01 December 2008

New HD "steel" keeps coming....

Netgear Digital Entertainer Elite

2 new HD Streamers/Players in just few days:
Netgear Digital Entertainer Elite

What makes it "elite". For me it starts from form factor, it's good in my rack woth Onkyo head unit etc. Secondly, all major HD formats and digital audio formats are supported.

Mentionable features
  • HDD is self installable
  • Progressive download capable with HDD model
  • Draft-N wireless
  • Max 40 Mbps throughput
  • All major video formats, including ISO, VOB, MKV
  • Home theatre audio: DTS 5.1; DTS-HD master audio; Dolby Tru-HD, Dolby AC3 and other formats suported
  • Fan

SageTV Theater

SageTV HD Theater 200
  • Fan-less quiet design.
  • Video formats: MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264 up to 1080p, AVI, MKV, MOV, ASF, VOB, WMV9/VC-1 up to 1080p;
  • Audio formats: MP2, MP3, AAC, WMA, Vorbis (stereo only), AC3 (stereo down-mix/pass-through), FLAC, DTS (pass-through);
  • Video Out: 1 HDMI, 1 Component, 1 Composite, 1 S-Video
  • Audio Out: Left/Right audio output and optical S/PDIF
Seems that HD is soon taking over...

27 November 2008

myiHome is too basic server

Firs I tested today myiHome UPnP server ver 3.5.1, downloaded it from Syabase homepage as last version. I was greatly disappointed with this server. Didn't recognize and show some of my HD content (Bourne Ultimatum MKV-s for one example), didn't play MOST of my HD content
Only later I found out that there is alsi much newe version on Networked Media Tank homepage -- ver 5.1.3 (sic!).

Sure, I'm spoiled by functionality and speed of TwonkyMedia, but still -- myiHome is far too basic UPnP server tested so far. I really lihe Syabas hardware, using myself Popcorn Hour A-110 Networked Media Tank. But for some reason, their server software is not up to the level. 

Cons music:
  • Not user friendly, if You got 600 artists like me,
    took ages to find Robbie Williams album Intensive Care (my fav usability test)
    no artist or album index
  • Doesn't show title, elapsed time, track info etc..
  • No album art
Cons general:
  • Takes 50 MB-s of HDD, Twonky only <3>
  • Ver 5.1.3 plays most of 1080 HD stuff I had on my server, including:
    IMAX Blue Planet MPEG2 .TS
    1000 Places to See Gambodia .MKV
    Bourne Ultimatum .MKV
    Hancoc .MKV
    Victoria Secrets 2007 .TS
Making long story short -- I removed myiHome from my server after 1 hour of testing. Not recommended. Alternative: TwonkyMedia server. 

New product category - HD streaming Blu-Ray players

Samsung BD-P2550

First we got Xbox 360 streaming HD Netflix online DVD rental with more than 100 000 titles. Then We heard about Samsung's BD-P2500 and BD-P2550 Blu-ray decks. Now LG BD300 has also capable of streaming HD from Netflix.

Its easy way to tranform users through technology they are familiar with. Imagine, Blu-Ray is playing virtual HD disks on service basis.

26 November 2008

Popcorn Hour, son of Syabas Technology

Syabas Technology is the company, having many media technologies, including network media tank (NMT) and media streamer. Popcorn Hour and few other NMT-s like HDX 1080 are based on Syabas NMT platform. Today I downloaded their UPnP streamer MyiHome 3.5.1 Win version and installed to my 2,5 TB media server. 

What is the difference between DMP (digital media player, streamer) and NMT (networked media tank):
  • DMP: streaming client
  • NMT: streaming client, HDD, UPnP server
Test results and personal preferences compared against TwonkyMedia 4.4.9 tomorrow...

Tomacro -- another HD streamer from Shenzhen

This is Tomacro's new LIM 320s. In Tomacro company media streamers called DMA - Digital Media Access devices. Their latest model seems quite capable, covering all HD container formats and video codexes used in HD:
  • MPEG2-HD; .mpg, .tp, .ts, .avi, .mkv
  • WMV-HD/VC-1: .wmv, .evo, ts, .avi, .mkv
  • H.264(Mpeg4-AVC): .mov, .m2ts, .mp4, .ts, .avi, .mkv
  • Mpeg4(DivX-HD, Xvid-HD): .avi, .mkv
All main SD videos are also covered, also music and photo streaming.

Player is based on  Sigma Design ® SMP 8635 (exactly the same model what is used in my favourite Popcorn Hour A-110), offering HDMI 1.3 functionality, including embedded audio.

25 November 2008

Interesting non-streaming HD media player


Western Digital (WD) has quite interesting, though not UPnP streaming product WD TV HD media player. It plays from USB HDD movies and photos in 1080p HD through HDMI. It also plays music files. In short, copy all Your media to portable USB drive and show it everythere.

I personally see this product as additional media interface to WD Passport USB HDD's although it supports other USB drives also.

24 November 2008

Must watch: Top Gear Polar Special

Indeed, in 1080 HD format. Available in MiniNova, just search Polar Special 1080.
Excellent image and sound quality and quite a project! Be aware, that it's 7 Gbytes .MKV or so in HD.

21 November 2008

Excellent TV show torrent site

We know, that its quite a headacke to find quality c0ntent from torrents. Some have spanish audio, some really bad quality, etc...Lately I started to use really exellent site to download new TV Shows. There are currently 2, what I'm following:

So, just find Your fav from EZTV and enjoy...

19 November 2008

HD bandwidth compared to SD

Left HD 1080    standard SD 352 lines on the right

I did some research today, looked few titels in HD and SD, comparing bitrates, both video and audio. Its really good to see, that better-quality matherial has more bandwitht for sound (up to 1,5 Mbts) than usually watched crappy XviD movies (sound and video combined less than 1 Mbps).

My content:
  1. Top Gear MKV 1080p H.264
  2. Hancock MKV 1080p H.264
  3. Bourne MKV 1080p VC1
  4. Mariposa ASF 1080p WMV
  5. 1000 Places Cambodia MKV 1080p MPEG4
  6. Californiavation MKV 720p H.264
  7. SI Swimsuite 2008 AVI 720p XviD
  8. Average SD AVI 352i XviD
So, video bandwith was generally 10-16 Mbps for HD and ca 1 Mbps for SD XviD. Sound took about 350 Kbps, in DTS 1500 Kbps, in crappy XviD DVD rip about 127 Kbps.

Popcorn Hour is for HD content!

So, today had some spare time and upgraded Twonky Media server to ver 4.4.9 -- version supporting .MKV containers. 

Some days earlier I hooked up my new Popcorn Hour A-110. Now I'm confident and assured, that its next level vompared with D-link DSM-520

Few things to mention:
  • HDMI 1.3, audio support, one cable for all
  • .MKV and H.264 support
  • fast forward forks well with HD, also jump to 10%-20%-30%...
  • I don't like form factor, doesn't nicely fit in into my home theatre rack
  • plasma screen is flickering between menu -> play and other functions
  • No album art, playing MP3-s
Tested HD content
  1. The Bourne Ultimatum 2007 1080p (HD-DVD rip)
  2. Hancock 1080 (Blu-Ray rip)
  3. Top Gear Polar Special 2007 1080p (BBC-HD H.264)
More detailed report will follow, but as far I can only recommend Popcorn Hour A-110 and Twonky Media 4.4.9.

12 November 2008

Mysterious ways of UPS (Popcorn Hour)

As You know, I ordered Popcorn Hour S-110 lately. Quite interesting reading is UPS report. My packet has been in quite many countries:

TALLINN,EE 11/12/2008 9:54 A.M.  
VANTAA, FI          11/12/2008 7:38 A.M.  
MALMO STURUP,SE 11/12/2008 5:14 A.M.  
KOELN ,DE 11/11/2008 9:46 P.M.
DUBAI,AE 11/11/2008 6:50 P.M.  
CHEK LAP KOK,HK 11/11/2008 11:03 A.M.  
PAMPANGA,PH 11/11/2008 3:48 A.M.
SHENZHEN, CN 11/10/2008 6:55 P.M.

So, it has been in 8 countries all together. 

11 November 2008

Popcorn Hour Media Tank S-110 soon to be reviewed

Your order has shipped!
Nov 11
Full shipment -  Popcorn Hour has shipped your order.
Track UPS package #UPS-xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  
Nov 11
Tracking data added -  Popcorn Hour has added new tracking data to your order. 
Track UPS package #UPS-xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Oct 24
$264.00 charge -  Your credit card (MASTERCARD xxx-yyyy) was charged for $264.00. "GOOGLE *Popcorn Hour" will appear on your credit card statement.
Oct 17
Order received - Popcorn Hour received your order.
Oct 17
Order placed - Your order was placed with Popcorn Hour. A confirmation email was sent to you by Google.

Onkyo Blu-ray -- not streaming, but HD

Onkyo DV-BD606P Blu-ray player

My digital home employs Onkyo steel. I had postponed the blu-ray player purchase, cause Onkyo stepped on HD DVD path and first DV-BD606P Blu-ray was just launced. It supports Dolby® TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio™ surround sound and minimizes the number of cables to one -- HDMI (plus power cable indeed..). Put my order in few days ago, hope to receive it in the end of the year -- Europe is so far from USA and Japan...

08 November 2008

Digital signal path in AV streaming

Watching cable SD by Internet provider (IPTV)

  • IPTV Provider, ADSL IP data
  • Thomson SpeedTouch 780 IPTV boadband router
    Twisted Pair ADSL IP data -> HTTP Ethernet 10/100 Mbps 
  • Amino Aminet A110
    Video: HTTP protocol Ethernet 10-baseT -> 576i component (Mpeg2) 
    Audio: Coax S/P-DIF PCM
  • Onkyo TX-SR706 FLI-2310  
    Video: Component 576i/50 -> HDMI 1080i
  • Hitachi 42" HD plasma
    HDMI 1080i -> image
As You see, there is still one stage in analog. Hope to het new Aminet A130 or A530 box with HDMI to het over it.

07 November 2008

Changed Onkyo TX-SR706 under warranty

Due to HDMI blankout problems I changed my head unit under the warranty. New one functions perfectly.
Hooking up the modern 7,1 receiver takes at least an hour, inluding Audyssey automatic speaker level adjusting etc. Huge number of different inputs causes mistakes and adds some thrill...

01 November 2008

Onkyo TX-SR706 Faroudja DCDi is overheating

I have used it only 2 days, but I'm quite sure, that Faroudja DCDi Cinema scaler is overheating, if natural cooling not well provided. Plasma is losing signal in conjunctiton with fast screen transitions. In my case cable set to box and DVD component signals are up-converted to 1080p by Faroudja DCDi Cinema scaler.

All the other user csenarios work well. Signal from Dlink DSM-520 HDMI is also up-converted to 1080i HDMI output. Today I watched 3 consequent Fifth Gear series from my Media Server / DSM-520 but no siglal losses occured. Then I swiched over to cable and signal started to disappear in every minuta or so. In my case I up-converted component signal to HDMI 1080i. I swiched my receiver off for an hour, it cooled down and problems disappeared. 

I'm planning to modify my TX-SR706, installing fan and heat-sink to FLI2310 DCDi chip.

I'll report more later...

Waiting for my Popcorn Hour A-110 to arrive

Your order is in progress. Oct 24

  • $264.00 charge -  Your credit card (MASTERCARD xxx-yyyy) was charged for $264.00. "GOOGLE *Popcorn Hour" will appear on your credit card statement
  • Oct 17 Order received - Popcorn Hour received your order
  • Oct 17 Order placed - Your order was placed with Popcorn Hour. A confirmation email was sent to you by Google.

31 October 2008

New head unit Onkyo TX-SR706

Yesterday  I bought new THX® Select2™ Plus 7.1-Channel  Onkyo TX-SR706 head unit to my multimedia entertainment center and swiched my old Onkyo TX-L55. Why I did so? Same question was asked by my spouse.

1. Video swiching capabilities

I have different video sourses with different output formats 
   a. Dlink DSM 520 has HDMI output
   b. DVD player is Component
   c. Aminet 110 cable set top box has component output
So, swiching from one source to another causes manual input selection on my Hitachi 42" plasma. It doesn't have direct selection, so You have either to cycle through 8 or so inputs or find right input through the menu. Old TX-L55 didn't have HDMI swiching or even pass-through at all.

Now all video swiching is done by Onkyo, cause it converts every signal (analog and digital) to 1 HDMI output in 1080 format. So sweet. No input selection whatsoever. And only 2 cables are passed to plasma monitor (power and HDMI) instead of thick bunch of component and scart cables.

2. Video up-scaling
Onkyo TX-SR706 has clever Faroudja DCDi Cinema scaler, incorporating FLI2310 chip, upscaling up to 1080p every single input -- digital or analog, component and even composite. Being honest, I didn't see much improvement compared with my HD TV internal upscaler after 1 hour of using new feature, but will comment this topic later.

3. Audyssey
Now I can really sure, that my surround sound is as close as possible, as film director ment. Usually front-back-surround balance is not correct and subwoofer is out of balance. Onkyo passes series short sweep-signals through all surround speakers and tunes cross-over frequencies, dB gains and time corrections. It takes time (5-10 minutes), but worth it.

More Pro's
There is plenty of digital audio inputs, both optical and coax. No need for precise planning and every single connection is digital. New remode is so much better. Source and remote operation happens from one button and other are much better planned.

Onkyo was in HD DVD clan and hasn't been able to finish their blu-ray player yet. So, it will be on the shelves early next year perhaps. So, I didn't buy new DVD player, but waiting for Onkyo blu-ray.

10 September 2008

0,5 TeraByte mark hit

So, I lately crossed the 0,5 TeraByte milestone of movies, music and images on my 2,5 TB media server:

1100 Videos, 475 GB
6800 Music tracks, 44 GB
25 000 Photos, 42 GB

As You see, most of the digital data today is movies.

Dlink really weak in HD

I have been the patriot of Dlink products in media streaming. Currently I have 2 pc of DSM 520 and one DSM 320 streaming off my 2,5 TB Dell PowerEdge quad-core media server. Mostly I watch TV-shows like Friends, Top Gear etc and lot of MPEG4 movies. But more and more movies are coming out in HD, ripped off from blu-ray or recorded from the HD cable/terrestial. In most of the cases these are in .TS format, .MKV Matroska containers, H.264 whitch is pain in the a.. for Dlink. Converting is really a lottery and not really an option. Also, high bitrate (more than 20 mbit per second) 1080 has been problem for DSM-520, despite of wired ethernet.

Now I look something more capable. Most probably I'm going after Popcorn Hour A-110 streamer. Looks like just for me, HDMI 1.3a, supports the latest high bitrate video formats (MPEG2 MP@HL, H.264 HP@L4.1, VC-1 AP@L3 in TS of at least 40Mbps) to give you up to 1080p high-definition videos.

Another option is Buffalo Linktheater HD On the paper its H.264 AVC capable, but MKV container is not clearly notetd on their spec sheet?!

24 May 2008

DH Tune measurements

Before, PCI bus RocketRaid 1820a:

After, PCI-E RocjetRaid 2320:

Average IOmeter trasfer speed:
  • before 72 MB/s
  • after 154 MB/s (increased 100%)

22 May 2008

One interesting media streamer

Recently I found unknown for me streamer -- EZ media. What was new for me:

  • no HDMI, only DVI (converter DVI to HDMI included)
  • plays WMA Pro and MPEG Pro (usually max quality is limited 320 kbs MP3 and WMA)
  • plays H.264 AVC MPEG4 part 10 HD video (does it play Matroska containers???)
  • UPnP 1,5 and DNLLA 1,5 compliant (most streamers are UPnP 1.0 compliant)
Product line includes SimpleCenter software media server and EZsource NAS (not yet available).

21 May 2008

Disk subsystem throughput

As told earlier, I swiched from PCI RAID controller to RocketRaid 2320 PCI-E (x4) RAID controller. Throughput is up significally:

Read speed:
  • Before 100 MB/s
  • After 520 MB/s (UP 5,2 times)
Write speed (RAID-5)
  • Before 54 MB/s
  • After 150 MB/s (UP 2,8 times)
Important fact is, that using packets less than 8 MB gave > 1022 MB/s read/write speeds because of new cache employed on the new controller. I's PCI-E x4 physical limit !?

19 May 2008

PCI-E RAID controller installed

Due to some compatibility issues I decided to get rid of old-fashined PCI RocketRaid 1820A and replace it with very modern PCI-Express technology RocketRaid 2320 unit. It has PCI-E x4 architecture.

My media server in the nutshell
  • Dell PowerEdge SC1430
  • Quad core Intel E5335 CPU 2,0 GHz, 1333MHz FSB, 2x4 MB L2 cache
  • 2GB Memory
  • HDD 80 GB dedicated to OS and programs
  • RAID 5 2,25 TB (4x750 GB Hitachi SATA), dedicated to digital media
  • RocetRaid 2320 RAID host adapter, PCI-E x4 (300 MB/s each SATA port)
  • Broadcom Gigabit NIC
My main objective was to get away from compatibility issue, but once I had to reinstall my RAID, I choce more potent PCI-E model to get rid of all possible bottlenecks in the data path.

System bottleneck speeds:

So, network is the slowest link in the chain.

05 April 2008

HD MKV container, D-Link DSM-520 and MediaCoder

If You have media server and D-Link DSM media streamer, You are not able to playback MKV (Matroska) files. PAL resolution files are easy to convert using MKV2VOB converter, but my equipment didn't work with HD format.I tried and failed long time to fing good probram to convert MKV container into suitable format. Finally I found the product, what really works -- MediaCoder, look http://www.mediacoderhq.com/

Few tips:

Video Tab
Mode: Quality-based 100%
Format: MPEG2
Container: MPEG2
Source: Autoselect
Backend: Autoselect

Audio Tab
Source: Autoselect
Encoder: Lame MP3
Resample: Original
Channel: Original
Enable Audio: Selected
Gain 0dB
Audio ID: 0

Lame MP3 tab
Rate mode VBR
Channel Auto
Bitrate/Quality: 8
Algorithm Quality: 1

I use currently MediaCoder ver 0,6 and it works just well.

23 February 2008

Best HD torrents

Some torrent directories have been moved more quickly seeding HD stuff than other directories. Here is my TOP-5 lists for High Definition material:

Torrent directories 1080+720=total HD

http://www.snarf-it.org/ 500+3800=4300 HD torrents listed;
http://www.thepiratebay.org/ 1000+1000=2000;
http://www.mininova.com/ 500+700=1200;
http://www.isohunt.com/ 700+500=1200;
http://www.bitenova.com/ 100+1000=1100;
http://www.torrentspy.com/ 20+300=320;
There are also some closed-communy torrent directories. Some of these exceeded user limit and they dont take new members.

Indeed, they differ in usability and ease of search. My personal favourite is http://www.mininova.org/

How to get HD stuff from Internet?

We all got HD equipment, but no content. Internet is one source to download 720p and 1080p movies, music videos, tv shows, fashion shows etc. If You never did it, here are short instructions:

1. Get torrent client software, like BitTorrent ;

2. Find interestinf content from torrent directories like:
http://www.snarf-it.org/ ; http://www.thepiratebay.org/ ; http://www.mininova.com/ ; http://www.isohunt.com/ ; http://www.bitenova.com/ ; http://www.torrentspy.com/

3. Start downloading. Volumes are big, starting from 0,5GB (compressed AVI files), usually ca 8GB per movie, so prepare to fill up Your server soon. I just expanded mine up to 2,2 TeraByte.

4. When needed (if you receive xyz.rar, xyz.r01, xyz.r02 etc), unpack spanned archive using WinRAR, WinZIP etc. Open first file with unzipper and it automatically unpacks and combines all parts of spanned archive, making one xyz.avi file.

19 February 2008

RAID upgrade speed comparision

HDTune 2.55 results for 4 x 160, total 0,5 TByte setup:

HDTune 2.55 results for 4 x 750, total 2,2 TByte setup:

Few comments. Some 10% better throughput and 30% better access time at the same CPU load. Main difference: 400+ percent more disk space.

18 February 2008

Major storage expansion to 2,2 TByte

So, downloading HD stuff from several torrents (post about best HD torrents will be available soon) filled up quickly my Half Terabyte server. So, I decided to switch frorm 4x160GB disks to 4x750GB setup, eg total 2,25 TB usable RAID5 storage.

RAID5 is essential in multy-disk setups, as single drive failure destroy's completely striped storage (RAID 0). Mirroring halves usable storage and is expeensive. So, RAID 5 is the winner. It is important to notice, that You may not want to use any entry-level RAID controller for RAID 5 as they use software parity calculation, overloeading CPU at large array writes. Instead usse HW accelerated version, for example RocketRAID 1810a.

My 2,2 TB media server in the nutshell

  • Intel P4, 2GHz, 100MHz FSB
  • 512 MB RAM
  • PCI bus 32bit
  • 40 Gb ATA disk for OS from integrated controller
  • 4 x 750 SATA II 7200 RPM disks from Hitachi
  • RAID5 controlled by HighPoint RocketRAID 1810a
  • Intel Gigabit NIC
  • Tower form factor (Dell Dimension 8200)
My 2,2 TB RAID migration process:
  • Installed temporary SATA controller and SATA drive 500GB for migration buffer;
  • Tested old partition performance, using HD Tune 2.55 (free);
  • Copied the contents from old RAID to single 500 GB SATA disk, attached to temporary SATA controller, using CodeSector TERACopy (took about 15 hours at average speed 6,5 MB/s)
  • Tested the integrity of copy using TERACopy
  • Took out 4 x 160 GB disks
  • Installed fresh 4 x 750 GB Hitachi disks
  • RAID 5 Zero build, using RocketRAID BIOS utility, block size 2048 (good for large sequential reads-writes as usual in video and audio media streaming), took 15 hours;
  • Created parrtition and formatted it, usine windows storage admin tools from Control Panel;
  • Copied all data back from single 500GB disk, using TERACopy;
  • Tested integrity of the copy with TERACopy;
  • Uninstalled temporary migration hard drive and controller;
  • Tested partition speed, using HD Tune.
It took total to c3 full days to complete the job, far more than I expected Thanks to slow disk-to-disk copy -- probably due to slow 100MHz FSB. Copy speed to single disk was in average 6,5 MBps, restoring to new RAD happened at 10 MBps pace. My next server will be >1000 MHz FSB and PCI-x configuration. For streaming purposes old system is good, but copying is painfully slow.

After the break -- places to get HD content, Victoria Secret 2007 show in 1080 HD and more..

11 January 2008

Logitech's aquisitions

Logitech is taking big steps to consolidate digital media entertainment products. They have purchased Slim Devices, and two of their main products Squeezebox, ca U$ 300-400 product pricing and Transporter, ca U$ 2000 product pricing. Aditionally they have their own Wireless DJ Music System U$ 250.

08 January 2008

Dual mode players

There is new trend in media streaming. There are Dual User Modes:

  • Extender for Windows® Media Center
  • D-Link MediaLounge™ in D-Link case.
Media Center Extender mode shows Media Center screens on Your TV, look and feel like PC. Proprietary MediaLounge look and feel like streamers we got used to.

There are new breed of PC-to-TV players like D-Link DPG-1200 witch act as pure PC desktop extenders and doesnt anymore stream from UPnP storage!

New from Dlink

There is line of new products "coming soon" from Dlink. I'd like to emphasize one nice feature I missed long time and now model DPG-1200 has. Now You can connect cheap LCD monitor via regular VGA cable. Until now it wasn't possible because of missing VGA connector.

New remote has trackball and 2 buttons. So, navigating on TV screen is more PC-like.

Note, that DSM model name has been changed to DPG!?