Useful Consumer Review

I’ve got most of the rooms in the apt. wired up for sound, but I’ve never managed to work up enough stamina to get the bathroom wired.

So I’ve been using this Creative wireless blaster thingie for years and years, and it works OK. It sounds fine and it usually works. But it’s… kinda a lot of stuff.

It’s got an external power supply, and there’s all those wires back and forth… I mean, I can’t stand untidy wires.

Just look at what spills out whenever I open the cupboard door next to my main computer.

Aaanyway.

The amplifier in the bathroom died some months back, and I got a new one, and this one has bluetooth built in. So I thought: Hey! An opportunity to slim down the chaos on top of that cupboard in the bathroom, at least. I should be able to get rid of basically all of that by switching to internal bluetooth.

Order! Cleanliness! Goodness!

So I bought this bluetooth transmitter.

It’s a Homespot Dual Stream Bluetooth Audio Transmitter, and I got it because it talked about low latency bluetooth (in addition to aptX and all the other modern bluetooth goodness).

Getting the devices to pair was slightly tricky, because the amplifier will pair with anything, anywhere, and the transmitter will pair with the first willing device when it’s switched on. Which was confusing, because the first three times I switched it on, it paired with something, but not the amplifier. I got it to work on the fourth try by holding it two centimetres from the amplifier when I switched it on.

Heaven knows what it’s streaming music to in addition to the amplifier now…

But remember that “low latency” thing? Well:

If you pump up the volume you’ll hear a lovely Machinedrum ditty coming from the office (wired sound), and then I turn the amplifier up in the bathroom. Listen to that loooow latency.

*sigh*

Well, it’s not like I usually have the music on the bathroom switched on. I mostly just use it while showering, and in that case I can’t hear any music coming from other rooms.

But that’s really annoying. The Creative wireless thing has a much, much lower latency: You mostly experience the effect as a sort of thickening of sound, not the stumbling effect you get from the bluetooth latency.

So I dunno… I think I may just switch back to the old setup, even though it’s so… messy…

VHS, Linux, Problems

I’ve been trying to tidy up the storage locker in the loft this autumn, getting rid of old junk (so that I can put more, slightly newer junk up there). I happened unto this box:

A nice stack of VHS tapes. If I remember correctly, the reason I kept these was that during the 80s and 90s I recorded quite a lot of music (videos and live stuff) from the TV, and I had always thought about some day going through them, picking out the good bits and uploading them to Youtube or something.

Perhaps this year is finally the year?

I have an old, old DV conversion thingie somewhere, but it’s so old that it’s a Firewire dongle. And I have no Firewire equipment, so I thought it might just be easier to buy something new and shiny. Surely?

I think you can already guess where this tale is going.

This is a Diamond VC500, and it has both composite in and S-Video in, and it seems to be a popular choice.

My old VHS player (a Panasonic DMS-ES35V) has S-Video out, so I hoped that it would, like, just kinda work, and it does. With composite, but not S-Video. That is, after I discovered how to switch the input, something worked:

$ v4l2-ctl -d /dev/video0 -i 1 -s 5

(That’s S-Video input and the PAL standard.)

But the video was in black-and-white, and after googling for a few days, it turns out that this is a known problem: S-Video on the VC500 doesn’t work, at least not in Linux. And S-Video is a much better signal than composite, so that’s a bummer.

So I got another one of these dongles at random, and this is from StarCom and presents itself as

 Bus 001 Device 012: ID eb1a:5051 eMPIA Technology, Inc.

And S-Video works! However, sound doesn’t, and googling for another two days show that this is a common problem with the “StarTech.com S-Video / Composite to USB Video Capture Cable Adapter”, at least under Linux.

But audio is easy: I could just hook it up to the internal sound card, and after fiddling with alsacontrol for a few hours, I managed to get some sound out of it.

All set! Recording time, here we go!

Unfortunately, I had lost the remote control to my VHS player and adjusting the tracking without it is impossible.

Ebay to the rescue!

It’s amazing that things like VHS head cleaners are still easily obtainable, so I got one of those, too.

Now, surely, I’m ready to record.

Except finding some acceptable settings for ffmpeg or memcoder to process the data and output in a format that’s good for editing turned out to require several more days worth of googling. Here’s what I ended up with:

$ ffmpeg -f v4l2 -t 04:00:00 -thread_queue_size 1024 -i /dev/video0 -f alsa -i hw:0 -aspect 4:3 -c:v prores_ks -profile:v 3 -q:v 4 -vf yadif=0:-1:0,crop=iw:ih-6:0:0 -c:a pcm_s16le -af aresample=async=1000 /video/vhs/v10.mov

So the codec here is ProRes. I tried a dozen different codecs, but either they were too slow (leading to drops from ffmpeg) or they were in formats that crashed Lightworks (the video editor I use). huffyuv, raw, h.264, whatever…

But this one works for me, at least.

Oh, and the “crop” thing is because the 6 final lines output from the StarTech dongle are bright green.  And I’m deinterlacing since VHS is interlaced.

An action shot of the entire machinery. So techy.

Now the only problem is that I had to upgrade the kernel to Linux 4.12 and the machine to the latest Debian, since the support for the StarTech USB thingie first appeared in that kernel. And after upgrading LightWorks didn’t want to start. So I upgraded to Lightworks 14, which starts, but doesn’t accept the old license, so I had to buy a new license, and now the license server is … wrong (“There are no unactivated licenses available”).

Anyway, I can use the free version for this, since 720p should be enough.  I created a new account on Youtube for this stuff, since it’s, er, best to keep it separated from the more important free jazz vids.

Hm.  Or perhaps I should just use HTML <video> things and host the .mp4 files privately?  That would avoid any Youtube hassles…  Hm…  But the discoverability on Youtube is nice.  Perhaps both?

I’ve done the first four hour tape now, and there was about 20 minutes of things that are possibly interesting.  For instance, this Kristin Hersh piece where she does four songs live in the 120 Minutes studio:

Oh, it’s apparently not possible to do simple <video> embeds on a WordPress.com site?

Oh, it is possible now?

Yes!  All those pages that said that it wasn’t allowed were outdated.  Apparently WordPress.com started allowing this earlier this year?

Anyway.

Useful Consumer Review

I’ve been trying to get more walking in lately, but walking is boring. To keep parts of the brain entertained, I thought it might be nice to listen to radio theatre stuff, and it is.  Nice, that is.

The great thing about plays instead of music is that it’s fine just listening with one ear (literally), so I’ve been trying to find bluetooth ear plugs that are hassle free and work without the other one of the pair nearby.

After trying a number of different plugs, I finally found this one: It’s a Rowkin Mini Plus+. (Gotta love that name.) While you can buy two of them and use them in a more normal stereo configuration, you can also buy just one.

Hm, that picture doesn’t really show how small these are…

There, that’s better.

Not only is this earbud small, it’s also hassle free.

It comes with this “charging tube”, which uses a magnet…

… so you just slip it near the top of the tube, and smack, no worries, it’s charging. Very nicely designed physically.

As for daily use, it’s also just about perfect. You pick it up, press the one button on the end for four seconds, it says “on” and then “beep” (which means that it’s connected to the phone), and then you can play and pause by hitting the button again: It’ll continue playing from where you let off (if your player supports that, but I guess they all do).

I’ve only tried it with an Android phone, but it’s glitch-free there: I don’t have to pick up the phone, ever, except to change the volume. Or choose another radio play, which doesn’t happen very often, since they’re looong.

So: Perfect. Perfect? Nope. Bluetooth. As with any bluetooth device I’ve used, there are dropouts. These have way fewer dropouts than I’ve experienced before, though, and if I have the phone in my left pocket and the ear bud in my left ear, I’ve yet to experience a dropout. Anything else, whenever I turn my head quickly I’ll get a dropout.

Which reminds me that I meant to write a long rant about how st00pid it is using bluetooth for audio playback: Bluetooth audio has a very small buffer, because it’s meant for realtime communication. That’s a fine thing for talking on the phone, but most of the time devices like these are used, they’re used to stream a continuous audio stream.

So why not use something meant for streaming? Like… just get chunks of mp3 or ogg or whatever compressed audio format is most convenient, and then you can have the antenna take a mini-sleep while playing the hunk, and then request the next hunk?

Requiring an almost-perfect radio connection between the player and the earbuds is insane: There will always be situations where you’ll get dropouts depending on the angle, reflection and distance.

I’m happy with these for now, and I guess I’ll just have to wait until the industry realises that I’m smart and they’re stupid and then they’ll start streaming audio the smart way.

So there.

Rating for my use case:

More Music Distribution

As I’m sure everybody remembers from this post just … six years ago, I have a cat 5 based music distribution thing going on in my apt.

It works fine.

This weekend I realised that the only thing I wanted to tweak here was having music near my workstation in the hall. I usually sit here doing stuff (scanning LPs and ripping CDs and the like) in the middle of the night. If I’m to listen to music while I’m doing that, I have to pump up the volume in the living room way too much, and that’s bad for the neighbours. So I don’t do that.

And I don’t really want to lay down even more cat5. And besides, the mixing box is maxed out on the outputs. So what to do?

Yes! I could just insert a Y cable into the proceedings, cut the cat 5 cable going to the bedroom (which passes through the closet near the hall table), and then… things should work.

It’s been a few years since I’ve terminated cat5, so I had to reacquaint myself with how that all worked. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any connection boxes left from the last time I did this, so I had to buy a new one, and it’s really confusing. The colours here seem to imply that to achieve T568A cabling (that I vaguely remember using in 2011) is blue, wh/blue, brown, wh/brown, orange, wh/orange, green, wh/green. Right?

That doesn’t seem right at all, but the numbering also seems to imply that the PCB is doing some kind of re-routing to the plug, so… I just went with that theory.

You can see where this is going.

That’s one of the old ones I’m going to connect to, and as you can clearly see, it has the more traditional “A” ordering.

As you can see from this expertly put in wiring, all this is luckily taking place inside a closet, so things can be as messy as they want to be, and they are, since I have to do the installation standing on a stepladder. On my toes, since the stepladder is five centimetres too short.

Kachunk kachunk kachunk, and by just plugging the input to the output, I see that the connection works. Because there’s still sound in the bedroom.

*gasp*

That’s the mixer box… At this sight I’m envisioning trial and error for fifteen minutes to find the right balun…

But what is this?!? My 2011 self actually marked stuff!? Thank you, 2011 self!

So I put a Y cable in. I only had a male to female/female while I need male to male/male, so I ended up with a lot of extra wiring, but that can be fixed later… when I find somebody that sells all-male Ys.

And on the other side, the opposite balun, which then goes to another balun to the bedroom…

And nothing worked. Which means I misinterpreted the mysterious T568A markings and contemplated buying a cat 5 testing kit. But then I found another cat 5 thingamabob in a cupboard of the same type as the old ones!

Kachunk kachunk kachunk!

It works!

So I got a couple of Micropods…

And a NAD D3020 amplifier to drive these huge speakers! Sound! Yes!

The horror of having to rip CDs at night without sufficient music is finally over! It’s OVER!

Phew!

In conclusion: Cat 5 is hard. When the equipment is new and modern and confusing. Otherwise it’s really easy.

Isn’t 4K@60Hz HDMI possible in Linux?

I bought a spiffy new 4K TV the other week, and I wanted to set up a complete 4K pipeline. Not that there’s that much 4K stuff available: For instance, Netflix has a pitiful 101 list of shows, most of them made by Netflix themselves.

Anyhoo! I was thinking a bit about how to set this all up so that I’d have a 4K pipeline from my computer, while there’s a 2K pipeline from the Ipod (which I use to watch Amazon stuff) and a 4K pipeline from the Chomecast (which I planned on using to watch Netflix stuff). All the while being able to record shows so that I can screenshot them for the “The World” blog series. It’ll be simpler if I just draw a diagram:

See? Easy peasy. I have to insert an “HDMI splitter” (which is a euphemism for “HDCP stripper”) in between the Ipod and the HDMI recorder because DRM. But! Then I realised that I could just watch non-4K Netflix on the Ipod, so that simplified things hugely:

So simple! So I have the Ipod as a DRM device, and then all the rest is FREEDOM!

This is what it looks like in reality:

So neat and orderly.

So everything is A-OK, then? No. The thing is that I’m not able to get my PC to do 4K at 60Hz. This is what xrandr says:

See the 3840×2160 entry? That’s the one I want, and it has a max refresh rate of 30Hz. TV is 50Hz or 60Hz, so having only 30Hz sucks.

As you’ve probably also noticed, xrandr says that DP1 is connected, not HDMI. That’s because I plugged in an external DisplayPort to HDMI adapter, which is supposed to support 4K @ 60Hz. But that apparently doesn’t work.

I also tried the native “HDMI” plug on this motherboard (which is an ASRock Fatal1ty Z270 Gaming-ITX/ac LGA1151 HDMI 2.0 ITX motherboard *phew*), but that turns out to also be DisplayPort, really, but with a built-in DP->HDMI adapter (to allow 4K@60Hz).

This stuff is apparently called LSPCON, and support for it landed in Linux somewhat recently.

I’ve tried very up-to-date kernels (I’m now running on 4.12.0-994-generic), and my Debian is stretch, so it’s also quite recent. I’ve tried plugging the computer directly into the TV via an HDMI 2.0 cable, bypassing all switches and everything, and the result is the same.

My TV is a Sony A1E, which claims to support 4K@60Hz, but I’m unable to make either the Chromecast or the TV say what frame rate it has when it’s doing 4K.

So… is this supposed to work or not? Has anybody gotten 4K @ 60Hz HDMI to work in Linux?

[Edit a day later]:

Googling around shows a lot of people with similar problems that they apparently are able to resolve by adding the proper ModeLines.  In 2017.

So I tried this:

xrandr --newmode "3840x2160_60.00" 712.34 3840 4152 4576 5312 2160 2161 2164 2235 -HSync +Vsync
xrandr --addmode DP1 "3840x2160_60.00"
sleep 15
xrandr --verbose --output DP1 --mode "3840x2160_60.00"

But the Xorg log says:

[  2222.946] (II) intel(0): switch to mode 3840x2160@60.0 on DP1 using pipe 0, position (0, 0), rotation normal, reflection none
[  2222.967] (EE) intel(0): failed to set mode: Invalid argument [22]
[  2223.014] (--) intel(0): HDMI max TMDS frequency 300000KHz
[  2223.031] (II) intel(0): resizing framebuffer to 1920x1080
[  2223.031] (II) intel(0): switch to mode 1920x1080@60.0 on DP1 using pipe 0, position (0, 0), rotation normal, reflection none
[  2223.084] (--) intel(0): HDMI max TMDS frequency 300000KHz

So that’s a no go..

Shimmery OLED Pixels

I upgraded to a not-so-bright and very shiny Sony A1E OLED 4K TV this week (from my ten-year-old Samsung). It’s basically very nice, but there’s one very, very weird effect that I’ve seen nobody mention:

This is an episode of Doctor Who paused, but it’ll do those shimmery teal pixels even when the video is running.

Like, WTF?

The only reason I’m not freaking completely out and taking the TV back to the shop is 1) it’s really heavy and 2) I’m going to an all 4K video line next week and I want to see whether that fixes this problem. I’m hoping it’s an 1080p->4K upsampling artifact of some kind.

But even so, it’s … not acceptable. So what’s up? I’ve done a full factory reset to check whether any of my settings made it go wonky, but that’s not it.

At first I thought “DEAD PIXELS”, but it’s not that, either: The shimmery pixel effect is visible all over the screen when the base colour is about what you see on the screen here. So in most scenes there are no glitches, but in some darkish, bluish scenes there are glitches all over the place.

Has anybody heard of this… thing before? Is there a setting to make it go away?

My New Fashion Designer Blog x Useful Consumer Review

I’ve been trying to use an Android device as my “lug around the apt. while doing stuff” device, but it’s just not good enough. None of the apps for sshfs file browsing or video watching are beyond the “well, it kinda works” level. The ssh times out and doesn’t come back again until you do *stuff* and all the video apps have audio/video sync issues.

(Don’t all Android users play TV via sshfs?)

So! Back to Linux!

I got this laptop which has a “tent” configuration where the keyboard is in the back. Since it’s Linux, sshfs and mplayer work perfectly. The only issue is just the portability.  Physically. See, it’s all tent-ey and stuff, but when it’s in that configuration, picking it up is very awkward. There’s nothing to grab hold on.

So! I got my sewing kit out (a gift from my mother like ten years ago and seldom used since) and bought a ribbon thingie.

Oh, yeah, the computer is a… is that a d and a q? So it’s a … Dairy Queen laptop?

Let’s go with that.

I had planned on wrapping the ribbon around a wine cork, but the wine tonight turned out to be from New Zealand and had a screw cap. So instead I just rolled the ribbon up…

… and then expertly stitched it up. (Don’t show that seam to anybody with sewing skills unless you want them to have a heart attack.)

I did one at either end and now I have a handle!

See! It works!!! (He says while gingerly walking around with it.)

(Oh, the thing being shown is an episode of … Killjoys. Yeah, that’s what it’s called. It’s about people pointing guns at each other… IN SPACE!)

This is what the Dairy Queen looks like from the other angle. Not quite as … TV-ey. That’s a word. (The keyboard is switched off when it’s in this position.)

I had to adapt my Emacs video viewer for touch action, and I used Touchéegg along the lines for the music player. Seems to work OK. I added touch actions for mplayer, too, so that I can pause and skip and stuff.

THIS ALL MAKES SENSE!