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All posts for the month October, 2014

Mad Men after hours

Relax like Dick Whitman

In the last post, I mentioned listening to movie sound in the kitchen, using the wifi-connected Roku 3 remote as input to a table radio. It’s soothing listening sometimes. (A friend of mine put “Office Space” on repeat for 3 solid days as a background to packing for a move.)

Do you like movie and TV soundtracks? Do you like free things? Then here is the website for you:

Download-soundtracks.com

I don’t know how they manage to do it (in more ways than one), but new downloadable movie soundtracks are posted almost every day. The tracks are typically at a bitrate of 320 kbps, which is the Amazon standard for their downloads.

Pay attention to what you are clicking when downloading, no need to register for anything, no special “downloaders” or anything else needed.

Here are some of my finds:

The Andromeda Strain (Gil Mellé)
At The Movies (Keith Emerson)
Boardwalk Empire (Music From The HBO Original Series)
Cool Hand Luke (Lalo Schifrin)
The Descendants (Hawaiian music)
Eyes Wide Shut
From Russia with Love
House Of Cards
The Inferno Music Crypt Presents Return Of The Living Dead – Trioxin Mayhem Edition Soundtrack
Jerry Goldsmith – 40 Years in film music
The Keep (Tangerine Dream)
Lolita (Nelson Riddle)
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Goldsmith, et al)
The Outer Limits (Dominic Frontiere)
The Party (Henry Mancini)
Quatermass (Tristam Cary)
Risky Business
Six Feet Under
Superman: The Animated Series
The Terminator [The Definitive Edition]
Videodrome (Howard Shore)
Weeds

Great way to build your Plex music library for the home theater, among other rooms.

xxx

A view from kitchen to den to theater room

Foreground: a Tivoli Model One AM/FM table radio in our kitchen. Attached to its external input is the remote for the Roku 3 in the theater room (background).

Midground: our den TV playing the 007 movie “Never Say Never Again” (.mp4) on a 1st generation Roku box set on the Plex Channel, which is pulling the movie over wifi from a computer in our office.

Background: our theater room TV playing the same movie over Powerline from the same computer on a Roku 3 (3rd generation), which is transmitting the sound to its remote.

Not seen: In the bedroom, another Roku is playing the same movie from the same computer over wifi.

What you would hear in the kitchen is the radio playing the sound from the theater room. It feels a lot like being at the drive-in.

This particular setup has little practical value unless you really like to listen to movie sound in the kitchen (it’s not bad). But the Roku 3 can also play Pandora, TuneIn radio, or SomaFM radio, which is of value in the kitchen. Furthermore, you can pause either movie or radio from the remote attached to the radio.

In my previous post, I had railed against the Roku 3’s introduction of a new source of wifi interference (“Wi-Fi Direct”) on the same channel as our router, and even tried to put a tinfoil hat on it to block its radio emissions. I have since realized that Roku 3 isn’t significantly stepping on the toes of our wireless router, despite being on the same frequency.

X10 Video Sender

X10 Video Sender (analog)

I became sensitized to this potential issue when I previously discovered that our X10 video sender, broadcasting on the same 2.4 GHz band as 802.11b/g wifi, squashed any wifi signals unfortunate enough to be on or near the same frequency.

The Roku 3 is not obtrusive like the lead-footed X10 sender. There are people writing on the Roku Forum who say their wifi was squashed by the Roku 3 (bad previous software update relating to screencast?), but not me.

Reading taken near the other Roku in our den before tinfoil hat...

Wifi Analyzer “waves” depict channel spread and signal strength of nearby wifi routers.

My mistake was analog thinking in a digital setting. The X10 sender IS analog, and emits energy continuously on its frequency.

Despite the Wifi Analyzer’s graphic that visually lulls you into thinking analog carrier wave, the Roku’s built-in software access point (AP) is only periodically sending out small ID and keep-alive packets on the channel unless it is actively sending content. Even then, there are large, i.e., multi-microsecond gaps between most competing packets.

I have had an occasional issue with jerky playback of .mkv files ripped from DVDs by MakeMKV software. It happens when I use Plex Media Server to transcode them on the fly and send them over wifi to 1st generation Roku boxes. (Of course, by using 802.11g wifi, I am not even up to Plex’s minimum recommended configuration, so that may be a big factor.)

Anyway, I saw that issue recur, noted the high signal strength of the Roku’s AP, read about the problems others were experiencing, then freaked out and presumed Roku 3 was the culprit. It isn’t. As I just proved to myself, two simultaneous video streams (first of “Fawlty Towers” and “The Swimmer” in .mkv, then 007 in .mp4) over our wireless network behave the same way whether Roku 3 is plugged in and transmitting audio or not. (Audio has a much lower bandwidth than video.)

So now I am free to enjoy the Roku 3’s Wi-Fi Direct features.

Being able to plug into the remote (which cuts the sound in the theater room) lets you either listen to the sound privately on headphones, even outside your house, do as I did with the kitchen radio, or plug it into a boombox in the workout room.

You can use the Roku app on your smartphone to stream a slide show of your phone photos to the big screen. You can also use it to stream any sound files on your phone to the big sound system. You can even do both at the same time.

The Roku 3 I bought was refurbished and at a reduced price. I found that the sound was intermittent when I plugged headphones into the Roku remote. But I was able to fix that by spraying a shot of QD Electronic Cleaner (like WD-40 for radios and TVs) into the jack and onto the plug. Handy stuff to have around for scratchy volume controls and tuning knobs, too.

The tinfoil hat wasn’t as becoming as I thought, anyway.

I made a tinfoil hat for my Roku 3...

It’s very attractive, though.

I still haven’t gotten around to having our house wired for internet. But I wanted to see how much a wired Ethernet connection (vs. wifi) would improve the performance of a Roku box.

I found a refurbished Roku 3 on sale at Woot! and picked one up. This is the top of their line, but the reason I wanted it was for the wired Ethernet connection (and a 5x faster processor). I connected it to a Windows 7 computer by gigabit switch.

The Roku 3 also boasts a remote with headphone jack for private listening, and direct cast to TV from the Roku app on your smartphone. These features were the source of a ridiculous problem. Ridiculous, because it never should have gotten out of the lab this way.

Reading taken near the other Roku in our den before tinfoil hat...

Roku 3 interferes mightily on channel 11 before tinfoil hat…

I noticed on my Wifi Analyzer app that there was a new item on our current wifi channel 11: the Roku itself. It was broadcasting on our channel, jamming it, resulting in degraded wifi performance. (see the next post for a correction to this.)

No need for any transmission at all since my connection is wired (unless you want to use the direct cast feature or headphone attached to the remote). But it turned out that I couldn’t shut wifi off. In fact the only way to stop it was to unplug the Roku 3.

I did some Googling and found that others discovered this, too. The best and most current thread is this one from Roku Forums:

Yet another Wi-Fi Direct is jamming my home network thread 

No workaround has yet been found besides a “Faraday cage”. This consists of blocking the transmission with a metal screen. Aluminum foil was mentioned as working for one poster.

After tinfoil hat.

Roku 3 still interferes on channel 11 after tinfoil hat.

So I tried it. I covered up everything I could, leaving the wires sticking out the back and a little hole for the infrared port.

As you can see at left, the Roku’s own wifi was attenuated somewhat, but not enough to stop it from interfering. (The readings were taken beside an older Roku box in the den.)

I think I will go back to the Roku LT until Roku pushes out a software or firmware update to let you turn off wifi.

Roku probably should have used Bluetooth to implement these features. Or, considering how cluttered the 2.4GHz band is, they probably should have just left the features out, or made them work only on the 5 GHz band.

(By the way, the Roku 3 on wired Ethernet connection worked well. I was trying a semi-competitor to Plex, called Media Browser. MB was able to play a Windows TV (.wtv) recording smoothly, once the puny Celeron processor in my mom’s old Win 7 computer transcoded and buffered enough of the file for it to get started.)

Bulletin for all cranks: you are going to have to do better than a tinfoil hat if you want to keep the NSA from monitoring your mind.

(See the next post for a retraction of the comments about my degraded wifi performance. But I still wish there were a capability to turn off Roku 3’s wifi.)

cablecostgraph

Tulsa analog cable charge per month, 1975-2014

(1/29/2016 note: This price analysis considered only analog cable, which became history 8/2015. That was the only way to meaningfully compare prices over the years since 1975. More recent features as HD, DVR service, extra tiers of channels, phone service, security, etc. add considerably to the cable bill.)

2/1975 – $  5.95/mo
3/1986 – $10.60/mo
4/1995 – $21.00/mo
3/2008 – $44.00/mo
9/2014 – $68.00/mo

The first four data points I gleaned from published articles. The fifth I took from my current bill:

$68/mo = $71/mo for “TV Starter”, “Expanded Service”, and “Advanced TV Service” minus $3/mo to remove “Advanced TV”.

(FYI: The $68 does not include TV fees, taxes and surcharges of $6.33/mo over and above. Advanced TV is required for HD, and required for DVR service, which costs $12/mo more plus a cable box/DVR at $8.50/mo. Advanced TV also adds the Music Choice channels.)

From 1975 to 2014, that’s an increase of over 1000% (not counting inflation).


It’s hard to compare the years apples-to-apples, even when considering only analog service as I do here.

In 1975, the service was in its infancy. There were 24 channels, a number of which were static text displays.

In 1986, Tulsa Cable offered only “basic” service, channels 2-37, less at least 4 pay channels. But the basic channels were, as a group, much higher quality than 1975.

The 1995, 2008 and 2014 figures are for “extended basic” analog cable, roughly channels 2-63, less the pay channels.


Let’s consider only 1995-2014, years in which the meaning of  “extended basic” remains roughly the same, so that we CAN compare apples-to-apples. You see a 224% increase over that period. That’s a whole lot.

What are some of the mitigating factors from the cable company’s point of view?

Inflation is the obvious one. Using a CPI calculator for 1995-2014, I get a 56% increase over the period. That is, $21 in 1995 is equivalent to $32.77 in 2014. From $32.77 to $68 is a 108% increase over those 20 years, inflation-adjusted.

Other factors would include increasing programming costs, carriage disputes, system upgrades, e.g., digital, HD, fiber optics.

But 108% increase, inflation-adjusted? Wow. That’s an average of almost 4% per year increase on top of inflation. And it is expected to continue. (FCC: Basic Cable Prices Increased At Four Times Rate Of Inflation, Consumerist, 5/19/2014)


We as customers care mainly about the number on that monthly bill.

Seeing it almost double every decade (and that’s not even considering bundled phone, internet, and security) will eventually bring out the cord-cutter in everyone.


The value of cable/satellite service is relative to the free broadcasting available to you in any given year.

In 1975, that consisted of 4 analog channels. In 2014, the number of subchannels over the air approaches 30 (many of them HD), not even including all the full-time religious and shopping channels.

I found that we spend well over 90% of our viewing time on the major networks, subchannels (such as MeTV), and pay streaming services Netflix and Amazon.


Is it worth paying a minimum of $68/mo (analog-only, which very few customers do) for those channels that cable offers above and beyond broadcast TV?

  • Are you addicted to channel surfing?
  • Can you handle a less user-friendly system than the more integrated cable/satellite solutions?
  • Do you have the wherewithal to put up an antenna and hook up a Tivo or other DVR system?
  • Can you stand not participating in day-after water cooler conversations about “Breaking Bad”?
  • Do you have the time and energy to change over to broadcast/streaming?
  • If not, do you have the money to spare?

(Later note: we found that by answering the third question “yes”, the TiVo Roamio mitigated the first two questions.)

Only you can answer these questions. They’re not easy for most people. But if the curve continues to bend upwards, as is likely, there will be increasing economic pressure to seriously consider them.

I’m reminded again of a line from the 60s movie I mentioned previously, “Let’s Kill Uncle“:

(Uncle to nephew) “You’re a charming child, Barnaby, but five million dollars charming, you are not!”

Produced after hours at Tempo Television in Tulsa, circa 1986. Dave McFadden was inspired by the then-relatively new Weather Channel. Keeps the viewer up-to-date on the latest time readings reported across the USA.

I wonder how many people saw this in the 1980s?

There have been several subsequent take-offs on Dave’s idea. Here’s one from “On The Television” (1990):