Category Archives: Digital Entertainment

HP Home Server Update: External Hard Drive Added

I finally finished migrating all of my data off of my Western Digital World Book Drive to my HP Home Server.  In the process of doing so, I ran out of space on the home server.  I blew away some anime series that I knew I would not watch to make everything happy again.  After that, I decided to see whether I could add the 1TB World Book to my home server.  I was very worried that it wouldn’t work because to run in on the computer it was currently connected, it required a huge software package, and even then, it didn’t always work.  In the back of my mind, I was grinding away on ideas for a proper sacrifice to make this work.

I tried the most obvious thing first.  That is opening the home server control panel and then connecting the drive into one of the many USB ports on the back of the home server.  I did this and within a minute, the drive was visible but not active in the storage tab.  I clicked on the drive and selected to add it to my server.  The control panel asked if I wanted to format the drive.  I clicked “yes” and away the server and the drive cranked.  Within 5-mins, the activity was done and the server alerted me that the drive had been added and that I now have a whopping 1.82TB of storage.  Yippee!  And so painless!

I plan next to move our laser printer to the home server, so I now have no reason to keep my poor little laptop on 24/7.  I still have not enabled any of the sharing functionality, yet.

Vuze Interface on Azureus Bittorrent Application

I updated Azureus at home to the Vuze interface a couple of weeks ago.  Vuze is a open source platform for the sharing of high definition video content (and more).  The interface is very slick looking with buttons for the various channels and thumbnails of the videos available.  Here’s a picture of the Vuze interface on the Azureus website.  The actually program UI looks very similar.

A new download window is also presented.  It is extremely simplified compared to the previous versions of Azureus.  While “pretty”, I find this view to be useless, so I still use the “advanced” interface to manage my downloads.  BTW:  There is now the ability to download series to specific folders via the RSS feed filter tab.  Yippee!

To be honest, I haven’t fully explored the Vuze yet because there was no programming available that I wanted offered through any of the channels.  Today I see there is some worthy content, so I will take a look and write more on this.  In the mean time, here’s a link to Vuze so you can play with it yourself.

HP Home Server Update

I had a dream on Friday night that went something like this:

While staring at my little home server a voice spoke directly to my brain.  It said, “To make Microsoft Home Server and iTunes cooperate, a proper sacrifice must be offered to appease the gods.  What can you give Kuroneko003?  What are you willing to offer?”

I woke up sweaty and panicked and seriously thinking, “oh geez, what would be fitting? a cake? burning incense? a blood sacrifice maybe?”  When I came to, I realized that perhaps the unintentional blood sacrifices that I had made before when building computers may have something to do with them starting up the first time and being surprisingly quite robust than it had to do with luck (for goodness sake, considering my putziness, it isn’t skill  — I cut my fingers leaving little pools of blood in the bottom of the cases).  Sigh … too much “Rental Magica” (an excellent anime series that you could be watching) I suppose.

A handful of folders on my World Book were corrupt and couldn’t be moved.  As of now, all of uncorrupted video and audio files on the World Book and the entertainment laptop have been migrated to the home server.  I left a copy of all of the music on the entertainment laptop and I will make another copy on another computer hard drive later.  All that is now left is to move are our pictures.  During the migration, I did discover that the two drives in the Home Server are mirrored, so in reality only 500GB are available for storage.  I had more files than could be contained which necessitated burning some content to DVD and blowing away series I knew I would not view again.  Sometime this month I will buy another hardrive or two to increase the capacity of the server (I wonder if I can cannabalize the World Book drives — they are SCSI drives too.  Hmm… that will probably require another sacrifice.).

I also discovered, without my explicit direction, the media server made a back up of the computer that I use as a client for the server.  I suppose this is okay, but because of this, I will not be installing the Home Server software on our other computers due to limited storage capacity.  I hope that I can change these settings so I can back-up only selected  files like my e-mail.  The rest of the stuff on the computers isn’t that important now that our media files have been centralized.

Onto iTunes … just so the it’s known:  I hate iTunes.  It’s so dumbed down that it’s nearly impossible for me to use.  The problem occured when I tried to point the library to the shared music folder on the home server.  This of course caused duplicates to occur in iTunes, which is a BIG problem when you have 3900+ songs in you library.  At first I tried resolving the duplicates manually.  After 30-mins and very little progress, I decided to go to bed and that’s when I had the dream I described at the beginning of this blog entry.  The next day, I decided to root around in my iTunes directory to see if there was a slicker way to do this.  My strategy was to blow away the library without blowing away the music files and then have iTunes remake library.  My first attempt made things worse — never allow iTunes to consolidate your library.  It resulted in triplicates for me, in addition to doubling the number of actual files residing on the server.  The trick is to move the music files and cover files to the directory you want to point the iTunes library to and then blow away all other instances of the iTunes directory so iTunes can’t rediscover them.  When you do this, iTunes will discover only the directory it’s pointed to and your library will not have duplicates.  The next test will be adding new music from the iTunes store and ripping from CD.  Sigh …

So far, playing/viewing my media files on the other computers on my home network works.  I tried out a few hi-def video files and they played smoothly, even on our ancient media center laptop (yippee!  we don’t need a new one yet!).    I haven’t fully enabled all of the sharing features on the home server yet, so stay tuned and when I get around to it, I’ll write about the experience.  Anyhow, so far I’m very pleased.

Secrets of Downloading Anime Revealed, Part 3

In this final entry about downloading Anime, I will describe how I view the content I have downloaded.

First a warning:  when I went seeking the guts of how this all works I tripped into a very scary world of bits and packets.  This is a cursed realm akin to the realm of beans.  It’s best not to travel to deeply into this realm unless you are network nerd.  That said, here it goes:

Codecs and Containers
Media files are huge, so they must be compressed for convenient transmission over the Internet.  A codec is used to (co)mpress and (dec)ompress or to (co)de and (dec)ode media files into or from smaller files.  In other words a codec is use to encode video files and well as decode video files.  Examples of codecs are Dvix, Xvid, MP3, RealAudio, and WMA.   A container is needed to house video files along with their attachments like audio, subtitles, indices, and other junk.  Common video containers used for anime are AVI and Matroska.  There are many codecs out there that can be used to play files in their respective containers.  Because the world of fansubbing is basically the “wild-wild-west”, a varied assortment of codecs are needed to play video files.  Unfortunately, I have found that those codec packs that have proven to be safe, like the XP codec pack, do not have all the codecs needed.  Sigh … I use the CCCP codec pack and pray that these folks aren’t malicious and that my internet security software and hardware adequately protect me.

Here are some links to more information about codec, containers, and compression algorithms.  The comparison of containers is particularly helpful.  Notice that Matroska is open source and very flexible.

From my experience, AVI and MKV (Matroska) are the most common anime file formats.   Commonly Xvid and H264 (MPEG4) are the codecs needed to decode the files.  As of now, AVI files are standard definition (480-lines or less), while the MKV files are usually 576-lines and higher — the highest I’ve played has been 1080-lines (1920×1080), but they are most commonly 720-lines (1280×720).    The MKV container also allows for multiple soundtracks, 5.1 sound, multiple subtitle tracks, and DVD like menus — it’s quite nice.   Lately, the H264 compression algorithm is being used more and more.  Although it is highly efficient, it does require more processing power and RAM to decode and some media players handle this codec better than others.  Many of the fansubbers now offer both AVI and MKV versions of series.  The MKV files is usually the hi-def version and, in general, is about 25 – 50% larger than the AVI.

Video Players
When you decide the world of downloads is for you, the first thing you want to do is severally cripple Window Media player so it isn’t your default media player and so it can’t disable all of the media files on you computer or network due to DRM enforcement (WMP can wreck your world if you are not careful  T_T ).  The next thing is a nice thing:  you don’t have to install codecs for each player you have, rather all the players have equal access to the codecs on your computer and the players can figure out which codecs to use without consulting you.  Meaning, that once you have installed a player and the codec pack, all you have to do is push play.  NICE!!!

There are lots of free and cheap players out there that do an excellent job.  These players also play music and DVDs, so you can turn any computer into an entertainment center without having to specifically buy an entertainment center computer.  Most codec packs recommended by anime download sites include Window Classic Media Player (an ultra lean version of the Windows Media Player — all the good stuff without the added “value” of Microsoft) and zPlayer.  The Classic media player is good for AVI files, but not so good for MKV.  The zPlayer should used for Matroska files.  The zPlayer, though, is not as user friendly as the Classic player.  For a little bit of cash you can pay for a media player too.   I use WinDVD, which also plays DVD’s and has some cool features that allow for clean screen captures and adding personal notations. 

So there you have it.  Now, what to do with all this info … hmm …

Toshiba TV Moves Closer to Digital Convergence

A new Toshiba TV includes an ethernet port so the TV can be added to a home network.  It still doesn’t have enough smarts to be a client, but it’s getting there.  Toshiba, though is fortunate because it can proliferate this kind of technology and TV experience due to it being a recognized TV brand.  In this way I feel bad for our chances in this space because no matter how much we innovate with connected TVs, we don’t have any market penetration, so nobody knows.  In some ways, I think it would be better if we provided some PC guts to be integrated into TV’s so all brands can offer a “Smart TV.”  Of course, it would be quite a feat to get a deal like this with a Japanese or Korean TV manufacturer — or course there are always indirect routes if we haven’t burned those content and colorant bridges yet.  Let’s not forget the fingers we deal with belong to the bodies of much larger conglomerates.

HP Home Server

After about 3 or 4 months of struggling with Western Digital’s World Book Pro, I gave up and decided to try an HP home server.   When I purchased the World Book online there were a few commenters that had a terrible time with the hardware.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to take those comments because, as we all know, there are brand haters out there that poo-poo products because of the brand.  Unfortunately my experience wasn’t very good (and I did give feedback to Western Digital on my experience).  For the most part, the World Book software is unstable.  I was able to get the drive to be recognized on only one of 4 of our computers.  On the computer that it did “work” on, performance was spotty with the drive randomly disconnecting or losing its share permissions.  Anyhow, the drive started acting like it was about to crash, so I spent a lot of time last weekend trying rescue my data (600GB!!!).  Strangely enough, the hardware stopped working on the one PC it did work on and so I was scrambling, again, to make the drive work.  It wouldn’t install on the Blackbird002 — it seemed to be occupying multiple USB controllers.  It did, though, work on the first laptop that I had originally tried, after I removed the other external drives attached to that laptop.  Sigh … I did lose some data.  I don’t know the extent of the loss yet, though.

Onto the home server.  Installation was pretty straightforward.  We decided to only set-up the basic things and wait until later to set-up website sharing (Steve’s paranoia kicked in).  Contrary to the instructions, we only had to set up the controller console on one computer.  To access the files on another computer, we just connect using one of the accounts we set up.  After getting the server up, it took less that 5-mins to redirect the Bittorrent client to the server and to start transferring data from the World Book and our other computers.  So far, I’ve moved about 250GB of data.  My final goal in this is to get all the media data off the the external drives and the computers in our network and centralized it to the home media server.  I’m a little worried about transferring our musics and getting iTunes happy, but that’s a bridge I’ll cross later this week.  As for the external drives, my hope is to connect them to the media server.  We have 3 external drives — 120GB, 500GB, and 1TB (World Book).  I’m hoping, after reformatting, I can add the World Book’s capacity to the media server (I’m not feeling good about it though, since it doesn’t seem to work without with WD software).  I’ll report back in next week after completing the set-up and data migration.