Archive | September 2012

PopcornHour C200 power consumption revisited

In part 2 of my ‘Mediadevices power reduction quest’ I examined the amount power used by my always-on PopcornHour C200 mediatank. The original power supply died after two years of continues use, so I replaced it with an ATX supply from a donor PC. The amount of current drawn by the C200 was way more than I expected, but I suspected the not-so-standard supply might be to blame.

c200 power supplyAlthough replaced by my brand new Mac Mini, I ordered a new and orignal power supply. Mainly because the C200 would have no resale value in its DIY state, but I was also curious what the difference in power usage would be. It came in today, so time to measure some more to see what difference the new supply makes.

Out came my trusted Fluke 87, I plugged it in and immediately I saw a drop in current compared to my DIY donor power supply; 42 mA vs. 57 mA. That’s a significant 26% drop. Once turned on, the differences became even more apparent. Measurements showed the orignal power supply used an average of 75 mA, that’s 17,6 watts, less during normal operation. Another thing I noticed  comparing the ‘before and after’ values was the difference between the various states the C200 can be in. With the non-original power supply, the difference between e.g. the hard disk spinning or spinned down was only about 10 mA, while with the new original supply, the difference is 22(!) mA.

These measurements show different power supplies can make a significant change in overall power consumption. My knowledge of ATX power supply is only limited, but it looks like the original PSU only provides the current as needed, while the non-original PSU, with higher power rating I might add, is always at some kind of a base energy level in order to quickly deliver higher demands of power. Something not necessary for a relative low-power device like the PopcornHour C200.

Would knowing this have affected my decision to buy a MacMini to replace the C200? No. Although power consumption was what made me think again about all my media equipment, there were a lot of other factors that pointed me in that direction. More functionality and flexibility being among them. If I didn’t want to sell the C200, I wouldn’t have ordered a new PSU in the first place and would’ve continued on with the power hungry power supply for many… well… months to come.

Another thing to mention is the specified power consumption at popcornhour.com. It’s rated, and I quote: typical: 13 W (no additional device installed/attached). In its ‘typical’, white-ring power state without doing anything else, the C200 uses 19,5 watts of power. That’s almost a third more! Orange-ring state only uses 0.5 watts less. The only time it uses less is when it’s completely powered off (9,4 watts), but that’s not ‘typical’ use. False advertising perhaps? Something PopcornHour is not shy of (network speed anyone?)

For those who are interested, here are the actual measured values. Mains is 235 volts where I live. I will  use the powerbuttons color for the different power states:

  • Standby: Red
  • Idle, no picture: orange
  • Idle, picture: white
State Donor PSU mA
Orig. PSU mA
 Standby (red)  57 (13,4W)  40 (9,4W)
 Boot with HDD  190 (44,7W)  115 (27W)
 Boot without HDD  175 (41,1W)  86 (20,2W)
 Orange HDD spin up  182 (42,8W)  108 (25,4W)
 Ornage HDD spin down  172 (40,4W)  83 (19,5W)
 Orange without HDD  168 (39,5W)  81 (19W)
 White HDD spin up  183 (43W)  108 (25,4W)
 White HDD spin down  173 (40,7W)  86 (20,2W)
 White without HDD  169 (39,7W)  83 (19,5W)
 Orange, SMB access  ?  108 (25,4W)
 White, SMB access  175(41,1W)  114 (26,8W)
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BlackmagicDesign UltraStudio 3D Thunderbolt on Windows 7 Bootcamp

This short article will describe the challenges and their solutions I faced when installing and configuring a BlackmagicDesign UltraStudio 3D with Thunderbolt connection on a Mac Mini with Boot camped Windows 7. First a little introduction to the UltraStudio 3D. It’s an awesome do-it-all video interface box packed in an Apple like aluminum housing. Double SDI in/outputs, HDMI in/out and a breakout cable equipped with every imaginable analog video format, complemented with balanced stereo in- and outputs. It’s possible to use it for live conversion as well. For example to connect a composite source to a SDI monitor. The double SDI inputs enable you to record stereoscopic video. Fun, but I’m not a big fan of 3D. It’s a nice ‘effect’ but takes away from the crisp, smooth and sharp images we’ve gotten used to with Ultrastudio 3Dprogressive 1080 video. But that’s another story. The analog video capture quality, compared with a Canopus ADVC-110, is excellent and digital capture is perfect. I’m a big fan!

We use the Ultrastudio (US 3D from now on) at work for both recording and streaming purposes. We’ve got a dedicated capture system in the form of a 2011 Mac Mini with Thunderbolt connection. Recording/capturing can of course be done in a variety of programs, preferably Mac OS X based, because Thunderbolt is not yet properly supported in Windows. But here’s the thing. Like many larger companies, our entire infrastructure is Microsoft based. As is the video server used for broadcasting a stream to a larger audience. Windows Media Video (WMV) is the only format we can trust the server can handle and is supported on workstations across the company. So Windows it is. Getting it all to function properly wasn’t as easy as it was with Mac OS X, but we got there in the end.

1. Windows won’t start with the Ultrastudio 3D connected
First issue, Windows would not complete the boot procedure when I connected the US 3D to the Mac Mini for the first time, but would boot up just fine once I disconnected it again. It would hang at the Windows logo screen. The trick for me was to connect the US 3D with the Mac Mini turned off, boot to Mac OS X (Mountain Lion in my case) and restart to Windows again. This time, Windows booted as it should. Why that did the trick? Not really shure, but there’s probably some hardware handshaking going on that Windows just can’t take care of. Once OS X sets the defaults, Windows can work with them.

2. Installation & the Ultrastudio 3D is not detected as a capture device afterwards
The US 3D comes with an installation disc containing both Mac OS X and Windows software. The package ‘Desktop Video’ will install the drivers, a control panel item for input selection/settings and a basic capture environment. Version 9.0 was provided but I like to be up-to-date and download the latest drivers. But on BlackmagicDesign’s website there was nothing to download when selecting Windows OS and the Ultrastudio 3D as the device. Not even the current 9.0. Using the provided disc was the only option.

After what seemed a successful installation, the US 3D wasn’t detected as a video capture device. Not in Microsoft Expression nor Blackmagic’s control panel settings. Windows device manager also showed a multimedia device with the dreaded orange triangle. There was no way I could get it to work. Restart, reinstall, you name it. Finally, I decided to have another look at Blackmagic’s online support section. This time I chose the Ultrastudio Pro as my device and suddenly Desktop Video 9.6.1 popped up. Worth a shot. Installation was problem free, new drivers were installed and the US 3D was detected and working as it should. Wether it’s a fluke on the website or Blackmagic doesn’t deem the Windows version worthy for the US 3D yet, I don’t know, but problem solved.

3. Windows can’t find the Ultrastudio 3D
One major drawback of using Thunderbolt on Windows is its lack of hot-swap-support. If the US 3D (or other Thunderbolt device) disconnects by e.g. loosing power or changing cables, you MUST restart Windows with the device plugged in and powered on to get it to work again.

4. Can’t change the input
I’m writing this bit with a last bit of shame. I was not in any way able to get a picture on another input besides SDI. The Desktop Video software let me change resolutions and refresh rates but not the actual input. Some kind of  faulty autodetect with priority came to mind but was a bit far fetched. After a few hours I finally discovered the Blackmagic Design’s Control Panel item with all the settings you could wish for. Input, output, how to handle 23,976 Hz, even fan speed!

Mac Mini Mediacenter: NZB (usenet) and torrent downloads

This article is part of larger collection on various subjects about the installation of my Mac Mini as a mediacenter to replace my PopcornHour C200 and Plex server PC. You can find the index here

One thing I loved about my previous networked media tank was its ability to function as an allround hassle free downloader. Upload your NZB’s or torrents and forget all about it. Few hours later, it’s done. Downloaded, PAR checked, unrarred and already residing on the main media hard drive. I had to at least match this with my new setup.

NZB (usenet)
I prefer usenet downloading over all other forms. It’s fast and private. My old PopcornHour C200 used NZBGet as its out-of-the-box usenet client. NZBGet is a lightweight package with a pretty complete feature set. Multiple servers, watch folder, par check and unrar. Despite of the Popcorn’s limited processor and memory, it always maxed out my ISP’s download speed. But it looks like crap! Now having the advantage of a full fledged PC, I could pick whatever I want, but it was a no-brainer: SABnzbd. SABnzbdFree, fast, skinnable, open source and very feature rich. It also allows access to its API’s in order to communicate with other programs like Sickbeard, Couch Potato and the likes.

I’d like to highlight one very simple but much used feature, the watch folder. When working with multiple NZB files, it can be a pain to upload them all separately to SABnzbd. SABnzbd can monitor a given folder every few seconds for new NZB files and once detected, they are added to the cue. Very effective. As with all folders, the watch folder can be shared over the network for added functionality. I configured my MacBook and Windows PC to mount the shared watch folder on startup. I can now use the same watch folder on any system I like, while the Mac Mini is the one doing all the work.

Torrents
As I stated above, I like downloading via usenet. I’m not that big a fan of BitTorrent. Anti piracy foundations got their eye on it, it’s less private compared to usenet and bad quality modem-routers tend to crash with large torrent streams. But every now and then, certain files are not offered on usenet. The BitTorrent community is just better suited for the more obscure and hard to find files and media. So I installed a torrent client anyway. uTorrent

The PopcornHour C200 came with Transmission and ANSI front end. I like transmission on OS X, but it crashed constantly on the C200. Transmission is also not available for Windows, my mediacenter OS, so I had to look elsewhere. I found μTorrent. It’s an effective and free torrent client with a very small footprint. It can run in the background, waiting for torrent files and magnetic links, without using any significant amount of memory or other resources. All settings are there, folder setup, bandwidth management, up/download restriction, you name it. Perfect for instant once-in-a-while usage

Web interfaces
My Mac Mini’s only display is a TV set, which is also used for… watching TV. And although I’m able to manage everything through Teamviewer, it’s not ideal. So for the frequently used tasks like usenet- and torrent downloading, I like to have an alternative. Both programs come with a web interface option. Once enabled, they can be reached by connecting to the system’s IP address (setting a static IP address is advised) and pre set port number (http://192.168.1.111:8886 for example). The port number can be set to anything you like, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other programs or standardized functions like 25 & 110 for mail, 119 for NNTP, 449 for https, et cetera. This way, you can manage your downloads by just using an internet browser instead of Teamviewer or other remote desktop solution. Another advantage is the ability to connect to the download clients from outside the house. You just have to know your WAN IP address, provided by your ISP, and configure port forwarding in your router. Port forwarding detects requests at pre set port numbers and passes the ones allowed to the coupled LAN IP address. DON’T forget to set a username/password in every program reachable from the internet, or anybody could potentially connect to you computer or worse.

Sickbeard, Couch Potato and HeadPhones
Respectivly automated TV series, movies and music download. One misconception is that these programs actually download the content. That’s not the case. They just keep track of a personalized watchlist and automatically download the corresponding NZB file when a new item is posted on Usenet. They integrate very well with e.g. SABnzbd which in turn does the actual downloading.

I wanted to mention these kind of programs to get a full picture, but I’m not going to use them. I’ve played around with Sickbeard for a while. I do appreciate the functionality but like to manage my downloads manually. Here’s why. I like to download older series too. Something that can be quite tricky with Sickbeard. First of all, most of the essential index sites don’t backtrack, which means no history. So only newly posted episodes are available. Second, when backtracking, Sickbeard tends to pick the newest post if several exist. In practice however, newer post are usually password protected for some reason, or come with hardcoded subs. The older original postings are clean of tampering by other parties, but are ignored

Another reason is the fact I’ve got other sites to keep track of new episodes and movies. I’ve used them for a long time now and they give me suggestions based on the series I follow in return. Downloading manually also has the advantage of keeping track what’s new in your library, instead of stumbling upon a new item. So I’ll keep using the hands-on approach… for now.

Disclaimer: I’m not in any way affiliated with the programs mentioned above nor do I condone downloading illegal content in any way.