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!

Android Is Still Fucking Useless

I’ve been trying to use Android (instead of a Linux laptop) for various things lately, because some Android devices have a pretty nice form factor, and I don’t really need a keyboard for all things.  But time and time again, I find that the apps that are available on Android just aren’t good enough.  They are at the “will this do?” level: They almost basically do what they’re supposed to, but they have no polish and are REALLY ANNOYING.

Take watching films and stuff.

For about a month, I’ve been trying to use a Galaxy View as my “moving around the house and tidying stuff up” device. You know, I drag it around while watching Saturday Night Live, basically.

This is what it looks like. It’s an 18 inch huge “tablet” that I carry around while doing chores.

My previous device here was a Linux laptop, but it had a kinda small screen and there’s a keyboard I don’t need and you know, I thought that surely the Android ecology would have progressed beyond my simple sshfs + mplayer setup.

So: I got a Samsung Galaxy View, and it’s pretty nice. The screen is all reflective and stuff, but very clear. And I get the recommended apps, which is the “FX” file browser and “MX Player Pro” for watching films.

(Very X.)

And it all kinda sorta works. When deleting files in “MX”, you go through this:

Yes, that’s a long hold to get the menu, then press “Delete”, and then check off the checkbox and then press “delete”. If you think that’s ridiculous as a default, then there’s a setting for fixing this, so you just hold “long”, then press “delete”, and then press “delete”. Yes! The “dangerous” setting makes the checkbox in-between the “delete” and the “delete” go away!

ANYWAY!

I could live with all this nonsense, but when playing from sftp, MX Player would not recall where I had left off when playing the last time.

The audio/visual sync in MX player would also require manual adjustment up to about a minute to get in sync.

AND! In addition, FX would drop connections after being inactive for a few minutes, meaning that after pausing for some minutes in MX, I would have to exit, go to the menu in FX and press “reload”, and then find the file again, and then go to where I left off.

STILL!

This wasn’t enough to make me abandon the setup.

It’s like Stockholm syndrome, but for gadgets.

The breaking point came tonight, when I was watching Saturday Night Live (making fun of Trump, as usual).

It didn’t manage to decode the video fast enough, so everything lagged and stuttered and general sadness.

It’s like every app took the hint from Google Central and thought:  “Will this do?”  Then clicked on “publish”.

So I’m back to my six year old Linux laptop:

That has exactly none of these problems. No audio/visual sync things, no reconnecting over sftp, no lags.

Android app people: This is sad.

Sad.

… when we first practice to watch some movies

As I’m sure you remember from yesterday, I got an external HDMI screenshotting box to do screenshots while watching films from Amazon Video.

That worked fine, but using an infra-red remote to trigger the screenshots is slightly awkward: The line of sight thing means that I either have to have the (not very pretty) box in line of sight (and pretty close by), or I had to use an IR repeater of some kind.

Yay. More gadgets.

But then I though… “This box can also record video! Let’s try that!”

The upside here would be that I could just play the videos on my normal Linux machine, and everything would, like, work the way I wanted, without stressing with the Ipad, using remotes, switching the source, etc.

Besides: Freedom!  DRM is obnoxious!  You’re not the boss of me!  Etc!

Let’s have a look at today’s experimental set up:

First of all, a nice and big SD card is necessary, since the recorded H.264 (AVC) video files the recorder box creates rather big files. (About 12GB for a film.) So I use my normal filming card for this, which has the added advantage that it’s an UHS-II card (Ultra High Speed: The Second!). Note all the additional contact points on the card.

The “HDMI splitter”, the Aven video recorder, and the hated HDMI switch (which I no longer need, kinda).

And instead of using my ginormous Ipad, I got a used Iphone Touch (6th gen) cheap. I didn’t know whether that would work, but look how much smaller it is! It’s much more practical than carrying the Ipad around and plugging in here and there…

Finally, my USB 3.0 UHS-II SD card reader to transfer the files to my computer. I get about 100MB/s reading speed with this setup, so transferring an entire film takes less than two minutes.

I had a peek at a recorded film (a review of which will be coming to these very pages later today, I guess?) and it looks nice. The video is a bit “soft”, but no more artifacty than the film I watched directly from my Ipad yesterday. We’ll see…

But! I then thought that it would be nice to trim down the recorded bits to the actual film length (since I had forgotten that it was running and there were two hours of blackness at the end of the file), so I loaded it up in LightWorks…

And the exported film had an audio/video mismatch of over three seconds.

Whaaa!?

And that program re-encodes everything, so I didn’t really want to use it, anyway. So I installed avidemux, which had a very strange interface, but managed to chop off the black parts at the end without re-encoding. Very fast.

And the resulting file had a six second audio/video lag.

Wat.

Just about to give up, I found Lossless-Cut, a simple editor written in JavaScript (!) that uses ffmpeg under the hood.

I loaded in the file, set the start and end points in the excellent and easy-to-use editor and clicked “save”. Amazingly fast, it saved the resulting file at 100% of theoretical disk bandwidth speed, and…

The audio/video sync was perfect!

Whoho! Go JavaScript!

But is this a sensible workflow for watching films? Eurhmn…

Freedom!