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Is YouView for You?

July 26th, 2012 7 comments

What is YouView?


Wikipedia has an entry on YouView of course, so you can read all about it there, but the long and short of it is:

There was something called Project Kangaroo, which proposed video-on-demand platform offering content from BBC Worldwide, ITV.com and Channel 4′s 4oD that failed on competition grounds. From this Project Canvas was created (whilst Kangaroo turned into SeeSaw) with the same idea of offering on-demand services, internet content, TV and radio (Freeview) all from a set-top box. This venture is a partnership between four broadcasters (BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5 and ITV) and three communications companies (Arqiva, BT and TalkTalk) and was renamed YouView.

YouView has been Launched!

It was ‘soft’ launched on 4th July 2012, with Humax YouView boxes being shipped out to 2000 trialists or so across the country. Today, 26th July, the Humax YouView boxes are available to buy directly from Humax and from other retailers – just a day before the opening ceremony of the London Olympics!

Is YouView for You?

Is the question of this blog post in which I will attempt to answer, and to do so I will have to nail what this YouView box essentially is. So what is it?

It is essentially a box that allows you to watch the contents offered by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five. You can do this already using various devices that can connect to the internet and access iPlayer, ITVplayer, 4OD and Demand5. However, YouView integrates this with live broadcasts viewing and recording from Freeview. No STB on the market at the moment currently offers you this facility. If you had a computer with a Freeview tuner (with recording facility) and internet access to the OD services, then you could say this is what YouView offers.

The question ‘Is the YouView content worth an extra £50′ has been asked in the forums (here), and this question supposes that the YouView box is just a Humax HDR FOX T2 with the added OD content access. My answer to this question is ‘yes’ if the PVR facilities of this YouView box is the same as the FOX T2. But of course, the YouView box’s Freeview recording facilities and features are not going to be anywhere as rich as they are on the FOX T2 – a quick read of the DTR-T1000 FAQ’s will reveal this!

So who is YouView for?

I would say it would be perfect for people who (1) do not have a Freeview recorder, and (2) have no means of accessing OD content otherwise (e.g. via a computer or a smart TV) and would like to record their TV programmes and catch-up on those they’ve missed, and (3) for those (parents and grandparents) who are less technically capable of doing this by other means.

Conclusion

If you currently watch a lot of OD content, say from iPlayer, or from the other major broadcasters, and would like to be able to do this in the lounge on your big TV screen and Series Record your regular soaps and other programmes on Freeview, and don’t want to mess about with computer set-ups, then this is the box for you. It is also a box to purchase for your elderly relatives – you just set it up once, show then how to use it and it should be ‘support’ free.

I am sure the box and service won’t be perfect at launch but hopefully, because Humax are involved, then bugs will get fixed and new services will be added and improved.

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The Humax HD-FOX T2

December 16th, 2011 16 comments

Here are three things you might not know about this box:

  1. Did you know that this Freeview HD (PVR ready – add a USB hard disk and record) receiver is coming up to its 3rd Birthday?
  2. You can get this box from Humax Direct for £65 (‘grade A’ with 1 year warranty)? (Or for £105 brand new with 2 years warranty?)
  3. You can stream all (SD and HD) recordings from your HDR-FOX T2 PVR (or any other media servers) onto this box?

Yes, this is amazing! and in this post I will be taking you from unboxing and setting this box up for recording, streaming and using its TV Portal!

Three years old next February

Well, this little gem of a box was released in February 2009 as the BBC started broadcasting Freeview HD on some UK terrestial transmitters. Now there are many manufacturers with Freeview HD receivers and at cheaper prices, but none can beat this box for features and picture quality.

£65 from Humax Direct

You can get a ‘graded’ HD-FOX T2 from Humax Direct for just £65 now. A graded box is a returned box that’s tested, checked and readied for re-sale, but Humax Direct will put a 1 year warranty on it. (There’s £6 for delivery, but you can choose which day for it to get delivered.)

My HD-FOX T2, itself, came in perfect condition – the only sign that it was a graded box was the containing box – it was a bit battered.

Unboxing the HD-FOX T2

As you would expect all the items you need is in the package. A quick start guide and user manual, remote and batteries, HDMI and SCART leads, as well as the HD receiver. The receiver is the same small and compact size as the other Humax HD receiver – mainly the FOXSAT-HD. It has an internal power supply, and looks exactly like the picture!

One thing to notice straight away is the LEDs on the front – they are very bright!

Setting Up

After connecting the right cable to the right connections, e.g. HDMI to HDMI, or SCART to SCART, on the TV, and connect your aerial to the aerial in – you are ready to power up the box. The graded box should have been sold to you set with a factory reset start up. So when you power up the box connected to the TV you should be start the installation screen. Follow this through, from choosing language and screen options to channel tuning.

Weak Signals

The setup takes you through an auto channel tune. If you live in an area with multiple transmitters, you are better off cancelling this auto process, and perform a manual channel tune. I live in such an area, and went through the autotune to my confusion, I got really bad reception on the channels discovered and thought the box was faulty! A call to Humax Support, sorted this out, and I got an email of instructions to manual tune.

You can always check transmitter via digital uk website: http://www.digitaluk.co.uk/. On the right – enter postcode and house number and tick ‘I am in the aerial installation trade’. This should give you a list of transmitters for your locale. Then you can look up the channels to use to manual tune.

I had to use channel 57 in my manual tune to get the HD channels. Once manual tuning was done, all my channels were 75%+ power and 100% quality and there were no drop outs due to weak signals.

Attaching a USB Hard Drive

The HD-FOX T2 was able to record to an attached USB drive since the v1.01.12 firmware update (see updates here). My box came with version 16 of its firmware and could record on to a USB drive if it was the right size and formated to EXT3.

Attach any USB drive and you are able to read and playback supported media files, but attach the right size and formatted drive you are able to set timers or make an instant recording of the channel you are watching.

Initially, I attached a 4GB USB stick, but that did not work (although it attempted to assign it as a recording disk after formatting, it refused to record on to it.) The mystery was revealled when I attached a bigger drive to the USB port and proceeded to format it and set it up as the recording HDD.

To record, the HD-FOX T2 needs a disk big enough to reserve 20GB of it for recording/buffering purposes. So an external USB HDD that is double that – say at least 40GB should work. I attached an 80GB HDD in place of my 4GB USB stick and it formats and records just fine.

Test the newly formatted and assigned HDD by performing an instant record – press the record button.

After a minute or so you can go into Media, and see the recording appearing there:

Half a HDR-FOX T2

Now with an attached USB drive to the HD-FOX T2, you’ve got yourself a single tuner Humax PVR! It has all the recording and tricks as the HDR, but with a single tuner, it will have some dual tuner facilities missing.

So now you can go to the EPG and schedules some timers – manual or series linked reservations:

If there’s a clash of recording timers, because the HD has only one tuner, then reserving timers the box will inform you so. If you start a manual recording, this will always override any timers and if you have have clash the scheduled timer will fail. You will notice this in the Media listing:

Media Streaming Client

Before I go on to watching recordings from another device on the HD-FOX T2, I want to mention that the box can playback external media files such as AVI, VOB, and some MKV containers via an attached USB drive. So if you have such video files lying around on a USB drive, you can connect it up and play them directly. The HD has only one USB port, but you can attach a USB hub and connect a number of USB drives to it and it will see them all.

In the coming months, I will make a list of compatible media files that the HD-FOX T2 can play, but in the meantime, I suspect that those formats that can be played by the HDR-FOX T2 (as detailed here) can also be handled by the HD.

DLNA Client and Media Servers

The HD-FOX T2 is a DLNA Client, which means that if you have other devices on the network are DLNA servers, then the HD will be able to access the media that is served out.

Windows 7 can be set up as a media server that the HD can see. I have a NAS  (a D-Link DNS-320) that is a UPnP server. Most importantly, I have the Humax HDR-FOX T2, which is a DLNA server.

I can now, instead of accessing a USB device, access the network (attaching a network lead and attaching it to my home network switch, or using Humax’s own wireless dongle) and playback the files served out by the three media servers.

Windows 7 serving Music. (You need to using the Media button to change to see Music mdeia.)

My NAS device serving Video.

Using the HDR-FOX T2 DLNA Server with the HD

To be able to see the the files served by the HDR, you need to upgrade your HD box with the latest firmware – v1.02.20. My box came with v1.02.16, so at first I could not see any content on the HDR. But after the update, I was able to see all content including HD recordings.

However, I have discovered two bugs that is spoiling the HD Client to HDR Server set up. Firstly there’s a power saving issue on the HDR that turns off the box after 3 hours of continuous use, if the power saving feature is on. So if I was to watching content off my HDR using the HD, it will suddenly turn off after 3 hours. The second bug is with the HD, and as a client, it can’t playback a recording file that is bigger than 4GB completely. For example, with the Harry Potter recordings in the Media list of my HDR, I can start watching and it plays back OK. But if I skip to somewhere pass the middle of the movie, it stops playing, because the HD client code falls over at a file size of greater than 4GB in size – oops!
Humax TV Portal
With network access, there is no excuss not to be able to access online services such as iPlayer, internet radio, and YouTube. On this little box you can do so with Humax’s TV Portal. I believe SkyPlayer is coming soon along with a ‘Movies on Demand’ service…
Conclusion
This quality little box does everything, from receiving HD channels, recording like a PVR, and can access your media servers as well as iPlayer and YouTube, for a measely £65 (graded) or £105 brand new.
Hopefully, Humax will get the two niggling issues solved with the next firmware releases for both HD and HDR. I wait for that day to proclaim the HD-FOX T2 the best Freeview HD box ever!

Advanced Format Hard Drives

July 21st, 2011 6 comments

So as you all know I bought the 1.5TB WD drive from Scan and blogged about how to format it for your HDR T2… Well, after serveral months of working just fine in the PVR, it broke! :(

Thankfully, it was not the Humax that broke it, as I had to remove it and attach it to my Linux box, Windows PC, Apple Mac to verify that it was the drive that was the problem, and sure all reported it faulty (Linux refusing to even boot the system with it attached!)

I was gutted that all recordings had been lost, but the nightmare did not end there. Scan.co.uk, where I bought it from took an age to replace the drive. I also found out they sold me an OEM drive (I was not aware) as I went on the WD support site to return and found there was no warranty on it! When I first went through Scan’s return system, they wanted me to pay the postage to return the faulty drive to them, and finally when I was ready for a replacement, they could not replace it with the same drive but offered me the WD15EARS instead.

I don’t think I will buy from Scan.co.uk again, and I recommend that you shouldn’t either. This is not the first time I’ve had poor service from them but it will certainly be the last. Buy from a reputable online retailer who knows how to deal with customer returns and service.

Well, my misfortune is your advantage, as the WD15EARS is an Advanced Format Drive – you know the new HDD type with the 4K sectors… Read more here on Wikipedia.

What is the issue with AF Drives?
Initially when AF drives were released users discovered that there were performance issues with them on certain OS platforms – mainly Windows. You can read such articles about this from lots of places, here is one. They go on to explain about 4K sectors and how to align them for Windows use.

The question, when users here buy AF drives, is whether they will perform OK in a Humax PVR… Well, now I have a chance to answer!

Opening the WD15EARS and looking at the label it says:

Advanced Format Drive. To achieve full performance:

  • Windows XP, multi partition and cloning software users – use WD Align software available on www.wdc.com/advformat
  • Windows XP, single partition – set jumpers 7-8 prior to installation or use WD Align SW
  • All other OS configurations – drive is ready for use as is

So according to the label, using this HDD with the Humax PVR (we know it uses EXT3 filesystem) is to use it as is. We don’t need to do anything special to the drive like align the 4K sectors!

I did however, go onto the WD website to read what they say about using AF drives with Linux (EXT3), on this page. It says:

The Linux kernel has had specific support for the alternate sector sizes and offsets used by WD Advanced Format disk drives since version 2.6.31. However, distributions based on Linux 2.6.34, the latest stable version of Linux, will provide the most thorough support. Advanced Format parameters are available in the sysfs file system from this kernel version onwards. Kernel versions older than 2.6.31 will not specifically detect Advanced Format Drives, but with proper alignment the system performance will be maintained.

So it look like Linux is safe with AF drives if the kernel is v2.6.31 or later. Who knows what version Humax use for the HDR? So to be safe, I followed WD’s instructions to align the 4K sectors.

The Linux partition editor: parted, has an alignment option to ensure that Advanced Format drives are correctly configured from version 2.1:

-a alignment-type, –align alignment-type

valid alignment types are:

none Aligns to 512 byte sector boundaries.

cylinder Align partitions to cylinders.

minimal Use minimum alignment: 4KB on AF drives

optimal Use optimum alignment: 1MB boundaries

The default from parted 2.2 is to align to 1MB boundaries – optimal. Use minimal or optimal for Advanced Format drives. For example if your drive is sda:

parted -a optimal /dev/sda

will ensure that parted creates partitions on 1 MB boundaries.

So what I did was to partition the disk using the GParted Live CD as per blog instructions, cancelling the formatting of the large ‘recordings’ partition, and then used the command line parted on the GParted Live CD to format the partition ‘optimally’.

So with my WD15EARS, I created the 3 partitions needed the for the HDR, ‘onegb’, ‘restofdisk’ and ‘tengb’ using the graphics gparted (breaking out of formatting the restofdisk partition, and then opened a root terminal, and executed the parted command:

# parted -a optimal /dev/sdc
GNU Parted 2.3
Using /dev/sdc
Welcome to GNU Parted! Type 'help' to view a list of commands.
(parted)

Where /dev/sdc should point to the HDD device you are working with.

Welcome to GNU Parted! Type 'help' to view a list of commands.
(parted) mkfs
WARNING: you are attempting to use parted to operate on (mkfs) a file system.
parted's file system manipulation code is not as robust as what you'll find in
dedicated, file-system-specific packages like e2fsprogs. We recommend
you use parted only to manipulate partition tables, whenever possible.
Support for performing most operations on most types of file systems
will be removed in an upcoming release.
Warning: The existing file system will be destroyed and all data on the
partition will be lost. Do you want to continue?
Yes/No? y
Partition number? 1
File system type? [ext2]?
writing per-group metadata... 92% (time left 00:00)
(parted)

Repeat this for all 3 partitions. Note parted can only deal with EXT2, and the HDR need the partitions to be in EXT3. EXT2 is easily converted to EXT3 using the tune2fs command. So after the optimised format with parted, you need to run this command on all your 3 partitions:

# tune2fs -j /dev/sdc1 (onegb)
# tune2fs -j /dev/sdc2 (restofdisk)
# tune2fs -j /dev/sdc3 (tengb)

Well, I will insert this into my HDR FOX-T2 and see how it behaves…