27 July, 2011

TV on HVR-900H under Ubuntu Linux


Adventures of a WinTV stick in Linux Lands

A while ago, I read a book that described the fight that the U.K. had to get their FreeView up and running. It was quite a good read, all things considered. At the time I read the book, New Zealand had barely heard of Freeview, but was already well on the way to a roll-out.

Fast forward to today—all analogue TV frequencies are set to be gradually turned off over the next year to be replaced by digital transmissions, which means you'll need either a modern television (with Freeview built in) or some sort of set top box, with or without recording capability. Computers have their own set of challenges that Hauppauge have addressed with their line of USB and PCI TV receivers.

I finally got the Hauppauge WinTV HVR-900H working under Ubuntu Linux 11.04! It seems I needed to modprobe tm6000_dvb and tm6000_alsa modules. In addition, I needed to download a firmware file that wasn't on my system. The link was easy enough to find, once I knew what I was looking for:

http://www.stefanringel.de/pub/xc3028L-v36.fw

An alternative URL is:

http://steventoth.net/linux/hvr1400/xc3028L-v36.fw

Observe the usual things about making sure this is the right file, and all that. Put this into /lib/firmware/ on your Ubuntu system—other Linux distributions may differ. Anyhow, it seems that the VideoLAN client will now play digital TV from the USB stick, once you point vlc at a dvb-t device, set up the frequencies you need to receive channels on, and of course have a decent signal. If you want to improve the picture somewhat (on my initial setup, I was getting all sorts of weird effects) you may want to turn on deinterlacing. Fiddle with the settings until you can't see any obvious blurriness when things move around fast on the screen.

Apparently mplayer can be set up to use the stick as well, though I've no idea how to get it to use the stick in just plain "start it, choose channel, watch like a drone" mode. At least VLC allows me to do that without any real magic commandline invocations.

Setting it all up

First off, you need to know what frequencies you're going to be receiving a digital signal on. Wikipedia is good for this, as they have a whole barrel load of information for various countries—New Zealand frequencies are included amongst them. For Christchurch, you'll need the Sugarloaf frequencies of 682 MHz, 698 MHz and 706 MHz. For other regions in NZ, see this list of DVB-T frequencies. These are all owned by either TVNZ, Mediaworks or Kordia, and provide most channels available on the digital platform.

Once you have the local frequencies, you can then feed these into VLC once you start it up. Do note that I've included screenies from both the Windows and the Ubuntu version of VLC, as the same instructions aren't quite the same for each OS.

Screenshot of Media Dialog

First off, hit that Media menu, choose "Open Capture Device", and in the Capture mode dropdown, select DVB (DVB Directshow under Windows). In Device Selection, choose DVB-T. For Linux, make sure there's something in the "Adapter Card" box —Windows doesn't have that setting. Then set the Transponder/Multiplex frequency to the relevant frequency for the transmissions you want to receive. Set the symbol rate to 8MHz for NZ, I'm not sure what you need for other countries. You should be good to go. In Christchurch at least, you could add all three frequencies to a playlist like I did, that should cover all relevant broadcasts from Freeview/HD.

Oh yeah, hit Play. It'll take a few seconds to scan the frequency, and load up the first available program off the frequency. Other programs can be got to by choosing the Playback menu, skipping down to Program, and selecting from the list.

Troubleshooting

First off, figure out if you're close enough to the local transmitter. Odds are if you're receiving crap telly now, then digital TV simply won't work without an improvement in aerial. Don't use the aerial that Hauppauge provided unless you're less than 5 km from the transmitter. Use a better one—preferably a good external UHF aerial. I'm relatively lucky to be able to pull in my signal with bunny ears, but that's because I'm practically line-of-sight to the local transmitter. If you're not, then all you can do is try it and see. If you have the option of taking a feed directly off the roof aerial, then that's also worth a shot, but if you don't want the hit of putting in a signal splitter (typically drops received signal by at least 3db), then you may need to go to the expense of putting up a separate aerial. Roof aerials (if they're set up properly) are usually your best bet for the cleanest signal.

Then, double check your frequencies. If they're not correct, then you won't be receiving anything, because the transmitter you chose with those frequencies will be too far away. If you're sure you've got your frequencies right, and you're close enough to the transmitter—and you have a low-loss line to the USB stick, see what the signal strength software shows—this software was included on a CDROM if you bought the stick from a retailer.

Other than that, I can't honestly suggest anything much more to think of for troubleshooting. It's just the normal getting a television signal right, but a little more stringent on the requirements.

12 July, 2011

Update about iPAQ ebook software


Books on the move

Last year, I posted a quick blog entry about the state of free software for reading eBooks on the iPAQ. It seems I missed one other piece of software out, and boy is it a winner—aside from the few gotchas. The software's called ZuluReader, and once I point it at a collection of ebooks in EPUB format, I'm away and laughing.

ZuluReader Portable is a reader specifically for portable devices, and provided you stick to a couple of simple rules, you should be enjoying books on your portable device without any significant issues. The first general rule? You can't have unsupported files in the directory you point ZuluReader at, otherwise it has a nasty habit of falling on its nose and being unstartable until you correct the initial error by removing any files that don't work in ZuluReader. The second thing isn't a killer, but it does require leaving the application if you decide to change the fontsize used by the main program. Of course, you can simply re-start the application, and everything comes back.

The ZuluReader Portable program has a set of icons on the screen that are easy to figure out how to use, and because EPUB files allow for reflowing text, you're able to adjust fontsize up or down to suit without breaking things too badly. Books with pictures could be a different story, depending upon how big those pictures are, and whether the pictures scale well to a device that has a 240x320 screen. That bit, I don't know, as I don't seem to have any books with embedded images in (aside from covers, that is)—I've yet to find them.

Books on the screen

Of course, ZuluReader Portable has a big brother too, allowing you to read, organise and even create ebooks on the PC. There's also sufficient glue embedded into the program to allow you to send ebooks to whatever device you happen to be using, though you do have to have some form of ActiveSync or modern equivalent installed. The screenshots look pretty good, though different from the Mobile version. In addition, it's not the easiest piece of software in the world to use, so do grab the documentation—it will be really useful.

Needless to say, this piece of software has made reading ebooks a whole lot more fun, instead of limiting me to books available in Microsoft's .lit format. I'm happy...

Does Google+ get a plus from me?


Summary

My initial assessment of Google+, which I’ll hereby summarise as simply Plus. I joined Google+ yesterday, and started getting used to the various additional functions I now have. There’s some good stuff to look forward to, but there’s still a couple of niggly warty things to work out.
For starters, Plus has some advantages for me, in that it attempts to integrate several of the aspects of Google that I use in one interface. The items I can directly access get bumped into their own tab, meaning I get to keep the previous tab contents - at least until I click on the +brickviking, which then takes me up to the top of the Plus hierarchy, no matter what task I clicked on it from.

New stuff

Apps-wise, Plus doesn’t add much beyond what I already have, bar the Circles addition, Hangout and the serious rewrite of the Profile screen. So, the warts and the bonuses of Plus - hard to summarise in one short document. The warts seem to only be little niggly “I can’t find out how to do this”, “Too many steps to do A or B” or simply “We don’t support doing that yet”. As for the bonuses - well, there’s the obvious takeup of Hangouts, the ability to finely sort your contacts into categories, with your choice of how those circles interact, if at all.

Warts

Yes, so far, it has warts. Simply put, things just aren’t as intuitive to do as I’d expect.  I couldn’t initially figure out how to make posts to circles, until I figured out how to actually select a circle then choose “Feed for this circle” - that then makes any of the posts from me appear only to members of that circle.
As for Hangouts, the only real bug I’ve found so far is that trying to type into the text chat portion simply doesn’t work, though I did figure out a way around this. Find another text field in the main browser window, type in some text, highlight the text, and copy the text to the clipboard. Switch back to the Hangouts window, and paste from the clipboard. You should then be able to keep typing as you normally would. This is just one of the weird problems that needs to be fixed. In addition, the application occasionally seems to think the microphone’s muted, even when it’s not.

Bonuses

Hangouts are a fantastic idea.  There’s the obvious comparison with Facebook’s Video Chat feature, but Hangouts has the edge, as it works on all three major platforms. Facebook currently only supports Windows and Mac OS X.
Circles are a rather neat UI tweak to manipulate existing data about contacts. It’s not exactly anything revolutionary, however it’s a nice touch and a nice way to do sub-setting. Facebook does have lists, but the interface to add people to each list is quite different. Facebook loads the list of friends as a big list, and lets you choose which lists those people are in with a dropdown on each friend’s entry. Circles allows you to drag contacts into each circle you create, and the focus is on the groups you create, not the individuals.
Feeds are basically Buzz, which contains (at your discretion) tweets, other RSS feeds you happen to be following, and other Buzz posts. Again, nothing stupendous, more of what they did previously. However, you can drill down, selecting feeds based on what circle you’ve selected. Trying to do the same thing with Facebook is nigh on impossible.

Summary

I suspect that Hangouts probably won’t be wildly popular, due to most people probably wanting real interaction instead of just via monitors, cameras and microphones. Adding people to the Hangout isn’t exactly intuitive, so I created a circle specifically for adding people to for hangouts - that way, I can select the circle, head off to the stream, and click the “Start a hangout” button on the right hand side.
The fact that Hangout’s plugin is installable to Linux gives Plus the edge, but I don’t think it’ll take Facebook too long to implement a plugin that also works with Linux browsers, if they haven’t already done so. After all, Skype works with cameras on Linux, there’s no reason why they can’t implement that into the Linux plugin too.
And my verdict? Yes, Google+ gets a Plus from me.