Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

Why Transcoding is Here to Stay

March 31st, 2007 No comments

Chris Lanier wrote the other day that he thinks that digital media players are missing an opportunity because they only support a limited set of file formats or codecs. I love Chris’ blog and read his posts regularly to keep up with what’s happening in the HTPC world. I’m a little surprised that I disagree with him, but in this case my opinion is very different.

The point that I think Mr. Lanier missed is that supporting a wider variety of codecs would push the price point of these media devices far past what most would be willing to pay for a consumer electronics box. Hardware decoding is relatively inexpensive because you can buy an IC from Broadcom (or someone else) that handles most of the video processing and decodes H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2, etc. You can hit a $300 price point with a device like this.

However, if you want the horsepower to decode other codecs (especially at HD resolutions) *IN SOFTWARE*, you are going to be looking at high-end PC specs. Can you imagine if the TiVo Series 3 was based on the Core 2 Duo and had a nVidia 7950GT in it? It would definitely have the horsepower to decode just about anything you could throw at it, but no one would buy it when they could buy a fully functional PC for *LESS* that didn’t have a monthly subscription fee.

Transcoding is definitely where it’s at. I want the ability to manage my content from my computer and then make that content available to all the devices I own. Here is where the “support all codecs” on the media player argument is backwards in my mind. I want the devices to be functional and cheap. I want my computer to be the workhorse that can figure out how to make my content available to those other devices and be aware of all their limitations. I want to manage my content centrally too and have all this transcoding and compression happen in the background so I don’t have to deal with it.

I want to buy a HD movie once and then automagically have that content transcoded and resized to play on my iPod, Xbox, AppleTV, laptop, etc. I also want to download flash movies from the internet, divx home movies, and on and on. My media manager should be intelligent enough to know the MPEG block constraints of the iPod’s decoder, that my Xbox Elite is set to use 1080p over HDMI, that my AppleTV can only do 720p at 24fps or 540p at 30fps and so on. I definitely do *NOT* want my iPod to be capable of playing back 20Mbps H.264 content at 1080p because I don’t want to spend $2000 for a video iPod. I am willing to spend big bucks on my main computer though.

I have high hopes that someone will figure this out and create a seamless PC, TV w/extender, mobile solution that will let me enjoy my (legally obtained) content anywhere, anytime, anyhow I want to.

Getting Started with Solaris 10 and ZFS

March 24th, 2007 11 comments

Solaris 10 LogoI’ve been itching to write more about Solaris 10 and ZFS now that I’ve got it working on my budget server. Unfortunately, I’ve been out of town this last week and haven’t had a chance to write much. Before I write up the full install and setup process, I thought I’d give you a little teaser.

You can get started at the Solaris home page. Incidentally, www.solaris.com will redirect you to the page on sun.com, in case you forget the URL. The first thing you’ll want to do is start downloading the x86 install disc image, because this will take a while. From the Get Solaris page you need to select the download option or sign up to have a software kit sent to you in the mail. If you have a DVD drive, I would recommend the compressed DVD image download if you’re running Windows. It comes in four parts, which are heavily compressed. Once you download all four parts, the decompression and disc creation routine will take quite a while. It took about an hour (if I remember right) just to make the image on my 2.4GHz P4 machine. Add burning time on top of that.

Once you have the install disc ready to go, the rest of the process is pretty easy. You can get an overview at “How to Quickly Install the Solaris 10 1/06 OS” and there’s a pretty good Solaris x86 FAQ available from sun.drydog.com as well.

False Alarm on Delicious Library 2

March 21st, 2007 No comments

Wil Shipley reveals in the midst of a stream of consciousness blog post that attendees at TED only received a coupon for the next version of Delicious Library. The actual app is still not finished (yet).

C’mon, Wil. We’re rooting for you!

Solaris 10 is Rockin!

March 16th, 2007 5 comments

I’m proud to announce that I’ve got Solaris 10 up and running pretty smoothly on my new AMD-based system. I had some annoying compatibility issues with the first system I tried, so I switched to the ASUS M2NPV-VM motherboard with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 3600+ CPU. This board has much better support in Solaris 10 out of the box. The onboard GPU (nVidia GeForce 6150) is recognized immediately as is the onboard ethernet. So much nicer to work with…

Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard

There are some other things that I really like about this board. It’s got four USB ports and Firewire on the back. There are also headers for two more USB and one more firewire port on the motherboard. DVI out it also nice.  Check out the expansion options below…

Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard 2

Another thing that works really well for my project is that there are 2 IDE connectors and 4 SATA connectors. I plugged the boot drive and the DVD-ROM drive into the IDE port (as master/slave on one cable). Four SATA ports is the bare minimum for what I want to accomplish, but it will suffice for the next year or so. If I run out of room quicker than that, I’ll add a PCI board or something.

A couple other cool extras that come with this Asus board…

  • Firewire bracket (for the rear openings in a standard case)
  • HDTV video out bracket with component outputs (the 6150 is capable of 1080i)
  • extra IDE cables and a SATA cable

So next up is the physical build process and then Solaris installation. ZFS setup is so easy, it almost doesn’t deserve a post. I’ll see if I can do some rough benchmarks for fun though.

Google Notifier for Mac and Google Apps (GAFYD)

March 16th, 2007 No comments

Google NotifierA couple weeks ago I noticed that Google Notifier was no longer giving me notifications of new email. All this started right around the time that Google launched their Premier Edition service. I was going to write about this back then, but the post sat in my drafts while I was trying to figure out what was happening. I think I finally have the full (if somewhat disappointing) answer.

I sign in with my Google Apps account (not a regular Gmail account). Unfortunately, Google Notifier hasn’t been updated to work properly with Google Apps for Your Domain. The links to open your calendar, inbox, compose a new message, and so on try to take you to the regular Gmail or Calendar pages. The login fails because Notifier is presenting credentials for Google Apps. What was more puzzling was that the new items list still worked in Calendar, but not in Mail. The notifications and the count of new mail items in the menu bar used to work and now I’ve figured out how to make them work again.

The key (for some unknown reason) is to login to Google Apps in Safari first. Yep, that’s it. I have Firefox set as my default browser and rarely use Safari so I hadn’t noticed until I logged in with that browser. Once you do that, Google Notifier will start working again for email notifications. I still can’t open my Mail from Notifier, but the notifications and unread message count work.

This a good spot to put a little plug in for Growl as well. All you need is Gmail+Growl, which will feed the notifications to Growl so you can integrate them into your other system notifications.

I did a little digging around in the package for Notifier and there are several hardcoded references to the gmail page. Along with the dependency on having a valid cookie with Safari, this makes Google Notifier less than perfect. Hopefully, someone will get around to updating this utility to work properly with mail.google.com/a/ as well as mail.google.com/accounts.

Joost Around The Corner

March 16th, 2007 No comments

Apparently Joost is just around the corner. I received an email this morning (along with lots of other people, I’m sure) that says that they are very close to opening up the service to more testers and they will shortly add everyone who has signed up to try Joost.

Being able to watch Viacom properties online will definitely keep me interested in actually watching something on Joost. I’ll be sure to post impressions as soon as I get my account setup. I’d like to hear your impressions too.

If you haven’t already, you can sign up for the beta test from their home page.

Delicious Library 2 is Finished!

March 11th, 2007 No comments

Don’t run off and check the Delicious Monster site or the unofficial forums just yet. Still, I think I’ve got the goods on Delicious Library 2. In Wil Shipley’s latest personal blog post, he talks a lot about his visit to TED this past week and how he’s completely infatuated with Meg Ryan. After obsessing about whether Matt Groening really thinks he’s funny or Meg Ryan digs his buns of steel, Shipley dropped a innocuous comment that Delicious Library 2 is included in the TED swag bag.

He also mentioned that Peter Gabriel is going to save $60 in upgrade fees (and yes, I’m sure that is pretty important to someone in his position). I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that means the upgrade fee is $20 (or half the cost of a full license) and Gabriel owns three licenses (which is three more than anything I’ve ever sold to an A-list celebrity). Still, I’m not sure why receiving one copy of DL2 would remove the need to upgrade other licenses. If Gabriel doesn’t need separate upgrade licenses, why did he need separate full licenses in the first place?

So why do I care? Well, I like collecting stuff. I’m a bit of a bibliophile (I’m working on a Master’s in History, so this should be no surprise) and Delicious Library is a fun app. The need for it isn’t so great since I’ve discovered LibraryThing last year, but I still enjoy it. I also have a modest CD and DVD collection. DVDProfiler, which I love, hasn’t been updated in a while and Listal seems to cover most of my needs, but I still like the offline access in DL.

I still think that the next generation of collecting software needs to be online, or at least an online/desktop hybrid. Collecting is in the sweet spot for social software concepts. I’d like to manage my collection, but also share it with others, see what my friends like, get recommendations based on the collective wisdom of the crowd, leverage a shared database of detailed information collated by OCD collectors (the great success of DVDProfiler), write reviews to share, rate items, etc. All those things work better online.

There’s still room for desktop software and offline tools, but I’d love to see something like bi-directional sync with DL2. Here’s to hoping!

In any case, we should find out what DL2 can do as soon as the upgrades are made available to the unwashed masses who didn’t make it to TED this year.

Forget AppleTV – Mac mini as Video Server

March 10th, 2007 No comments

I ran across this podcast/article at HTGuys today. It gives a pretty good high-level description of a working home theater system that uses the Mac mini as the hub for video and audio. The system is primarily used for movie viewing (ripped from DVD’s) and the bulk of the conversation is about this, but it does mention recording TV as well.

This article highlights some of the advantages that the mini provides over the AppleTV. In particular, the mini allows for AC3 audio passthrough to your receiver for surround sound. There doesn’t appear to be a way to encode surround sound into AppleTV-compatible files. The mini also allows for the possibility of TV recording and central storage that can be shared out to the rest of the house (the AppleTV has a 40GB hard drive for caching content shared from another computer’s iTunes library). With a wired network, the system here is able to stream HD content to three computers at the same time.

As much as I’d like to dump my cable DVR and roll my own, I still can’t make up my mind which approach to take. More and more, I see disadvantages to the AppleTV approach.

Why Vonage Doesn’t Deserve to Die

March 9th, 2007 No comments

Vonage got slapped with a $50+ million patent infringement penalty today, which reminded me to say something nice about them.

I decided to switch to Vonage a few months ago to pocket some change from incentives and a lower monthly fee than Qwest. We call family in California pretty regularly so the flat rate pricing is a nice feature for us. Porting our phone number only took a week and I ended up with the first month free (which is a wash with the activation fee), a free VOIP gateway device, saved $15-20 a month over Qwest and got $200 to spend at Circuit City. I love paying less for phone service we barely use, and I spent the $200 on a Nintendo Wii for Christmas (yes, my kids love it and Wii Sports is HOT!).

It works really well for our phone setup where we have a central wireless base station and several wireless handsets around the house. I just plug the wireless base into the Vonage VOIP gateway (mine is made by Linksys) and I’m good to go with all the phones in the house.

Vonage has been working great. We get service equivalent to what we had before and it’s got a couple nice features. I particularly like that I get emails when someone leaves a voice mail. I even have it set up to send me a .wav file of the message so I can listen to it on my computer. Since I use Google Apps, I can listen to my voice mail anywhere. It’s annoying to me that their web site offers the same WAV files for download when they really should just embed a flash player in the voicemail page so you can play them directly and delete them, forward, etc. on the web. In these days of YouTube and all, it’s hard to swallow the inconvenience of downloading a file, opening another app to play it, then going back to the web to delete the message. Really makes me lust after Visual Voicemail in the upcoming iPhone.

I should mention that it does work a lot smoother on my Mac though. When I click on a voicemail recording, it opens in QuickTime player automatically and I simply press the spacebar to begin playing. On my Windows machine, it opens in iTunes, sometimes doesn’t play the audio correctly, and of course iTunes copies it into my music library so I have to delete the file when I’m done in TWO places (iTunes and the web). I tried tweaking the settings to have the WAV file play in Media Center, but there’s a huge delay in opening that beast of a program. QuickTime Player jumps to life on my Mac when I need it.

The only limitation that I’ve run into is that Vonage is sensitive to having enough bandwidth to carry the voice conversation. If I’m going mad on bittorrent, then I have to limit the upload speed to 10-15KBps (my line has about 40KBps) to avoid sending garbled sound quality to the other party. What I really need to do is look into priority queuing and traffic shaping for my Cisco router so it will automatically give the Vonage traffic priority over other outgoing traffic. Incoming traffic isn’t as much of a problem because the cable line has pretty good download speeds. The other side of the conversation is always crystal clear, which makes it hard to remember to shut down Azureus so the other person can hear me.

I’m locked in for another 7 months or so but I’m not counting the days down to jump ship (which is a pretty good compliment for something as mundane as phone service). I’ll probably look around at incentives to try Comcast’s service or go back to Qwest. But one thing is for sure – I’m done paying $45+ per month for my home phone and long distance.

Cheap Solaris Server with ZFS – Round 2

March 8th, 2007 1 comment

The new parts are on order now. I ran into some issues with the previous gear, particularly with the Intel integrated graphics adapter and the onboard LAN. I decided to go with an AMD setup because it’s been reported to work with Solaris 10. I chose the Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard, which even has an entry on the official HCL, even if there are scant details available there. I expect the video and the LAN to be recognized on install so I’ll be disappointed if that doesn’t work out.

The one departure I took was to save $20 and go with GeIL memory rather than the Corsair XMS sticks I was looking at. I’ve been buying Corsair for a couple of years now, but the good reviews on newegg.com convinced me to try the GeIL. The ones I picked come with racing orange heat spreaders, so they have to be fast, right? It’s still DDR2 800 (PC2-6400) RAM and should run at 4-4-4-12 if I push the voltage to 2.1. One of the things I like about Asus boards is the easy tweaking for things like this.

The main reason that I went with this setup was to really try and push the cheapest build possible to get close to 1TB of raw storage. The M2NPV-VM has 2 IDE ports and 4 SATA ports. I’ve got four 250GB SATA drives for storage and a 120GB IDE drive for the boot volume. I’ve also got a spare 250GB IDE drive (in an external enclosure at the moment) so I could potentially hook up 1.25TB of raw storage. That should yield 1TB in a RAIDZ pool (with single parity). So here’s where I am with the gear right now…

  • $84 – Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard
  • $95 – AMD Athlon 64 X2 3600+
  • -$10 – combo discount on CPU/MB
  • $84 -GeIL 2x512MB DDR2 800 RAM
  • $70 – Antec SmartPower 2.0 SP-500 ATX12V 500W Power Supply
  • -$30 – rebate on PSU
  • $260 – 4x250GB SATA drives
  • $15 – shipping
  • Free – spare tower case, PS2 keyboard, mouse, SATA cables, Arctic Silver, IDE boot drive, etc.

So $568 total (assuming I can still drive a calculator) for 1000GB of storage. Maybe 1.2TB if I throw in the other drive (I already have a 500GB external – do I really need another one?). I would’ve been closer to $500 if I’d gone with something like the Celeron D or the Athlon 64 (non X2) and a slightly cheaper motherboard (w/ slower, cheaper RAM) but I figured the extra dough will save me some hassle when I’m all through with this. Considering that’s only $100 more than the external 1TB drives, I think I’m doing pretty well.

I think I’ll post some pics this time when I build the server. I always like seeing other people’s builds so I thought I could share mine with the world. In particular, I want to show some pics of the power supply (I know, I know – super geeky) because I really like the modular cable design on this unit.

Categories: Technology Tags: , , , , , , , ,