heyrick1973 -at- yahoo -dot- co -dot uk

Neuros OSD - a month on

For a while I used to dual-record programmes on both PVRs, but after about a week of working well, I have migrated to using the OSD alone. It has only screwed up the recording time once, when the RTC was about twenty minutes out. However on this day not only was there a power cut, but I was also trying out the etch version of Linux. It is possible that for my experimentation, the RTC was not updated. I may, later, unplug it to test the clock's stability/accuracy with power removed, but I'm more inclined to think it is something of my own doing.

There are a few quibbles, so let's cover these right away:

  • Video seems 'blockier' for the bandwidth of the older PVR. The older PVR claims to be running at around 1000kbps, at 1200kbps the OSD looks to be a fair bit blockier. Likewise comparisons with XviD (I usually used to convert at around 780kbps).
    I greatly suspect, especially given the fairly similar filesizes of two different programs lasting two hours, that the OSD may record at a fixed bitrate, while the older PVR (and XviD) use variable.
    I find that for most things, 1500kbps is acceptable, though an hour and a half film will be nearly a gigabyte and a half (as opposed to the older PVR's 900Mb(ish)).
  • Dates are all in American - mm/dd/yyyy. Ditto with first time start up in NTSC mode (instead of querying the incoming video standard).
  • There's no possible control without the remote. Well, not strictly true with OSDng as you can install the VNC server; but it's a catch 22 that you'll need the remote to set up the VNC server to use if you lose your remote!
    It is a real shame that a few basic command line utilities weren't included, like record start "myproggy.mp4" and "record stop", along with a text-based way to examine/update the schedule.
  • For geeks, a Windows compatible build environment. Are you seriously telling me there's nothing that can run under Windows to build an ARM ELF? [the no-longer-supported third party method was a VM running a cut down Linux]
  • Just a tiny inessential thing, but it would be a help if the programme schedule could tell you when a programme ends as you are setting the length, just to help prevent silly calculation errors.
  • The cut/copy -> paste metaphor for file management is stupid. It makes sense to me, as I see this daily. But surely a "Copy to" or "Move to" dialogue would be more friendly?
    In addition, there is no feedback. I tried to copy a file via network to my XP box. 100megabit network. I gave up after four hours ... yes, you read that correctly), I started at 12:58 and was getting ready to go to work at 17h00. I still reckoned (from the file size) that I had about 5-10% to go. I put the USB key into Azumi and copied the file (about 1.3Gb) in three and a half minutes.
    Now, I don't expect a little embedded machine to offer speed equivalent to a fully blown PC, but given it was transferring slower than real-time, I do wonder if there might not be 'issues' involved in recording across the network?

I'm not going to talk about the slowness. It's a 200MHz(ish) ARM running Linux. That's not to say the ARM is incapable, or that Linux is incapable, I just think the combination here is not necessarily the best. It is great for its open source capabilities, but for throughput? Is it acceptable that pressing "?" might have no effect for nearly ten seconds? Still, rather the UI be laggy than the encoding.

Now let's look at what rocks:

  • Due to the difference in scheduling, spanning midnight is no longer an issue.
    In addition, programmes can be once, daily or weekly.
  • Quality settings! We can go from an amazingly lame 256kbit right up to a data-sucking 2500kbit (refer to the examples to see these in action). I have decided on 1500kbit as my default (good 'enough' quality without taking loads of disc space), but it is good to know I can step it up if need be.
    Purely subjective, but the picture looks "sharper" when recorded with the OSD.
  • Understands PAL at 25fps. No 30fps fudging.
  • Playback works!
    That might sound weird, but unbelievably while my older PVR can record, it really struggles with playback and - honestly - rarely plays its own recordings without hiccups.
  • Sounds like a dream... Not only, in comparison, does the sound not resemble a muffled bucket, but if I'm not happy with the maximum 128kbit MP3, I can choose the superior 128kbit AAC format for recording the sound.
  • Playback of other things too. The main exceptions are anything "modern" from YouTube (in the H.264 format), full screen PAL DVD rips (720×576), and - ironically - recordings made with my older PVR which appears to output more or less the same format!
    Asides from that, lots of stuff I've tried works. DivX, FLV, WMV, XviD, even VCD and SVCD (MPEG1/2).
  • Music player. Okay, the UI version of xmms2 sucks hard, but from the command line it is fairly adept at playing music, playlists, even streaming 'radio'.
  • A range of interface options - MS, SD, MMC, USB... [the CF slot is required for the later OS, otherwise CF I/II as well]
  • Even though the features are fairly basic and need a fair degree of tweaking for mass audience appeal, there are two different official firmwares (which no longer appear to be supported, they've moved on to HD capable devices) plus a third party revision of the later firmware which fixes a few bugs and adds to the capabilities.
    Plus, with an SVN client, all the code is there if you'd fancy tweaking. Or, better yet, you might wish to take a dive and roll your own.
    There are problems - lack of technical documentation being a main one - but this isn't Neuros' fault. For their part, the device is about as open as it can be, and it is just a shame more people haven't stepped up to the plate.
    Oh, and basic or not, it kicks ass over the majority of video recorders and trounces my older PVR.
  • Although specific to my older PVR's desire to be aimed at the iPod, breaking everything into hour-long chunks was a monumental pain in the...
    As was buying it in \Music\Video\f00 or something like that.
  • And it can subtitle! No, nothing to do with p888 subs (sadly, the 5150 chip looks like it ought to be able to support this). The picture below is a DVD rip of the film "Graveyard of the fireflies" and the white English words at the bottom are added thanks to a downloaded .srt file. A tend to use this method a fair bit, as over here (in France), a good number of animé DVDs are released with original (Japanese) audio with French subs, and maybe a French dub. So I can rip with original audio and no subs, download the subs, paste them in later.
    Subtitle example.
I am reluctant to experiment too much with the OSD because it is working well. And, unlike the older version running the same chipset, it doesn't cause loads of radio interference for mom's LW reception (go figure, it isn't shielded either!?).

Am I pleased with this purchase? Yes. Think about it - a DVD writer is not this flexible, and DVD writers use the older MPEG2 format, thus consuming many DVDs (along with a file that is not directly playable on my computer (it has no DVD drive)). To allow the level of flexibility I'd like, I would need a harddisc-enabled DVD recorder. Those don't come cheap.
To be honest, the OSD compares with medium quality video recorders in price and the quality levels I have chosen tend to make it about on par with a good VHS recording; though we can score extra points for higher quality audio than VHS HIFI, plus the option to select a level of quality of recording that can match up to DVDs. Plus no tapes to worry about, ease of editing, and a lot more "instantly playable". An 8Gb USB key could hold the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy with space to spare. Enough to keep you more than occupied on long journeys. You might get eight hours in LP mode from a single videotape, but it's not much good on its own, and most portable DVD players will only make it to the end of a typical movie. But something like an eeePC? If you turn off stuff you don't need (webcam, WiFi...) you ought to be able to watch the entire LOTR from end to end with battery capacity to spare. Clearly digital video is the way to go, and versions of MPEG4 for the convenience. The OSD is positioned right there, almost ready.

I say almost in italics, because I believe the reason I don't see OSD's on the shelf of my supermarket next to DVD players is because Neuros are nerds. Like me. I understand the OSD's functions. I understand "copy" a file, and then "paste" it to its destination. I understand that many USB harddiscs will fail as the current requirements are more than the OSD can deliver (hence external powered, or maybe via a powered hub). All of this I understand.
But even with OSDng and the built-in help, I don't think it will pass "the mom test", one of the big problems being there's no official instruction manual. The reason, given on the OSD forums, is the firmware is developing rapidly (well, up until the end of 2008, at least) so any manual would quickly be out of date. This is where nerds fail to grasp reality. Any non-nerd using the device, and quite a nice device it is, may well hit brick walls with innumerable questions, ranging from "what's the difference between MP3 and AAC" (answer: AAC is a 'better' MP3, it may not be as widely supported on dedicated (i.e. DVD-with-DivX) players; try a test recording) up to biggies like "if I wish to blindly press the REC button with the TV off, I can't because this stupid banner keeps asking me to confirm everything!" (you can turn off the confirmation banner in the recording settings).
Non-nerds, and enlightened geeks, know that great hardware and great software may be a marriage made in heaven, but it will fly or fail based upon its manual. Maybe my OSD has an option to serve its files on the network as a shared drive? If so, I've not found it. And if it isn't obvious and it isn't documented, there's little point in it being there at all...

Neuros may have missed the boat with the standard OSD, though I still believe for the €100 mark there is still a place for a decent reliable digital device to replace the aging VCR.
They may have missed the boat as the world is going HD and, god help us, 3D. The OSD2 sort-of addresses the HD aspect, while the plans for the OSD3 look to tackle it head-on. I just hope, with all the work they do on the firmware of the device, they put serious effort into a user guide to accompany it, otherwise it will be wasted money at "the mom test".

 

Cute!

I've been asked to define "cute". The problem with this is cute is highly subjective. Type "cute girl" into Google's image search, page one shows a wallpaper of Avril Lavigne captioned "punk princess". Mmm, not quite my definition of cute. But since the dictionary definition is "pleasingly pretty", it stands to reason it will be subjective depending on who you ask.
For me, consider:
A cute girl

It would seem the minisuka website is down, but no matter - chances are that she's in her (early) twenties and is one of a long long long string of "gravure idols" (that, I think, is sort of like a page three girl?). Though, looking at the results returned by Google, it seems (east) Asians make up more than their fair share. Are normal Japanese people as cute/hot as that? Perhaps - for in looking up the name Akane Takahashi, I came across a different Akane, this one being an architect or something, and - while older - she's got whatever "cute" is... see for yourself (in Japanese, but with pictures). Oh, and if you click the Career link (upper right), there's plenty more examples of cuteness.

So, take Akane (a-ka-nay ?) pictured above, add in the adorably cute child from last month, and there you have it...

Instant family! (just add water)

Well - that's my idea of cute. What's yours? Tell me in the comments.

 

日本料理

Nippon ryōri
That means Japanese food. I've finally got my backside in gear and packed up all of my purchases in a cardboard box. As you can see, there's quite an emphasis on noodles - especially soy and miso (a fermented rice/soybean mixture) flavour. The "pot noodle" ones are for the import market. I like them because, unlike French/English variations, the Japanese recipe ones aren't loaded with salt. In fact, in the case of the beef "sukiyaki", it is actually pleasantly sweet.
The can that you can see is coffee-with-milk. I bought that just to see the look on the faces of the French, given their fondness for proper coffee and... given it is cold milky coffee in a can, it is surprisingly nice!
You'll also spot my chopsticks (hashi) on the right. I don't hold my sticks properly, but I hold them in a way that works for me. I tried a few online guides and the way shown just didn't work out. I'll blame it on being left-handed which, really, is a pretty bogus excuse. But hey, when left handed people write sort-of properly (OMG, have you seen Mr. Obama writing!?) then I'll hold my sticks the way an Asian would.
[for the record, I am left-handed, and I ignored the teachers trying to instruct me to turn the page through 90 degrees and write towards myself; I find it most comfortable at a 45 degree angle but I can write with the page/book upright and not drag my hand through the ink - not a lot of lefties can say that!]
And there's some other stuff: condiments, cooking mixtures, etc. But the point is it's all rather well organised for me. ☺
Japanese food in a cardboard box

 

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Rob, 17th May 2010, 00:30
You want slow? Stick a 1TB hard disc in a Sky HD box and get it 2/3 full ... then you'll see slow, trying to navigate the bloody awful GUI.. (Yet another moan - still nothing has managed to match the TiVo for functionality..) sigh. 
Cute - yep, think I'm on your side there.
Rick, 24th May 2010, 22:25
I must now stand up and say that I was WRONG about the video being blockier. I happened to have a recording of "The Messengers" as recorded by the older PVR, and as recorded by the OSD. Both had blocking in the motion (I was only using 1200 or 1500kbit on the OSD) however the OSD's output was actually a lot cleaner. I suspect my earlier perception of the OSD was because the recordings are sharper, which might tend to enhance the visual appearance of blocking. I've always thought the older PVR was a bit "fuzzy". 
At any rate, I was wrong. The OSD is better, and moreso because I have two or three higher quality levels still to go, should I feel the need!
Rick, 28th July 2010, 18:04
Just to point out, mom cuts the power to the house during thunderstorms. The OSD came back up, and recorded normally at the correct times. 
 
There are two caveats. Firstly, I don't think the OSD will try to begin to record if the start time has passed. Secondly, while MPEG4 video is flexible and supports streaming and such, it seems that PVRs need to write something to the start of the file at the end of recording. If this <whatever> is not written, the recording will be junk. I have not had any success in 'rescuing' a damaged recording. So a power failure while recording is in progress MAY leave you with a corrupt disc map, but it will certainly leave you with a useless file (even if 59m of an hour has been recorded...). 
 
These caveats are not specific to the OSD, just an issue of MPEG4 video recording. The OSD performs well, remembers the time, and unlike my older PVR does not have a concept of on or off (the power consumption is much the same in either case, so...) and as such it comes up ready for use, and ready to work in timed mode.

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