Do-it-all Media Center and Streaming Media Player January 5, 2017Posted by Steven in gadgets.
Tags: gadgets, home-theater
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I know I am whining too much about this. But I would like to give my backstory here. Years ago I thought about the perfect home theater solution. And basically I could not find the perfect gadget. So I bought an off the shelf Windows PC. The machine is big and generates fan-noise but hooked up to the HD TV it can do almost anything (play DVDs, stream, play MKV files and so on). Now the PC is 5 years old and I’ve got trouble with it again. It’s horribly strange: Windows 7 won’t check for updates and some strange hang-ups and crashes happened – although there was never an error message or bluescreen. Oh well slowly I said to myself the much used system is reaching its end of life.
This brings me once again to the search for the perfect home theater system.
If I won’t be able to rely on the good old Midi Tower anymore I would have to find something else suiting my needs. And given my needs seemed basic enough (more on that later) I refused to think of another $1000 PC tower as the next media center. If I just need to play files off my hard drives and stream Netflix and Amazon Video and be able to stream one of the European live TV providers as an alternative to Antenna TV then there should be a simpler and quieter box which can do all this.
The Search Continues…
Well it turns out the search for an answer here is still -in 2017- very hard. Here are my absolute requirements again:
- Play MP4 and MKV (mostly h264 encoded) video files off of several USB hard drives (most drives around 2TB in size and formatted with NTFS)
- Stream Netflix
- Stream Amazon Video
- Easy Access to YouTube
- Play music via Radio App and from large MP3 folders
- Full HD
Nice to have features would be:
- Stream content from an iOS device to the box
- Stream content from an Android device to the box
- Play content from network attached storage – i.e. via DLNA
- Access to a Web Browser
- Some comfort would be great – speed, easy setup, easy remote control, sleep timer and so on.
- I don’t have a huge stack of 4K content but If the solution can support 4K – great
The market for streaming boxes is quite large – there are things like the hugely successful Amazon FireTV (Android) or many people praise the possibilities of the low cost Raspberry Pi (Linux). Then there are specialized solutions like the AppleTV (iOS – Apple aiming to re-invent TV with Apps). To be honest I believe these solutions totally make sense. There shouldn’t be a need for an Intel i7 processor and a dedicated graphics card for organizing some well established HD media files and streaming some stuff.
But when looking into these solutions and taking into account my basic feature requirements there are still some question marks.
I have summarized my current findings in this table:
So a couple of quick take aways from that :-) : There is quite a price range between the products. A cheap and basic Raspberry Pi (Version 3 – with integrated bluetooth and wifi) can do a lot of the heavy media lifting. On the other end of the spectrum would be the sleek and capable Playstation 4.
Apart from the price range and the related additional features – the core app support (according to my feature list) is interesting. Netflix seems well established and independent enough that it is supported by almost all the devices (except for the Raspberry Pi – I guess the open platform and a very compact linux is still a challenge for streaming well-secured video formats). Amazon may be more of a new comer here and it clearly follows a strategy to support its own devices first (FireTV and FireTV Stick). Support for other platforms is more a nice to have for Amazon. Another note rg. the Raspberry Pi: There are hacky unofficial solutions to getting Netflix and Amazon Video to run. I skimmed through some of the articles online but I decided for me: This stuff is too complex right now.
The other hotspot for me is the USB hard drive support. It is staggering how hit or miss this is. I still have large drives lying around with tons of shows (whole seasons) and movies on them. I take it it is mostly a sin from the past when networks were not that fast and when downloading a file first and thus avoiding heavy buffering was a real plus. Also in a mobile / on the go life it is good to store and manage some entertainment locally (so it won’t eat up your data cap). For convenience purposes most of the drives are formatted in NTFS format. This may pose a challenge for modern linux and Android platforms – as NTFS is an older but proprietary format developed by Microsoft. It is however interesting to see how a compact linux for the Raspberry Pi can read and write to NTFS and loads of otherwise capable Android distributions can’t. Nvidia must have built something into their Shield devices so there it seems to work but on other devices (even on rooted FireTVs) playing a file off a NTFS formatted drive is a real challenge. Conventional antenna driven TV is coming to an end at least it is getting more and more fragmented throughout Europe and the US. In central Europe the DVB-T2 standard starts to mature but usually HD channels are encrypted and require a yearly subscription fee (which to some extend seems expensive when there are alternatives to watch TV online on multiple devices for a similar fee). I researched Zattoo and Magine.tv as good enough alternatives for me to watch some live TV. These services do not offer apps on all platforms but they are already moving to consoles and have been well established for iOS and Android so my hope is eventually they will be broadly available on most platforms.
Going back to the introduction: It’s a shame the good old windows PC is showing its age. Even with all the research my conclusion is: A Windows PC does it all and still in this day and age it feels like a great tool. All these fancy new gadgets promise much but don’t really fit into my every day life.
The best candidates for me right now seem to be the Nvidia Shield and the Xbox One. Both support my core use cases and seem to be fast and reasonably mature. The Xbox has a great game library for me and a nice controller – while the Shield can be accessed easily from iPhone and Android Phones. Well I would say the search continues and one has to keep an eye on this type of technology.
Tame Gatekeeper in OS X 10.9 – macOS Mavericks December 27, 2016Posted by Steven in Software.
Tags: macOS, OS X, OSX, Tipps
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Apple set up Gatekeeper as one of the prime methods to protect users from malicious software. It’s basically a security system integrated into macOS which checks executable software against a list of malicious stuff.
I recently noticed that in Apple’s latest desktop OS “Mavericks” (10.9) there is no Gatekeeper setting for allowing any kind of software to run on your Mac. You can find Gatekeeper settings in the “Preference” App under option “Security” in the “General”-Tab. There you are now limited to allow App-Downloads (just) from the Apple App Store; or from the Apple App Store and from verified Developers.
Previously there was a setting for ‘allow from – “Anywhere” ‘. This was useful to me in certain situations – basically during troubleshooting certain Apps.
Here is how you get this “Anywhere” Option back under Mavericks:
Open Terminal and enter this command (confirm with Admin Password):
sudo spctl --master-disable
And that’s it. The formerly available Option returns to your “Preferences” App.
German consumer advice center offers portal for shipment issues December 12, 2016Posted by Steven in Freetime.
Tags: service, shopping
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It’s Christmas time and thus the biggest period for retail and online retail. In case of online retail this also means extreme traffic on the logistics and shipment services industry. I myself have experienced an increasing amount of hick-ups even with large companies like DHL. Thus this portal might be a good idea to keep in mind. It promises to analyze and list the issues in a neutral way and also outlines that companies will be approached with the list of issues and a request for comment.
Domain Name Server settings for times of need November 28, 2016Posted by Steven in In-Media.
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Recently a large German telecom provider suffered some technical issues in its network. Several publications traced the issue back to an outage of the company’s DNS Servers. So in cases of need please find some information below how to configure your devices to use an alternative DNS Server.
The most commonly known alternative to the legacy telco servers is the google DNS server:
- 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124
- beware of privacy issues though
Secondly I came across the Chaos Computer Club which provides some information regarding open and privacy safe DNS Servers:
- CCC information: https://www.ccc.de/censorship/dns-howto/
Mac: Use dropbox to sync documents and desktop folders September 23, 2016Posted by Steven in Apps.
Tags: OS X, software, Tipps
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With regards to yesterday’s post briefly touching on symlinks used to backup an iPhone to an external harddrive – I would like to provide another exciting use case for handy symbilic links on a Mac.
This article caught my eye:
I really like dropbox. For me it is a quick and reliable way to synchronize files between a Mac a PC and a smartphone. The general way how dropbox works on computers:
- you download an app from dropbox.com
- it sets up a folder “dropbox” and keeps the contents of this folder in sync with other machines and with the cloud side of dropbox
For more fancy use cases it would be nice if you could pick several important folders outside of the dropbox folder to keep these files backed up or in sync as well.
Well using symbolic links you can do that! As the article neatly describes: The basic way is: create a symbolic link for example for your desktop or documents folder. Then rename the original folder and go on syncing. However if more than one Mac should sync the documents folder for example it is important that in the first round of “Rippling the change across computers” one must manually take care of the different files from different Macs all ending up in one dropbox. The article describes all the details.
A simple symlinc command would be:
sudo rm -rf ~/Documents
ln -s ~/Dropbox/Documents ~/Documents
eventually the second command has to be “sudo”ed as well:
sudo ln -s ~/Dropbox/Documents ~/Documents
And please read the article:
Update 1 / September:
- I’ve just tried the above method in order to sync the “Desktop” and “Documents” folder of a MacBook Pro Retina March 2015 model and a late 2013 iMac. The MacBook running OS X El Capitan (10.11) and the iMac running Yosemite (10.10)
- The effort ultimately succeeded but I must admit it was a little more difficult than I originally expected
- Here is what I have done in detail
- First we had to set up an approriate dropbox account – we had to log into dropbox using the browser and then download dropbox for Mac
- We ran the installer and confirmed the login in the dropbox software
- After that I opened “Terminal” and typed in the commands – starting with the linking for the “Documents” folder
- So I ran the rm then had to type the admin password then ran the ln (also I repeated with sudo ln)
- Visually in the finder I tried to inspect the results of these commands
- I opened a new Finder window and jumped to the user’s folder. Then there was a Documents folder. But it was blue’ish with the icon (so it looked unchanged from a vanilla OS X installation) when I opened the documents folder I saw just one Link there which pointed to the correct folder in the Dropbox.
- So that was not what I wanted: It looked like the standard “Documents” folder (which the rm command tried to remove) was still there and there was a link inside of it. Strange because ln …. with the target “~/Documents” should have created something in ~/ not below Documents
- On the 10.11 MacBook it seemed to help if I did the following
- make sure you are in the user’s main user directory (that is usually the case when you open Terminal). Otherwise you can check using ls and cd commands
- Then I repeated the commands but given I was already in the main user direcctory I modified them slightly:
- sudo rm -rf Documents
sudo ln -s ~/Dropbox/Documents Documents
- That seemed to work (I checked after the first command and for the first time the documents folder on the mac really was completely gone)
- I can’t fully describe it but the 10.10 iMac seemed to behave slightly different.
- I tried to run the ‘slightly modified’ commands straight away in the iMac
- But initially it would not work (I saw a documents link in the documents folder again)
- Then I used the original commands and then the new commands and it worked
- hard to explain / maybe it was just a visual glitch (I checked too quickly in finder etc.) but my impression was, that I had to run the commands multiple times and then it would work
- Closing remarks: Phew in the end it worked and that was good! (I read somewhere, that you could approach a syncing effort from the dropbox side: Go to your dropbox folder and place links to your Desktop inside your Dropbox) – this worked briefly but it’s more a backup solution. For keeping two Macs in sync this method is not so practical.
So in the end I had a user on two Macs and the default Documents and Desktop folders were removed and replaced with symlinks to Dropbox-counterparts. The dropbox software was running and keept things really nicely up to date on both machines! I will keep a close eye on this and I hope it will enable a smooth and safe workflow for the user.
How to Back Up an iPhone or iOS device to an External Hard Drive via iTunes? September 21, 2016Posted by Steven in Apple.
Tags: OS X, Tipps, Tweaks
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The amount of data on my iPhone keeps growing and growing (I regularly use a 128GB model) – while my trusted old MacBook Air from 2011 keeps loosing and loosing free SSD storage space. Also in terms of strategies to backup an iPhone, for the general public there are two strategies:
- You could either go with Apple’s iCloud service. The name is the game – it is a cloud based service which gives you all kinds of stuff, for example space for syncing your photos across your i-devices. And it also gives you a wireless, cloud based backup service.
Basically the app user data and phone settings will be backed up to Apple’s servers. Apple gives you 5GB of free storage space and offers additional paid plans. Recently a new pricing was announced – and there is now a new top tier plan which provides 2TB of storage for $19.99 per month ($239,88 per year).
- Or you could go with the traditional iTunes backup. Meaning you would hook up your iPhone with your PC or Mac (either via lightning cable or via Wi-Fi) and backup using the iTunes software. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering this method. Basically the backups will be stored locally on the respective PC or Mac (in kind-of the user library folder of iTunes – more details on folders later on). So you have to make sure there is enough space on the computer and if the computer breaks your backup is gone as well. One thing I regularly ran into: Your computer’s iTunes software has to be fairly up to date. Usually with iOS updates come updated versions of iTunes. So quickly powering up an old PC with lots of TB storage space usually involves downloading and installing iTunes updates.
I personally believe for my use case iCloud is to expensive (and in some scenaries too dependant on my internet speed at home). So my backup method of choice used to be the iTunes variant – until that time that my MacBook is running out of space.
So I was looking for a decent way to back up my iPhone 6s Plus to an external hard drive.
For Macs running iTunes there seems to be an elegant solution (I am not so familiar with symbolic links on Windows – however it seems that a similar solution could work on Windows: Guide at TechinOurLife.)
My internet search surfaced this very useful guide: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3421834?tstart=0
- Pick an external hard drive and make sure there is enough space. Create a folder named “Backup” on your external drive. This can be done via Terminal with this command:
- Rename the local / standard iTunes backup folder on your Mac. Again the Terminal command:
"mv ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup2"
- (this will keep the old local backups around – so make sure to clean this folder up if you need space / if you no longer need older backups)
- Create a symbolic link (these work well on OS X – I use them for a swift dropbox integration). This will look like the local iTunes Backup directory but it will point the computer to the external folder drive (specifically the folder we created in 1.). Again the Terminal command:
"ln -s /Volumes/<EternalDriveName>/Backup ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/"
- Launch iTunes and initiate the backup
Please note: when the external disk is not connected the iTunes backup process will result in an error.
Playstation Vita Error C2-12828-1 Help April 2, 2016Posted by Steven in Freetime, gadgets, The-Web.
Tags: fix, game, playstation, Tipps
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Recently though I ran into a strange issue while playing ‘Uncharted Golden Abyss’ on my Playstation Vita.
While using the game and occasionally while booting up the game I received a tough error and the game would crash.
The Error Code: C2-12828-1
Time to find a solution.
Unfortunately the official Playstation Support Site is not of much help. Really misleading it describes a NAT / networking / demilitarised zone issue: http://community.eu.playstation.com/t5/PS-Vita/Fixing-the-Error-c2-12828-1-issue-on-your-Vita/td-p/15328217
But I don’t believe this C2-12828-1 is a networking issue at all.
From my experience with the issue (very random occurrence, usually involving large chunks of data being loaded, game-brraking) I do not believe it is networking related at all.
I would rather side with the other sources I’ve found on gamefaqs and reddit and the like. There you read a lot of warnings that this bug might get worse over time and it might destroy download data and save data. As in my experience game crashes are mentioned and worse: random shutdowns of the whole system. From all these reports this seems to be a nasty memory/file system error. The Vita uses a proprietary file-system plus heavy encryption. Something along side of heavy use, constant Vita-standby-mode and quick switching between big games may case defects in memory which worsen over time due to read/write activity. Ultimately the whole partition gets damaged and a Vita showing this bug should not be used but rather should be ‘fixed’ quickly. So how could this bug be fixed?
Based on: http://www.gamefaqs.com/boards/656455-madden-nfl-13/64026055
In short the only known fix is to backup the data of your Vita and then thoroughly wiping and rebuilding the console’s memory and then restoring.
Prerequisites for the fix:
- Vita System and Data Cable
- Sony Content Manager Assistant software for Windows or Mac
- Free space on your PC/Mac (if you have a 16GB memory card the. At least 16GB free)
- time and patience
Steps to fix C2-12828-1 :
- Delete all games and apps you no longer need
- Sync trophies / save-data with PSN server and do a full backup of your Vita using Content Manager Assistant. Basically hook up the Vita with a PC running Content Manager Assistant and copy over everything.
- Remove any game card from the system.
- Turn Vita off completely -> turn Vita on in SAFE MODE -> using Power button, PS button + R trigger to start it up.
- At SAFE MODE screen select option (3) to Format Memory Card
- Afterwards turn Vita on in SAFE MODE again, and select option (4) to Restore PS Vita System
- Once again, get your Vita back to SAFE MODE and select option (2) to Rebuild Database
- Turn your Vita on regularly and it should look fresh again. Icons everywhere. Don’t bother with changing any settings as the backup has it all; though you will have to re-arrange icons. At this point, go into Settings -> Format -> Format Memory Card (one last time).
- Then get back to Settings and connect the Vita to your usual internet connection and sign in to your PSN so that it is authenticated.
- Open Content Manager application on the Vita and Restore From Backup – connect to where your backup is stored.
- After all is done, the icons are shufffled so get them re-arranged, make sure your time is set right using the internet
For some games the data was apparently so corrupted so it could not be restored. This happened for round about 5 out 30 games. I re-downloaded these games and downloaded save-data from PSN.
After all that was done, I was able to use my Playstation Vita as expected. The whole procedure especially re-downloading some larger games was cumbersome but in the end I seem to have a stable system now.
Tags: Android, software, Tipps, Tweaks
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Recently I’ve been trying a couple of Android devices. I used to focus on iOS but I become a little bit bored with it lately. The deep customisation options on (rooted) Android devices began to fascinate me again.
When I played around with a recent and quite good Samsung tablet I ran into a couple of issues with Titanium Backup and an external 128GB SD Card. By the way rooting of said Samsung tablet is easy and straight forward.
Namely when trying to back up a couple of applications to that external SD Card, Titanium Backup showed: “readonly” / “this folder is not writable”. That seemed strange as I had even formatted the SD Card in the freshly set up tablet.
Well after a quick google search here is the solution (you will need root access, a file manager and a text editor – I used http://www.estrongs.com/?lang=en )
- navigate to : / system /etc/ permissions/platform.xml
- finde the section “WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE”
- inside that section add the following line: <group gid=”media_rw” />
After a reboot of the device read and write SD Card access from within Titanium Backup worked fine.