16 posts categorized "Future of Television"

December 09, 2011

The Plex Media Server

The Plex media platform appears to be an evolving "standard" for running a media server on any PC or NAS device. You can configure Plex server to serve up and collect/manage media from variety of sources and formats. You then can use Plex clients to stream and view content in your home and on the Internet. Again, you are making your own media cloud. It looks like plex clients are available on LG TVs, Android, iPhone and even AppleTV with the Firecore atv Flash extension.

It turns out the the Plex team is adding support for the Plex Media Server to even run on a variety of NAS devices which usually run Linux. For now Synology Intel-based NAS devices are support in the Labs section. Unfortuantely most lower-end Synology NAS devices are ARM-based are not yet supported. The lowest end device supported costs close to to $600 WITHOUT hard drives.



November 24, 2011

Apple's Imminent Foray into TV, But How?


Watch Steve Jobs response on the problem with TV. It's "balkanized", he says due to the fact that there are contractual and technical challenges to creating a superior TV experience, internationally. It's kind of curious that he's so bearish on TV whereas he was so bullish on music, when Apple essentially created a standard for digital music distribution and gave everyone a way to legally buy music one song at a time. Pretty much all music is on iTunes and you can consume music in just about any way you want. But that surely is not the case with TV or Movies right now.

So why can't TV be treated the same way? I think it can. And what I think Apple has to do is not simple, but obvious: Apple must partner, like it did with iPhone and AT&T for mobile. Apple must partner with a telco provider that provides broadband to a large part of the US. And then it must continue partnering with other telco providers around the world, providing a strong hardware+content distribution platform.


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November 22, 2011

Synology Videos Galore - Hybrid RAID and More on the DSM

Synology makes a few excellent presentations describing the DSM (the OS of the NAS enclosures) and the Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). SHR allows you to maximize usage of various sized disks in a RAID array and includes data redundancy. 1 drive can fail and the RAID array continues to operate without fail.

DSM videos

Part 1


Part 2


Synology Hybrid Array webinar


November 20, 2011

Synology NAS enclosures - your own cloud and media center

UPDATE July 13 2012: Synology will release DSM 4.1 (in beta now!) which will include a full blown video media centre system capable of transcoding, real time streaming, and even HD recording functionality. This will transform the NAS space in an incredibly good way. Now you can have Plex-like functionality on any Diskstation platform (and without needing to install plex).


I've been experimenting with a solution to back up all your media off your computers and onto a central place in the home. The main problem with media like movies, photos and music is that if they are available on a USB stick or a hard drive on a laptop or computer, then they are usually unavailable easily to any other device. If your home computing situation involves several laptops, an AppleTV or Boxee/Roku, an IPad or Android phone or tablet then you want to be able to share the media between them.

You also want to be able to backup your files and have them stored on a server somewhere hidden away in a closet, but you don't want to do too much to maintain it. It would be nice to have facility to allow streaming off the media to any other device. And hey how about ability to store home surveillance streams/pictures from your wireless IP cams? And a "download station" to download your favorite content while you sleep? Oh and yes, make it available to the Internet and run your own "private cloud" to access the content from anywhere!

Well you can build your own Network Attached Storage (NAS) device for a few hundred bucks or try out the Synology line of products. I got the DS111 device that supports just 1 drive, but Canada Computers has the new DS211j on sale for $159 after a $30 rebate. This is a terrific deal for a 2 bay device that pretty much does everything short of cook your breakfast.

The most amazing thing about this device is that after formatting your hard drive(s) it installs the latest version of what Synology calls DSM. The DSM is the operating system of your NAS and have no fear this is a full Linux kernel running a browser based operating system that allows you to install applications that extend the functionality of your NAS beyond what you get out of the box.Here is a screen shot of the DSM OS to give you an idea of how it works.


Synology DSM

Synology DSM Screen Shot


The list of applications is very impressive, although I have not tried them all. The sharing capability to setup a Windows or Mac (SMB or AFP) file server works really well. You can stream content to any device over your network. There is support for a DNLA UPnP server for Xbox360 and Playstation3. There is an FTP server, a Webserver, and even PHP supported to run your websites (!). The "download station" supports RSS feeds (use feedburner.com for the best compatibility) and can download your RSS feed content in the background as the RSS feed updates as per a user-configured update interval.

Finally, the new atv Flash (black) media player works really well with this NAS, which is the most important thing. There is a good discussion of preferred NAS devices at the firecore support forum. One thing I found is that my wifi router was acting up a lot, dropping connections. Once you have streaming setup from a NAS, your wifi router may start to hiccup more. To fix this, check the channel you have set for your router -- if you have lots of wifi hotspots in your area you will want to turn off "auto scan" on your router and select a channel not frequently used by default. I used channel 8, which seems to be working. Here is the screen shot from my DIR-655 router to indicate the setting. This is crucial for wifi success, because if you have a persnickety router dropping your connections your NAS will be sitting there useless because your clients won't be able to connect to it. Autoscan

UPDATE: Note that any hard drives you put into a Synology NAS enclosure WILL BE REFORMATTED in ext4 format. That means you will have to load up your hard disks with backups of your files. You can use a USB key or an external hard drive attached to one of the USB ports on the outside of the NAS. There is a one-button copy feature that places all the files in the "public" folder, and then you can move the files using the DSM. The upload over the network feature out of DSM is slow and probably not the way you want to go if you plan to load up the NAS with 10-several hundred GB of files at the outset. This is the only part of the process that's not ideal. MAKE BACKUPS OF EXISTING FILES FIRST!


November 17, 2011

TV finally gets real - 1.0 of atv Flash (black)

Firecore, a small company in Colorado, recently released v1.0 of the much awaited AppleTV solution, called atv Flash (black). This "hack" allows the black AppleTV (2nd generation) device to gain several important pieces of functionality. To start and give you an idea of what is now possible with the very affordable AppleTV check out this video from firecore.

Now that you've checked it out, here are some thoughts on strategy and where Apple ought to be going. At this rate, the hacking community will turn the AppleTV into the most amazing little piece of technology to hit the TV since the remote control. You can be sure of that.

Firecore has created something that is very unusual. By providing a "jailbreak" of the AppleTV they have enabled added functionality to be added to the AppleTV WITHOUT removing the existing functionality previously available. So by installing atv Flash (black) you get to keep the out of the box experience Apple provides AS WELL AS have additional functionality.

At every firmware OS release Apple provides (currently at 4.4.3) Firecore essentially enables you to upgrade to this OS and then keep the added functionality running along side new Apple featuers. This is unprecedented. It's as if Apple has gained a kick butt developer of functionality of new AppleTV features, all for less than $30 per year of support.

The features you get are not trivial -- along side simple added features like interactive weather and RSS feed reader you get a full featured Media Player that can play videos, music and pictures off ANY shared Windows or Apple hard drive or NAS. You get a fully HTML5 compliant web browser called Couch Surfer Pro, which of course does NOT run Flash or Silverlight. But it does support HTML5 embedded video and audio. There is zero chrome on this browser -- your TV bezel is the chrome on Couch Surfer Pro.

And you get a terrific implementation of Last.fm radio. The last.fm implementation looks like it was done by Apple -- it's that good. Apple-like touches live inside of the last.fm application in atv Flash (black). When a song is playing AppleTV goes into screen saver mode and shows beautiful pictures of the artist. Last.fm may make you dump your MP3 collection for good -- it's available for use in several countries but not the whole world.

atv Flash (black) is not for the technically challenged. It does require you to "jailbreak" your AppleTV which means support from Apple is effectively gone. You will also need to apply updates should you want to update your firmware, because automatic software updates from Apple are effectively turned off. Firmware updates will have to be done using the "jailbreak" software each and every time.

Lastly if you use 4.4.x of the AppleTV OS (iOS5) you will find that rebooting (menu+down until fast blinking LED) or power cycling the AppleTV requires a "tethered" reboot. This means you have to connect your AppleTV via USB cable to a PC or Mac and "help" it reboot properly. It won't reboot on its own, as it will show an iTunes + USB cable icon. Previous 4.3.x AppleTV OSs allowed "untethered" reboots, and Firecore will most likely support this once the community has figured out how to the reboot the AppleTV without help from a PC. Sleeping (holding down play/pause until sleep) and returning from sleep mode on the AppleTV does NOT require tethering, to be sure. This is definitely the biggest draw back, as I've had to reboot several times due to unresponsiveness in the browser so far.

The final analysis is this: Apple better get cracking on an AppleTV that provides a lot more functionality than the current AppleTV. atv Flash (black) is the best $30 you will spend in 2011, that is for sure, especially if you love your AppleTV. And Firecore is just getting started. This is v1.0 of the next generation of television.

ps. Reading the forums leads you to believe that AppleTV can now run Boxee, XBMC and various other plugins. Have fun and stay safe! Remember you can always restore back to the original AppleTV OS by restoring in iTunes after you connect the AppleTV to your iTunes-enabeld PC/Mac via your microUSB cable.

October 07, 2011

Save $700 per year - Get your own antenna and get free HD

UPDATE: Interesting article on the art of antenna installations and savings.

UPDATE 2: I have heard of people getting basic Rogers for $15.99/month + HST. To get HD you'd need the receiver so the best you could do is about $32/month! Also SunTV stopped HD broadcasting on November 1 2011, as Quebecor lost their over the air transmission license. We need an all day news channel to broadcast OTA - CP24 for example!

UPDATE 3: The Wall Street Journal describes the second wave of rabbit ears!

Rogers Digital Basic costs $36.01 per month. You must get an HD receiver at $12.95/month to actually GET the HD channels. So they're not really free are they as described: "Over 42 FREE HD channels and growing"? All Rogers is really doing is eliminating the physics of the physical world -- they eliminate the weird little issues that Over the Air (OTA) HD comes with (curvature of the Earth for example, and other physical obstructions like buildings).

To get OTA HD get a $20 aluminum outdoor antenna at any of the discount computer stores, or Futureshop or BestBuy. Or splurge and spend $50 for this one. The Clearstream 2 antenna for over $100 is a good bet in Northern Toronto. Of course, my friend S, tells me you will need a fairly long coax cable to plug into your coax cable plant or directly to your TV. This should cost you another $20 max. Note that many places you will find these items sold out, for good reasons, no doubt. Here are the pictures of my outdoor antenna connected to a "juliette" balcony about 50 ft off the ground. And a home made coax jack I made by stringing the coax from the antenna directly to this jack on the outside of the house. I did need to get a 12" masonry drill bit to make a hole on the outside of the house to get the coax into the jack. I also decided to ground this puppy to avoid lightning strikes killing my TV. YMMV.

IMG_2140 IMG_2139

Below is a grounding block connecting 2 coax wires. The black wire is grounding quality copper wire.


This picture shows the copper wire going to a 4 foot copper stake going into the ground. That's why it's called grounding!

Then make sure your HD TV has a digital tuner. Most TVs made in the last 3 years have a digital tuner, but make sure you ask before you buy your next flat screen. Here's the state of digital TV in Canada. And here are the channels you could get in Toronto.

I get 25% of the HD channels Rogers Digital Basic offers - FOR FREE. You're paying for free stuff, people. If I pointed my antenna south and mounted it properly as per tvfool.com indicates for my area, I'd get the American channels too! I'll do this soon and report back.

Here's a super deluxe installation with $200 worth of parts -- this install most likely is over $1000 to do professionally. Most people though will be fine with just $100 worth of parts and $250 worth of labour.


The 15 HD channels I get for free, in bold and red based on the Rogers HD lineup below the break...

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