Friday 31 August 2012

Why I'm not recording the Paralympics

In case you're wondering why this is the first time I'm even mentioning the Paralympics, I should state here that I never intended to watch or record them and I'll explain my reasons for this.

Firstly, it may shock non-UK readers that the BBC, who did a pretty good job at broadcasting the main London 2012 Olympic Games, completely failed in their bidding for UK TV coverage of the Paralympics. Instead, the rights went to Channel 4, who - although they out-bid the BBC - are a much smaller broadcaster with far less sports broadcasting channels/facilities than the BBC.

So instead of some 30-odd BBC channels (all broadcast on Freesat and also Net-streamed - most of them in HD too) that we got for the main Olympics, we're down to something four for the Paralympics (Channel 4 HD plus it looks like 3 streamed - online only? - Paralympics channels). My suspicion is that Channel 4 HD will probably air a sport from one of the 3 streamed channels anyway, so if there's 4 or more sports on simultaneously, then obviously one or more can't be shown live.

Secondly - and I think this is atrocious for a major UK sporting event shown live in the UK - Channel 4 is a commercial channel that airs 3-4 advert breaks per hour. I think some of the live sport, with its potential to overrun, is not suitable for ad breaks because of the risk of missing some of the action. It was also a particular problem for the Paralympics Opening Ceremony which drew a lot of criticism from viewers because of the inevitable number of ad breaks that missed parts of the ceremony (since they weren't going to stop the ceremony cos of ad breaks!).

So to sum up - we've moved from something like 27 HD broadcast BBC channels for the main Olympics to just one (Channel 4 HD) for the Paralympics. That single channel is festooned with ad breaks that may miss out on some action and can be handled in its entirety by any HD hard disk recorder on the market, which is in no way the "recording challenge" that I had for the main Olympics. So to me, the Paralympics have sadly become a TV non-event and I won't be watching or recording them.

Friday 17 August 2012

Revo or Raspberry Pi - some cheap choices for XBMC playback

I've got a Revo 3600 and two Revo 3700s - they're great little lozenge-shaped boxes for use as a media centre. I wouldn't recommend them as your main PC though, but the specs for the successor to the Revo 3700 is pretty good.

That successor is the Revo RL70, which have been selling for a while now and is currently a stonking £171.08 with free delivery, though stocks will go fast at that price. It's using an AMD E450 with HD 6320 integrated graphics, both of which are different to the CPU/GPU in my Revos so I can't comment on whether that's better or worse really.

You get 4GB RAM, the awful Linpus Linux (replace this with Ubuntu+XBMC+tvheadend) and a good-sized 640GB HDD (rumour has it that some people have received 750GB HDDs when ordering the 640GB version!), so the specs are spot on for HD media centre use.

Considering there's an offer on for a Raspberry Pi for just £29.95 including free delivery until 20th August - put WEBFREE in the comment box when buying to get the free postage - I've been ruminating whether to buy one or not. A colleague has and he says it's good, plus I already have all the extra bits you have to get (SD card, USB phone charger, HDMI cable, USB keyboard/mouse, ethernet cable). As a replacement for the Revo for XBMC duties, I remain less convinced about the Pi because it doesn't have hardware acceleration for MPEG 2 (and presumably not for Divx/Xvid either) and it's only recently that's I've been downloading MPEG 4 content (which the Pi does have acceleration for).

I think that as for playback of 720p MPEG4 content, the Pi is a good choice, but I'm quite surprised that Farnell sell loads of accessories (including an overkill of a 23" monitor for £138 -  surely Pi buyers will already have an HDMI-equipped display?), but not the most desperately needed one: a bleeding case! It's the one major thing I don't like about the Pi - a case is considered an optional extra or even not sold at all. There's no way I would want to run a computer with the entire circuitry open to the elements and because of this, I'll wait for a model with a decent case (and maybe MPEG2 licensed...or a better CPU and/or GPU to decode it properly).

Sunday 12 August 2012

Day 19 - Time to bid London 2012 farewell

It's been a long slog, but we're approaching the finishing line today with effectively a half-day of sports to end my marathon recording sessions. The last daily recording figures are 10 channels, 11 sports and 18 slots totalling 53 hours and 25 minutes recording time, which means we say goodbye to channels 11 and 12 today. Despite the lightest day since we went to full days on 28th July, today's modern pentathlon still managed to break the earliest start time record held by hockey (08:20) by a full 30 minutes today with a painfully early 07:50 start time.

pc1 tuner 3 is managing to report "no signal" this morning for the first time, so I'm on 6 tuners for the final day. The last sports to start today are handball and basketball (both 14:50), but it's actually modern pentathlon that takes the honour of being the last sport to finish these Olympics (18:50). The closing ceremony runs from 20:50 to 00:25, though as I said yesterday, it bizarrely only runs on 1 of the 24 channels and without any commentary on that channel!

Anthony Joshua's boxing gold was a close fought effort that brought us a 29th gold and 64th medal in all. It also gives us a 5 gold lead to the Russian Federation with only a few golds left to be awarded, so confirms that GB will finish 3rd place in the medal table.

We've now discovered what they're showing on the unused channels through to tomorrow - a "Thank you for watching" caption at the top, a sunset picture in the middle and a "Relive the Olympics at" caption at the bottom. How long you'll be allowed to relive the Olympics due to rights issues is up to debate though :-)

One minor snafu with the "Thank you for watching" caption is that once the basketball final slot finished at 17:50 on BBC Olympics 1 HD, they put that caption on for the next 3 hours on that channel. Bzzt! The Now/Next info indicated the "London 2012 Closing Ceremony" was to air at 20:50 on that channel, so we have more watching to do and don't need thanking on that channel quite yet :-)

I also spotted several closing credits airing today as each sat channel finished its broadcasting for the Games. It was accompanied by an Irish-sounding folky number that almost sounded like it was saying "that Ireland is my home", whereas I think it was supposed to say "that island is my home". Very confusing!

Samantha Murray's silver in the women's modern pentathlon - pipping Australia's 16 silvers at the last gasp - completed our medal haul in London 2012. It's a shame that terrestrial BBC missed Murray's medal ceremony live, instead having a recorded piece about the closing ceremony. When they did show it on BBC One HD, they never admitted it wasn't live either, which was a little naughty and sad to see as the last sport-related live Olympics terrestrial footage was tinged with a bit of sneaky recording.

We finished with 29 golds (3rd), 17 silvers (5th) and 19 bronzes (4th) for a total of 65 medals (4th). One minor trivia point: the country with the most bronzes (the Russian Federation with 33) wasn't in the top three of the medal table, which can't have happened very often in past Olympics.

I've been busy tonight reconfiguring pc2 back to how it was pre-Olympics and here's the differences:
  • Once the closing ceremony has finished and transmedia has moved it to HDD, then transmedia will be disabled permanently. Recordings will be directly to SSD and watched/deleted before the 200GB buffer fills - anything to be kept will be manually copied off SSD to HDD and then deleted from SSD.
  • Recording config will be changed to 2 mins pre-padding, 5 mins post-padding and recording programmes in a flat dir, rather than sub-dirs for the date and channel.
  • All 24 BBC Olympics HD channels will removed and all Astra transponders added (I'd limited them to the 6 Olympics transponders and the pre-Olympics BBC HD transponder).
  • My favourite HD channels will be added to the sat config and similarly SD channels will be added to the terrestrial config.
  • Olympics automatic recording strings will be removed and my normal favourite programme titles will be added instead.
  • Suspend-if-idle cron job will be re-enabled so that pc2 will wake either 15 mins before a recording is due to start or if it receives a Wake On LAN, whichever comes first. It will suspend 15 mins after a recording ends, providing no-one is interactively logged in, neither Revo is on the network and there isn't another recording starting in the next 15 mins.
pc1 will return to being a "serious" CentOS 6.3 desktop, with revo1 still initially being used, albeit to view pc2's recordings instead of pc1's (which will no longer record anything). I may eliminate revo1 and revo2 by using VMs with Ubuntu+XBMC on pc1 and pc2 in the future, though this may mean firing up the Ubuntu desktop on pc2 (which currently is in text console mode).

Predictably, the closing ceremony programme on BBC One HD overran by 45 minutes (more than twice as long an overrun as the opening ceremony!) - why can't they time these things a bit better? As I said though, BBC Olympics 1 HD had it right - its slot ended at 00:25 i.e. with 10 minutes to spare. That's the end of my Olympics recording then and I managed just under 15TB of recording during the 19 days - enough to fill roughly 5 of the 3TB drives I have.

 Day 19 recording size: 429GB - grand total: 14940GB (14.6TB)

Saturday 11 August 2012

Day 18 - Final weekend begins

Unusually, the penultimate day of the Olympics sees a slight rise in recording time compared to the falling times we've seen this week. 12 channels, 15 sports and 30 slots will total 95 hours and 10 minutes recording time and it's the last full day because tomorrow evening is dominated by the closing ceremony of course. This means we say goodbye to channel 13, which now has the usual "coverage has now concluded" message on its Now/Next data. pc1 tuner 3 seems to have revived itself today, so I've put the transponders back on it again.

In case you're wondering about disk space issues, it's looking fine - there's 1.4TB free on pc1 and 1.6TB free on pc2 which is no problem because recording is now under 400GB per day per PC. Today, I'll start preparing to turn pc2 back into recording my "normal" schedule from Monday onwards - remember that pc1 won't be recording post-Olympics because that will mostly be booted into my "serious" desktop (CentOS 6.3) that won't have tvheadend or XBMC (though I may run a VM with Ubuntu 12.04 for XBMC pointing to a second display - the 50" plasma).

I actually missed Ed McKeever's 200m kayak gold (but I did record it of course), making it our 26th gold and 59 medals in all. Although we have a lead of 10 golds over the Russian Federation, I think the Russians have an unassailable lead of 6 medals in total, placing them a solid 3rd in the fictional "sorted by total" medals table.

I was just looking at's schedules for the 24 channels for the next few days and noticed a couple of unusual things. Firstly, not only is the closing ceremony tomorrow only on channel 1, but it's broadcast on that channel without any commentary! This seems a poor decision because whilst BBC One HD will have commentary on its airing, that is scheduled to finish at 11.30pm, whereas BBC Olympics 1 HD will finish at 12.25am.

Now it might be 55 minutes of video of people leaving the stadium, but would it really kill the BBC to put a commentary version on BBC Olympics 2 HD as well? They did for the opening ceremony after all! Also, why are channels 1-24 actually broadcasting all day on Monday after the Olympics have finished and what will they broadcast? It can't be timetable video, because that's finished too :-)

An excellent 5000m run from Mo Farah meant he's now won both the 5000m and 10000m gold medal in the same Olympics, which is very hard to do because of the recovery time you need. Although it was a slow race, Farah positioned himself superbly in the final 2 laps to win GB's 27th gold medal and 60th medal in total. Note that the Russian Federation have closed the gap to GB to 6 golds and have beaten us to 3rd place on overall medals (their lead of 17 can't be overtaken).

Luke Campbell's win in the boxing was our 28th gold and 61st medal overall, although it was missed on BBC One HD thanks to the usual annoying athletics waffle. BBC One HD played it back in full recorded, but never admitted it wasn't live though! At least we now have a gap of 7 golds to the Russian Federation, which should just about be enough to keep us third in the medal table at the end of the Olympics.

Oh and well done to the USA for making it 100 medals in total today, not that anyone but you takes any notice whatsoever of that metric.

 Day 18 recording size: 635GB - grand total so far: 14511GB (14.2TB)

Friday 10 August 2012

Day 17 - And now a late athletics start

There's usually been both a morning and afternoon athletics session, but today sees the first time where there's only an evening session with tonight's events starting at 18:50. It's also the first full day to dip below 100 hours recording time, with the today's figures reading 13 channels, 17 sports and 29 slots totalling 93 hours and 1 minute of recording time.

Note that yesterday's sailing that was abandoned yesterday because of no wind will take place today instead. I wonder what happens if there's no wind for the next 3 days though - is there any contingency plan to cope with this? Race with no wind or maybe award medals without a medal race?

I've been doubling up on recordings at the start of each day until tuner allocation eventually means I have to stop some or all of the double-ups. It's quite a good way of making sure that that the first few hours of recording won't be lost because of tuner issues (which always seem to happen in the first few hours of the recording day). Yep, just had another tuner issue this morning - pc1 tuner 3 showing "constant FEC" now and I've taken the transponders off it :-(

Although this brings me down to 6 working tuners again, it's not a major issue bcause we're down to 13 out of the 24 channels broadcasting and I can still do some double-ups. I think once the Olympics are over, I will temporarily try some other software (probably in Windows to eliminate tuner driver issues) and if that shows problems with the tuners too, then I'll have to RMA one or both of the sat cards (ideally one at a time, so I'm not left sat-less of course).

I thought Rudisha's 800m world record would be the best athletics performance of these Olympics, but the USA utterly smashing the women's 4x100m world record has actually surpassed it. The old world record of 41.37 was set 27 years ago by the German Democratic Republic and no-one has come close to it since the USA got to within 0.10s almost exactly 15 years ago. Tonight saw a stunning time of 40.82 - a massive 0.55 seconds (1.33%) better! Rudisha's world record was only 0.10 seconds (0.10%) better.

Terrestrial BBC dropped the athletics like a hot potato as soon as the last track event had finished as usual and it was back to BBC Olympics 1 HD for me again. Terrestrial viewers didn't get to see the women's 4x100m medal ceremony, some interviews or the end of the men's pole vault (though it was already won by the time they left).
Day 17 recording size: 535GB - grand total so far: 13876GB (13.6TB)

Thursday 9 August 2012

Day 16 - Early start for athletics

It did surprise me that whilst athletics has gone beyond 22:00 most of the evenings (and terrestrial BBC abandoned it over 30 minutes early last night), the schedule only had 3 of its 10 morning sessions before 09:50! At least today, we see athletics TV coverage start at 08:50 for the decathlon 110m hurdles, though with no Brit in it, don't expect terrestrial BBC to bother covering it.

Take a pity on the hockey players though - their coverage started at 08:25 most days and the evening sessions often finished at 22:45. In terms of the coverage span, that's far longer than any other sport in this Olympics, especially since they were playing every day between 29th July and 11th August inclusive.

Yet again we see more records for the lightest full day, this time with 13 channels, 19 sports and 33 slots totalling 107 hours and 5 minutes recording time. It's obvious why this is happening - we're reaching semis and finals (or the ending) of many competitions now, so there's just simply less sport to go around. Having said that, with only 4 days to go, there's still three sports yet to make their appearance: rhythmic gymnastics (today), mountain bike cycling (Saturday) and modern pentathlon (Saturday).

A second GB dressage gold (and a dressage bronze) today for a "posh" sport that really is quite a bizarre part of horse riding competition if you ask me. Our 23rd gold - a lead of 11 golds over South Korea - and 49th and 50th medals in total. More impressive was the first ever Olympic gold medal awarded for a women's boxing final  - GB's Nicola Evans won it, making it our 24th gold and 51st medal overall.

I kept getting fresh Now/Next events for sailing today - it turns out there wasn't enough wind and they kept delaying the event start several times. Strangely, the fresh events overlapped the previous ones by up to an hour, so I was often recording twice on a PC...and it was all timetable video anyway :-)

A BBC Sport article posed the interesting question "who is the greatest 800m runner ever?". The obvious answer might be the current world record holder David Rudisha, who seems to pack the upper eschelons of a handy all-time 800m table the article links to. But what about Wilson Kipketer who has similar number of appearances in the all-time fastest times (and set his world record 13 years before Rudisha and only 0.10 secs slower than Rudisha's best to date) and even Sebastian Coe, who held his 800m world record for an impressive 16 years?

Perhaps the most remarkable athletics current world record though is Flo-Jo's 100m time of 10.49 seconds set 24 years ago and only Carmelita Jeter's 10.64 nearly 3 years ago has come anywhere near to it since it was set in 1988. One weird thing about that all-time list is that Flo-Jo set 4 of the 7 fastest 100m times in history (and the top 3 of all time) in July-September 1988 and has no other times in the top 100 of all time! No, I'm not counting the women's 400m/800m long-lasting world records because they are "dubious" in my books.

BBC's disgustingly shabby treatment of the decathlon continued again tonight - the athletics started on BBC Olympics 1 HD with the decathlon javelin and not only wasn't there any terrestrial live coverage, there was no commentator on the sat channel either and, to round it off, the Cuban Leonel Suarez threw the longest decathlon javelin in the history of the Olympic Games (76.94m) and yet not one word was said live about it on the BBC on any channel. Never mind it was more than 10m further than anyone else in the Cuban's throwing pool.

I think the BBC should be heavily criticised for its poor decathlon coverage. Yes, there's no GB equivalent of Jessica Ennis, but that's no excuse for having virtually no terrestrial live coverage of it and also only showing the leader's attempts (Eaton inevitably) some time later. If it wasn't for the 24 sat channels, we'd have barely known it was even taking place!

The lack of commentary for some of the sports on the 24 sat channels (I've seen it in many tennis matches and now in the athletics would you believe it) is frankly inexcusable. You can blame cutbacks all you want, but you've probably had a year or more to mull over the Olympics schedules and at least hire some half-decent commentators as cover for a few weeks. I suspect NBC probably had US commentators for every one of the sports they broadcast, so why can't the BBC on behalf of the host nation?

Update: 22 minutes of athletics coverage tonight before someone (Cram) popped up to commentate at long last...and it wasn't for the decathlon unsurprisingly. It was for a medal ceremony and then Cram just went silent again...oh, that's right, we're back to the decathlon in the pictures now...not worth commentating on again then. Geez!! Now I can hear Cram talking to his production staff via a pick-up on his mike. WTF is going on?!

We have a commentator, we have live athletics pictures of the Olympics decathlon beaming to millions of viewers and yet there's no commentary for about 35 minutes so far and counting - very unprofessional of the BBC, IMHO. Cram obviously got bored, because the next medal ceremony (for the women's 200m) finally woke up a colleague - Stuart Storey I think - to commentate at 19:11, which probably meant somewhere around 40 minutes of comms silence in all). Why go to the effort of broadcasting two sat/cable channels (SD and HD) of live athletics and have no commentator for a lengthy period on them?

Well, Storey lasted for about 60 seconds of comms then and I was straining to hear the PA announce the triple jumpers - no BBC comms remember - only for the camera to ludicrously pan away to Bolt in the warm-up area for 15 seconds to watch him (and massively quieten the volume) and then back again. I can't believe how rubbish this BBC coverage is prior to any track events starting - they have their priorities so screwed up :-( Cram returned only when BBC One HD turned up at 19:27, which I make about 55 minutes of comms silence in the first hour of athletics tonight, which is simply wretched.

My favourite dictionary, Chambers, has this definition of the word "semifinal":

semifinal noun in competitions, sports tournaments, etc: either of two matches, the winners of which play each other in the final.

So why do many athletics track events have 3 semifinal races then? Shouldn't they be "trifinals" or some other such word that means a 3-heat contest? It's been bugging me for years and years ever since they introduced 3-heat semis - it's grammatically incorrect, so fix it, IAAF!

Well, forget Bolt, David Rudisha's 800m was simply stunning front-running resulting in the first sub-101 seconds 800m ever (1 min 40.91 secs). Unless Bolt breaks the 200m WR, this will be the athletics performance of the Olympics, IMHO. Perhaps this does make Rudisha the greatest 800m runner ever after all?

Although Bolt became the first man to defend an Olympic 200m title, his time was actually slightly disappointing - 19.32 didn't even beat his own 4-year-old Olympic record of 19.30! Bolt didn't seem to run fully through the line, which might have had made his performance at least record-breaking.

Predictably, BBC One HD gave up on athletics at 21:22 tonight, probably something like an hour before two events, the decathlon and the women's javelin final, had been completed. BBC Olympics 1 HD to the rescue as usual - which actually had commentary for a replay for Suarez' record decathlon javelin throw (which was missing when shown live earlier), not that Storey actually bothered mentioning the Olympic record, ho hum.

It seems to me that TV is missing an obvious trick in decathlon coverage - display the leader's points total during events. For example, the final 1500m race should start at the points total if Eaton finished at 0.00 (e.g. 10,000 points or whatever) and then the points should count down on the screen as the race progresses. In the final straight, put up the OR and WR points figures to beat. A genius idea from me - I should tell the BBC!

I don't understand Taekwondo much and can't even tell when points are scored for kicking the opponent, but who cares when Jade Jones won the 25th GB gold medal? This gives us a 13 gold lead over the Russian Federation, who have indeed sneaked into 4th place in the medal table today and have actually won 5 more medals than GB to date.

 Day 16 recording size: 707GB - grand total so far: 13351GB (13.0TB)

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Day 15 - Two more channels bite the dust

As the schedule gets lighter each day, I've now come to the point where I can increase the pre/post padding for each recording slot, so these have been set to 5 and 10 minutes respectively. I doubt I'll increase the pre-padding any more because it's mainly time for me to re-jig which PC records a programme if the tuner allocation needs any doubling up added or removed.

Yet another lightest full day so far sees me using 12 channels, 16 sports and 31 slots totalling 112 hours and 35 minutes of recording time. Channels 14 and 15 have the "we're done" EIT text on them now, but note that although channel 13 isn't used today, it is used on both Thursday and Friday.

Only 10 channels are going to be used on the final day - Sunday - and only one of those is allocated to the closing ceremony, which is a little surprising (think normal, no commentary and 3D - that's 3 versions right there!). It did make me think though - was there any 3D coverage on the 24 channels?

I know that BBC HD does a 3D one hour highlights programme daily and also had some selected 3D events (opening ceremony, men's 100m etc), but considering that most days, there was often 1 or 2 spare channels of the 24 available, why weren't those used for live 3D coverage? Heck, we've almost got enough spare now to simulcast all the 2D coverage in 3D!

I guess the BBC simply didn't have many 3D cameras available at the venues - "cutbacks" will be the excuse as usual. At least put them in the swimming arena and move them to the athletics stadium once the swimming is done if you really can't afford to cover two events with 3D cameras.

There's a bit of minor exciting news with the Revo software updates as both an Nvidia graphics driver update and an XBMC update (from Pulse-Eight) came through. The previous XBMC would hang if I tried to select a Live TV channel that couldn't be tuned into (because all the tuners were busy and the channel was on a fresh transponder) and it had to be "kill -9"'-ed from a terminal to stop it. We'll see later today if this has been fixed.

I just downloaded XBMC for Android, which was a 20th July build of an actual XBMC client (not just a remote control app). Sadly, like the official XBMC for Ubuntu, it's completely missing the TV functionality that I consider crucial for a full media centre experience. I put it on the Nexus 7 tablet I have and noticed that it claims the screen resolution is 1280x736, but then I realised that the standard Android soft buttons at the bottom of the screen suck up 64 pixels of their own.

The Android XBMC is based on a dev version of the forthcoming XBMC 12 and they've added one welcome relief to my ears - the ability to turn off all the GUI sound effects, which is something I do in every single OS I've ever installed. The only time audio should be heard is in games or playing music or videos - at all other times, I expect any computer I have to remain absolutely silent. It's slightly different with mobile phones of course - you want a short noise for SMS'es and obviously a ringtone (I have the UFO theme tune on my work HTC Desire).

BBC One HD abandoned their athletics coverage - and I couldn't find it on any other terrestrial channel either - at around 9.30pm tonight, despite there being some interviews, all the heats of the 400m in the decathlon, javelin qualifying involving a Brit and also a world champion - both of whom failed to qualify for the final - and some medal ceremonies. I wonder how many other times terrestrial coverage of athletics in the evening has missed out on over half an hour of it like it did tonight?

BBC Olympics 1 HD to the rescue for the "missing" athletics tonight of course - though it's a mystery why half the people with evening athletics tickets left after the women's 200m final despite two more events being scheduled after that race. Yep, somewhat embarassingly, there were a lot of empty seats in the stadium as the coverage continued on channel 1. Even the scoreboard/PA was urging people to make a noise for a javelin thrower (not a Brit) due to the depleted audience!

Am I the only one who's noticed that the Russian Federation have been sneaking up the medal table this week? One more gold and they'll actually take 4th place over from South Korea. The Russians have now also managed to exceed our total medal haul (they have 52, we have 48), but as I've said before no-one but the USA cares about that.

 Day 15 recording size: 687GB - grand total so far: 12644GB (12.3TB)