Archive for category Gadgets

WD TV Live

So, about 5 years or so ago I decided to built a HTPC to replace my aging Tivo. It was an epic story, a massive amount of money was spent, but in the end I was rewarded with a 2 tuner DVR in a nice brushed aluminum home theater case with a vacuum fluorescent display. It was capable of recording 2 shows at once while watching another or streaming video from a network source, a decent feature set for the time. A lot of time (and expense) went into ensuring it was whisper quiet. No small task when your processor is a Pentium 4 single core power-gobbling toaster.

I don’t watch much “TV” anymore; about 6 months ago I canceled my cable subscription and went strictly OTA/Downloaded content. The only channels I miss are Discovery and Sci-Fi, and the content from those can be found if one looks hard enough.

With the digital transition my 2 tuners and DVR functionality was lost entirely but I was already streaming most of my video from my NAS in the basement anyway. A few months ago the power supply in the HTPC died. No longer having the resources I once did, I replaced it with a fairly cheap one to get by. It was louder, but it worked again. In the last few weeks, some other strange noises have been coming from the AV cabinet and sure enough it was the HTPC again. Nothing’s broke, I suspect a fan is going bad. The HTPC really is in a harsh environment, honestly I’m surprised I haven’t had more problems with it. It’s hot in that cabinet, it collects dust and cat hair.

Although I wasn’t yet searching for a replacement someone was talking about an interesting device yesterday: The Western Digital TV Live. This device is designed to sell more WD external hard drives.

My biggest problem with most streaming devices is that they require that you stream from the Internet or a connected PC running special software. This WD box requires neither. It plays 1080p content nativity with no transcoding or server software required. In addition to streaming from any attached USB device (thumb drive, hard drive, etc) it connects to standard SMB (Windows) network shares using credentials you supply and streams the content from there. It can stream an extremely diverse selection of audio and video formats as well as display photo slide shows.

It’s menu interface is very similar to the modern Sony horizontal bar interface, that is not a bad thing. WD implemented it well.

It streamed every Audio and Video file I threw at it, and I have some strange video file formats. After 4 hours of streaming 720p it was slightly warm. No network hiccups or pausing and skipping. Video/Audio sync was good, which is important since it’s not adjustable.

This is the least amount of research I’ve ever done in purchasing something. I went from not knowing it existed to plugging it in in less than 3 hours. I bought it locally at Best Buy with plans to return it when it performed poorly and didn’t meet my criteria. I was surprised at how good it was, and became curious as to why it was working so well so I went out to do some research and find out why.

This is a Linux box. They’re leveraging all the well implemented free video codecs available in Linux. This explains why it supports Matroska container formats and the several advanced codecs they usually contain. It also explains it’s solid SMB implementation and the hacker community I found working on customized firmware for the box.

It has some Internet streaming stuff for YouTube and some radio streaming but honestly I don’t care. I have no desire to watch 240×320 streams on my 42″ TV. It doesn’t really get in the way and I don’t care how it works. I’ll just assume it works well and never use it.

There a couple small issues.

If it’s going to stream things from the Internet, it better have Netflix streaming. The WD TV Live doesn’t. I don’t have Netflix yet, but every single person I know tells me how wonderful it is, one of these days I’ll break down and try it. My next Blu-Ray player will almost certainly include that, so it’s not a big deal that WD didn’t, but it just seems odd that it wasn’t included.

It doesn’t create thumbnails for content on network shares and it’s default method of browsing is via thumbnail. When browsing network shares with default settings you get many identical empty thumbnails and you have to highlight them to see what they are. Thankfully they included an option to not use thumbnails and use something truly revolutionary: File names. This makes things much easier to navigate. For audio files you can tell it to use file names, ID3 tags, or the artwork stored in the MP3 file.

The WD TV Live has no way to limit itself to 1 server, establish a preferred server, or create a shortcut to a specific server/share combination. This makes for many additional clicks in the UI. When you select Network Share, it presents you with every machine on your network that has sharing enabled (every Windows box does) in the server list, and you have to select on the one you want then move on to select the share that contains your files. It’s all presented in a file/folder view so it’s not really painful, but it’s more clicks than you really should have to make in a properly setup system.

It needs the ability to hide things. Hide menu items I don’t use, hide machines that don’t contain media files, hide shares that aren’t related, etc.

This isn’t for everyone. It can’t play DRM protected content, it doesn’t have WiFi (it’s optional), it doesn’t have netflix streaming or a web interface for control when the TV is powered down (for streaming music).

For me this was the very definition of impulse purchase which I almost never succumb to, but it appears it will work out quite well. I’ll decide for sure over the weekend, but I think it’s a keeper. It’ll appears that it will easily replace my old HTPC while being dead silent and much lower power consumption (12V 2A wall wart). It could replace my AudioTron as well, but I’m not sure I will retire it yet or not. The web interface on the AudioTron is good, and I don’t really want to power up the TV to select a song.

Heathkit GC-1000!

Ok, one of the two timepieces that I’ve wanted since I became a ham is the Heathkit GC-1000 (the other is a Geochron). Today I received 2 of them. Maybe 1 1/2, but probably 2.

Most hams would be familiar with it, but for those who aren’t it was released for Christmas in 1983 for the low low price of $299.90 if you built it yourself, or $389.95 if you bought it “wired and tested.” If you adjust those numbers for inflation that’s $640 and $832 as of January 2009. here’s the original advertisement from it’s debut in the 1983 Christmas Heath Catalog which explains what makes this unique among clocks.

Heath Kit GC-1000 Debut, Christmas 2003

Heath Kit GC-1000 Debut, Christmas 2003

Yes, today modern WWVb “atomic” clocks and disciplined GPS outputs make this partially obsolete. What’s your point? It’s still a true Stratum-0 device completely independent of the GPS network and it’s accuracy is maintained realtime 24/7.

A friend in Canada stumbled upon a friend of his who was cleaning out his house and found one in an old dusty box. Also in that same box, was a 2nd, partially assembled GC-1000 in unknown condition!

Rather than selling it on eBay for what would almost certainly have been a tidy profit, he sent this box to me (he already has 2 GC-1000’s of his own) for which I am truly grateful. It arrived today. More correctly it arrived yesterday, but I was out sick so I got it today.

So I have 1 that needs some cosmetic work and a once-through to check out, and one completely unknown puzzle.

According to my research I really want to look at the electrolytic caps and get rid of the 7805 regulator that Heath used. They run that 7805 really near it’s max limits, and there are several pictures on the internet of it actually scorching the FR4 circuit board area around it. There is a nice modern switching regulator that is drop-in compatible. It generates almost no heat and rumor has it that it doesn’t produce any interference with the RF portion of the clock.

It may take a week or two before I can dig into this project, but I’m looking forward to building my first Heath Kit!

Corn Maze

Finally got out to the maze Friday night, Mary and I had a blast. She likes the gadgets as much as I do, sometimes I think more so. She decided to go GPS navigation for the entire expedition.

This year was better than last, the corn was about 9′ tall and there were several other groups in the maze, including at least 1 group we bumped into that had no flashlights at all.

We weren’t sure if we were going or not due to weather, but decided at the last minute to head out.

Ok, while I love doing these, I like to cheat fully utilize my available equipment, and here is what it looked like:

Corn Maze Gear 2009

Corn Maze Gear 2009

I have my Garmin GPS60cs, Icom IC-92, The large SOE Gear holster holds my M6-1185, the side light pouch is holding my 6PD-M60W, A2-Strion/GS and L2 are clipped under the flap until we arrive. My Ra 100WW was on my belt and 8x spare 123’s just in case were inside along with 2 Nite-Ize blinky reflective “tags”. It all fits neatly in/on my Maxpedition Versapack with the entirety of the main center compartment empty. I love this bag. I wish the Cell phone holster and built-in light pouch were molle-attach points, but other than that it’s great.

A multi-level light is a must, you don’t need lots of light or throw when walking around, this is where the A2 is awesome. The floody 5mm leds are great and the extra punch of the incandescent to reach down the aisle. The Ra also does OK, but it’s mix of throw and spill seemed to always be too much of a compromise, it would work well if I hadn’t have had an A2.

The L2 was for Mary, since she lost the A2 I gave her last year. A multi-level light is a must.

The 6PD-M60W is nice, but as usual when I use this light I find myself wishing it were a 2-stage. On high it’s just too bright for most things. It did do great for seeing down rows though, but I likely won’t take it next time.

The M6-1185… Well what really needs to be said? I used it to point down a long row to point out a punch that was needed for the scavenger hunt to another group in the maze and there were audible gasps, one woman asked who brought a car into the maze. For those who don’t know, the Welch-Allyn 1185 lamp used to be commonly used in airports as a runway landing light. Due to this intended use it’s an extremely durable and robust design that can be overdriven from it’s intended 9.6V drive(~900lm) to sunburn-inducing 13V (~1500lm). It’s not a HID, but it’s about the brightest thing you can have in an easily carried handheld design. It uses a custom 3-cell lithium pack that has more juice than modern Netbooks.

On my next trip I’m going to ensure that I have the A2-UV with me. This particular corn maze you have a scavenger hunt, as you find certain areas you punch a hole in an issued card to verify you were there. Each punch is a different shape, and it’s tied on to a rusty pole sticking out of the ground in the corn. I realized that a A2-UV will be great because it should cause the paper punch-outs on the ground to glow making the areas with punches very visible.

We didn’t complete 100% of the ship (this year’s theme), we skipped some detail inside the ship but we will be going back to finish it up another evening.

Here’s what the GPS said it looks like:

Mitchellville Corn Maze 2009

Mitchellville Corn Maze 2009