The universal remote I have owned for 15 years

Philips universal remote

I heard the news Logitech are not making or selling Harmony remotes anymore, it made me reflect on my own remote which I can’t really believe I have owned for over 15 years. The Philips SHU 5170, its not a Harmony as I always wanted one but couldn’t justify the price back then.

Its good news Logitech are supporting the remotes for as long as people are using them. Might be time to snag a Harmony before its too late?

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Contains mild spoilers…

I have seen Justice League a couple of times and didn’t like it at all. Pretty sure I gave it 4/10 in the end after the original 5/10. Zack Snyder’s Justice League got a well deserved 7/10 and seen it twice now.

Although not much of a comic book person but frankly I do like the darkness of DC compared to Marvel (I am aware there are many others, but its clear distinction). If you want the DC vs Marvel side, I’d suggest this review by this youtuber.

The plot is fully developed over the 4hours, yes a full 4hours. You thought Tenet, Interstellar, Dark Knight rises were long? So long there is a planned intermission. To be fair its split into chapters, so you could take breaks at natural points.

Justice league on my projector screen
Justice league on my projector screen

The one thing which completely surprised me and wound me up was the aspect ratio of 4:3. I actually thought I selected the wrong streaming option or something. But I get it and when its finally on the IMAX screen, I may go watch it. Even my projector screen doesn’t quite work at the 4:3 ratio.

So between the darkness, fully fleshed out character development and enough foreshadowing for a future DC universe. I’d look forward to Snyder’s vision of where the DC universe could really go.

Films you may have missed during the later part of 2020

Matrix on the big screen
Watching the matrix on the big screen during lock down

Following on from my previous post about films to watch during covid19 and again during mid 2020. Some of us have been consuming a lot of media. Its never been a better time to own a full home cinema.

Having just gone through my trakt year in review and its almost 2021, it might be worth another blog post for the locked in. Believe it or not there has been some good stuff to watch on the small screens in our living rooms.

Films

Just mercy

Just Mercy

This is a genre which always gets me, court room dramas. I didn’t think that much about the trial of the chicago 7 especially after watching Small Axe’s Mangrove and this film. Its powerful and emotional, it deserves a lot of respect and perfect timing with the on going anti-racism protests. Don’t miss this film!

Parallel

As the name suggests its a film about parallel universes. This film comes across off as a lower budget movie but the concept is neat and it has legs. It surprises in different ways and within the serious plot points still has elements of comedy. It reminds me very much of the film Time lapse.

Run

This took me by surprise. Not usually into horror but this is clearly more on the thriller side. I can’t even start to explain how messed up this film is on so many levels. As the film develops you get a real sense of the subtitle, you can’t escape a mothers love!

The honest thief

Nice easy going action film which isn’t too stressful but has its moments of action too. Liam Neeson is wooden than his usual roles in Taken, but still has edge. Nice plot and the actors do carry the film well. Good quality hollywood action.

12 Hour Shift

This film is a bit of dark humour and comes across as serious. Its a simple film about staff in a hospital but the things which happen are, lets say intriguing and there reactions are hilariously dark. Been a while since I seen a dark comedy like it

The Secrets We Keep

I wasn’t quite sure where this one was going but its a thriller which strikes where it hurts. Partly revenge film but its not for the faith hearted. Not an amazing film but strong and worth watching.

Love and Monsters

Another fun hollywood film which I would say is similar in notion to Zombieland but less adult. Its a fun teen flick with some enjoyable moments. Light relief from the pandemic.

Follow Me

I’m a bit of a sucker for these escape room type films and this one has all the right ingredients to keep you guessing. Part of you wants bad things to happen as this youtuber is just the wrong side of arrogant. If you don’t like follow me, try escape room.

Opening Act

A film about stand up comedy with stand up comedians. Light entertainment again but with the strength of everyday life as a comedian. Heckling, trying out jokes, fighting for spots, its all there in the film.

Black Box

Psychological thrillers, some hate them and sometimes they are awful. This one is good, not great but challenging. Its great to see Mamoudou moving into the prime time. Its a good film but be prepared for a small mind screw.

Boss level

A fun film which reminds me of a three way between Shoot’em up, Groundhog day and Scott Pilgrim vs the world. Light entertainment but good entertainment on these dark nights.

TV

A Teacher

A interesting story about a student and a teacher. The emotional side is treated well and respectful over the episodes. Usually these type of things are rushed and A teacher doesn’t do that. The topics are adult and dealt with in that way.

Small Axe

There is so much to say abut Small Axe, the director worked on these 5 almost feature length episodes showcasing different aspects of Black British culture in London. Each episode is unique with for example episode 2 having a completely different tempo and feel from episode 1. Each one is worth while watching alone, together they marked a excellent series.

The Queens Gambit

The Queens Gambit

Such a beautiful and short TV show. Most people have seen or heard of it but honestly watch it on a big screen at the highest resolution you can. You will notice every short is just beautiful. The story is great too.

Industry

This was recommended to me and its quite a interesting series, looking at new graduates aiming to permanently join a investment bank. What I like is its not too stereotypical. Yes theres drugs in the bathrooms, yes the women get a much rougher experience than the men. But each character has more depth than you first imagine.

The Flight Attendant

A fun comedy drama with Kaley (known for the big bang theory) with a bit of a edge. The story unfolds slowly but the comedy elements keeps the flow. There is a message about alcoholism there but its not clear cut and well produced. Worth watching but don’t expect something deep and meaningful or even light entertainment. Look forward to second series?

Sneakerheads

Following the flight attendant, something actually light and fun comedy. If you are a sneakerhead or take your trainers a little more serious than most people… this short series is for you. Funny and entertaining, some light relief.

Ted Lasso

Another fun TV series but with a heart. I’m really not a football fan, so I was expecting this to be a bore. When I first came across it, I thought this is going to be a joke which will get old. But it surprised me as the characters backstory holds up well and keeps you interested. Like the flight attendant sure there will be a second series.

Pulseaudio filling my flat with sound

Pulse audio DLNA in action
Pulse audio DLNA in action while watching the NGI summit and using the picture in picture feature

I usually listen to podcasts during the morning but with Covid19, I have been listening to a lot more podcasts and audiobooks. I use Xbian (Kodi) to listen to podcasts and Yatse without needing to look at a computer screen.

Its a good setup, as it does my bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. I recently removed the FM transmitter and replaced it with a bluetooth transmitter finally avoiding all the interference I was getting. However when I’m watching something on my laptop, I then wish I could send the sound through the same system.

This is when I discovered puslseaudio-dlna, allowing any output from the laptop to be sent over DLNA to my Xbian and to my Kodibox in the living room. Perfect, the only issue I have is the delay which can be sometimes as high as 10seconds. I also learned it can be used to interface with the chromecast, I’m also found out its possible to wire it up to send to two or more outputs at the same time, meaning I could have a sonos type system. Extremely useful to know when next I have a party?

Films you may have missed during the Covid19 lockdown

Host (2020)

Following on from my previous post about films to watch during the Covid19 lockdown. Now the cinemas are starting to open, I thought I’d write another set of films and TV I have watched between June – August.

The list of films I usually post are ones you may not have seen or skipped over.

Films

Archive

Target Number One (2020)

Based around a true story, its a slow but insane story of drug addict Daniel Leger. Being built up as a major international drugs smuggler. Its well worth a watch

Irresistible (2020)

Quite funny film written by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show fame. Really points the finger at the system of money which drives the elections and politics in America. No one gets away clean in this one

Swallow (2020)

There are a short list of films I will only watch once a year as they are just uncomfortable. I’m going to add Swallow to this list. Its a difficult subject reasonably told but a bit slow in parts.

Archive (2020)

Intriguing AI type film, its no Ex-Machina but it will surprise you in the end. Solid Sci-fi which slowly builds and hits you out of nowhere. I don’t want to say anything more.

The Rental (2020)

Every Airbnb nightmare ripped large with hidden cameras and a over bearing host. Nice little twists and the tension is about right for this thriller rather than horror.

One Night in Bangkok (2020)

This reminds me very much of Hummingbird and Vengeance. Its a bit slow in places but there are some soft twists and the character development does help you feel for them.

Host (2020)

Not a fan of horror, only because I find the jump silly and the gross parts just stupid. Host surprises as its of a moment, while we are in the pandemic using zoom. Host comes along and leans right into it. Well worth watching even if your not into horror.

Ava (2020)

I mentioned in the last review a film called The Rhythm Section and its similarity to films like Anna, La Femme Nikita, etc. Its a good film and likely better than the Rhythm Section thanks to Jessica Chastain’s performance.

TV

Tell me who I am

Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

Yeah I know it was available in 2019 but I hasn’t come across it till someone mentioned it to me recently. What a story and then it gets very dark very quickly. It reminds me of the film called Rewind which I recommended a little while ago. Both are worth your time and patience around this incredibly difficult subject

On the Record (2020)

I heard bit of the story during the peak of the movement but it got drowned out by other women’s experiences. Its clear it didn’t get the absolute attention it deserved and for f-sake, Russell Simmons and others are pretty untouched. For the record, Russell has stepped down from his positions in Def Jam Recordings and other companies as a result of these allegations. He moved to Bali where there is no extradition treaty to the U.S.

Alex Rider (2020)

I wasn’t sure about this one. It kinda fell under the radar for what ever reason, but it surprised me. Its well thought-out and well told. Its a got a lot of production behind it and it really shows. Expect a series 2 maybe?

Upload (2020)

I wrote about Upload early in the pandemic, comparing it to the now ended Good Place. There’s a lot of comparisons but its going to take a season or two to get up that level. Get the first season and enjoy potentially the start of something special?

Manctopia: Manchester’s housing boom

Manctopia

When I first heard there was going to be a TV documentary about Manchester’s building boom, I was very sceptical it was going to do the justice to the sheer amount of building going on in Manchester and its effect on the people.

Manctopia: Meet the people living and working in the eye of Manchester’s remarkable housing boom.

After watching the first episode I thought it did do a good job. Theres reasonable number of view points from some people living on the streets to a person looking for a multi-million pound 3 bedroom penthouse with great views of the city.

Its of course strange to see where I live in the shots and seeing the backstory of the buildings opposite me in Piccadilly East. Wondering if Ancoats, Angel fields, Ponoma and Salford Quays will make it into future episodes.

Its available on BBC iplayer and BBC two every Tuesday at 9pm

Re-watching the Watchmen TV series

Spoiler alert!!!

If you have not seen the Watchmen the TV series, Do not watch the explainer above. Instead watch this one,

I can’t tell you how amazing the TV series is and its excellent follow up to the excellent film.

I’m watching it again because although its amazing, and I needed to watch it all again to understand it all. However I also wanted to watch it during the black lives matter protests for its extremely strong race in America storyline and references. This is how I found out about Tulsa in 1921.

The secret episode of Seinfeld in the age of Covid-19

I mentioned how weird it is seeing films with lots of touching and no social distancing.

Someone decided to pull together a bunch of Seinfeld into a Covid-19 special.

How would Seinfeld look like in a world taken over by the coronavirus? Well, Jerry would probably disinfect everything. Kramer would try to find his own cure. George would think he’s dying all the time. Elaine would try to take everyone in her path. Lucky for us, there’s a secret episode that was never finished to find out!

I may reconsider getting a Google home mini now

Google local apk diagram

When I got my Pixel 2 it came with a Google home mini. I decided I would give it a shot so other people can control the Hue lights in my flat.

However I was deeply disappointed to find I could only make it work if I open up two holes in my firewall, allowing Google Home mini to talk to Google then Google talking to Philips who then talk through my other hole in my firewall to my Hue lights!

Even saying the above is a clear sign of how stupid the whole thing is…

So annoyed I sold it straight away. But it looks like I wasn’t the only one who fed back to Google how stupid this all was and early last year they included some code in their SDK to include local access.

Now it looks like its ready and I noticed Philips Hue and TPlink are one of the first lot of services to support this.

If this works as it says I may buy a Google home mini or I noticed the Google home hub is going for half price right now. Of course I’ll make sure the firewall stay closed and will be watching how people find the local access. What a field day people will have if Google screw this one up…!

Hardware-Accelerated Plex media server on Ubuntu?

Plex logoI have been using Plex media server on my AMD six core machine for a while and its good but cooling is a issue. About 9 months ago I installed a Nvidia graphics card hoping to take advantage of the new hardware acceleration option. However I realised its a non-starter as it required a Intel chipset not AMD.

Then over the last few months I got my hands on a secondhand HP Z800 workstation with 4x quad core 2.8 ghz processors (yes 16 cores in total). It came with 12 gig of memory which I was planning to upgrade if things work out. It came with a PCI-Express Nvida Geforce graphics card, so I was thinking everything is set. just install Ubuntu with Plex media server, install the proprietary Nvidia display drivers and sit back and enjoy?

I wish…

Here is Plex transcoding inception from 1080p with DTS (Blu-ray sourced) to something suitable for my Pixel 4 (I had to turn off play original, to force it to do the transcoding)transcoding with htop

You can see it much clearer in the htop terminal. Look at those cores running transcoding tasks.

Plex with transcoding

Here is Plex not transcoding inception from 1080p with DTS (Blu-ray sourced) to my Pixel 4

not transcoding with Htop

Quite different from the above, the machines is hardly doing anything over its 16 cores. But the bandwidth is a problem outside a local network environment

Plex not transcoding

If anyone has successfully got hardware-Accelerated Streaming working on a Ubuntu server, let me know!

Plex’s future, without its server?

halt and catch fire

Plex recently announced they were making major changes and that we should be excited about Desktop AF. What wasn’t said was the media server is being killed?

Years back, the most common Plex implementation was to attach a home theater PC (HTPC) to a TV to stream media. With the proliferation of cheap streaming devices like the Chromecast, Apple TV, and Fire TV, almost no one bothers with HTPCs anymore. Thus, Plex is retiring the TV interface with the launch of its new desktop app. This will, no doubt, upset some Plex fans nonetheless.

dates

Upset? Absolutely and its now in direct competition with Kodi too.

I’m now in the market for a alternative to Plex. Originally I was looking at Emby a long while ago but frankly I don’t want to switch to another freemium product.

Jellyfin and Triton look good but its early days.

Jellyfin is a personal media server. The Jellyfin project was started as a result of Emby’s decision to take their code closed-source, as well as various philosophical differences with the core developers. Jellyfin seeks to be the free software alternative to Emby and Plex to provide media management and streaming from a dedicated server to end-user devices.

TRITON is a media pipeline that aims to go one step further than services like Jellyfin and Plex provide. Media is fetched from a magnitude of supported protocols (HTTP, S3-compatible, Usenet, etc), converted into multiple different quality levels, and then uploaded to a S3-compatible storage provider. This enables cheap storage and ensures that buffering is never a problem.

Lots more research is needed, including a look at what others are doing with the Plex announcement. Although I did find Ampache and Airsonic which could be useful for my mixcloud issues. Imagine if they were federated too?

The best technology can be used for good and for bad

Plex

I was very much reminded of this when reading about a user abusing Plex’s share.

Earlier this week the man in question informed fellow Plex users on Tweakers that he was approached by local anti-piracy group BREIN, which had become aware that he was running a Plex share with 5,700 movies and 10,000 TV-shows.

 

Google Stadia for Interactive digital narratives?

Yesterday Google announced Stadia, their cloud gaming project. The interesting parts of the announcement are…

  1. Play now on youtube
    I love the transition from watching to playing, 5 seconds and I’m sure with time it will drop down to even less.
  2. Play on any device and completely cross platform
    Really taking complete advantage of streaming and google’s massive cloud infrastructure.
  3. Record play state to the youtube
    Completing the circle, by sharing your state (not video) back to youtube, maybe even allowing others to play again with… This makes total sense because youtube is where they can start to show adverts too; although because its all generated it would be easy to advertise in the game its self.
  4. Share play state
    As mentioned above, you are not playing a video, but the game again complete with its world state, player position and player inventory.

Google Stadia on every platform

I think its quite a compelling idea and like everyone else, are interested in how much, how easy its to build for and will google get bored and kill it? I’m less interested in the exclusive games, game pad, etc but acknowledge  it will live or die by the games.

I do think theres some incredible possibilities for other types of media especially interactive digital narratives. It certainly could blow netflix’s interactive platform out the water. Said quite a few times, I find netflix’s interactive platform is horrible when you think, theres better more engaging experiences on the console attached to the same TV or even on the mobile you are using to drive it. With Stadia, its all the same thing.

Welcome to my home cinema

Inception on the big screen
If there’s a film to try out the new projector its got to be Inception

I finally put down some money and got the Optoma HD143x, after lots of research and deciding that I will make it work somehow or send it back.

Optoma hd143x

After about a hour and half fiddling with controls, moving the unit (I tried different heights and even the coffee table) and adjusting it a lot. At one point I tried putting the telephoto lens in front of the projector lens but the lens on the projector is so large I ended up with a quarter of the picture missing.

But finally I got a widescreen 16:9 picture at 1080p/60 resolution positioned on my screen/blind. Its clear that ideally the screen isn’t wide enough

Stretched inception picture

Originally I had to set it to 4:3 stretching the picture vertically. I thought it was acceptable but then started thinking theres got to be way to fit a 16:9 picture on the screen.

Inception on the large screen
Note the [2] at the top left is slightly cut off

Then finally I found a image shift and crop feature which allowed me to position the picture at its natural ratio of 16:9. Its not perfect but it works and means I’ll keep the projector.

So next thing to do is get a long HDMI cable and replace the VGA cable for the old projector with it in the room trunking. I also need a better more solid backstop to rest the projector on. Currently its resting on my headphone case and thats not ideal. The projector only really has one support at the front and gets unbalanced when the back is up off the ground.

Inception on the large screen

The research paid off and and now I’m looking forward to hosting some nice film nights complete with 7.1 surround sound and fresh popcorn. What a great Christmas present!

This is the TV, which fits my flat

In my last post about buying a projector, I thought long and hard about getting a bigger TV as mine is 40inches and quite old as the first generation Smart TV. I use it mainly as a monitor really with Kodi and a Chromecast driving most of my media viewing. I already unplugged it from my network and don’t use any of the smart apps.

But I love my view across Manchester, and can’t really think about putting a big TV in front of it. The projector screen is a nice compromise.

Then today from CES, came the perfect TV for me, however I have no plans to buy it, what ever price tag it has on it. Also I don’t fancy being the early adopter on this one, I’ll wait for the 3rd generation and massive price drop.