Archive for April, 2009

Ooma

Ooma arrived.  (www.ooma.com)

For those who don’t know, it’s a $209 (from Amazon) VoIP kit, which lets you set up a VoIP phone system at your home and use it for free, unlimited voice calling around the US.  (Technically, their website says it’s 3000 minutes per month, but they claim to have never canceled a residential customer for going over that limit.)

The trick with consumer VoIP has always been prioritization of the traffic.  Systems like MagicJack rely on the end user configuring their routers properly to prioritize their traffic.  This is complicated, as every router maker has their own web interface and settings to worry with, assuming the router has the capability to prioritize traffic at all.  Ooma takes care of this by placing their device between your Cable/DSL modem and your router, so it can handle the traffic shaping itself, being sure to keep enough bandwidth available for VoIP services when they are in use.  (According to what I’ve read, their traffic shaping only seems to be effective when on a call.)  If you are uncomfortable with this setup, note that you can also set the Ooma hardware up behind your router, but then you have to get everything set up on your router to properly prioritize things.  Doing it the Ooma way should make things easier.

At any rate, it’s very easy to set up, but if you are a nerd like me, you’ll want to set it up in DMZ mode, so your router will get all incoming packets except the ones destined for your Ooma box.  (That way, your port forwards will continue to work, etc.)  Just search their forum and you’ll find out how to do that easily enough.

Anyhow, call quality isn’t quite as good as a landline, in my opinion, though the quality does sound better when you dial *99 before a call (which basically turns off compression).  I don’t know if they will ever give us a quality selection option, but if they do, I’d set it to that level of quality all the time.  (It’s only 90K of bandwidth, vs. the default of 30K)

Anyhow, I’ve officially taken down my Askozia box that I previously used to get nearly free phone service.  I chose to get rid of it because of the lack of E911 service with my selected provider, and the fact that connectivity to both my outgoing and incoming providers wasn’t very good.  This means that calls could work and sound fine one day, while on others I might not even receive incoming calls, or not be able to make outgoing calls.  So far, Ooma has had none of the reliability issues, only a little in the way of call quality problems.

What does set it apart from my Askozia setup is the nice Ooma hardware (which includes dedicate buttons to play back voice mail, etc.) and the general ease of use.  It’s actually a service that most anyone who can set up a home router can probably get working for their home phone service.  They also offer some bonus features for a small monthly fee (though I’m sticking with the free service).  I’ll try to post back after using it for a month or two, but I can honestly say that I’m already using my phone for outgoing calls more than I usually did with my old setup.  (Since I paid for outgoing calls with my old setup)  And, it is kind of nice being able to just pick up a phone around the house and dial out without worrying about paying for a call.

April 28, 2009 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

Badaboom

I’ve been recently interested in encoding video files as H.264, so I’ve looked around a bit.  I previously read about the Elgato Turbo.264, and now they have a new unit… While reading a review of it, I saw comments from other readers talking about Badaboom.  You can get it at http://www.badaboomit.com/.

Basically, it’s a program that uses the GPU in your nVidia video card to encode your video.  It costs $30, but there is a free trial that lets you run it against 30 files (or 30 days, whichever comes first).  This lets you ensure that it works with your card, and also lets you see the actual performance of it.

In my case, I encoded a large file with MPEG Streamclip on my Mac (2.26 Ghz Core 2 Duo).  As for settings, I went 640×480 (unscaled), with the default audio settings, no de-interlacing.  It performed consistently around 30 FPS.  Since I’m not much of a gamer, my best video card on a Windows machine is only an 8600GT, but it is among the devices supported by this app.  I set the settings close to the MPEG Streamclip settings and let it get underway.  The same file was encoded in Badaboom at approximately 43 FPS, about a 45% improvement.

While it’s not the 20X faster claimed by their website (perhaps possible with a high-end video card, and/or lower quality settings), a 45% increase in speed is significant, especially since it puts such a light load on the processor.  Since they have a free trial, it’s definately worth trying out.

April 9, 2009 at 10:29 pm Leave a comment

HD200, PlayOn and Hulu

A while back I experimented with my SageTV HD200 essentially downloading transcoded versions of a few Hulu shows via PlayOn.  It’s a pain to do this, though.

A few weeks ago they released a new Beta firmware.  I just downloaded it a few days ago.  Through looking at the forum, I’ve discovered that there is actually a telnet server within the HD200.  You can telnet to it, login as root (no password), then navigate to PlayOn from the command line.  It’s still slow to navigate, so I suggest queuing up any content you want and then going to your User Queue directory.  Like so:

cd /var/upnp/PlayOn (your playon server name here)/Hulu/User Queue

*NOTE*:  In my experience, the HD200 will let you telnet into it when it is “asleep”, but I’ve had very poor luck at getting complete shows that way.  When the HD200 was active (even if it is playing content from the SageTV server), I have almost always gotten a “good” file.

Once there, this command will show you all the shows in your queue:

ls -l

When you are ready to copy something down, just use the copy command:

cp Showname.mpg /tmp/sagetv_shares/[Path to your network share here]/file.mpg

*NOTE*: The filenames are quite long.  After entering the first few letters of your show, hit the TAB key to auto-complete as much as you can.  If you’ve queued up a bunch of shows that are episodes of the same series, they will all start with the same characters, so you’ll have to enter something in to differentiate the particular episode you want, then hit TAB again and it should auto-complete the whole thing.

Ok, after putting the copy command in, you’ll be stuck waiting around for a while.  Once you get a prompt back, it is done.

Now, one thing I don’t like about this method is you end up with huge MPG files when you are done.  With the latest HD200 firmware, the resultant files are playable as-is.  There is something not quite right about the time, though.  The programs I’ve tried to play them in seem to think they are longer than they really are.  In order to conserve space (for the shows I’d actually want to keep), I’ve tried HandBrake to convert them to MKV files.  This fails, as HandBrake freezes within the first few minutes of transcoding (this is repeatable).  MPEG StreamClip doesn’t work either.  Transcoding to AVI worked in Handbrake, but the audio was out of sync badly.  I was just about to give up hope on this when I happened across a news item about a new version of VLC.  It mentioned that VLC can transcode, so I tried it.  Even though VLC itself indicates that it’s not a great tool for transcoding, it worked.  I set it for H264 video transcoding at 1024 with no audio transcoding and the resultant file is about 430 MB (down from 1.7 GB!)

So, doing this is still a pain… But it does seem to work, at least, until Sage comes out with a working interface to Hulu directly.  (Heck, I’d be pretty very if they just made it so that stuff watched via PlayOn wouldn’t restart when you hit FF or RWD)

Update:  Well, even this isn’t perfect.  I just used the HD200 to play back an .mp4 file made with this method.  The video looked great, but the audio was out of sync by a second or two, making it difficult to watch.  In VLC, however, the audio is perfectly sync’ed up.  Perhaps selecting a different format to convert to within VLC will result in a good video.  More experimentation, I suppose…

Update #2:  The latest version of MPEG Streamclip (1.92, as opposed to 1.9 that I was using) seems to work much better.  I’m using it do to an export to MPEG-4, limiting it to 1024 Kbps (2048 for widescreen shows), selecting the H264 codec, unselecting the Deinterlace settings (at least, for shows that aren’t interlaced), and leaving the audio settings at default.  At those settings, it creates an MP4 file that is about the same size as the one made by VLC (slightly smaller, I believe)… AND, it plays back in SageTV in sync.  (Ok, at least, one episode has so far).  The down side is that it takes about as long to process in MPEG Streamclip as if I were to watch it in real time.  I’ve read somewhere that MPEG Streamclip supports the Elgato Turbo.264, so that might be one option to speed up the transcodes.

April 7, 2009 at 8:44 pm Leave a comment


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