Thursday, October 23, 2008

HTPC Update: TV Signal Strength Checker

If you need a tool to help you find the best location to place your aerial for receiving over-the-air (OTA) DVB-T broadcasts, check out TSReader. It comes in three different flavors (Lite, Standard and Professional) but the Lite version (which is FOC btw) is good enough for this purpose.

After you have installed the software, launch it via the Start\All programs menu. The first time you run the program, you will be asked to select an input source. This refers to your TV Tuner hardware. In my case, I am using an Asus My Cinema U3100. It is not listed specifically but luckily it works with the generic DVB-T driver "DVBTBDASource.dll".

Next select the frequency of the channel that you would like to find the best reception for. If you live in Singapore you can refer to this Wiki page to get the frequencies of free-to-air (FTA) TV stations here. Just note that the frequency for HD5 is 610MHz and not 608MHz as stated on the Wiki.

When a consistent signal is detected, you will see in the bottom left window a line that says "Signal: Locked". Use the statistics ("Last sec" and "Mux bitrate") in the bottom window titled "MPEG-2 Statistics" to guide you in finding the best reception. The higher the numbers mean better reception of course!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Trying out Tomato on WHR-HP-G54

Back in August, I upgraded the DD-WRT v24 firmware to SP1 on my router as part of routine maintenance. At first, everything seems to work fine but soon I noticed that QoS stopped working; Skype calls were getting dropped, frozen video on receiver side and slow web browsing when BT is running in the background.

I tried a couple of different configurations in QoS, from tweaking the max bandwidth settings to changing classifications and even the packet scheduler type. Nothing worked which pretty much left me with two choices; (1) rollback to the older version or (2) try out other flavors of alternative firmware. I decided to go with option (2) and try out Tomato since I have been hearing many good feedback on its performance and especially on its QoS reliability.

Upgrading from DD-WRT to Tomato is a breeze. Simply download the Tomato firmware (latest as of this writing is v1.21) and flash it using the DD-WRT web admin GUI. Just remember to make a note of the router password before you flash! (Detailed instructions here)

In under two minutes, I was running Tomato on my router with nearly all settings intact. The only settings that I found to have been lost are:
  1. Static DHCP lease
  2. WiFi Security (it defaults to none!)
  3. QoS (naturally since its implemented differently)
  4. WOL
  5. Lan domain name
Once I have configured QoS, I tried a web download and also surfed a couple of local websites while starting BT in the background. I found no noticeable decrease in the download and web surfing experience. Problem solved!

Of course, there is no perfect ending in the real world... A couple of things I had to give up for choosing Tomato over DD-WRT:
  1. VPN Gateway - The official builds do not offer this functionality but a quick google showed that there are people working on unofficial builds that included this feature. I will probably give that a spin once I am happy with stock features.
  2. Bluetooth Compatibility Mode - I require this feature as my router sits very close to my HTPC which I'm using a bluetooth keyboard to control. Since WiFi and Bluetooth work on the same frequency band, I have been experiencing frequent dropouts from my bluetooth keyboard when WiFi is on. Activating this feature on the DD-WRT seems to have reduced the interference quite abit. Since Tomato does not include this feature, I may have to consider relocating my router or my bluetooth receiver.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Go-Karting is fun!

I finally got a chance to try out go-karting today in a company organized event (Sony F1 Challenge) and boy did I enjoyed myself. The event started with one round of practice followed by two rounds of qualifying time trials. The top five drivers with the best lap times then go head-to-head in the finals that involves 10 laps.

As this was my first time in a go-kart, it took me awhile to get acclimatized; think no power steering, zero suspension, hard plastic seat and no enclosed cabin! The fuel tank sitted in between my tights also made me alittle nevous... The lack of suspension, coupled with the poor track condition and hard plastic seat really made it a bumpy ride. My back and bum are still sore till now...

Obviously, I started slow with lap times around the high 38 seconds region during the practice and first qualifying round. In the last qualifying round, I managed a 38.1 seconds timing but that was still not good enough to beat the "pros" and their 35 seconds timings! (Sony has been organizing this event on a yearly basis and the regulars dominated the finals).

Overall, it was an exciting event with plenty of action; there were a couple of crashes (luckily no one got hurt), 180 degree spins and even a joker driving in the wrong direction TWICE! :O

Kart World Singapore (maplink)
$40 for 10 mins (adults)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Vista TIP: Shutdown/Restart/Sleep from Remote Desktop Connection

If you are using Remote Desktop Connection to connect to a Vista workstation, you will find that the options to Shutdown, Restart and Sleep are missing from the Start Menu. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get it back into the menu. You can, however, still activate the function easily via the following ways:

1) Run the command shutdown.exe on the command line. Note that the program supports only shutdown (-s) and restart (-r); it doesn't do stand-by or hibernate. Also, it requires you to have administrator privileges. If you are a limited user with shutdown privileges, the shutdown.exe program will complain.

2) Use the Ctrl+Alt+End hotkey (It's the Remote Desktop version of Ctrl+Alt+Del). This will bring up the full screen menu as shown on the right. Click on the red button near the bottom right and you will get the options to Shutdown, Restart and Sleep!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

HTPC Update: Logitech diNovo Edge

To complete the hardware setup of my HTPC, I decided to go all out and splurge on the best HTPC keyboard money can buy; the Logitech diNovo Edge. To me, it is really the perfect match for the following reasons:
  1. It has an integrated touchpad (although alittle on the petite side) which removes the need for a separate mouse. On top of that, you will want a touchpad over a mouse for living room use anyway since you are unlikely to find a hard surface to use your mouse on when you are on the couch.
  2. It has just the right dimensions and weight for using on the lap
  3. It has a dedicated volume slider and mute, sleep and MediaCenter buttons on the keyboard; essential keys for a HTPC setup.
  4. If you don't already have bluetooth capability in your box, the included USB bluetooth receiver adds that for free. And if you do, then it saves on one USB port for an otherwise proprietary receiver on the PC.
  5. The range is pretty decent although I find that it loses reception when you place your keyboard at a height much lower than the receiver. (I get this when I use the keyboard on my coffee table which is sitting approx 60cm below my PC placement. [Edit: Found the problem - it is due to interference from my WiFi router which sits within 1 meter of the HTPC])
  6. Tactile feel on the keys are excellent and not noisy.
  7. And lastly, the reflective black and metallic silver look compliments my living room look perfectly.
The SG SRP on this is a whopping S$399! The cheapest I can find in local retail stores is still S$349. The good news is that you can buy it online for just US$127 (roughly S$210 incl shipping via vPost) from The downside is of course the warranty which is limited to domestic US but at nearly 50% off, I will gladly take that risk.

Installation and setup of the keyboard is a breeze. By default, the USB bluetooth receiver is configured as USB HID class which means that any modern day motherboard and OS can detect and use it without installing any drivers. This also means that the keyboard can be used even for entering Bios Setup! If you want more control over its features, then installing the SetPoint software is a must. Forget the version found in the CD and go straight to Logitech's support website to download the latest version (v4.6 as of this post).

One undocumented feature I've found is that the keyboard is actually active when charging in the base station even if you flick the on/off switch to off! This is a tad annoying as it wakes my HTPC whose off state is always S3 (commonly known as standby or sleep) whenever I put the keyboard back on the charging stand! I had to resort to pulling out the charging cable off the base to stop this behavior. Switching off the base charger is not possible as the switch is hidden behind the TV console. An alternative solution will be to configure the HTPC to disable wakeup from the keyboard but that also means that I lose the feature permanently. i.e. I will no longer be able to turn on the HTPC from the comfort of my couch using the keyboard!

To have the included USB bluetooth receiver to work with other bluetooth devices, you will need to change it from HID to HCI class using information found here. I will be updating this post once I have found time to try this out myself.

Here is the updated part list for my setup:

CPU: Phenom X3 8650 HD8650WCGHBOX 2.3GHz Socket AM2+, $0 (bundle with mobo).
CPU Cooler: Scythe SCMNJ-1000 Ninja MINI, S$50 (used).
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-MA78GPM-DS2H AMD 780G chipset microATX, $355 (SLS Bell Systems)
Memory: Kingston DDR2-800 2 x 2GB Kit, $104.(SLS Bell Systems)
Graphics Card: Radeon HD 3200 (integrated in motherboard the chipset), $0.
TV Tuner: PowerColor Theater 550 Pro PCIe, $69. (SLS Chamoxa)
HDD: Western Digital Caviar WD5000AACS 500GB SATA2, $101.(SLS Bell Systems)
PSU: Antec EarthWatts EA 430 (included in the case), $0.
Case: Antec Fusion Black 430, $339 (SLS Media Mart).
Webcam: Creative Live! Cam Optia AF, $55 (used)
Wireless Keyboard: Logitech diNovo Edge, $210 (

The following are still on my todo list:


Friday, October 3, 2008

HTPC Update: Improving video quality

If you own a recent ATI graphics card and use it mainly for movie playback, you may well be interested in this set of tweaks. It is basically a registry script that enables certain settings in ATI based cards that is geared towards video playback and hardware assisted decoding (DXVA in geek speak).

[Disclaimer: I have yet to find time to apply the settings on my HTPC so please read up before applying the script!]