April 27, 2008
Testing a tuner for digital off-air television

I'm a professional TV engineer. For the last 15 years or so, those of us in the profession have been talking about the end of analog television. Next year, on February 17th, television stations will turn off their analog broadcasts and switch to digital only.

For TVs that use rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna, they will need a digital TV tuner. We engineers refer to it as an ATSC tuner, but most will simply call it a HDTV or DTV tuner. If you have cable or satellite TV, you won't need this.

For a while, I've wondered what these inexpensive tuners would be like. When I saw my first tuner years ago, it was around $500 and had terrible performance. This weekend, I stopped by radio Shack this weekend and picked up a Digital Stream DTX9900 DTV tuner. The box cost $60. BTW, the government is offering $40 off coupons to people to help defer the cost.

The tuner itself is fairly small and light.

The tuner takes the input from your antenna and converts to either video and audio on RCA jacks or a channel 3/4 RF signal. Very straightforward and simple. For me, I used the RF signal since it was the simplest cabling.

We have a very cute TV in the kitchen that Michele that uses rabbit ears. She doesn't want a new digital TV, she wants me to simply make it better. So, it gets the DTV tuner.

I hooked things up in about 5 minutes and got good signals right away. The picture looked good. We are in a class A contour so we get great reception. The key is a good antenna. I use a traditional UHF loop antenna and it seems to pick things up well. If you are a distance away, you are probably going to need a yagi style antenna.

I was pleased to see a fairly good user interface. The Info button brought up data about the channel, show, and even reception strength.

The picture was good, but on some channels with poor reception, the picture broke up. With analog channels, the picture would get snowy and the audio start to fuzz with poor reception. With digital channels, you get the cliff effect, where the picture pixelates and in some cases freezes or drops altogether.

One of the benefits of digital television is that broadcasters are sending data along with the picture, such as seeing what's coming up next on the channel.

Here's a short video of using the tuner.

Overall, the tuner is impressive. I think the average person will be able to use it and get better pictures than they have now. Some people will have problems if they are in areas with poor UHF reception, but that's an antenna problem.

Posted by michael at 09:56 PM | Comments (2)
Keeping things charged

If there is one rule for modern life I would share with you all, it is ABC.

ABC - Always Be Charging

Whether it's you laptop, your Nintendo DS, or your mobile phone, you should take every opportunity to keep it fully charged.

As you might imagine we have a lot electronics at Cruft Manor to keep charged. I have tried many ways to keep the charging under control. I've built mini-charging stations for the girl's Nintendo devices. I tried to keep the the phone chargers straight and organized. But in the end, all became a tangle of wires.

I finally bit the bullet and invested in Chargepod from Callpod. And I choose the word invested carefully, the Chargepod is not cheap. Starting at $50, the Chargepod is a bit of a luxury item. You do not 'need' it as much as 'desire' it.

The Chargepod replaces all your chargers with a unified system. A single power supply plugs into the wall and feeds the hub. The hub splits the power to up to six different devices. You need an adapter from the hub to each different device. As you can see above, I have it charging 4 different mobile phones and a bluetooth headset.

The setup works great. Gone are the tangles. Every device has it's place. It all works smoothly. And it fits on the small table Michele bought for our phones to sleep on.

Callpod just released a new adapter for the iPhone that avoids the need for the USB cable.

The core issue is the need to purchase the adapter cables. With different connectors on devices, the number of different connectors for charging is huge. Callpod charges $10 a pop for adapter cables. That adds up quick. You can find some better deals on Amazon or eBay, but it's still expensive any way you buy it.

The only other thing is the glow. Electronics manufacturers are enamored with blue LEDs these days and find reason to stick them in everything. The Chargepod does not avoid this fate. The blue LED light up whenever a adapter is plugged in, meaning it's on all the time, filling our dining room at night with a low blue glow. I don;t think this is really necessary. Almost all devices tell you when they are being charged. We really don't need all these LED lights that don't tell me anything.

Overall, I'm happy with the Chargepod. It's a well made item that delivers on it's promise, but the price is too high for it's benefit, making it a welcome luxury, not an essential.

Posted by michael at 10:28 AM | Comments (2)
April 15, 2008
Blogging NAB

Here's what it looks like to write about a non-blogging conference. This is regarding the NAB Show for television and radio that I am attending in Las Vegas. This is my 16th time in 18 years to go to NAB.

This is an email that I sent out to my co-workers about interesting things:

Besides the usual array of monitors, MPEG compressors, proxy viewing, and 'breakthrough' products, here are a few things I saw.

Clustermedia Labs - Voice recognition of people and events in video footage by analyzing voiceprints

GameCaster - A setup that allows recording of video inside videogames by the use of traditional camera hand controls

Bug TV - Class-R - Ingest of multiple video streams via Final Cut Pro

Bluray/DVD Duplicators - There was a literal army of these robotic duplicators on the floor. Anyone know how to choose?

Telestream - Episode Engine Pro - can do transcoding of JPEG 2000 files in a distributed environment at 7-8 times real time

Studio Network Solutions - Postmap - Snoops and indexes varied file systems to find files and search via various attributes. Similar to Mega/Cobweb...

Digital Rapids - CarbonHD does realtime ingest of JPEG 2000 HD files. Actually a DDR, but the files are ready for immedaite access. Stream Z HD platform coming for faster JPEG 2000 transcoding.

Nano-spindt - High Frame Rate FED Monitor - runs at 240 frames per second - amazing look

NHK Ultra HDTV - In the back of the Central Hall, the NHK booth is showing new demos of their Ultra HD system. A must see.

Overall, the post side of the house has tons going on and the South hall is packed. The more traditional areas like lighting, jibs, transmitters are calmer and not so packed.

Posted by michael at 09:26 AM | Comments (0)
Testing Flickr Video - My Hotel Room in Las Vegas

Posted by michael at 09:22 AM | Comments (0)
April 07, 2008
5 Chili Dogs for $5

Our local Wienerschnitzel is offering quite a deal. 5 chili dogs for $5.

Really, who can turn down this kind of offer? Some say it's unhealthy.

I looked up the nutritional information a Weinerschnitzel Chili Dog

Each one is 290 calories, making 5 of them 1,450 calories of deliciousness. Not bad...

In comparison, a In 'n Out Double Double (670 cal), fries (400 cal), and soda (198 cal) is 1,268 calories.

At Carl's Jr, a Six Dollar Burger, fries and soda is 1,830 calories.

As long as I didn't eat much the rest of the day, I'd be fine.

Brad and Cyril were brave enough to challenge the offer. Brad set the date for Monday lunch.

We arrived at noon and proudly order 5 chili dogs.

This is the 5 chili dog table. We made those not brave enough sit at another table.

Brad was the first finisher, eating in style.

Here Cyril thinks, "This might not have been the best idea."

With this last bite, I finished the fifth chili dog.

We all had no trouble with the meal. The chili dogs were pretty good. Later in the afternoon, I still felt a bit full. I didn't eat dinner.

I recommend you give it a try.

Posted by michael at 11:03 PM | Comments (5)