FreeviewHD PVR Review

FreeviewHD has been broadcasting in our area for several months but since we almost never watch live television it seemed pointless to to buy a FreeviewHD (or DVB-T2 to use the technical name) receiver without some sort of recording capability. These have taken a surprisingly long time to reach the market but I noticed last weekend that the venerable John Lewis were selling a 500GB Digital Stream DHR8205U FreeviewHD hard-disk recorder and since the reviews on the web forums were broadly positive, made something of an impulse buy.

I quickly discovered that if the TV is not plugged in during boot then the box will flash “loading” at you forever but after that initial false start installation was smooth and the HD reception is an appreciable upgrade. The feature set appears comprehensive and although there is no option to repeat a recording daily or weekly, it can be instructed to record an entire series of programmes which is usually sufficient.

My biggest complaint is that the user interface is definitely quirky, which reminds you that this is definitely early-adopter territory. Most annoying is the remote control which has some of the most commonly used features (such as ‘pause’ and ‘library’) on tiny buttons which are laid out with no semblance of logical grouping. The listings guide is quite useable, although the ordering of the channel list is not customisable which means the three HD channels are 6 screens away from their non-HD equivalents. Pressing the large “OK” button during viewing brings up the list of channels with no programme information which seems redundant: on my previous PVR this button showed the current and next programmes. The screen showing the recorded programmes appears to have had so little attention that it might actually be an afterthought: recordings are laughably labelled simply as ProgrammeName_DDMMHHMM.trp. Fortunately there is at least a chance that the software issues might be fixed with the next software update scheduled for the end of June.

The user guide suffers from similar problems of poor readability including at least one circular reference (the effect of enabling “standby power-saving mode” is never explained). The packaging describes the product as “Manufactured in the UK” but DigitalStream itself seems to be a Korean company and the terminology used by the software is from a bizarre parallel universe: channels are called “services”, future recording “reservations” and the stored programmes library is “media”. Despite these foibles, so far I am a happy customer.

A Personal History of UNIX Tool Management on OS X

When I first switched to Mac from Linux I used fink to provide the simple software installation (and removal!) to which I had become addicted while using Debian. In addition to being command line compatible, fink also shipped the software as binaries which on the relatively slow CPUs of the day meant the software was able to be used much more immediately than if it had to be compiled.

About three years ago, I noticed that the fink binary distribution no longer had all the packages I wanted to use. The website would indicate the package was available but actually it would be only available in source code form and my aging laptop did not have the CPU or disk space available to compile not just the package but all its dependencies. When I upgraded that old laptop, and compiling everything from source seemed feasible, I decided that the MacPorts project had more community activity and jumped ship.

MacPorts worked very well. The initial install took time, and worked the fan of my MacBook quite hard, but once the base packages were compiled, subsequent software installs and updates were mostly painless. MacPorts also made it vary easy to tweak installs using its variants mechanism. However MacPorts’ downfall, in my opinion, is that it is not content to be just a way of augmenting the existing UNIX tools on my Mac but that it wants to be a self-contained operating system itself. For example, in order to install the git-svn tool MacPorts was going to download, compile and install not only an older version of Perl than is shipped with 10.6 but also a second version of the subversion tool that Apple have already provided. I am sure this is a good way to deliver a powerful and stable system, but it felt like MacPorts was taking over.

I am not the first to think this since someone has developed homebrew. It has the explicit goals of playing nicely with the OS defaults and programming language specific distribution systems such as RubyGems, CPAN and PyPi. I am pleased to be report that homebrew was very quick to setup and install the few remaining UNIX packages to which I remain addicted. The installer makes the assertion that every user on your system should be in the staff group,1 but the script was very simple to modify and I have submitted my version back to the maintainer.

The one package where I do not find homebrew satisfactory is LaTeX. homebrew uses the TeX Live distribution rather than the tetex package I have used in the past. However TeX Live is a humungous 1GB download and some quick research showed that it was very much a kitchen sink package with many sub-packages that were completely unnecessary for me. Instead I highly recommend the 85MB download (234MB installed) BasicTeX package which has proved to be entirely adequate for my needs, even if it does have softie GUI installer!

  1. I noticed that on a fresh install of 10.6 no one is a member of the staff group. It appears that all Administrator users are members of the admin group though, and since it seems to only allow admins to change the machine’s homebrew install, I forked this gist and replaced all the instances of staff with admin. [back]

Yosemite

My abiding memory of Yosemite will be the weather. It rained as we drove into the park so we expected the views to be hidden from us and were pleasantly surprised when the low cloud made our first view of the valley more dramatic and different to the clear blue vistas found on postcards.

When we woke the next morning the rain was still pattering down on the roof of our heated canvas tent-cabin. We were recommended the Mirror Lake trail as likely to be the nicer of the standard sights given the conditions and the rain stopped long enough for us to enjoy the walk, and see the granite rock formations appear and disappear from behind the foggy clouds. By lunchtime, the temperature had dropped and the drizzle had turned to proper rain but undeterred we set off for the large torrent of water known as Yosemite Falls, not realising that that the clouds hid a second higher stage which was even more impressive. The weather had worsened to the point that we did not feel like risking our cameras and as we headed away from the falls, rain turned to sleet and we decided a few hours in the visitor centre museum and Ansel Adams gallery were not going to cause us to miss very much.

Sleet turned to snow while we were in the museum and we were very grateful when the friendly people at Camp Curry upgraded our tent-cabin from just heated to heated and insulated since the forecast was for it freeze overnight. Fortunately we survived the night and the sun arrived the next morning when we were greeted by a glistening fairytale landscape of snow-covered trees and granite pinnacles. The strong sunshine meant the snow began to melt quite soon on the trees on the valley floor, but watching it drip from the branches was picturesque in itself.

After a morning walk taking in the glorious landscapes (albeit dodging the melting ice as it fell from the higher trees!), we had an early lunch and then paid another visit to Yosemite Falls. However as we approached the cloud closed in again and around the falls there was definitely some soft wet precipitation that seemed to be more than just spray from the snow-melt fuelled torrent of water cascading down from on high, so the photographs were still taken rather hastily! Fortunately the clouds only delivered a mild hail storm and we were able to exit the Park without any weather-related problems. It may not have been pleasant at times, but the weather definitely enhanced this visit.