Archive for April, 2008

SageTV vs. BeyondTV, Take 2

Back months ago I posted about SageTV and BeyondTV.  My final take on it then was that they were both great applications.  In my case, I chose to primarily use BeyondTV because I could easily set it so that each tuner could be configured for specific channels.  (I have two different antennas hooked to my HD HomeRun.  They are each good at certain stations, but not quite as good with others.  I’ve since figured out how to handle this in SageTV as well.  Since my initial review, I have one major gripe about BeyondTV, which I will get to shortly.

About a month ago, BeyondTV came out with version 4.8, but I only recently installed it.  Very soon after I installed this version, I started having some strange issues.  The first problem I noticed was that sometimes during shows, the video would blank out for about 10 seconds.  The audio was completely fine during this time and the video would return without issues.  The first time or two I saw this, I didn’t think too much of it, but over a few days I noticed that it happened with multiple shows on different channels.  I began to think that it might be a problem with the new version.  Another issue, my recordings stopped working properly about 1/4 the time.  Instead of an hour long show, I would end up with about two minutes, which I think is the amount of padding I had on the front of the show.  Mind you that I don’t use this machine for anything but a PVR, so nothing new gets installed on it very frequently at all.  About the only change made recently was newer drivers for my HD HomeRun tuner.

These two issues along with a long-time pet peeve got me to look at SageTV again.  Oh – I haven’t mentioned my pet peeve yet.  Screensaver.  BeyondTV’s idea of a screensaver is to dim the screen to about half strength.  I’m not sure who thinks this is a good idea, but I have screen burn on my LCD screen where my wife (and I, on occasion) have left the BeyondTV GUI up on a screen for a number of hours.  I’m trying tools like JScreenFix to help with this… No word if it actually helps yet.  Anyhow, SageTV has a much better screensaver.

Anyhow, I’m evaluating SageTV again, version 6.3.10 this time.  I don’t see why I complained about the smoothness of SageTV vs. BeyondTV before, as now they seem to look equally as good.  (Perhaps this is something that they have worked on.)  I am about 4-5 days into my eval and I’ve not seen the same problems with the 10 second blanking that I saw on BeyondTV.  In fact, today is the only time I ran into any issues with it so far at all.  While watching live TV on a channel with a less than perfect signal, I saw some tearing, then later the signal got so bad that it seemed to hang on playing it back.  (SageTV didn’t hang itself, just the playback of the show).  I have figured out how to set up multiple line-ups in SageTV to handle my antenna differences so that only the tuner connected to the antenna that best receives a channel will be used to tune it, if I choose.   This was a big problem for me before, because one of my tuners kept being used for a channel that it didn’t pick up well, resulting in an unhappy wife as shows were missed.

There are still some questions in my mind about how well SageTV will work out (since I have another system also using Sage, it was nice to be able to watch what was recorded on both systems).

I’ll try to post my results later.

April 27, 2008 at 9:09 pm Leave a comment

pfSniffer? A non-firewall use for pfSense

Several years ago my company looked into getting Distributed Sniffer Appliances, made by Network General. These are devices that attach to an Ethernet segment (at a branch office) and allow you to remotely connect and pull traces. Ideally, we would have loved to have these in each remote location so that we could more easily troubleshoot problems that seemed to crop up regularly. They looks like very nice appliances, but Network General wanted an arm and a leg for each one, so we passed.

We recently had a need for this sort of thing and I had a great idea. Many months ago, I noticed that pfSense had added a very nifty feature called Packet Capture. Essentially, the pfSense WebGUI has an interface to tcpdump, allowing you to put in some simple filter criteria (source/destination IP Address) and have a trace executed on a particular interface. This is a really nice feature for troubleshooting your firewall, but I thought that this could be used to make a distributed “pfSniffer”.

Using standard desktop PCs, we added a NIC, loaded pfSense, then configured it so that the WAN interface allows all traffic incoming. The LAN interface has a “fake” IP subnet assigned and everything is blocked incoming. Both of these NICs are attached to the same physical network. The WAN interface is given the default gateway pointing to that location’s router (we have a private WAN). We keep careful track of the switch and port where the LAN interface is attached. When we need to trace something it’s a simple matter of mirroring the desired port to the port containing our “pfSniffer” LAN interface. Then, just web into pfSense, perform a trace, and download it via Firefox. Assuming WireShark is installed on the workstation that you are connecting in from, when you select the download button, it launches WireShark and loads the trace right up.

Sure, it’s not as slick as Network General’s Distributed Sniffer appliance, but it works very well and the price is exactly what we had budgeted! Prior to this idea, we were planning to just install a desktop with Wireshark in every location and remote control it when we needed to troubleshoot. When this was suggested to me, though, I thought that combing through a trace of any significant size over a slow WAN link would be annoying, plus you’ve have to filter out the remote control traffic unless you installed a second NIC in the desktop. Not to mention the fact that it would be another machine to keep patched and updated with the latest version of Wireshark everywhere. Lastly, machines loaded with Windows that weren’t obviously in-use might have a tendency to get used as a spare workstation.

Anyhow, we’ve installed them in a few offices so far and have been very happy with the results.

April 22, 2008 at 9:10 pm 3 comments

Send in the Mac clones?

If you are even somewhat following things in the Mac world, you’ve probably already heard of the small south Florida company that has announced their “OpenMac” computers.. Oh! Wait! They’ve changed the name now to “Open Computers”, perhaps realizing that the name “Mac” is too close to the hearts of the Apple legal team. Today, I see that they have a second, more powerful machine available, called the “OpenPro”. I don’t think Apple can trademark “Pro”, so this may be a safe name for their product. At least with this one, they are offering Ubuntu Linux, Windows XP, Vista, as well as Leopard as possible pre-installed operating systems.

The company behind this marketing blitz (that may soon explode on them) is Psystar. Personally, I think this is a real ballsy move by them. Perhaps TOO ballsy. They claim that they are going to legally challenge Apple’s EULA, which states that you can only install Mac OS X onto “Apple labeled” computers. Their argument is who is Microsoft to say on which type of hardware you can run Windows, so why should Apple be able to?

On one hand, I’m with Apple because they, after all, are the originators of the product. On the other hand, why won’t Apple give us a headless Mac that has some decent power at a decent price? Yea – This “other” hand doesn’t have anything legal on its side… Sorry Psystar, but hopes for a sub-$1250 desktop Mac with some decent horsepower and expandability are all I can offer you.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Personally, I’m thinking that if anyone wants to buy one of these “clones”, you’d better get your order in fast. And, if you plan on running Leopard on them, you had better be happy with 10.5.2, as updates to newer releases will probably be few and far between.

April 15, 2008 at 8:22 pm Leave a comment


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