Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Remrecord Tool 1.0 now available

remrecord 1.0 (stable) can now be downloaded on the Remrecord Tool page. I've tested it on the Linux, Windows (with Cygwin) and Mac OS X platforms and there's also long-winded Cygwin installation instructions included for Windows users. You can now "prefer" SD or HD simulcasts (e.g. BBC One (SD) vs. BBC One HD), repeats are ignored by default, banned channels and programmes to be recorded can be specified with comma-separated ranges at the appropriate prompt and a Web throttling delay has been added if search terms generate a lot of Web requests to the Fetch TV site.

This is the first stable release just in time for Christmas - the next release will either be to fix freshly discovered bugs or to correct the script if Fetch TV change their Remote Recording Web interface, whichever happens first.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Stable firmware (4.8.01-11) available

After suffering almost 10 weeks of the anything-but "stable" 4.8.00-02 firmware release, Fetch TV have finally released a successor to that pretty bad firmware release, namely version 4.8.01-11. This supersedes all the previous beta releases and I've updated the Latest Firmware page to include details on this new stable firmware release.

I've applied the update and it fixes almost all the major bugs that were present in the previous stable release: much more stable, simultaneous recordings finally work correctly and even the wi-fi seems more reliable. I urge all 8320HD users to upgrade to this release - it makes using the box far less frustrating!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Where's the new 8320HD firmware then?

We know from AVForums.com postings that the next 8320HD firmware is already in beta testing (presumably for a release before Christmas 2010). We also know that the last two firmware releases were released exactly 6 weeks apart: 4.750-01 on 26th August 2010 and 4.8.00-02 on 7th October 2010. So here we are, 7 weeks after the latest firmware came out (making it the longest gap between releases ever) and still no sign of the new firmware.

My box still crashes during remote control operations - even just pressing the GUIDE button causes a crash about 10% of the time! Its stability whilst being actively used is frighteningly poor, although I must admit that if I don't use the remote, it doesn't tend to crash. There are more than a dozen known bugs and a few of them are quite serious, so it's time for Fetch TV to step up to the plate and release new firmware. I don't care if it's initially just for USB stick upgrades only and not via the box's own Net-based upgrade interface.

I want my, I want my, I want my Fetch TV (upgrade)...

Friday, 19 November 2010

8320HD paid content poll

An AVForums.com user, natterjak, has set up a poll to see how often people pay for the Fetch TV content (e.g. PPV movies, a few channels like Nat Geo that can be subscribed to etc.). I haven't even bothered with the free movie that you can apparently download (not that it's clear that the 8320HD purchase entitles you to that!). What I don't like is that all Fetch TV paid for content is DRM'ed to the hilt - you can't record it, you have to watch it within 7 days and it "self-destructs" 24 hours after you start watching it!

All good reasons why it's useless as a paid service and would even be annoying as a free service (because Fetch TV actually pull movies and don't keep them available long term, so their choice is limited too). Also note that a lot of their paid-for content isn't HD either and much of it is overpriced too.  A big thumbs down from me then...

Friday, 12 November 2010

Another 8320HD re-tune coming up on Monday...

This week, my 8320HD displayed a Freeview network information dialogue box and also added a temporary new option to its main menu. There's been advance notification of Freeview channel changes posted up by the Freeview folks for the first time since I got my 8320HD! Apart from telling you that you'll need to re-tune your 8320HD any time after 5.00pm GMT on Monday 15th November, it fails to actually explain why the re-tune is necessary.

A Digital Spy posting makes a good stab at guessing the channel changes - some channels are moving around and others are being dropped. It looks like ITV1+1 (yawn!) is coming to Freeview in Jan 2011, though presumably only in its SD incarnation. And, yes, QVC has a Freeview contract for another 12 years - yet another good reason for the 8320HD to be able to delete channels.

Oh, and in case you're wondering why the recent BBC One HD launch never got a Freeview notification on the 8320HD, I suspect it's because the Freeview folks can only send notifications to all Freeview boxes (both SD and HD) and not just to HD-capable ones. Imagine the chaos if Freeview SD-only boxes notified users that BBC One HD was coming and they'd need to re-tune!

Re-tune update: Not a huge amount happened after I re-tuned my 8320HD on Monday evening, except for a new bizarre ITV Preview 1 placeholder channel (number 35), which has had a blank screen and no EPG programmes ever since the re-tune. This may well be the rumoured ITV+1 channel slot that's due to be filled in Jan 2011.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Does the 8320HD violate the GPL?

For those not in the know, the GNU General Public License (GPL) means that if you ship binaries that are covered by the GPL, you must also supply the source code (whether you modified the code or not, though if you didn't modify it, just providing a URL to the original unmodified source code is good enough). The 8320HD firmware contains LGPL 'ed and GPL'ed software in its firmware - see the "Legal Information" dialogue box in its UI.

The huge Australian ISP Telstra has been supplying near-identical "T-Box" hardware (the only difference between a T-Box and an 8320HD is the latter's use of DVB-T2 tuners instead of the T-Box's DVB-T tuners - both have their firmware written by Netgem). This week, Telstra has been pulled up for not supplying source code to the GPL'ed software in their T-Box firmware.

Telstra, to their credit, have managed to persuade Netgem to release the October 2010 source code to their T-Box firmware. The question now remains: when will Netgem release the equivalent 8320HD source code? Surely IP Vision remains in GPL violation until they do?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sky Player free month starts on my 8320HD

There's a leaflet included with your 8320HD that has a voucher code giving you a free month's subscription to Sky Player's Entertainment (Sky 1, Living and some others) and Sports (Sky Sports 1-4) Packs worth £34.50. Be warned that the offer closes on 31st December 2010 (though I wonder if new 8320HD boxes bought in 2011 will have a later expiry date?), so don't think you've got a whole year to sign up for your free month. Firstly, you have to register for a Sky ID - if you already subscribe to Sky, you'll have a Sky ID already. Theoretically, you could use someone else's Sky ID, but they'd be foolish to give it to you because you could sign up for all sorts - movies etc. - and cost them money.

A Sky ID allows up to four computers (Windows or Mac - they use Silverlight 4 which isn't available on Linux which only has Moonlight 3 so far) and a set-top box such as the 8320HD or an Xbox. To register the 8320HD as a play device, you simply go to channel 759 ("SKY") on your 8320HD, log in with your Sky ID and password and then navigate around. You can do the same with up to 4 PCs, but once you've registered them, they're strict about changing them (one change per month or something like that).

Once you have a Sky ID, there's an option in the accounts section to subscribe to various Sky packs. This is where you type in your promo code from your leaflet and it enables the aforementioned packs for free for one month. Despite it costing you nothing, you're forced - like FetchTV's registration - to put your credit card info in when you "buy" the packs for a month. Huge tip here - once you've signed up, go to the accounts section and immediately cancel the sub. They insist that you have to finish your current month and will not refund any part of it - they auto-cancel at the end of the month. Since you paid nothing, this still gives you the free month and Sky will then nicely cancel it without you doing anything more. If you don't do this cancellation, they will charge your credit card £34.50 at the start of the second month - you've been warned!

The Sky Player interface is reasonable apart from a couple of clunky issues. Firstly, the 8320HD takes an age (up to 2 seconds sometimes) to respond to any remote control key presses - it really does discourage any sort of surfing through channels. Secondly, all the live TV channels are numbered (e.g. MTV is 350) and yet the number buttons on the remote do absolutely nothing, which is frankly ridiculous. You have to cursor up and down on a Now/Next-style banner to find the channel you want (or go to the full Sky TV Guide)!

Other issues included a very slight motion blur and pixel artifacts if you sit close to your TV (I'm watching two live football matches today, so if they are affected by this, I'll comment on it and, yes, I'm always on the so-called 1.8Mbit/sec "high" quality that's actually slightly worse than SD!), being unable to get Sky Sports 1-4 in the early hours of this morning (screen went blank on those 4 channels, but were fine on all other channels I'm free-subbed to) and the inability to record anything. The Sky Player seems to overlay on the current Freeview channel you're watching, so pressing the record button will record the Freeview channel and not the Sky Player stream.

My conclusion? Reasonably OK for free, but there's absolutely no way I'd pay £34.50 a month for a barely-SD-quality unrecordable version of Sky Sports channels and a dozen or so rather poor "entertainment" channels. Up the picture quality, allow all programmes to be recordable (and not time-limited - forget that Sky Player desktop downloader thing) and throw in all the normal movie channels and it still would be too expensive!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

BBC One HD launches...and the 8320HD fails to notice

When I got home tonight, I checked the 8320HD's EPG shortly after the BBC One HD launch on channel 50 at 7.00pm GMT, only to find that there was no automatic detection of the new channel (or the move of the existing BBC HD channel from 50 to 54). A big let-down there really - people who are unaware of the BBC One HD launch (e.g. my TV Times paper magazine, which refused to mention it at all) might not retune for weeks or months and miss out on a fair chunk of BBC One HD output.

Channel 50 still showed BBC HD on my 8320HD, so I went into the preferences and did a full automatic tune of channels. When that completed, the EPG and channel listings were correct and sure enough, choosing channel 50 selected BBC One HD plus the BBC HD channel had moved to channel 54. Sadly, the BBC have decided to put a "BBC One HD" opaque logo in the top-left - is this the first time a BBC One or Two channel has had a permanent (24x7) logo? Considering it's now simulcast content, the BBC should be consistent and either put logos on both BBC One (SD) and BBC One HD or on neither. I hate that we now get an improved BBC One picture, only for it to be "exclusively" spoiled by a permanent logo on the HD version - ludicrous!

Oh and shouldn't the BBC One HD channel listings indicate with an "(HD)" which programmes are native HD and not upscaled SD? My TV Times magazine does this, so it's very poor that the BBC Website doesn't. I've also noticed that channel 53 is conspicuously unallocated and sits between Channel 4 HD and BBC HD. I suspect it's been left like that for a future allocation to Channel 5 HD when they get their act together in about 4-5 years' time at this rate.

This BBC One HD launch yet again emphasises that the 8320HD needs a channel move/renumber/delete capability (no, not the awkward Favourites system). The vast majority of 8320HD owners would surely want BBC One HD on channel 1, ITV 1 HD on channel 3 and Channel 4 HD on channel 4? Instead, we get the awkward double key presses of channels 50, 51 and 52 respectively, so even the second digit doesn't match the "expected" channel number  - horrendous! It now means the only "correctly" positioned channel in the first four is BBC 2 (SD) on channel 2.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Time zone change predictably confused my 8320HD

As an experiment, I decided to record the repeat of Elton John: Electric Prom that aired on BBC HD at 1.15am BST this morning. Being an hour-long show, this would cross the time zone change and give a definitive answer as to how the 8320HD would handle this twice-yearly event. As a precaution, I was not simultaneously recording anything else during the scheduled recording. Here's a list of issues I came across:
  • Highlighting the programme on the EPG gave a time span of 01.15 to 01.15 in the information banner below the EPG.
  • Despite pressing the red button several times whilst highlighting the programme to schedule it to record, the red blob refused to appear next to the programme title in the EPG.
  • Going to the recording schedule page, I was then shown 8 copies of the programme to be recorded at once (one for each of my red button presses). I deleted 7 of them (they all had the "right" time of 01.15-02.15 in the list this time) and then waited for the recording itself...
  • The recording seemed to work, although when I selected it to play, the timespan shown on the banner was 00.20-01.25 (possibly wrongly mixing GMT and BST times there?). It could have been Accurate Recording adjusting the times away from their 15-minutes-past-the-hour point I guess. I didn't use the Modify option to pad the programme in case you're wondering.
  • Playback started at the 55-minute point onwards and wouldn't let me rewind before that point! My guess is that this coincided with the original end-point of 01.15 (GMT).
  • To kick the user further in the groin, the transport stream .ts file is - unnecessarily IMHO - encrypted for HD recordings, so I can't export this to VLC and see if the stream is intact or not. VLC seems to be the best at avoiding the 8320HD's "bad playback" issues (I find mplayer quits as soon as it hits a trouble point).
Conclusion: The 8320HD doesn't handle time zone changes at all well and my advice is to try to avoid recording a programme that crosses over a time zone change. Sadly, you won't be able to experiment like this again until Sunday 27th March 2011. Oh, and before you ask, I recorded the Elton John programme from BBC 2 the previous evening as well because I suspected things wouldn't go well (plus I wanted a version I could export, unlike the BBC HD version).

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Two events coming up for 8320HD users

The next week or so sees two first-time events for 8320HD users:

2.00am BST/1.00am GMT Sunday 31st October: Time zone change from BST to GMT
This will be the first UK time zone change since the 8320HD was released back in June 2010. At 2.00am BST on Sunday 31st October, the clocks will go back to 1.00am GMT - the 8320HD should do this automatically because the time is set by the Freeview TV signal, though I'm always personally wary of recording programmes when the timezone change happens! Hopefully, the change will pass peacefully and not hit a bug - we don't want a Hallowe'en horror after all.
Time zone change update: The 8320HD predictably failed to handle it properly.

7.00pm GMT Wednesday 3rd November: BBC One HD channel launches
This may well be the first new HD channel on Freeview since the 8320HD was launched. It's not clear to me if this will be picked up automatically by the box or if you'll have to do an automatic or manual re-tune to get it.   BBC One HD will be a simulcast of BBC One (SD), with any SD content upscaled to HD resolution. I'm not sure if the annoying BBC (One) HD onscreen logo will appear - ITV 1 HD use a logo to indicate native HD content for example. BBC One HD will be on Freeview channel 50 and the current BBC HD channel will move to Freeview channel 54 (minus any BBC One content). Yes, it is annoying you can't move/renumber channels on the 8320HD because surely you'd want BBC One HD on channel 1 and not 50?!
BBC One HD launch update: The 8320HD inevitably totally ignored the new channel launch and required me to re-scan all channels to pick it up (and the BBC HD move).

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Catastrophic bug with overlapping scheduled recordings

I just discovered a major bug with overlapping scheduled recordings that I've been able to reproduce several times when one programme recording starts after the other and they both overlap once the second programme recording commences.

It's documented on the bugs page and I'm looking to see if anyone has seen similar behaviour on their 8320HD, either when both scheduled recordings start simultaneously or one starts recording later than the other (and then both overlap).

I'll keep comments open until I get confirmation of both so I can ticket the bug with Fetch TV (when they deal with my 2 open tickets that have sat unanswered for days now...).

Update: Fixed by the latest beta release firmware (version 4.8.01-06)

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Please contribute to the site

OK, this is the first commentable blog post of the site and I've got my begging bowl out already. Although I will be using the avforums.com world-record thread to populate some of this site, it'll be a tough task without some help from you out there. I'm looking for postings from 8320HD owners that can fill up any "static" sections of this site (see the set of navigation tabs).

So that's bugs, features you'd like to see, links to useful 8320HD info, more stuff about the latest firmware [though I've covered the release and installation process already], any rumours you've heard about future firmware or places selling the box etc. and, finally, any non-obvious things you've found out when using the 8320HD.

Please post them as a comment on this posting (which I will be heavily moderating - it's not a chat Web site :-) ) and anything useful will be copied to the appropriate tab section and a credit to the poster given on the page. I reserve the right to delete off-topic postings and eventually remove the oldest ones (or any that have been already transferred to a tab section). Also note that spam protection will quarantine any post containing URLs until I get a chance to review them and approve/reject them.

Welcome to the Unofficial Technika Smartbox 8320HD Blog

Hi there, I'm Richard Lloyd and I've just set up this Blogger site to discuss the Technika Smartbox 8320HD Freeview HD hard disk recorder, currently on sale in the UK in Tesco exclusively. It's important to note that this is an unofficial blog (yes, it's in the site title) in no way endorsed by Tesco (who own the "Technika" brand), IP Vision (who own the "Fetch TV" brand) or indeed the Freeview HD folks (wherever they are!). I'm not employed by anyone of them and don't get backhanders from them either before you ask.

What I'm intending to do is to start commentable blog posts on various subjects and also create certain information tabs such as firmware release info, where to buy the box, known bugs not fixed yet, forthcoming rumours, set of useful links and so on. The most useful suggestions from the public in the blog comments will be copied, along with a credit to the original poster, to the appropriate information tab. This keeps the tab pages "clean" and away from the rowdiness of the blog posts :-)

What I won't be doing is posting up on any other make or model of hard disk recorder - even if a Smartbox 9000HD comes out, I won't cover it (unless I buy one myself and set up a brand new 9000HD blog of course!).