Daily Archives: August 20, 2007

The lantern goes dark

We’ve got no television signal.

We moved into our current flat about four years ago. The block was served by NTL (now Virgin Media), and we are not allowed to install satellite dishes, or I would have gone with Sky. I didn’t want to purchase a cable service… I’m happy with BT for the phone line with ADSL, especially since we live within metres of the local exchange, and I know that various colleagues have had issues with VPN over cable.

Here’s the problem: there’s no standard aerial connection into the flat. There is an existing NTL socket on the wall, with FM and TV outputs labelled on the bottom. 

A friend who lived up the road said that I could buy a cable-to-coaxial connector / converter, attach it to the TV output from the NTL socket, just plug the TV into that, and I’d get the standard 5 terrestrial channels. He was right. It’s an analogue signal, so we’ve not had Freeview or anything, but we don’t watch TV a huge amount, so it has been enough.

Unfortunately, as of last Thursday, the signal went dead. Nothing on the TV. Just a blue screen (i.e. no signal being received). It comes through the VCR, so I tried retuning that, retuning the set, connecting the cable directly to the TV instead and retuning, dismantling the outlet to check that nothing had come loose… nothing.

I arrived at one of several conclusions:

  • Problems with our equipment? The TV and VCR are 5+ years old – but that shouldn’t make a difference. DVDs still work fine.
  • Someone else in the block has had cable attached or fiddled with, and the communal router (which I assume exists) has been reset such that we no longer get a signal.
  • Virgin have cynically withdrawn our ability to get a free terrestrial analogue signal through their network in an attempt to get us to sign up.

I phoned Virgin Media TV support, and explained the problem – I’m not a customer, but wondered whether anything changed on the network recently to prevent me from getting a signal from this socket? They wanted my customer number. I explained, again, that I’m not a customer. Oh, in that case, perhaps I would like to speak to the sales department?

Not really. I see from the Virgin Media website that their “M” package is offered for free… so long as I take Virgin Phone, which I emphatically do not want. I also assume that they will want me on a minimum 12 month contract, and we don’t expect to be there for that long.

So what are my options?

  • Find out why we don’t have a coax socket to the communal aerial for the block. Apparently some of our neighbours do have connections to that aerial (but most of them take cable anyway). I can’t see a coax connection anywhere. Pretty sure that’s why I ended up connecting to the cable socket in the first place. The cynic in me suspects that NTL removed it when they plumbed in cable for the previous occupants. Don’t know where to start in trying to find out about this one.
  • Buy an indoor aerial. I figure that this will suck. We live opposite an airport and near to various defence research sites, so reception in our area is notoriously poor.
  • Sign up for the known-to-be-awful Virgin Media service, if it is possible to get it without the phone, and take a hit when we move.

Any other thoughts from my helpful readers?

In the meantime, we’ve been watching DVDs, and I’ve been using the Mac to see what is available online. Streaming BBC News 24 helps, but it gets a bit same-y. Ultimately, we’d like something we can watch on the TV, and not huddled over a laptop. I never did get around to building the Linux-based Media Server I’ve always wanted to own.

Oh yeah, and to add the domestic woes, we’ve had no hot water for three weeks, thanks to a boiler problem. Hopefully that will be fixed on Friday. Oh, and I broke the kitchen extractor fan and need to replace that.  Fun fun fun.

Video imperfection

I left a previous blog post about my adventures with presentations and video on OS X hanging slightly, by not explaining whether I was successful in crunching a Quicktime video out of my Keynote presentation.

The story so far: I wanted to create a video slideshow + audio track from a Keynote presentation. I had an MP3 of the audio (thanks to Roo), and was trying to glue that together with a Quicktime stream of the slides and transitions. I’d found Keynote’s Quicktime export unsatisfactory, iMovie 6 editing facilities inadequate, and import of static images of the slides into iMovie produced low quality material.

In the end, I was successful. I exported images from Keynote; purchased Still Life to create an iMovie project; downsampled the MP3 track to a lower quality but still acceptable 8kbps using Audacity [NB this step was crucial to creating a final file that was of a reasonable size]; imported the MP3 track into iMovie and then copied each slide frame enough times to cover the time I was speaking over it. Finally, I bought QT Pro and VisualHub to give me more control over the Quicktime file output. The key things in reducing the video size turned out to be downsampling the audio and not worrying too much about compression since the slides were basically static images.

Result: a 45 min presentation which is about 70Mb in size, including speaker audio and audience questions. I’m happy with that.

A week or so after all of these shenanigans, Apple released iWork 08. I’d only bought iWork 06 four weeks previously, and was told that there was no upgrade pricing. The first time Apple has significantly upset me in my 6 month relationship with them.

Anyway, Keynote 08 contains a new Voice-over Recording mode. I gave it a quick try in the Apple Store on Regent Street before I bought iWork 08, and it seemed OK. Unfortunately, my fellow IBMer and Apple zealot Ian Smith has taken a closer look at it, and reports that it gets out of sync. Not good news. I had been hoping to revise my presentation and re-record it so that I could put it up on Slideshare. I might still try to do that just to see whether I suffer from the same problems that Ian discovered.

There has been a lot of controversy over iMovie 08 – it doesn’t open projects created in iMovie 6 by default, and I’m not sure that I’d even be happy trying to do what I did before with the new version, having heard about its deficiencies.

Ian has taken a look at the issues around HD video and the Mac, too… it sounds like there’s still no nirvana here, even though iMovie 08 now supports AVCHD and HDD-based video cameras, there are still a bunch of limitations.

I’m not into video work into a big way, but Ian is. Check out his analysis of the current state of play. He’s worth listening to.