at every renewal, i am getting widely varying IP addresses (not so unusual) AND varying subnet masks -- anything from 255.255.255.0 up to 255.255.255.250. that seems odd to me. I've switched routers to no avail, also tried routerless.

Latest adventures with my sharp aquos

Finally feeling good enough to start tinkering again, and to blog about it.

I’m continuing my odyssey to attach every piece of technology I can to my sharp aquous beast of a tv. My Mac Mini arrived last week and I have it hooked up now to the DVI port. Looks great. The gotchas: Apple saves money by shipping the mini with no cables, so you have to go buy a DVI cable ($70 at least) and a stereo mini-jack cable (Aside — why does Apple even bother putting a speaker in the mac mini???). 2nd gotcha — the sharp defaults to an analog video signal from the pc, and you have to go wade thru the menus to force it to look for a digital signal — seems like this could be auto-detected. The mini makes a great hometheater pc — small, quiet, a fine dvd player. And I have bittorrent running on it to fill up the hard disk with tv content.

For additional fun I plugged a kingston pcmcia hard drive into the pcmcia port on aquous. What a bizarre feature. I can play slide shows and videos off the pccard. Oh and I can take snapshots and video captures of the current signal, as long as it is from a crappy analog input — analog coax, analog s-video. the tv won’t capture the signal from a digital input or from the component inputs, probably to make the mpaa et al happy. So basically it is a really funky and limited DVR. Just goes to show again how much trouble Tivo is in — it is trivial to slam DVR software into any box now, and storage is cheap.

I still have to fill up the hdmi and 1394 inputs…

The clash of the TV Titans

* First, read yesterday’s (1/27/05) front page WSJ article on the struggle between comcast and the tv networks/producers to deliver on-demand versions of popular programs. Comcast wants to screw the networks/producers, the content owners want to protect their revenue streams, and so users are left with nothing — or more exactly, users are pushed towards unfettered version of shows that leak out thru bittorrent or other means
* The networks are in an untenable position — there is just no way to keep their content contained — even if they have the fanciest drm in the world, at some point the tv signal gets rendered onto an rgb/composite/s-video feed so you can see it — take look at rgb.com, you can pick up a box today that can capture 1600×1200, 25 frames per second, off a composite or rbg feed. I.E. there is no way to keep good digital copies from surfacing on the web.
* Meanwhile, Tivo is under increasing pressure — and it looks like consumers will be satisfied with DVRs from their tv provider, rather than buy a Tivo. Too bad because the Tivo experience is way superior to other DVRs — but the egos at Tivo and at the cable/satellite companies are destroying the Tivo business.
* And now Apple is crowding into the picture with the stylish Mac mini — pointer to Cringely, Steve Makofsky on why people like the mini (and wondering why they don’t like the PC in he same way), reviews of the Mac Mini. But there is no way to get a cable or satellite digital signal into a Mac Mini today — the video providers are dead set against that happening as it creates another way for digital copies to leak onto the net — so users lose out. Can Steve Jobs pull a rabbit out of his hat and solve this?
* And of course Microsoft continues to grind away with the Media Center PC. And I think all these front end boxes need a great back end media store in the home — something like this maybe?

Where will we all end up? Rich has some good thoughts about the refactoring of the TV experience — and some criticisms of everyone trying to create EPGs. In the short term, Steve Makofsky points out that we are headed for greater complexity and confusion as we have to learn about codecs and other software components.

Who is going to be the champion of the user, the friend of the user?

Comcast Cablecard Install

Today’s adventure — getting a cablecard from comcast. As anyone knows, their website is quite silent on how to order a cablecard. If you call them and ask for it, they will provide it finally with some arm twisting.

Two techs showed up today. The physical install in my sharp aquos was quite straightforward. The setup after that was confusing and we still don’t have it right.

First of all, the sharp manual is hilariously bad. I’m not sure anyone ever tried these instructions on how to install a cablecard. You have to make sure you are on tv input, you have to switch the input type over to cable, and then you have to make sure you hit the “digital” button on the remote. Several of this steps are left out in the manual. But I don’t blame the manual writers completely — the menu structure on the tv itself is hopelessly modal. If you happen to have the current input set to a component or hdmi or dvi input, you will never find the right menu items. But we finally figured it out.

The cablecard was recognized, we had to call a bunch of digits into comcast. In their network they authorize this card, and then I guess credentials are downloaded to the card which tell it what tv channels I’m allowed to see. This takes a little while, 10-15 minutes. Then digital channels start showing up.

Second key tip — the sharp aquous has separate coax inputs for digital or analog. You want to split your cable using a 1ghz splitter and feed the input to both. Otherwise you will only get the digital channels — which in our market, for instance, means you could never watch CBS.

Some things still aren’t working — I can’t see ESPN-HD for instance. Another service call in the offing.

In a future post I’ll expand on my feelings — but man, tv setup and video delivery to the home is just getting more complicated, not less — there are huge opportunities here to do better.

Telephony Roundup 1/24

I’ve yet to move my house over to a full voip install but still collecting lots of interesting links:

* Pulver launches Bellster — now driving termination costs for calls to 0. Do I really want people calling out on my analog lines tho?
* Prototype phone with zigbee integration — one attempt at dragging the physical systems of the home into the digital age.
* Skype answering machine. I doubt that most people will want to run their answering machine on their pc. The voip answering machine service must emulate the features/availibility of existing answering machines or telco-based answering services — in both cases, easy access from a handset or multiple handsets in the house.
* Rich reminds me that I don’t just want SIP phones in the house, i need PBX functionality so that extensions work like they should — ie all ring at once on an incoming call.
* Todd Duffin is way ahead of me, he has done a lot. He’s had good experiences with the Sipura SPA-2000, an SER server, and asterisk for pbx/vm. Lot i have to learn here.