Three if by Air

So I have not written here in a while.  Well, be prepared for a lengthy and unattractive one (all text, no hassle).

I mentioned in my last post that I had interest in consolidating PC’s.  Turns out, I moved my Cybaryme system up to the Lenovo M92 internals (Konor) for a small upgrade (from second to third-gen i5, as well as introduction of USB 3.0) all the while buying and installing the external enclosure.  Linux’s implementation of ZFS picked up the drives, and although I dropped the cache SSD and everything is transmitted through USB 3.0, the speed is quite respectable for what I need.

With access to all this local space, I wondered what to do with it all.  One of the things was being able to record television again (ages ago I had an ATI Radeon All-in-Wonder).  Given my ongoing predicament with Lenovo and their choice of PCI-Express slot placement, I had my Hauppauge WinTV-1250 tuner in the HTPC.  Because I wanted to consolidate (for example, to save power), I discovered the HDHomeRun Connect device.

HDHomeRun Connect is a standalone tuner that connects to your network and streams to a client (or a NAS) with their provided software.  It is also quite well supported in TvHeadEnd.  Since I did not want to go to Windows for the former, and was already familiar with the latter, I purchased a refurbished one off Amazon.  Set up was easy, but getting everything “right” was a huge hassle.

I connected the device in the basement, where all the coaxial and ethernet converge.  To make sense of the install, I strapped the device to the underside of the floorboards above me.  TvHeadEnd picked up the device easily (I should note that with the HDHR Connect, there are two tuners built in, so two programs can be watched at once, recorded at once, or any combination in between – whereas my old setup would be limited to one channel at a time), configured through the setup, my three channels got picked up, and was ready to go!

Except, cue to the frontend client (or any recording made) … blocky, garbled video with loss of sound, all after two or three seconds of playing perfectly.  Where did I go wrong?  Do I have a dud?

After playing the support game, the techs noticed (I had to use their software with diagnostics turned on for them – which was luckily causing similar issues) that I had “poor signal reception (and reception errors) and minor packet loss.”  Fair enough.  I tried a different antenna.  Worse outcome.  What did work, was to move the device upstairs closer to the antenna, packed in a tight corner next to a (slower) router (reconfigured as an access point).

I never considered that a permanent solution though and I had two or three more attempts to bring the device back downstairs.  Even with the upstairs setup, video would stutter for one second out of every minute, on average.  I didn’t like the situation for more reasons than just residual stuttering and reduced network potential.  It wan an issue of power.  I don’t have a lot of remaining plugs behind the entertainment centre (if any) and was already running off of two power bars.  Also, if there was a quick power blip (less than 20 minutes) during recording, no UPS is available to facilitate the continuation of that recording (I have a small UPS on my communication panel and a larger one attached to my server).

In all, I tried a few different conditions to try keeping my HDHR Connect in the basement.  Signal (I tried an amplifier to boost the signal to no avail), position (as the original location was near the breaker panel, I thought that magnetic fields may be causing some ill effects), and orientation (when mounted, I had the device upside down so it can vent, I tried having it right side up).

In the meantime, I invested in a better, more long-term, antenna.  Up until now I have been using a Phillips Passive Indoor Antenna (SDV1125T) and although it has done me well (for a dozen years), it may not have been strong enough for all scenarios.  Not wanting to mount anything outside, I opted for the attic.  I don’t have a metal roof so I should not have a huge issue with a proper ATSC antenna.  I also bought 50 feet of outdoor-grade coaxial cable, complete with independent ground line attached.  Since I have a raceway from the basement to attic I ran the coax through that (borrowing my thermostat wire – and adding a spare wire – as a vehicle to fish it all down, and then returning the thermostat wire with the spare).

Today, I picked up the antenna (a Digiwave ANT2088).  When I got it home and out of the box, I was dismayed that even though it came with a mounting bracket to a pole, it did not come with the pole or a mount for that.  Oh well, I can dangle it from a rafter, although that means I will not be able to perfect the position then.

Now comes the annoying part.  Although I rerouted the TV input to be the attic antenna, all the way to the entertainment centre, I get severe quality issues (but different from the original issue).  Tried the signal amplifier, and may not have received anything.  As one last hurrah, since the simpler route for the signal is to have the HDHR Connect back in the basement, I moved it there and the original issue popped up again – two or three seconds of perfection, then no sound, and a lot a garble.

I was about ready to give up, pack it in, know that I have tried everything.  Then I thought, what is the key difference between locations to throw such a fuss?  Then it came to me: the throttled network.  My old router, even though it is rated at 100Mbps, only traffics a third of advertised.  This is a reason why I wanted to move the HDHR Connect – to not choke up old hardware and the have the HDHR run at it’s full potential.  So what if the throttling was protecting the stream from something worse happening?

The techs at SiliconDust had already recommended the packet loss page, and I had checked everything over before, except the network settings on my Linux PC – largely because the only settings that remotely applied were for MacOS X (and maybe because I did not notice that section before – I have a habit of glossing over when Apple is mentioned).  Turns out, the configuration was pretty relevant.  So I did this:

joel@cybaryme ~> cat /etc/sysctl.d/local.conf
joel@cybaryme ~>

I don’t know if any or all of these man anything in Linux, but I saved and rebooted (quickly, because NCIS was coming on in six minutes).  While that was happening, for safe measure I moved the HDHR’s ethernet connection from directly plugged into the router to indirectly via a network switch.

I have not yet checked which move was the placebo one, but after the reboot, and one quick test, everything looks great!  Picture is clear and consistently clear.  Happy that all is well, I tidied up (cable managed) the basement and connected the new antenna to the rest of the house.

All’s well that ends well.  In other news, I am saying farewell to HTPC Mk.II, as I have replaced it with a Amazon Fire TV Box and a Blu-Ray player.  This integration all makes for simpler day-to-day operation.  As I write this, I am still in the process of selling the HTPC, with hope that it will be soon.


Three if by Air

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