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Audio Personal Computing Video

M1 iMac Pre-Purchase Planning

M1 iMac stock image courtesy of Apple.

I expect Apple Silicon to have a major impact on the functionality of the iMac. The addition of the custom rendering and custom machine learning hardware resources places the desktop Macs on par with the iPads and iPhones opening possibilities for audio and video processing on the new products. So I decided to be an early adopter while my 2017 iMac had some trade-in value.

In this post, I’ll talk about some things to consider in the pre-purchase planning phase.

Categories
Personal Computing Video

House of Worship Streaming Video Production System

During COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, my church used Zoom to stream worship services for the congregation. With the easing of pandemic restrictions approaching, the congregation desires to live stream the service in our hall. What is involved?

For one thing, Copyright. As a house of worship, use of copyright material in our hall during service is provided explicitly in the law. Once we start streaming copyright music and spoken word to an open congregation or including it in podcasts, we need to obtain a rights license, keep records or what we used, and report usage to our license grantor.

In this blog, I will examine one possible architecture for live production of worship video for recording and streaming. This system has yet to be built and operated so this design should be considered purely notional.

Streaming hardware and services are in rapid flux. The pandemic has spurred investment in new products and services that didn’t exist a year ago. For example, Black Magic Design has optimized many of its products for volunteer use in house of worship and similar environments, ProPresenter 7 supports streaming and capture, and services such as Resi provide robust content delivery to identified endpoints.

In a future blog, I hope to talk about our lessons learned cobbling together a video production workflow. The equipment is the easy part. Volunteers are the hard part. As with all systems of this type, the people investment is larger and more valuable than the stuff they are using. But good stuff is easier to learn and operate reliably.

Categories
Audio Music Technology Video

A Little Raspberry Pi

I’ve been watching to Mandolin.Com live stream shows during the live music quarantine. My old practice was to AirPlay from an iPad to the lounge AppleTV. I got tired of this (WiFi stalls next to the airport) and decided to eliminate the stuff in the middle. Raspberry Pi Foundation came to the rescue.

Categories
Personal Computing Technology Video

Got Mandolin Shred?

This Sunday, I watched a Punch Brother’s live show. Yes watched Punch Brothers live streaming an hour-twenty or so of non-stop live music. Just five guys and a Neumann U-87 performing Oprey style like they always do on stage. Lots of tuning as keys changed. But tight and moved.

Punch Brothers engaged Mandolin.com a start up streaming production company to produce the show. Mandolin handled the lighting, video production, stream production, and content distribution and ticketing. The band prepared and practiced like they would for any live gig. Mandolin boffins and roadies handled all the tech for the show.

Publicity for the show. A Punch Brothers tweet, a Chris Thile retweet. Don’t know how big the crowd was. Dismal Manor was a sudden sailor for $25. Calvin needs shoes, what can I say?

Categories
Audio Personal Computing Video

New Kid On the Block

For some time I’ve been wanting to move media serving off of my Mac Mini because the design of the available servers requires the machine to be running and logged in which vastly increases its attack surface. I’d been looking for a number of alternatives, particularly one that was energy efficient, had a low footprint, and would be doing what it was designed to do. nVidia came to the rescue about a year ago with nVidia Shield TV, an Android TV. So I’ve allowed the Android camel into my tent.

References

  1. https://support.plex.tv/hc/en-us/articles/221099988-Setting-Up-and-Managing-Plex-Media-Server-on-NVIDIA-SHIELD retrieved 2 December 2017.
  2. https://shield.nvidia.com/support/nvidia-android-tv/faq/1
  3. http://www.practicallyefficient.com/2011/03/18/rsync-automator.html

Before you buy

Do two things. First, read the fine manual at [1]. Go through the FAQS at [2]. I didn’t include any video links as most are long on talk and low on information density. The links above will take you to the setup screens so you can review them.

You will need internet service. Shield has both WiFi and Ethernet interfaces built in. Both work well. If you have Ethernet available in your media cabinet, wired service works well. Shield just knows what to do. A wired interface speeds firmware updates. WiFi is adequate for media playback.

What’s in the box?

nvidia-shield-tv-stock-photo
nVidia Shield TV System Components

The base kit consists of a game controller (left) and the Shield machine (right but just the fin part). The nice aluminum base and the nice aluminum Android TV remote are optional extras. The kit also includes a power adapter, HDMI cable, and USB cable for recharging controllers and remotes. And there is a quick start guide and all the warranty and compliance statements.

Categories
Video

Tablo TV comes to Apple TV 4

References

  1. https://www.tablotv.com/for-appletv/ retrieved 28 June 2016.
  2. https://www.tablotv.com/tablo-products/ retrieved 28 June 2016.

Introduction

Shortly after I bought my modern television, the digital one, I decided that dark lord Rupert Murdock had received enough of my money. My first try at cord cutting was to move TiVO from the cable to a new TV antenna. Some time later, TiVO’s future was looking uncertain and TiVO’s disk was failing.

I began looking around for alternatives and moved originally to Elgato Eye TV with an HD Home Run tuner. EyeTV required my Mac to be active to record TV so I began looking for an alternative with a lower energy footprint that did not rely upon my Mac Mini for computational and storage resources. At about this time, Tablo was launching so I made the move to Tablo TV using a 2 channel tuner and a WD 0.5 TB USB disk as a program spool volume.

Tablo TV solved the leave the mini running problem. It also solved the TiVO problem of buying a new box when the disk failed. Tablo’s storage is inexpensive and trivially replaced.

Playback in the old days

Tablo TV development was very much a crawl, walk, run thing. The crawling occurred in the lab but once baby was able to walk, Tablo released product. The original product relies upon an iPad app to view content or forward it to an Apple TV to watch on the big screen. I used the AirPlay mode to watch live or recorded programs on my Panasonic plasma TV. This was not entirely satisfactory so I kept looking around for alternative playback means.

This was serviceable but annoying as the iPad was tied up while watching telly. Tablo App and AirPlay worked well but other ill-behaved apps could bring things to a stop. I’m talking about you, Facebook. At wake-up, Facebook sucks up the entire network connection and processor reestablishing situational awareness following hibernation. After a decade, I’m tiring of Facebook (story for another day).

 Plex to the rescue

A couple of enthusiasts built a Plex server plugin that allowed Plex to retrieve the directory and content from Tablo for streaming to the Plex app on an Apple TV. The Plex Apple TV app communicated with the server to show the catalog and play recordings but live watching was still not possible. Plex has a nice interface for recent recordings that shows the most recent shows captured in reverse chronological order in a manner reminiscent of TiVO.

The plugin presented the Tablo recorded material as a Channel in Plex terminology. A channel is a collection of non-native program material that can be retrieved and transcoded for playback by Plex Media Server. Any supported Plex player can control the channel and present the playback stream. Plex playback worked nicely but the channel is unable to support Tablo library management and schedule management. The iPad Tablo app remained the primary means of managing schedules and deleting recordings.

The New Tablo Apple TV App

Tablo completed its Apple TV 4 app shortly before 2016 WWDC and it landed in the App Store the week after WWDC. Tablo sent a press release to all active customers announcing the new app but I saw their Twitter post about a day before the announcement reached my Email. The release ended a year of App Store searches for the new app. It installed without fuss, found my Tablo, and quickly settled down. The App is easy to use for all Tablo TV tasks including

  • Creating and removing schedules
  • Watching live TV
  • Watching recorded shows
  • Removing watched recordings
  • Removing cruft recordings made on speculation but never watched

The only feature I could wish for that is not there is the recent recordings list from the Plex app. This feature may be a subject of TiVO patents but these should be nearing end of life soon.

The new Tablo App is very stable. No segmentation faults so far. Nice work from Tablo.

Categories
Uncategorized Video

TabloTV Update

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Tablo TV, an off-air DVR product. Since then, TabloTV continues to improve with an Apple TV 4 App in the works (real soon now). TabloTV made firmware updates to support the app but the app is still awaiting release.

Plex

Plex is a OS independent media server that runs on Linux, MacOS, and Windows. The server component is free with the clients a la carte. There is also a subscription option that enables watching content away from home.

Plex has plugins that allow Plex to present foreign content such as Tablo TV recordings and live TV. I’ve started using Plex to watch the evening news and recorded content. The Plex Tablo plugin has a much nicer interface for viewing content than that in the iPad app. The plugin is unable to manage schedules or recordings but it allows AppleTV 4 to play content without AirPlay from an iPad. My iPad is free for ill-behaved apps like Facebook (network hog).

Recommendations

All of this stuff works well enough that I’ve been using Plex for most of my audio and video playback. The Plex Media Server is mature, the Plex ATV plugin is mature, and the iPad client is mature.

Once the TabloTV AppleTV client becomes available, it should be possible to manage recordings and schedules directly from AppleTV. Until then, the Plex TabloTV server plugin will fill the bill.

Categories
Video

Tablo TV One Month On

Back in June I took a flyer on brand shiny new gadget TabloTV. TabloTV had been on the market all of two months so there was little more than press releases at the time. To fill a void, I wrote about how one went about setting up and using TabloTV.

Where is Tablo Now?

Tablo is still ensconced in my media cabinet next to his friend AppleTV. Earlier this week (July 7), a firmware update shipped. My normal process with firmware updates is to start them right before turning in. This time, I decided to apply the update between programs. It went smoothly. This update added some nice things.

  • Parsimonious record new episodes logic
  • Record by time and channel
  • Support for program guide subscription

Tablo is a work in progress. The firmware that shipped in April provided a usable but partially complete DVR functionality that could not record by time and station and would greedily record new episodes (the guide would mark all airings of this week’s new Nova as new). The new front end and back end changes fixed this issue. Now, only the prime time airing is marked new. Tablo no longer records the late night showing and the next day showings on 15-2. Now I can pick series record all new episodes knowing Tablo is not going to eat the disk.

Tablo Disk Management

Tablo logic for disk space management is still in development but should be coming later this year. Until that time, delete programs after the household is finished with them. No TiVO like logic to garbage collect the file system of old watched episodes as disk space is needed.

Tablo Program Guide Subscriptions Coming

The folks at Tablo are not charging for the program guide currently because they are still working on functional issues and back end subscription management support. The latest firmware does check subscriptions. Until the store and front end features are ready, all owners are treated as subscribers. Eventually, free things will come to an end but not without adequate warning to subscribe to the guide.

Categories
Video

Tablo TV Arrives

I placed my order for a 2 tuner Tablo TV on Sunday afternoon. On Monday, Tablo shipped my unit by USPS from upstate New York. It arrived in Wednesday’s post. While waiting for my Tablo TV to arrive, I did some reading and selected a LaCie Porsche Design portable USB 2/3 disk.

References

  1. http://www.tablotv.com
  2. http://www.lacie.com

What you need

To make a complete Tablo TV installation requires the following.

  • ATSC HD TV antenna, preferably external.
  • Tablo TV
  • Tablo TV iPad or Android app
  • External USB 2/3 disk drive
  • Local WiFi network for iPad/Android
  • Local WiFi network or Ethernet for Tablo TV
  • Internet access to Tablo to acquire the program guide

Choosing a Disk

DVR service is a moderately aggressive use of a disk drive. The DVR can spend 2 to 3 hours per day recording material and a similar amount of time playing back material. This duty cycle is more aggressive than the typical laptop/desktop duty cycle but less so than a corporate application server. It was with a little fear and trembling that I went looking for a disk to use with Tablo TV.

After some poking around on the InterWebs, I settled on a 1 TB LaCie USB 2/3 portable disk. These are the ones in the pretty package and are “compatible with Time Machine.” I’m hoping that LaCie chose wisely from Seagate and WD’s offerings and picked a disk that is suitable for several hours of continuous activity per day. Only one way to find out, have a smoke test.

Unboxing and Installation

Tablo double boxed Tablo TV for shipping. The inner box was typical of recent Apple or Nest packaging, simple graphics and thoughtful design to protect the product during handling at retail. The inner box was sized to be a snug fit in the outer shipping box so little dunnage was required. The package contained the following.

  • Switching power supply
  • Tablo TV
  • Ethernet cable
  • Quick start sheet
  • 2 weeks trial use of the program guide

Cabling up is simple.

  • Connect the antenna
  • Connect the disk
  • Connect the Ethernet
  • Connect the power supply
  • Plug in the power supply

The unit powers up as indicated by a blue flashing light. The light flashes at different rates during self test, program loading, OS initialization, and application initialization. Once ready, the light is solid. The behavior is similar to that of Ooma Telo so it may be a Linux thing.

Settling In

The next step is to install the partner Tablo TV application on your favorite mobile controller, for me, an iPad. Once you have a blue light, start the Tablo App and select the option Connect to TabloTV. If not previously initialized, this will be the only choice available.

If your Tablo TV is on the wired network, the application will find it without fuss. If using WiFi, the connection process is a bit more complex and is similar to that for Belkin WeMo devices. The Tablo TV will advertise its own network. You divorce from your home network, connect to the Tablo network, and do the initial configuration dialogs to set the SSID and password. Then Tablo joins your home network and you have your iPad rejoin.

Once found, the Tablo App will guide you through channel identification, program guide loading, and disk formatting. Tablo TV will reformat your external disk which will take some time. Plan on this part of the process taking 30 minutes or so.

Will Power!

Resist the temptation to watch live TV on the first day. Tablo needs some time to complete disk formatting. Once the program guide is aboard, you can schedule recordings but give time to have the disk ready and a day to settle down. That said, I was able to schedule recordings about 30 minutes after I began installation and made my first recording at 8 PM, five hours after installation started.

Using the Tablo App

The remarks that follow apply to the iPad Tablo App. I expect the Android app will be very similar.

A menu button appears in the upper left corner of the display. Tapping the menu button opens a side bar menu. From this you can choose the following.

  • Live TV
  • TV Shows
  • Movies
  • Sports
  • Scheduled
  • Recordings
  • Settings

Use the Live TV menu to view a channel/time matrix of what is now airing or about to air. From this, you can select a channel to watch by tapping the channel label in the left column. This will open a player window that you can use to play live TV on the device. On iPad, this view includes an AirPlay widget that allows you to direct playback to any AirPlay server on the local network. Think Apple TV or a Mac running Mountain Lion or Mavericks.

TV Shows, Movies, and Sports allow you to see the scheduled programs in these genres. Selecting TV Shows will show you a listing of each series or single episode show. Selecting Sports will show tiles for the major north American sports genres. Tapping a tile shows a list of available programs that can be recorded. Tapping a REC button picks that episode for recording. If the show is part of a series, the upper part of the pane while have a series record button. Activating series recording presents the choice to record all episodes or new episodes.

TV Shows Organization

Selecting Tablo TV’s TV Shows menu item opens a matrix showing tiles for each series or unique program appearing in the program guide data. At the top of the matrix, a tool bar lets you filter the view to show all shows, series with new episodes or new shows, series that are premiering, or shows by genre. This last button opens a genre side bar. The side bar has categories for news, talk, educational, children, consumer, reality, religious, animated, sitcom, crime drama, comedy, drama, etc. This list is sorted by number of entries in the category. A program may appear in multiple bins, for example, Magnum PI might appear in drama, action, crime drama, etc. Tapping a tile brings up the program summary and recording options.

A similar Channels option lets you filter programs by the originating channel.

 Play Back

Tapping the Recordings menu item brings up a matrix of shows for which recordings are available. Tapping a tile brings up a form showing the series description plus a list of available episodes. Tapping the play button at the right side of the episode tile begins playback on the local display or on the active AirPlay server.

Disk Space Management?

I missed the part of Tablo’s materials that talk about disk space management such as deleting watched programs, etc. Disk space management is currently manual. There is actually a way to delete recordings. It’s on the episode tiles appearing in the program’s entry in the recordings view. Tapping the center of the tile reveals the episode description with a delete button located below.

Work in Progress

Tablo TV is early in its development life cycle. The product launched in April 2014. Tablo’s frequently asked questions indicates that a number of product features are coming to make it possible to save recordings, use network disks, etc.

 

Categories
Video

Awaiting Tablo TV

Image

 

References

  1. http://avc.com/2012/02/clearqam-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/
  2. http://www.tablotv.com

So What’s a Tablo?

Tablo is a new go at an off the air digital video recorder that appears to solve the issues I’ve been having with my EyeTV/HD homeRun combination.

SimpleTV and Tablo Functionality Compared

Tablo is an off the air only DVR similar to the Silicon Dust Simple.TV. Simple.TV can receive both ATSC broadcasts and cable TV clear QAM channels. As the reference explains, cable operators are required to carry local market broadcast channels using clear QAM that can be received by a standard HD TV without a set top box. This allows the local channel service to be pirated. The cable companies keep trying to convince Congress to eliminate the clear QAM local TV requirement to prevent theft of local service.

In many areas, especially the 757, the major broadcasters have their towers in a single area and the flat terrain permits local reception out to the tower’s radio horizon. In the 757, there is no real advantage to taking cable “limited service” from Cox as the same material is available off the air at broadcast resolution. Cox often transcodes broadcast content to lower resolution to pack more on the cable. The best signal at no cost (well $300 up front for the antenna plus installation) is available off the air.

Both products are designed to work with a set top box such as Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku. I don’t know if either will stream to an Xbox or PlayStation. Both products use a smartphone or tablet application for control and display.

Tired of the EyeTV So Soon?

After 2 years of living with EyeTV, I’ve come to recognize the following shortcomings.

  • My Mac Mini has to be logged in and running to record programs increasing its attack surface.
  • My Mac Mini is powered up 24/7 shortening its service life and increasing its operating cost
  • The HD HomeRun EyeTV combo on said Mac Mini was unable to play live TV on my Apple TV’s
  • Video had to be transcoded for AirPlay from MPEG-2 to H.264 format taking a couple of hours per hour of program.
  • TV off-the-air audio from the TV’s internal tuner couldn’t be sent to the hi-fi via TOSlink.

To fix the transcoding issue, I was looking at buying a new iMac for $2500 or so to get one with the stones for lengthy video transcodes. That’s over 1/2 month of living expense I couldn’t justify spending with other priorities around the house and yard.

Comparing Tablo and EyeTV

EyeTV runs on your computer and controls an external TV tuner. Tablo combines the computer, DVR software, and tuner into a single compact low power device. Tablo has

  • A Linux computer
  • Two or 4 ATSC TV tuners
  • Ethernet
  • WiFi 802.11n. Sorry, not ac
  • 2 USB ports for external disks
  • Tablo transcodes to H.264! The mini be off when not actually in use.
  • The core DVR functionality
  • Remote control server
  • Streaming playback server

You bring

  • A USB 2/3 disk <= 2 TB
  • A set top box like Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku 3
  • An iPad or Android tablet or an iPhone or Android phone
  • The phone/tablet Tablo App.

Where Things Stand

  • Sunday 6/8 ordered
  • Monday 6/9 UPS picked up and reported the parcel hand off.
  • Portable disk to purchase while awaiting the truck
  • Tablo app installed on iPad.

The Tablo App — It Needs a Buddy!

Tablo uses a smart phone, tablet, or computer as a remote and viewing device. The Table iPad App is useless until hardware comes. I was hoping I could play with the UI while awaiting hardware but the first thing the App does is to look for a Tablo on the LAN. So it just sits there until you have one to add.

More to come …