Commentary

Has “Television been left behind”?

In an interview with Brian Williams (also see the first part of the interview) on NBC’s Rock Center this past December, Apple, Inc. CEO Tim Cook was asked what his company could do for television watching. Cook responded, “It is a market that we see that has been left behind. It’s an area of intense interest.”

After writing about my experience trying to get live TV on my computer, I would agree that the television market has been left behind other technology. Today, the television experience is largely cluttered with numerous set-top boxes, cable boxes, video players, and more. While each of these devices serve a function, there aren’t many televisions or computer devices that seek to solve all of the problems associated with the television watching and unify the experience. I had to spend a great deal of time to complete what I would have thought would have been a reality easy task (watching television on my computer).

The future of television may be brighter. In the future, someone will make televisions that are more fully featured, more like computers. People will be able to watch online videos, cable television, play games, and more on one device. These devices will work with other devices, like computers, phones and tablets. Because people watch television largely for leisure, it will have to be easy to use.

Getting cable providers to play along with a revolutionary new device might be difficult.  In the past, cable companies have managed their own cable boxes, and the may be hesitant to give up control to a device made by another entity. This article explains some of the other challenges that building the next-generation television will entail, as well as more about Apple and others past work in the television market. As technology improves, television companies will see the benefit of offering their content on newer devices.

While a revolutionary new television product that integrated a previously disparate and complex experience would certainly be welcome by most consumers, I do worry a bit about the impact it could have on local broadcasters and content producers. We need local television and diverse viewpoints to keep us informed about the community around us. A new product, with a more universal focus, could emphasize more national content options, as opposed to local and unique shows. It is important that both local and national content be available for viewers. I would hope a new device would not take advantage of or limit the voice of content producers in any way.

Overall, I’m glad to hear that Apple and others are working on the future of television. I’m looking forward to when watching television programming is a more cohesive experience.

HDHomeRun offers high-quality TV on your computer once it’s setup

I recently bought Silicon Dust’s HDHomeRun. This nifty little device has two television tuners in it and streams the live content over a computer network, allowing one to watch live television programming on their computer.  It’s awesome. The fact that the unit features two tuners means that two computers on the network can stream shows at the same time. The device I got cost around $100. A cable version is also available.

Overall, I am very happy with the HDHomeRun. The device is small, yet very powerful. It can stream full 1080i programming from a rooftop antenna, which looks great. The picture quality rivals a television.

HDHomeRun on a Mac

That being said, I did encounter some difficulty setting up the HDHomeRun on a Mac. When I went to pick it up at MicroCenter, I saw a Mac logo, so I figured setup would be a snap. I was surprised the find that there were not any kind of directions for Mac setup in the box or on the company’s website. The box featured a small pamphlet explaining how to connect the device to the network, but no instructions for setting up the computer end of things. An 80mm mini CD was provided, but these discs do not fit into Mac slot loading drives. The company’s website did provide a software download for Macs, but again no instructions. There are more instructions available from on the manufacturer’s website for Windows machines.

Before we get to far, I will note that there are programs that work with the HDHomeRun besides the official program. Namely, for Mac, I found that EyeTV 3 from Elgato is a great solution. I ended up purchasing this program, as it is much easier to use and has everything you could possibly need in one interface. If you will watch a great deal of television on your computer, this sub-$100 program is certainly worth the cost. If you are an infrequent television watcher, the official software might suit your needs.

Setting Up the HDHomeRun Software

HDHomeRunI setup the HDHomeRun software before purchasing EyeTV 3. Because there is not a lot of documentation on the program available, I want to show others how to use it. First, I grabbed a copy of the installer file and installed it. After a bit of reading on various forums, I found the software (pictured on the right) allows one to select a channel, and then open it in VLC. So, I downloaded VLC. I launched the HDHomeRun program and found it would not display channels available for viewing, despite recognizing the tuner device. After more reading online, I found the HDHomeRun needed to scan for channels before I could watch TV.

Scanning for Channels

Remember scanning your digital TV for channels? Yes, I needed to do this on the HDHomeRun. This is not as simple as it sounds, however, as the HDHomeRun Mac program does not (to the best of my knowledge) currently have a way to scan for channels. Luckily, command-line utilities are included with the software downloads. A development guide from the manufacturer explains how to use them. Command-line utilities are not for the faint of heart – they can screw up your computer if you mistype in Terminal. That being said, I was able to tune my tuners by running the following commands:

hdhomerun_config scan /tuner0 tuner0.txt
hdhomerun_config scan /tuner1 tuner1.txt

All of the sudden, with these two commands, the device worked! The command also outputted a list of channels to my current directory, which was helpful, especially as the program does not map virtual channels. Some of my channels were not on the channels where I would normally view them, as they are actually broadcast on one channel, and then remapped to the channel you usually find them on.

Many stations have moved from the VHF frequency (channels 2-13) to the UHF frequency (channels 14-51) in recent years. Many of these stations were originally VHF stations, with a number in that range (2-13) that they don’t want to give up, but they want to provide signals to the city requiring shorter antennas, afforded by UHF. This is one major reason stations broadcast on one channel and remap to another.

Using the HDHomeRun

Once you have this software setup, simply select the show you want to watch, and a VLC window will appear.  Click the link that appears in VLC, and your show should appear.

Additional Notes

I should note that this device’s ability to send high-quality streams can put a strain on your network and computer. In my experience, this device works best on a wired network or a very high quality wireless n network.

Again, I am very happy with the HDHomeRun. The small device provides a high quality television signal anywhere on the user’s network. While it took a bit of work to get setup and didn’t come with detailed instructions, HDHomeRun’s ability to send high-quality television signals to a computer make it a great product.

Homeless guy wants a job using his voice

A friend sent me a link to a video about a homeless guy in Columbus, OH who wants a job doing voice work for radio/TV today. Originally produced by the Columbus Dispatch, I thought the video captured a face of homelessness that many people do not see. The guy clearly has a great voice, is trying to improve his life, and wants to get back to work.

Apparently a local radio station picked up on this and will be interviewing him on-air tomorrow. Let’s hope they hire him! Follow reddit for updates.

UPDATE – Jan. 5: This video has gone viral overnight. The guy was on a local radio station, the CBS Early Show, Yahoo! News, and he was offered a job by The Cleveland Cavaliers. Wow, what a big twenty four hours.

Area radio towers

I have always been fascinated by radio towers.  While some people hardly pay attention to them, I like radio, and it is interesting to me to see where the signals are coming from.  The FCC maintains an extensive database of records relating to what radio towers do.  The amount of data available is amazing.  The FCC website is really hard to navigate in my opinion, but if you get to the media bureau (fcc.gov/mb), you are half way to the radio and TV information.  One of my favorite websites of all time is radio-locator.com.  It takes the information available from the FCC and presents it in an easy to understand fashion.  If you are ever bored, jump over to radio-locator.com and punch in a couple of your favorite stations.  You’ll be amazed by the information you find.

For Gusties who live on the North end of campus, the radio tower on Grace Street is a big part of the landscape.  I thought people might be interested to know a little bit more about the tower.  It is used to broadcast KRBI-FM.  The FCC and radio-locator.com both give information about the station.

When I was reviewing the information recently, I learned something kind of interesting.  Three Eagles Communication, the company that owns KRBI-FM, has a construction permit from the FCC to broadcast the station from another tower they own adjacent to their studios in North Mankato.  Scroll down to the bottom of the FCC or radio-locator.com information to learn more about this.

I think this is particularly interesting, as it may mean that KRBI-FM is in the process of moving its broadcast location.

For more information on the actual tower from the FCC, see this page.

On another note, there is a tower located near the Saint Peter High School football field, not far away.  Midwest Wireless, who was bought out by Verizon Wireless, owns this tower, according again to FCC records.  I would thus assume this is a cellular tower.

Sorry for this nerdy post, I hope someone enjoys it.  I have more exciting jingles on the way!

White House Marine

I was recently on the White House website. I was interested in taking a look after I heard that they recently switched the backend to Drupal. It was a great endorsement for the open source community.

The other thing I like about the site is the amount of video it features. I was actually a bit surprised at the amount of video available. They post something nearly every day. I particularity liked a video about the Marine who serves as a doorman in the West Wing. I had no idea that there was someone with such a job. The piece was well put together, and gives a glimpse into White House life; something I really appreciate, having never had the opportunity to visit the White House.