Nov 25 2007

more on the BT home hub

I last wrote about the BT Home Hub (HH) nearly a year ago. Looking back, I spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to get BT “support” to even bother to read, let alone understand, my problems. Eventually I gave up in disgust. Here I was fortunate because I had substituted a genuine Thomson ST780 router for the castrated pile of rubbish that BT provide. I had also junked the BT VOIP service (which I never successfully got working – despite having paid for it) in favour of the excellent service provided by sipgate

I have since had occasion to revisit the HH because an email list I subscribe to started a thread about it (guess what, no-one likes it…) so I looked again at some old links – such as the homehubblog. I also found some new links which look interesting, in particular the home hub hacks site which suggests that it might be possible to reflash the HH with a genuine Thomson image (though some of the links from that site are broken). Now having a couple of extra, cheap Speedtouch routers would be cool. And since you can pick up HHs on ebay for around a tenner (see, I told you no-one likes them) I feel a new hobby coming on.

I currently have two HHs. neither of which I use, and both of which I can afford to brick – so I’m going to play.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2007/11/25/more-on-the-bt-home-hub/

Nov 25 2007

update to ripping DVDs to a sony psp on linux

Since writing the entry below, I have discovered a much simpler way of ripping and transcoding DVDs – k9copy. I really should have noticed this earlier because I investigated k9copy when I was playing with dvd::rip and winFF as GUI tools for ripping. I had (stupidly) assumed that k9copy could only copy a DVD to either another DVD or to an ISO file for later burning (admittedly useful if shrinking a DVD from around 9 Gig to under 5 Gig as is commonly required). My only excuse here is that the drop down menu options offered for “ouput device” only give the names of your optical drives or “ISO image”.

However, I went back to k9copy a few days ago when I was trying to rip a particularly difficult DVD which seemed to be faulty. The disk in question would sometimes read, and at other times fail. So my thinking went along the lines of “I’ll try copying to an ISO so that I can loop mount it and then transcode”. When I opened k9copy to do so I noticed that there was an option to create an MPEG 4 file – moreover there were a bunch of preset options for MPEG 4 encoding in the “settings” menu. I tested ripping and transcoding to MPEG 4 (DIVX 4/5) in an avi container and sure enough, it worked fine and played back perfectly using Totem/Xine/VLC/Mplayer. There is no preset for PSP format, but k9copy allows you to add video and audio codec options to pass to mencode. Result!

I created new video and audio entries called “PSP” and “PSP audio” respectively and I now have a simple, all-in-one GUI for selecting, previewing, ripping and encoding to a format usable on my PSP.

I have documented this (with some screenshots) at
ripping and encoding a dvd to psp format using k9copy

I considered editing the earlier post to reflect this new discovery, but decided to leave it as is because the bash script might still be useful to someone. Certainly I use it when batch ripping several tracks (such as is common on TV series compilation disks) from a single disk. The script can be called from another script which just loops through the titles – e.g for a disk with 4 episodes of a programme called Dr Who, something like:

#!/bin/bash
#
for i in 1 2 3 4
do
./psp-encode.sh $i dr-who-$i
done

would do fine.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2007/11/25/update-to-ripping-dvds-to-a-sony-psp-on-linux/

Nov 04 2007

ripping DVDs to a sony psp on linux

I spend a lot of time on trains – I mean a /lot/ of time. My daily commute amounts to around 6 hours in total each day. Of that, at least 4 hours is spent sitting on a train avoiding listening to the cacophony of irritating chunterers and morons on mobiles. The worst period is first thing in the morning when silence is supposed to reign. The regulars know the rules. No chuntering. The most that should happen is a “good morning”. After that, silence. In the morning I need to sleep on the train simply to stay sane. In order to mute the noise I wear earplugs.

Coming home is different. Most people are awake and the ambient noise level is such that sleeping isn’t an option. With that level of noise I can’t concentrate properly to read so for some years I have listened to music and (latterly) watched DVDs. I find that with proper full insertion earphones I can shut out the rest of the world enough to allow me to start to relax and unwind sufficiently that I can arrive home in a mood which won’t involve me shouting at anyone. I now have a huge collection of DVDs (Christmas present? How about the complete series of the first Star Trek, The Outer Limits etc.)

But, DVDs plus laptop are bulky and heavy. For a while I tried a portable DVD player but the battery life is poor and, again it’s pretty bulky when you add a collection of DVDs. Then a colleague suggested a Sony PSP. He said that he could rip 3-4 DVDs to one 2 Gig memory stick and battery life ran to about 7 hours. Neat. I checked out my son’s PSP and found that the screen resolution was pretty good so I invested in one of my own to play with. (For some reason my son wasn’t keen on letting me have his for any length of time).

Because I use Linux, my colleague’s advice on ripping to PSP format wasn’t helpful. A search engine is your friend in such circumstances. I quickly discovered that Sony seem to have been awkward in the format they require for MPEG4 video on memory sticks. The PSP is also fussy about screen resolution and audio and video bitrates. I also found a lot of conflicting (and out of date) advice about where to store the movies once ripped. I guess this is largely because the memory stick file system format has changed since version 2.xx of the firmware (mine is at the latest 3.72, though I started at 3.30). In current firmware revisions (from 3.30 onwards at least) videos must simply be stored in the directory called “video” on the memory stick. The name you give to the file is the name that shows up on screen in the PSP.

The PSP manual says that the maximum supported video bit rate is 768kbps. The native screen resolution is supposedly 480 x 272 with support for 720 x 480 and 480 x 352 available for MPEG-4 AVC(H.264) video Main Profile (AVC CABAC) files since firmware v 3.30. However, I have never successfully /reliably/ converted to resolutions better than 368 x 208 and 320 x 240 using MPEG 4 video. I have had some success at higher resolutions using an h264 codec, but the transcoding process was slow and complex involving ripping from DVD to one format then transcoding again to h264. Life is too short. All my ripping is now done at 320 x 240 for the simple reason that it works consistently for any aspect ratio movie, gives good quality and the output can be resized reliably by the PSP itself (the PSP has several screen scaling modes available – original, normal, full screen and zoom). A resolution of 368 x 208 also works well, particularly for wide screen movies, but the output shows a black band at the top and bottom of the screen and it is not possible to zoom to fill.

Many of my early attempts at ripping and transcoding ended less than successfully. I’ve used transcode (www.transcoding.org/cgi-bin/transcode) in the past, together with dvd::rip (www.exit1.org/dvdrip) but I find transcode very slow and I couldn’t always get a successful conversion. So I changed to using MEncoder with ffmpeg. Most distros will have these installed as standard. If not installed, then your first port of call should be your distro repository, thereafter, try www.mplayerhq.hu for MPlayer/MEncoder and ffmpeg.mplayerhq.hu for the codec.

The MPlayer site itself gives advice on how to rip DVD to a format usable on your PSP at:
www.mplayerhq.hu/DOCS/HTML/en/menc-feat-handheld-psp.html.

There they say:

———————————————————————-

“13.4 Encoding to Sony PSP video format

MEncoder supports encoding to Sony PSP’s video format, but, depending on the revision of the PSP software, the constraints may differ. You should be safe if you respect the following constraints:

– Bitrate: it should not exceed 1500kbps, however, past versions supported pretty much any bitrate as long as the header claimed it was not too high.

– Dimensions: the width and height of the PSP video should be multiples of 16, and the product width * height must be <= 64000. Under some circumstances, it may be possible for the PSP to play higher resolutions. - Audio: its samplerate should be 24kHz for MPEG-4 videos, and 48kHz for H.264. Example 13.4. encode for PSP mencoder -ofps 30000/1001 -af lavcresample=24000 -vf harddup -of lavf -oac lavc -ovc lavc -lavcopts aglobal=1:vglobal=1:vcodec=mpeg4:acodec=aac -lavfopts format=psp input.video -o output.psp Note that you can set the title of the video with -info name=MovieTitle." --------------------------------------------------------------------------

Using a variant of that command line in a bash script I find that I can get a standard 2 hour movie down to around 350-550 MB with excellent resolution and audio quality. This means that I can get around 4 movies on a 2 Gig stick. Battery life runs to around 7.5 hours when running off the stick (and not using the UMD).

Note that I scale to 320×240 and specify the language as english (“alang-en”) just to ensure that I don’t get some other language as the audio output – german seems a popular default in my experience. You will need to ensure that your dvd device is correctly specified (mine is /dev/hda below). The track number is critical because you only want to transcode the main DVD track (usually the longest). The quickest way to discover this is to use a neat little util called lsdvd written by Chris Phillips and available from untrepid.com/acidrip/lsdvd.html. Chris has also written a really good graphical tool called AcidRip which acts as a front end to MEncoder/MPlayer. Note that I use “threads=2” as one of the arguments to lavcopts. This is because I use a dual core processor and the ffmpeg libraries are capable of using both processors. The default is single threading.

My script is as follows:

#!/bin/bash
#
# script to encode DVD to MPEG4 video for PSP
#
# $1 = track number, $2 = title
#
mencoder dvd://$1 -dvd-device /dev/hda -alang en -oac lavc -ovc lavc -of lavf -lavcopts threads=2:aglobal=1:vglobal=1:
vcodec=mpeg4:mbd=2:trell:autoaspect:vbitrate=500:acodec=aac -af volume=10,lavcresample=24000 -vf scale=320:240,harddup -lavfopts format=psp:i_certify_that_my_video_stream_does_not_use_b_frames -o $2.mp4

# end of script

[Update note added on 6 June 2008. Since writing this post, both mencoder and ffmpeg have been updated so that the above script will not work without modification. In particular, the “i_certify….” option is no longer supported (or necessary) and the “aac” codec has been supplanted by “libfaac”. So the new script should look like this:

#!/bin/bash
#
# script to encode DVD to MPEG4 video for PSP
#
# $1 = track number, $2 = title
#
mencoder dvd://$1 -dvd-device /dev/hda -alang en -oac lavc -ovc lavc -of lavf -lavcopts threads=2:aglobal=1:vglobal=1:
vcodec=mpeg4:mbd=2:trell:autoaspect:vbitrate=500:acodec=libfaac -af volume=10,lavcresample=24000 -vf scale=320:240,harddup -lavfopts format=psp -o $2.mp4
#

End of update note.]

I have also discovered a really good graphical frontend to ffmpeg called winFF (available from www.bigmatt.com). That utility uses ffmpeg to transcode from one file format to another. The nice thing is that it allows you to define a set of command line parameters to pass to ffmpeg in user friendly format. I successfully used this nice GUI to convert AVI packaged files to MPEG4 and h264 encoded files for my PSP. The biggest drawback for most people is that it doesn’t rip from DVD, it only transcodes.

For encoding to MP4 I used:

"-threads 2 -f psp -vcodec mpeg4 -acodec aac -b 500 -ar 24000 -ab 96 -s 368x208 -aspect 16:9"

and set the output file expension to mp4

For encoding to h264 I used:

"-threads 2 -f psp -vcodec h264 -acodec aac -b 500 -ar 24000 -ab 96 -s 720x480 -aspect 16:9"

and set the output file extension to mp4

Note that this is the only way I have successfully managed to get a resolution of 720×480. Note also that the audio bit rate is 96 kbits. Anything higher than that is a waste of time (and space).

As for actually getting the files onto the PSP, it couldn’t be simpler. Just connect the PSP to your Linux box with a USB cable, select “USB connection” from the PSP menu and the device will appear on your desktop as any other removable USB disk. Copy the files you have ripped to the PSP directory called “VIDEO” and away you go.

Of course, all of this assumes that copying DVDs is legal in your country of residence. I am not a lawyer and you must decide for yourself whether following these (purely hypothetical) instructions is legal.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2007/11/04/ripping-dvds-to-a-sony-psp-on-linux/

Feb 08 2007

update on the Reg about BT and the GPL

I knew this one would run…..

The Register notes that BT believe they have done enough to comply with the GPL by publishing the code here. But the Free Software Foundation remains unconvinced. In my view BT should respond more positively and work with the foundation to meet the requirements of the GPL.

We’ll see.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2007/02/08/update-on-the-reg-about-bt-and-the-gpl/

Jan 22 2007

BT home hub and the GPL

I mentioned the Home Hub Blog in an earlier post. That author of that blog (amongst others) has been trying to find a way to unlock the Hub so that it can be used on ISPs other than BT itself. Unfortunately, BT seems to have tied the beast down (and ties it further with each upgrade of firmware). Worse, most users will be oblivious to the fact that BT can, and does, upgrade the Hub remotely. This may suit BT, but it does not suit all its customers – myself included.

The Home Hub blog author noted that the software in the Hub is a variant of an embedded Linux, with some additional code such as Samba. Given that all this code is covered by one or more variants of the GPL, BT is obliged to release the entire source code to anyone who asks, Access to the source code would, of course, allow anyone to identify where BT have locked the Hub, change it, recompile and reflash the Hub into an unlocked state. So HomeHubBlog wrote to BT – and he eventually gained a partial response. But not enough. See the Register article at The Register. This one could run and run.

My own experiments with the Hub tell me that it runs a Linux kernel 2.6.8.1. The FTP daemon on the Hub is so flakey however, that getting consistent access to the filesystem is very hit and miss. I commented on the Home Hub Blog at playing-around-with-ftp so I won’t repeat it here.

Several commentators have mentioned methods of getting root (superuser) access to the Hub CLI and FTP accounts. The method I have found most consistently successful is as follows:

Telnet to the Hub and log in as admin. At the command prompt type “user”, then type “flush” (this deletes all users). Now log out and log back in again, but this time log in as “root” (no password needed). Now go back to the user command subset and type “add”. Follow the prompts as below:

name=root

password=[your chosen password]

password=[repeat your chosen password]

descr=root (or any other description)

defuser=[leave blank – answering yes would make this the default user on login]

defremadmin=[leave blank – answering yes would make this the default remote admin user]

deflocaladmin=[leave bank – answering yes would make this the default local admin]

Bingo, you now have a root user. Now repeat the process for a named user (such as yourself) but give yourself the Administrator role. Make this user the default and the default local admin. Now save the configuration by going back to the top level of the CLI prompt system (type “..” to go back) and type “config save filname=user.ini”.

Note however that BT can overwrite this configuration, so you need to disable that. To do so you need to switch off CWMP (the CPE WAN Management Protocol) capability which allows BT to manage your router remotely. Bear in mind, however, that doing so will prevent BT automatically updating your router software if security problems are found – caveat emptor. To turn off CWMP, do the following:

at the top level CLI prompt, type “cwmp”, then at the cwmp prompt, type “config state=disabled”.

Your router is now unreachable.

(Again, you will need to save this configuration if you want this change to survive a reboot.)

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2007/01/22/bt-home-hub-and-the-gpl/

Jan 17 2007

another update to correspondence with a corporation

Since my last post at the end of last year I have been testing my ST780 with a variety of alternative VOIP providers whilst at the same time trying to get BT to sort out my connection. I also lodged a formal complaint about the appalling level of technical support with the BT complaints department on 30 December.

The complaints department initially responded to me on 4 January with an acknowledgement and a comment that I could expect a fuller reply in 24 hours. On the 8th of January I received the following gem:

“BT Broadband – Complaint Management Team

Dear Sir

Thank you for your e-mail regarding the problems you are experiencing with your BT Broadband service. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience this has caused you.

Unfortunately we are unable to assist with technical issues, we have however passed your email to our technical support team, who will be in contact with you in the next 3 to 4 working days to work towards a satisfactory resolution. Should you wish to contact the technical support desk please call 0845 600 7030.

I would again like to apologise for the problems you have experienced. I do hope this information will be of assistance to you.

Kind regards
BT Broadband – Complaint Management Team”

Since that date I have heard nothing – though I have now received my shiny new hub (which I do not intend using).

Now since the substance of my complaint was that the technical support department was neither technical nor supportive I have decided that it is futile to continue down this road and I will simply escalate my complaint (on paper) to the Customer Relations Manager.

Meanwhile, just to prove that there is nothing wrong with my ST780 router, as I mentioned above, I have been experimenting with alternative VOIP providers and have now signed up with Sipgate. Sipgate offers free VOIP services within its own network and with peer networks such as FWD. It only charges for its gateway out to the PSTN. But its charges are very reasonable indeed. Sipgate also offers a rather neat opportunity to gain a UK geographic based telephone number for no additional charge. During my testing (for free) I could successfully dial in to my new Sipgate number from the PSTN and mobile networks but initially could not dial out to the Sipgate test number. Given the problems I have with BT I contacted Sipgate support who very generously credited my account with a small test sum so that I could check outbound connectivity to the PSTN. It worked fine so I have now signed up to Sipgate’s services.

Now compare this attitude and response from a company with whom I had no contractual relationship and had paid no money with that woeful response from BT to whom I pay a very considerable sum of money each month.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2007/01/17/another-update-to-correspondence-with-a-corporation/

Jan 04 2007

vinyl to digital

Recently you may have seen adverts in a wide variety of publications for a USB turntable. This product is aimed at people (like me) who have a collection of old vinyl recordings but no longer have the means to play them as they have moved to CD and/or digital recordings. Most of the turntables I have seen are priced at around £110. You don’t need to spend that much. And you certainly don’t need USB connectivity. Any turntable which includes its own pre-amp will do (but the pre-amp is necessary, it is no good buying a turntable without one). I bought one made by Bush for less than £50.00 – I’m sure a conversation with your local audio supplier will unearth others.

Once you have the turntable you can easily connect it to your existing HiFi and rediscover the joys of your old vinyl. But the best bit (and this is where the pre-amp comes into use) is that you can plug the turntable directly into the line-in jack on the sound card of your PC and record to disk for conversion to digital format (MP3 if you must, but OGG vorbis for preference). The key to this magic is a nice piece of open source software called Audacity. If, like me, you run Linux, then you can probably simply install the package supplied with your chosen distro, If your distro doesn’t provide it by default, then the website has pre-built packages for most of the popular distros. You can, of course, build from source if you wish. Audacity is cross platform and is available for Windows users. Windows users can then discover the power of free, open source software

Give it a try.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2007/01/04/vinyl-to-digital/

Jan 02 2007

BT home hub

In my searches for more information about the BT Home Hub and its configuration I have come across a couple of good sites. The Home Hub Blog is an interesting collection of notes about the author’s attempts to unlock the Hub so that it can be used on other ISP’s networks. This is the reverse of my problem which is to get BT’s network to work properly with a product other than the Hub.

Worth a read.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2007/01/02/bt-home-hub/

Dec 31 2006

update to correspondence with a corporation

BT support finally called me back again today (two days late, but hey) and again attempted to transfer me immediately to the Broadband Talk support department. Before I allowed them to do so, however, I made certain that the person I was talking to fully understood my problem. I believe she did. But she confirmed that there was absolutely nothing that she or anyone else in the broadband support department could do to help me – the problem lay with another department. Despite my protestation that we had been around this particular tree before I allowed myself to be transferred.

As before, the guy I was transferred to at Broadband Talk support had no idea what my problem was and I had to explain yet again, why I was attempting to get support. (As an aside, I find this lack of joined up support apalling. The recipient of the support call should have the full details of the caller’s problem on-screen when he or she takes the call – particularly in cases such as this where the support organisation has actually placed the call). As soon as he realised I was not using a Home Hub, the problem became clear to him. My router is at fault.

Actually, no, my router is fine. It works perfectly for all other services and actually works fine for VOIP services on FWD. But no, BT is correct, I am wrong. To be fair to this particular support person, he offered to provide me with a replacement Hub (an offer I eventually accepted, if only so that I can check its configuration in detail to compare against my ST780).

Maybe I’m overly paranoid, but I get the distinct impression that BT has decided to lock its services to the Hub rather than allow people to use alternative products on its network. I actually prefer to have something that I control, rather than something that BT control. When my new Hub arrrives I’ll dump its configuration and try to figure out how BT are locking out my ST.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2006/12/31/update-to-correspondence-with-a-corporation/

Dec 30 2006

DMT for linux

I have just found a rather nice tool for querying my Thomson DSL modem. It is rewrite of a tool originally written for windows by A. Matthoefer. The author of the linux version is Timo Boettcher. The tool compiled cleanly and worked first time with my ST780WL. It should work equally well with the BT hub (but I can’t test that of course….). Below is a sample output from the tool – a neat graphic.

DMT-UX Graphic

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2006/12/30/dmt-for-linux/

Dec 29 2006

correspondence with a corporation

Recently I have been experiencing a small problem with my BT broadband connection. I should point out that in general my experience wth BT’s broadband offering is very good. Whilst not the cheapest around, the quality and reliability of the connection are better than I have heard reported from friends and colleagues with other ISPs. But for the past two weeks I have been having great difficulty in getting the support department to fix (or even recognise) a problem I am having with my VOIP connection.

I upgraded to BT Total Broadband (up to 8Mbps) from my previous 2Mbps BT contract for two reasons – firstly the additional bandwidth obviously, but secondly because it offered free VOIP calls after 18.00 and at weekends. Thus I would be getting a second phone line for no additional cost. Indeed, given that the contract I changed to was actually cheaper than my existing BT contract, I was initially quite pleased.

Too soon.

The BT Total Broadband contract includes a DSL router made for BT by Thomson) and branded by BT as the “Home hub”. That hub offers VOIP connectivity and WiFi access as well as wired ethernet connectivity to the net. Despite the fact that BT have heavily customised the standard Thomson Speedtouch interface, it is still an attractive package. However, I am not the standard user that BT intends to support. For a start I use Linux, not Windows. This normally gives support departments problems.

Having signed up, taken delivery and configured my Hub all was well until I opted to include what BT calls its “softphone” package as well. This is a software only SIP package which is supposed to allow PC users to make VOIP calls from the PC in addition to using a standard phone (or DECT phone) attached to the hub. This can be useful for laptop users for example who may be using their machines in rooms without immediate access to the telephone handset. Obviously, being a Linux user, the BT softphone is useless to me, so I downloaded some potential alternatives – linphone, wengophone and x-lite to try. Unfortunately for me, my Hub threw a fit when I fired up the softphones. Indeed, after attempting to use linphone, the router rebooted, and rebooted, and rebooted, and rebooted. Eventually I tried a hardware reset to get back to factory settings, but even that failed and the hub now just broadcasts BOOTP requests over the ethernet connection.

Having fritzed my hub I went back to using my D-Link router until I could source a replacement. I soon took delivery of a Thomson Speedtouch ST780WL (big brother to the hub). I configured this in the same way as the hub in the expectation that all would be well. My mistake. Whilst, indeed, all is well with my standard internet connectivity, I cannot get the VOIP service to work. In desperation (trust me) I contacted BT Broadband support. That started a thread of correspondence which has lasted so far for two weeks and has descended to the level of farce. No-one , but no-one in BT support seems capable of reading and understanding my request. My experience is shown at Problems with BT Broadband I have anonymised the relevant contact details for obvious reasons.

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2006/12/29/correspondence-with-a-corporation/

Dec 26 2006

Mike Harrison

I admire the offbeat, the unusual, and the plain weird. I came across Mike Harrison’s site when I was looking for information about Tesla Coils. It is well worth a visit – I mean the man collects thermionic valves such as this:

eimac.jpg

A bit bigger than a transistor

Permanent link to this article: http://baldric.net/2006/12/26/mike-harrison/