Friday, 31 August 2012

Why I'm not recording the Paralympics

In case you're wondering why this is the first time I'm even mentioning the Paralympics, I should state here that I never intended to watch or record them and I'll explain my reasons for this.

Firstly, it may shock non-UK readers that the BBC, who did a pretty good job at broadcasting the main London 2012 Olympic Games, completely failed in their bidding for UK TV coverage of the Paralympics. Instead, the rights went to Channel 4, who - although they out-bid the BBC - are a much smaller broadcaster with far less sports broadcasting channels/facilities than the BBC.

So instead of some 30-odd BBC channels (all broadcast on Freesat and also Net-streamed - most of them in HD too) that we got for the main Olympics, we're down to something four for the Paralympics (Channel 4 HD plus it looks like 3 streamed - online only? - Paralympics channels). My suspicion is that Channel 4 HD will probably air a sport from one of the 3 streamed channels anyway, so if there's 4 or more sports on simultaneously, then obviously one or more can't be shown live.

Secondly - and I think this is atrocious for a major UK sporting event shown live in the UK - Channel 4 is a commercial channel that airs 3-4 advert breaks per hour. I think some of the live sport, with its potential to overrun, is not suitable for ad breaks because of the risk of missing some of the action. It was also a particular problem for the Paralympics Opening Ceremony which drew a lot of criticism from viewers because of the inevitable number of ad breaks that missed parts of the ceremony (since they weren't going to stop the ceremony cos of ad breaks!).

So to sum up - we've moved from something like 27 HD broadcast BBC channels for the main Olympics to just one (Channel 4 HD) for the Paralympics. That single channel is festooned with ad breaks that may miss out on some action and can be handled in its entirety by any HD hard disk recorder on the market, which is in no way the "recording challenge" that I had for the main Olympics. So to me, the Paralympics have sadly become a TV non-event and I won't be watching or recording them.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Revo or Raspberry Pi - some cheap choices for XBMC playback

I've got a Revo 3600 and two Revo 3700s - they're great little lozenge-shaped boxes for use as a media centre. I wouldn't recommend them as your main PC though, but the specs for the successor to the Revo 3700 is pretty good.

That successor is the Revo RL70, which have been selling for a while now and is currently a stonking £171.08 with free delivery, though stocks will go fast at that price. It's using an AMD E450 with HD 6320 integrated graphics, both of which are different to the CPU/GPU in my Revos so I can't comment on whether that's better or worse really.

You get 4GB RAM, the awful Linpus Linux (replace this with Ubuntu+XBMC+tvheadend) and a good-sized 640GB HDD (rumour has it that some people have received 750GB HDDs when ordering the 640GB version!), so the specs are spot on for HD media centre use.

Considering there's an offer on for a Raspberry Pi for just £29.95 including free delivery until 20th August - put WEBFREE in the comment box when buying to get the free postage - I've been ruminating whether to buy one or not. A colleague has and he says it's good, plus I already have all the extra bits you have to get (SD card, USB phone charger, HDMI cable, USB keyboard/mouse, ethernet cable). As a replacement for the Revo for XBMC duties, I remain less convinced about the Pi because it doesn't have hardware acceleration for MPEG 2 (and presumably not for Divx/Xvid either) and it's only recently that's I've been downloading MPEG 4 content (which the Pi does have acceleration for).

I think that as for playback of 720p MPEG4 content, the Pi is a good choice, but I'm quite surprised that Farnell sell loads of accessories (including an overkill of a 23" monitor for £138 -  surely Pi buyers will already have an HDMI-equipped display?), but not the most desperately needed one: a bleeding case! It's the one major thing I don't like about the Pi - a case is considered an optional extra or even not sold at all. There's no way I would want to run a computer with the entire circuitry open to the elements and because of this, I'll wait for a model with a decent case (and maybe MPEG2 licensed...or a better CPU and/or GPU to decode it properly).

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Day 19 - Time to bid London 2012 farewell

It's been a long slog, but we're approaching the finishing line today with effectively a half-day of sports to end my marathon recording sessions. The last daily recording figures are 10 channels, 11 sports and 18 slots totalling 53 hours and 25 minutes recording time, which means we say goodbye to channels 11 and 12 today. Despite the lightest day since we went to full days on 28th July, today's modern pentathlon still managed to break the earliest start time record held by hockey (08:20) by a full 30 minutes today with a painfully early 07:50 start time.

pc1 tuner 3 is managing to report "no signal" this morning for the first time, so I'm on 6 tuners for the final day. The last sports to start today are handball and basketball (both 14:50), but it's actually modern pentathlon that takes the honour of being the last sport to finish these Olympics (18:50). The closing ceremony runs from 20:50 to 00:25, though as I said yesterday, it bizarrely only runs on 1 of the 24 channels and without any commentary on that channel!

Anthony Joshua's boxing gold was a close fought effort that brought us a 29th gold and 64th medal in all. It also gives us a 5 gold lead to the Russian Federation with only a few golds left to be awarded, so confirms that GB will finish 3rd place in the medal table.

We've now discovered what they're showing on the unused channels through to tomorrow - a "Thank you for watching" caption at the top, a sunset picture in the middle and a "Relive the Olympics at" caption at the bottom. How long you'll be allowed to relive the Olympics due to rights issues is up to debate though :-)

One minor snafu with the "Thank you for watching" caption is that once the basketball final slot finished at 17:50 on BBC Olympics 1 HD, they put that caption on for the next 3 hours on that channel. Bzzt! The Now/Next info indicated the "London 2012 Closing Ceremony" was to air at 20:50 on that channel, so we have more watching to do and don't need thanking on that channel quite yet :-)

I also spotted several closing credits airing today as each sat channel finished its broadcasting for the Games. It was accompanied by an Irish-sounding folky number that almost sounded like it was saying "that Ireland is my home", whereas I think it was supposed to say "that island is my home". Very confusing!

Samantha Murray's silver in the women's modern pentathlon - pipping Australia's 16 silvers at the last gasp - completed our medal haul in London 2012. It's a shame that terrestrial BBC missed Murray's medal ceremony live, instead having a recorded piece about the closing ceremony. When they did show it on BBC One HD, they never admitted it wasn't live either, which was a little naughty and sad to see as the last sport-related live Olympics terrestrial footage was tinged with a bit of sneaky recording.

We finished with 29 golds (3rd), 17 silvers (5th) and 19 bronzes (4th) for a total of 65 medals (4th). One minor trivia point: the country with the most bronzes (the Russian Federation with 33) wasn't in the top three of the medal table, which can't have happened very often in past Olympics.

I've been busy tonight reconfiguring pc2 back to how it was pre-Olympics and here's the differences:
  • Once the closing ceremony has finished and transmedia has moved it to HDD, then transmedia will be disabled permanently. Recordings will be directly to SSD and watched/deleted before the 200GB buffer fills - anything to be kept will be manually copied off SSD to HDD and then deleted from SSD.
  • Recording config will be changed to 2 mins pre-padding, 5 mins post-padding and recording programmes in a flat dir, rather than sub-dirs for the date and channel.
  • All 24 BBC Olympics HD channels will removed and all Astra transponders added (I'd limited them to the 6 Olympics transponders and the pre-Olympics BBC HD transponder).
  • My favourite HD channels will be added to the sat config and similarly SD channels will be added to the terrestrial config.
  • Olympics automatic recording strings will be removed and my normal favourite programme titles will be added instead.
  • Suspend-if-idle cron job will be re-enabled so that pc2 will wake either 15 mins before a recording is due to start or if it receives a Wake On LAN, whichever comes first. It will suspend 15 mins after a recording ends, providing no-one is interactively logged in, neither Revo is on the network and there isn't another recording starting in the next 15 mins.
pc1 will return to being a "serious" CentOS 6.3 desktop, with revo1 still initially being used, albeit to view pc2's recordings instead of pc1's (which will no longer record anything). I may eliminate revo1 and revo2 by using VMs with Ubuntu+XBMC on pc1 and pc2 in the future, though this may mean firing up the Ubuntu desktop on pc2 (which currently is in text console mode).

Predictably, the closing ceremony programme on BBC One HD overran by 45 minutes (more than twice as long an overrun as the opening ceremony!) - why can't they time these things a bit better? As I said though, BBC Olympics 1 HD had it right - its slot ended at 00:25 i.e. with 10 minutes to spare. That's the end of my Olympics recording then and I managed just under 15TB of recording during the 19 days - enough to fill roughly 5 of the 3TB drives I have.

 Day 19 recording size: 429GB - grand total: 14940GB (14.6TB)

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Day 18 - Final weekend begins

Unusually, the penultimate day of the Olympics sees a slight rise in recording time compared to the falling times we've seen this week. 12 channels, 15 sports and 30 slots will total 95 hours and 10 minutes recording time and it's the last full day because tomorrow evening is dominated by the closing ceremony of course. This means we say goodbye to channel 13, which now has the usual "coverage has now concluded" message on its Now/Next data. pc1 tuner 3 seems to have revived itself today, so I've put the transponders back on it again.

In case you're wondering about disk space issues, it's looking fine - there's 1.4TB free on pc1 and 1.6TB free on pc2 which is no problem because recording is now under 400GB per day per PC. Today, I'll start preparing to turn pc2 back into recording my "normal" schedule from Monday onwards - remember that pc1 won't be recording post-Olympics because that will mostly be booted into my "serious" desktop (CentOS 6.3) that won't have tvheadend or XBMC (though I may run a VM with Ubuntu 12.04 for XBMC pointing to a second display - the 50" plasma).

I actually missed Ed McKeever's 200m kayak gold (but I did record it of course), making it our 26th gold and 59 medals in all. Although we have a lead of 10 golds over the Russian Federation, I think the Russians have an unassailable lead of 6 medals in total, placing them a solid 3rd in the fictional "sorted by total" medals table.

I was just looking at's schedules for the 24 channels for the next few days and noticed a couple of unusual things. Firstly, not only is the closing ceremony tomorrow only on channel 1, but it's broadcast on that channel without any commentary! This seems a poor decision because whilst BBC One HD will have commentary on its airing, that is scheduled to finish at 11.30pm, whereas BBC Olympics 1 HD will finish at 12.25am.

Now it might be 55 minutes of video of people leaving the stadium, but would it really kill the BBC to put a commentary version on BBC Olympics 2 HD as well? They did for the opening ceremony after all! Also, why are channels 1-24 actually broadcasting all day on Monday after the Olympics have finished and what will they broadcast? It can't be timetable video, because that's finished too :-)

An excellent 5000m run from Mo Farah meant he's now won both the 5000m and 10000m gold medal in the same Olympics, which is very hard to do because of the recovery time you need. Although it was a slow race, Farah positioned himself superbly in the final 2 laps to win GB's 27th gold medal and 60th medal in total. Note that the Russian Federation have closed the gap to GB to 6 golds and have beaten us to 3rd place on overall medals (their lead of 17 can't be overtaken).

Luke Campbell's win in the boxing was our 28th gold and 61st medal overall, although it was missed on BBC One HD thanks to the usual annoying athletics waffle. BBC One HD played it back in full recorded, but never admitted it wasn't live though! At least we now have a gap of 7 golds to the Russian Federation, which should just about be enough to keep us third in the medal table at the end of the Olympics.

Oh and well done to the USA for making it 100 medals in total today, not that anyone but you takes any notice whatsoever of that metric.

 Day 18 recording size: 635GB - grand total so far: 14511GB (14.2TB)

Friday, 10 August 2012

Day 17 - And now a late athletics start

There's usually been both a morning and afternoon athletics session, but today sees the first time where there's only an evening session with tonight's events starting at 18:50. It's also the first full day to dip below 100 hours recording time, with the today's figures reading 13 channels, 17 sports and 29 slots totalling 93 hours and 1 minute of recording time.

Note that yesterday's sailing that was abandoned yesterday because of no wind will take place today instead. I wonder what happens if there's no wind for the next 3 days though - is there any contingency plan to cope with this? Race with no wind or maybe award medals without a medal race?

I've been doubling up on recordings at the start of each day until tuner allocation eventually means I have to stop some or all of the double-ups. It's quite a good way of making sure that that the first few hours of recording won't be lost because of tuner issues (which always seem to happen in the first few hours of the recording day). Yep, just had another tuner issue this morning - pc1 tuner 3 showing "constant FEC" now and I've taken the transponders off it :-(

Although this brings me down to 6 working tuners again, it's not a major issue bcause we're down to 13 out of the 24 channels broadcasting and I can still do some double-ups. I think once the Olympics are over, I will temporarily try some other software (probably in Windows to eliminate tuner driver issues) and if that shows problems with the tuners too, then I'll have to RMA one or both of the sat cards (ideally one at a time, so I'm not left sat-less of course).

I thought Rudisha's 800m world record would be the best athletics performance of these Olympics, but the USA utterly smashing the women's 4x100m world record has actually surpassed it. The old world record of 41.37 was set 27 years ago by the German Democratic Republic and no-one has come close to it since the USA got to within 0.10s almost exactly 15 years ago. Tonight saw a stunning time of 40.82 - a massive 0.55 seconds (1.33%) better! Rudisha's world record was only 0.10 seconds (0.10%) better.

Terrestrial BBC dropped the athletics like a hot potato as soon as the last track event had finished as usual and it was back to BBC Olympics 1 HD for me again. Terrestrial viewers didn't get to see the women's 4x100m medal ceremony, some interviews or the end of the men's pole vault (though it was already won by the time they left).
Day 17 recording size: 535GB - grand total so far: 13876GB (13.6TB)

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Day 16 - Early start for athletics

It did surprise me that whilst athletics has gone beyond 22:00 most of the evenings (and terrestrial BBC abandoned it over 30 minutes early last night), the schedule only had 3 of its 10 morning sessions before 09:50! At least today, we see athletics TV coverage start at 08:50 for the decathlon 110m hurdles, though with no Brit in it, don't expect terrestrial BBC to bother covering it.

Take a pity on the hockey players though - their coverage started at 08:25 most days and the evening sessions often finished at 22:45. In terms of the coverage span, that's far longer than any other sport in this Olympics, especially since they were playing every day between 29th July and 11th August inclusive.

Yet again we see more records for the lightest full day, this time with 13 channels, 19 sports and 33 slots totalling 107 hours and 5 minutes recording time. It's obvious why this is happening - we're reaching semis and finals (or the ending) of many competitions now, so there's just simply less sport to go around. Having said that, with only 4 days to go, there's still three sports yet to make their appearance: rhythmic gymnastics (today), mountain bike cycling (Saturday) and modern pentathlon (Saturday).

A second GB dressage gold (and a dressage bronze) today for a "posh" sport that really is quite a bizarre part of horse riding competition if you ask me. Our 23rd gold - a lead of 11 golds over South Korea - and 49th and 50th medals in total. More impressive was the first ever Olympic gold medal awarded for a women's boxing final  - GB's Nicola Evans won it, making it our 24th gold and 51st medal overall.

I kept getting fresh Now/Next events for sailing today - it turns out there wasn't enough wind and they kept delaying the event start several times. Strangely, the fresh events overlapped the previous ones by up to an hour, so I was often recording twice on a PC...and it was all timetable video anyway :-)

A BBC Sport article posed the interesting question "who is the greatest 800m runner ever?". The obvious answer might be the current world record holder David Rudisha, who seems to pack the upper eschelons of a handy all-time 800m table the article links to. But what about Wilson Kipketer who has similar number of appearances in the all-time fastest times (and set his world record 13 years before Rudisha and only 0.10 secs slower than Rudisha's best to date) and even Sebastian Coe, who held his 800m world record for an impressive 16 years?

Perhaps the most remarkable athletics current world record though is Flo-Jo's 100m time of 10.49 seconds set 24 years ago and only Carmelita Jeter's 10.64 nearly 3 years ago has come anywhere near to it since it was set in 1988. One weird thing about that all-time list is that Flo-Jo set 4 of the 7 fastest 100m times in history (and the top 3 of all time) in July-September 1988 and has no other times in the top 100 of all time! No, I'm not counting the women's 400m/800m long-lasting world records because they are "dubious" in my books.

BBC's disgustingly shabby treatment of the decathlon continued again tonight - the athletics started on BBC Olympics 1 HD with the decathlon javelin and not only wasn't there any terrestrial live coverage, there was no commentator on the sat channel either and, to round it off, the Cuban Leonel Suarez threw the longest decathlon javelin in the history of the Olympic Games (76.94m) and yet not one word was said live about it on the BBC on any channel. Never mind it was more than 10m further than anyone else in the Cuban's throwing pool.

I think the BBC should be heavily criticised for its poor decathlon coverage. Yes, there's no GB equivalent of Jessica Ennis, but that's no excuse for having virtually no terrestrial live coverage of it and also only showing the leader's attempts (Eaton inevitably) some time later. If it wasn't for the 24 sat channels, we'd have barely known it was even taking place!

The lack of commentary for some of the sports on the 24 sat channels (I've seen it in many tennis matches and now in the athletics would you believe it) is frankly inexcusable. You can blame cutbacks all you want, but you've probably had a year or more to mull over the Olympics schedules and at least hire some half-decent commentators as cover for a few weeks. I suspect NBC probably had US commentators for every one of the sports they broadcast, so why can't the BBC on behalf of the host nation?

Update: 22 minutes of athletics coverage tonight before someone (Cram) popped up to commentate at long last...and it wasn't for the decathlon unsurprisingly. It was for a medal ceremony and then Cram just went silent again...oh, that's right, we're back to the decathlon in the pictures now...not worth commentating on again then. Geez!! Now I can hear Cram talking to his production staff via a pick-up on his mike. WTF is going on?!

We have a commentator, we have live athletics pictures of the Olympics decathlon beaming to millions of viewers and yet there's no commentary for about 35 minutes so far and counting - very unprofessional of the BBC, IMHO. Cram obviously got bored, because the next medal ceremony (for the women's 200m) finally woke up a colleague - Stuart Storey I think - to commentate at 19:11, which probably meant somewhere around 40 minutes of comms silence in all). Why go to the effort of broadcasting two sat/cable channels (SD and HD) of live athletics and have no commentator for a lengthy period on them?

Well, Storey lasted for about 60 seconds of comms then and I was straining to hear the PA announce the triple jumpers - no BBC comms remember - only for the camera to ludicrously pan away to Bolt in the warm-up area for 15 seconds to watch him (and massively quieten the volume) and then back again. I can't believe how rubbish this BBC coverage is prior to any track events starting - they have their priorities so screwed up :-( Cram returned only when BBC One HD turned up at 19:27, which I make about 55 minutes of comms silence in the first hour of athletics tonight, which is simply wretched.

My favourite dictionary, Chambers, has this definition of the word "semifinal":

semifinal noun in competitions, sports tournaments, etc: either of two matches, the winners of which play each other in the final.

So why do many athletics track events have 3 semifinal races then? Shouldn't they be "trifinals" or some other such word that means a 3-heat contest? It's been bugging me for years and years ever since they introduced 3-heat semis - it's grammatically incorrect, so fix it, IAAF!

Well, forget Bolt, David Rudisha's 800m was simply stunning front-running resulting in the first sub-101 seconds 800m ever (1 min 40.91 secs). Unless Bolt breaks the 200m WR, this will be the athletics performance of the Olympics, IMHO. Perhaps this does make Rudisha the greatest 800m runner ever after all?

Although Bolt became the first man to defend an Olympic 200m title, his time was actually slightly disappointing - 19.32 didn't even beat his own 4-year-old Olympic record of 19.30! Bolt didn't seem to run fully through the line, which might have had made his performance at least record-breaking.

Predictably, BBC One HD gave up on athletics at 21:22 tonight, probably something like an hour before two events, the decathlon and the women's javelin final, had been completed. BBC Olympics 1 HD to the rescue as usual - which actually had commentary for a replay for Suarez' record decathlon javelin throw (which was missing when shown live earlier), not that Storey actually bothered mentioning the Olympic record, ho hum.

It seems to me that TV is missing an obvious trick in decathlon coverage - display the leader's points total during events. For example, the final 1500m race should start at the points total if Eaton finished at 0.00 (e.g. 10,000 points or whatever) and then the points should count down on the screen as the race progresses. In the final straight, put up the OR and WR points figures to beat. A genius idea from me - I should tell the BBC!

I don't understand Taekwondo much and can't even tell when points are scored for kicking the opponent, but who cares when Jade Jones won the 25th GB gold medal? This gives us a 13 gold lead over the Russian Federation, who have indeed sneaked into 4th place in the medal table today and have actually won 5 more medals than GB to date.

 Day 16 recording size: 707GB - grand total so far: 13351GB (13.0TB)

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Day 15 - Two more channels bite the dust

As the schedule gets lighter each day, I've now come to the point where I can increase the pre/post padding for each recording slot, so these have been set to 5 and 10 minutes respectively. I doubt I'll increase the pre-padding any more because it's mainly time for me to re-jig which PC records a programme if the tuner allocation needs any doubling up added or removed.

Yet another lightest full day so far sees me using 12 channels, 16 sports and 31 slots totalling 112 hours and 35 minutes of recording time. Channels 14 and 15 have the "we're done" EIT text on them now, but note that although channel 13 isn't used today, it is used on both Thursday and Friday.

Only 10 channels are going to be used on the final day - Sunday - and only one of those is allocated to the closing ceremony, which is a little surprising (think normal, no commentary and 3D - that's 3 versions right there!). It did make me think though - was there any 3D coverage on the 24 channels?

I know that BBC HD does a 3D one hour highlights programme daily and also had some selected 3D events (opening ceremony, men's 100m etc), but considering that most days, there was often 1 or 2 spare channels of the 24 available, why weren't those used for live 3D coverage? Heck, we've almost got enough spare now to simulcast all the 2D coverage in 3D!

I guess the BBC simply didn't have many 3D cameras available at the venues - "cutbacks" will be the excuse as usual. At least put them in the swimming arena and move them to the athletics stadium once the swimming is done if you really can't afford to cover two events with 3D cameras.

There's a bit of minor exciting news with the Revo software updates as both an Nvidia graphics driver update and an XBMC update (from Pulse-Eight) came through. The previous XBMC would hang if I tried to select a Live TV channel that couldn't be tuned into (because all the tuners were busy and the channel was on a fresh transponder) and it had to be "kill -9"'-ed from a terminal to stop it. We'll see later today if this has been fixed.

I just downloaded XBMC for Android, which was a 20th July build of an actual XBMC client (not just a remote control app). Sadly, like the official XBMC for Ubuntu, it's completely missing the TV functionality that I consider crucial for a full media centre experience. I put it on the Nexus 7 tablet I have and noticed that it claims the screen resolution is 1280x736, but then I realised that the standard Android soft buttons at the bottom of the screen suck up 64 pixels of their own.

The Android XBMC is based on a dev version of the forthcoming XBMC 12 and they've added one welcome relief to my ears - the ability to turn off all the GUI sound effects, which is something I do in every single OS I've ever installed. The only time audio should be heard is in games or playing music or videos - at all other times, I expect any computer I have to remain absolutely silent. It's slightly different with mobile phones of course - you want a short noise for SMS'es and obviously a ringtone (I have the UFO theme tune on my work HTC Desire).

BBC One HD abandoned their athletics coverage - and I couldn't find it on any other terrestrial channel either - at around 9.30pm tonight, despite there being some interviews, all the heats of the 400m in the decathlon, javelin qualifying involving a Brit and also a world champion - both of whom failed to qualify for the final - and some medal ceremonies. I wonder how many other times terrestrial coverage of athletics in the evening has missed out on over half an hour of it like it did tonight?

BBC Olympics 1 HD to the rescue for the "missing" athletics tonight of course - though it's a mystery why half the people with evening athletics tickets left after the women's 200m final despite two more events being scheduled after that race. Yep, somewhat embarassingly, there were a lot of empty seats in the stadium as the coverage continued on channel 1. Even the scoreboard/PA was urging people to make a noise for a javelin thrower (not a Brit) due to the depleted audience!

Am I the only one who's noticed that the Russian Federation have been sneaking up the medal table this week? One more gold and they'll actually take 4th place over from South Korea. The Russians have now also managed to exceed our total medal haul (they have 52, we have 48), but as I've said before no-one but the USA cares about that.

 Day 15 recording size: 687GB - grand total so far: 12644GB (12.3TB)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Day 14 - Channels 16-24 no longer used

It looks like the rest of the Olympics should be a "breeze" recording-wise because the BBC have now stopped broadcasting any live sport on channels 16-24 with this message in the EIT data on those 9 channels:

"Coverage of the London 2012 Olympic Games has now concluded on this BBC Olympics channel."

In case you're wondering why the BBC didn't just shut down those 9 channels completely, I suspect it was for several reasons:
  • If 16-24 went completely blank (no signal), there would be mass panic that those 9 channels "weren't working" and that there was a transmission fault - cue loads of complaints to the BBC.
  • The deal for the 24 channels probably always included the 9 that aren't transmitting live sport now for the same time period as the remaining active 15 channels, so it doesn't save money (though Sky are actually paying for the sat space, not the BBC!) if they were fully shut down.
  • You get to transmit the timetable video/BBC Olympic theme in the same comforting/annoying manner that we've seen in the previous 3 weeks or so.
However, I still think the BBC should put up a caption on the 9 "inactive" channels with the same sort of text that the EIT message has to inform people that it's really not worth going above channel 15 any more now. Interestingly, channels 16-24 are now grouped as being an "alternative broadcast group", which tvheadend does mention in its dialogue box when you click one of those channels to record in them.

However, it doesn't handle the Now/Next program titles for channels within that group very well, because the first "Now" programme title it picks up from any channel is the group is used for all 9 channels' programme titles - whoops! So, for example, pc2's tvheadend is now showing "This is BBC Olympics 18 HD" for all channels 16-24...oh dear.

One thought has struck me - if the BBC replaced the timetable video with a static computer-generated caption like I mentioned (which maybe moved slightly over time to avoid any burn-ins on plasma), then wouldn't the bandwidth required to transmit those 9 channels fall drastically (it could be set to a low constant bitrate for example)? And then - you're twigging now - couldn't that released bandwidth be used to increase the bitrate of the remaining 15 HD channels on satellite? I wonder if any of the BBC engineers have thought about this? Perhaps a) it's extra work and b) it would give the final week of events a better picture quality then the first two, which would be inconsistent.

This reduction of more than a third of the active channels is reflected by another drop in recordings today - 15 channels, 20 sports and 38 slots totalling 120 hours and 59 minutes. Yes, just as we get the lightest recording load for a full day to date, I also moved from 6 to 7 available tuners - 3 on pc1 and 4 on pc2. The Now/Next system seems to be working on both PCs, so I won't touch the config again for that until after the Olympics.

Due to the way channels are allocated to transponders, although pc2 can record 16 simul channels now, its quad sat tuner can only record on 4 transponders of course, whereas all 6 transponders remain in use (1-6, 7-12, 15-13 is the grouping for the 15 channels). Hence, it makes very little difference to the "tuner juggling" I tend to have to do (which is why I wrote a program to tell me which channel to allocate to which PC and this is now skewed towards pc2 because of the extra tuner it now has). It does mean that doubling up recordings can happen more often though.

I'm also hoping that the revamped EPG stuff in the new tvheadend I've installed will stop that annoying multiple identical recording scheduling bug I've seen several times in the older version (in one case over 200 identical recordings crippled the system and I had to take emergency action).

An excellent 19th GB gold medal today from Alistair Brownlee in the men's triathlon today (and his brother Jonathan took bronze too), which has equalled the number of golds we got in Beijing with still 5-odd days of events to go. Sadly, our athletics is trailing off with a bunch of injuries and bad performances somewhat taking the edge off the "super" bit of last Saturday.

I do think dressage is a bizarre "sport" - force a horse into an unnatural set of choreographed moves to get a subjective score from judges. Who cares today, when we got our first ever dressage gold and this means the 20th gold for GB! It means we've officially beaten our Beijing medal table at 16:08 on 7th August 2012.

Laura Trott's cycling gold (21st for GB) in the omnium was very impressive indeed, what more can you say? Well, perhaps mention that we have a lead of 10 golds over South Korea, which means it's likely we'll be in 3rd place in the medal table at the end of the Olympics.

Sir Chris Hoy's 6th Olympic cycling gold - this time in the keirin and it was the 22nd gold for GB in these Olympics - means he has now more Olympic golds than any other Briton in history, beating Sir Steve Redgrave's 5 rowing golds. As the late David Coleman would have said: "remarkable".

A slightly disappointing high jump bronze for Robbie Grabbarz was more notable for pushing our medal total to 48, which is now one more than we won in Beijing. I believe this makes it our most successful Olympics in over a century in terms of total medals - a metric that no-one other than the USA cares about in the entire world.

The USA sorting the Olympic medal table in terms of total medals won is simply 100% incorrect, because that rates gold = silver = bronze, which is just ridiculous on every level. It's even a little insulting to gold and silver medal winners that their performance is rated no better than the bronze medal performance. It's wrong, USA, so fix your medal table sorting criteria right now :-)

I'm still not happy with the Now/Next (EIT) info on the latest tvheadend release I installed on pc1 and pc2. It seems to work initially and then intermittently fail, no matter what settings (e.g. with or without the Freesat EPG option, which has never worked anyway). So it was more scrambling to put some manual events in this evening and that means rolling back to the previous tvheadend on both PCs from now on because manually inputting recording slots of this sort of volume is infeasible really (plus dodgy Now/Next means potentially missing out on schedule changes too).

 Day 14 recording size: 783GB - grand total so far: 11957GB (11.7TB)

Monday, 6 August 2012

Day 13 - Not a Manic Monday

After all the athletics hoo-har at the weekend, it's almost like a day of rest today, with only 16 channels, 22 sports, 41 slots and the lowest recording hours for a full day by a long way: 132 hours and 59 minutes. It's also the first full day not to have any 7+ hour slots, for which we can be mightily grateful for. I got my Tesco grocery delivery at 11.30am - everything turned up with no subs, plus two bottles of white wine I hadn't even ordered! Some poor soul is going to be boozeless today, but the irony is that I don't drink alcohol at all, so my sister's going to benefit instead, assuming Tesco don't try to get them back from me :-)

I installed the latest tvheadend late last night on pc2 and it has new EPG options for various grabbers, including OpenTV (Sky) and Freesat. I enabled the Freesat and EIT grabbers, but sadly only the Now/Next info seemed to appear. A bug with not remembering the "remove unsafe chars from filename" option has at least been fixed though.

During my normal pre-recording tests, I tried out pc2's 4th tuner and it surprisingly seemed to work now, albeit with one of the transponders reporting a signal issue. To play it safe, I'm not planning to use it today, but I might try enabling it briefly at some point today to see if I can get all 6 transponders reporting an OK status. It makes me wonder if the older version of tvheadend (still running on pc1) had a tuning bug that's been fixed now, with the bug giving the appearance of a non-working tuner.

Is it just me or is the morning BBC Olympics coverage on BBC One HD just pants? Unless there's a sport with a Brit involved, they don't show any live sport for up to 2 hours, instead wallowing in the previous day's Brit efforts (replaying stuff, having any Brit medallists and pundits to gab on and on about it). Remember that Olympics coverage on the 24 channels has generally started at around 8.25am and yet it can be beyond 10.00am on some days before we actually see some live sport on BBC One HD. Remember that there's two evening highlights programmes (Olympics Tonight and Olympic Sportsday) that people can watch to catch up on what happened, so the next morning should be live sports from 8.30am onwards really.

Decided to try pc2 tuner 4 this afternoon for the first time in a while, because it was showing signs of life before recording started this morning and didn't seem to produce any errors when I assigned a recording channel to it later on. I've only assigned one transponder to pc2 tuner 4 for the moment as a precaution (yes, it's got an OK status).

It was a very tense team showjumping competition today with a jump-off that GB won to get their 17th gold medal of the Games and that restores the 6 gold lead that we had overnight against South Korea.

BBC terrestrial HD channels may have completely missed live coverage of Jason Kenny's cycling gold (our 18th gold)! They moved the velodrome action to BBC Two in SD to make way for the news on BBC One HD, had an obscure Japan vs. France women's football match on BBC Three/BBC HD and even the last chance for Freeview HD, red button 301 (in HD on 304) was a GB basketball group match!

I recorded it on BBC Olympics 5 HD, which appears to have been the only live HD coverage on the BBC - perhaps the biggest HD channel allocation mess-up of the Olympics so far? To add insult to injury, Kenny's medal ceremony was also only live in SD on terrestrial (BBC Two again) - this time a Brazil/Poland beach volleyball match on red button 301 (SD)/304 (HD) was considered a more important use of precious terrestrial HD Olympics coverage.

The Now/Next system collapsed on pc2 today just as about 10 recording slots were due to start in the space of 10 minutes (just before 19:00) on the two PCs. I suspect it's got to be something to do with the update of tvheadend, but it meant frantic manual creation of 6 or 7 manual slots on pc2 to complete the evening's recordings.

Luckily, I have a tuner allocation file created by a program for each day, so I could cross-check that all the sports were covered. I also added the remaining 5 transponders to pc2 tuner 4's configuration (meaning we're back to up to 16 simul channels on pc2) and put most of the remaining evening slots on pc2.

After a reboot of pc2 when recording finished for the evening, the Now/Next stuff seemed OK (it may have been options I had been fiddling with in the EPG config of tvheadend during the day). I've now turned off getting any Freesat EPG - that can wait until the Olympics finish - and also installed the latest tvheadend on pc1 as well - both seem to have working Now/Next at least.

I've replaced the first disk in pc1 (which had about 30GB left out of 2.8TB-ish) with a fresh empty one - I could have replaced both, but it's quick to do at any time really. Before you ask, pc1 tuner 4 still isn't working after the tvheadend upgrade :-(

Day 13 recording size: 807GB - grand total so far: 11174GB (10.9TB)

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Day 12 - Second Sunday is thankfully quiet

After the excitement of Super Saturday, recordings ease to their lowest level for a full day so far, with 18 channels, 21 sports, 44 slots and 160 hours and 22 minutes of recordings. We can also celebrate the end of the tennis for two reasons: 2 gold or silver medals and no more multiple 8+ hour tennis slots in one day  (it was the only sport that always had 2 or more such slots on a daily basis).

Looking at the hard disk usage (roughly 550GB per PC per day), both PCs have about 1.1TB left on their second disks at the start of today. It's lucky that today has 10-15% less recording time than usual, so it may be that 600GB is free for Monday on both PCs and I'll probably swap out both 3TB drives on pc1 when Monday's recordings finish (pc2 has a third disk in so is "safe" on Monday/Tuesday regardless).

Interestingly, the BIOS on both PCs' Intel motherboards has SATA marked as hot swappable, meaning you can theoretically add or remove hard drives without turning the power off. It's something I've never attempted and I still think it must carry some power-related risk, so I really don't want to try tempting fate. Plus, I'm not sure if Linux would automatically recognise an inserted internal hard drive without requiring a reboot.

I was just looking at tvheadend's bug reporting pages and one bug/feature (Freesat EPG support) has finally been fixed some 21 months (!) after it was first reported. I'm now sorely tempted to throw it onto one of the PCs (keeping the old version around to switch back in of course) to see what they've done - obviously I'd have to wait until about 1.00am on Monday morning to do that :-) It's not clear what you do about Freesat's EPG vs. EIT though on the 24 sat channels though.

I'd probably put the new release on pc2 because that's exclusively recording sat channels. In an ideal world, we'd get the next week's schedules filled in with no duplicates or overlaps if we're lucky. I don't like Now/Next events popping up many times during the day as each of the 24 channels moves onto the next slot - I'd much rather see the next 24 (or 168!) hours planned in the recording section of tvheadend and only if the schedule changes during that day should Now/Next stuff override it.

I just downloaded the latest tvheadend source (it actually moved its Github URL since I last built it on 22nd July) and it built OK. It's not installed on pc2 yet of course, but there was quite a rework of the code in the last few weeks related to EPG grabbing. It appears to have moved to a modular system, presumably because of a lot of shared code between each grabber parser. Interesting to note that whilst everything I've read claimed the Freesat EPG was encrypted, it doesn't appear to be. It's just compressed as a huffman-encoded stream, which - despite the massive length of the source code containing the huffman constants - is actually a well-known format to uncompress. Gotta love open source, haven't you? :-)

Perhaps one of the worst live camerawork of the Olympics, particularly involving the chance of a GB gold medal, was the end of the men's star sailing today. GB needed to be 6th or better if the Swedes won and 4th or better if the Brazilians won. I thought they showed very poor tactics of messing with the Brazilians (e.g. sailing on the same side of the course as the Brazilians, despite the Swedes leading on the other side plus tacking in front of the Brazilians too often, losing them time). When the Swedes took an early lead, GB should have chased after them and not the Brazilians.

So we get to the end with GB in fifth (still pointlessly messing with the Brazilians!) and the Swedes win the race. New Zealand 2nd, Germany 3rd and then we seem to get poor camera direction and skip to GB coming in, presumably for gold. Nope, they dropped behind the Brazilians to finish 7th and yet we never really saw the 4th-6th boats (there was a tiny glimpse of the Norwegian boat who was presumably one of them). The commentators didn't seem to realise for quite a while that the Brits had slipped to 7th and didn't even mention who had slipped in to 4-6th for ages (in fact, the viewers didn't get to know the interlopers until the official finishing caption appeared).

I do wonder if radio comms are allowed to people back at shore to get position updates - I guess not because coaches could give them tactics advice. Maybe they could get a computerised "Radio Sailing" neutral comms which just automatically continuously reads out positions and distance gaps with a computerised voice? I've got to say that without the captions and 3D computerised position images, the live pictures give absolutely no clue at all as to who is leading a lot of the time! It's not a good sport to watch live in person, IMHO, and the fact you need binoculars all the time to watch it doesn't help either!

More bad camerawork followed with the Ben Ainslie gold medal-winning race and ironically, the same dubious tactics as the star race almost happened again! Ainslie kept messing with his supposed rival for gold whilst ignoring the Dutch sailor, who almost got into gold medal-winning 2nd position in the race. At the critical point in the downwind leg, we missed the melee that forced the Dutch sailor to back off and not take the 2nd place that would have given him gold! As I just said before, it's a rubbish TV sport even without the dodgy BBC camera direction. Still, it means our 15th gold and restores the 5 gold lead in the medal table we have on the South Koreans, so it's not all bad.

Just watched a superb Andy Murray gold-winning tennis match - very few players have ever blown Federer completely off the court, but the amazing 6-2 6-1 6-4 score doesn't lie. That's 16 golds for GB now and extends our lead to 6 golds over South Korea. After a depressing first 7 days of events without a gold, they're coming thick and fast. First GB Olympic gold medal in tennis in over a century.

I only watched the last 30 minutes of the following Murray/Robson mixed doubles, because I was fairly sure they wouldn't win. They were playing the #1 ranked pair, which included Azarenka, who is the world number one in singles. Robson double faulting twice in the champions tie-break basically handed the gold to the opposition, but it's another silver for the medal table at least.

 Day 12 recording size: 906GB - grand total so far: 10367GB (10.1TB)

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Day 11 - Jessica's second day

21 channels, 23 sports and 55 slots totalling 188 hours and 5 minutes of recording mark the start of the second weekend of Olympics recording, though's claim that channels 22-24 aren't used sounds a bit fishy to me. There's a few "new" sports like triathlon and trampolining today, plus maybe the first time we've seen 6 slots for a sport (table tennis) in one day.

I was slightly disappointed with Jessica Ennis's high jump (9cm short of her PB set 5 years ago) and shot put (39cm behind last year's PB) yesterday, which does highlight that she can be inconsistent in her events. It is a little strange that she can set two excellent PB's (110m hurdles and 200m) and yet be so far off her PB's in the other two. The hurdles run was particularly impressive though, setting a time of 12.54s that equalled the Olympic gold medal run in the 110m hurdles final four years ago!

I guess we can't complain too much because even with the uneven performance, this was actually a PB for her first day total, making her on target to beat her GB record of 6,906 points that was set only a few months ago. She'll need a 6.40-6.50m long jump, a 47m javelin (probably needs a PB in this because it's her weakest event) and a 2:07 or 2:08 800m today to win gold and break the British record.

Whether it's a known issue with the quad sat tuner card I have, but pc2's tuner 4 is now showing the same "constant FEC" or "bursting FEC" status in tvheadend that pc1's tuner 4 has had since the Olympics started. As a precaution, I've removed the transponder info from pc2 tuner 4, but this means I can't double up anything any more of course because I'm down to 6 tuners now. Luckily, I was actually doubling up the only channel on that tuner (11 - showing water polo this morning) when the error occurred, so I just stopped the pc2 recording and let's hope I get no more faults, because I will then start losing video big time. Sadly, pc1 tuner 4 is still non-functioning (just checked it now) and I don't have much hope that it will come back before the end of the Olympics.

Stunningly, our 9th gold medal (in the rowing men's four) has put us third in the medal table, which is the highest position we could ever achieve! And we're onto the 10th gold now with the women's lightweight double sculls pulling off an impressive win (though the BBC News home page claimed we have 9 golds for a good 15-20 mins after the 10th was won!). The big question now is: can we keep third place in the medal table to the end of the Olympics? I suspect it could be tough unless we get some surprise golds from somewhere.

Jessica jumped 6.48m in the long jump this morning, which is only 3cm short of her PB and near the top of end of my predicted 6.40-6.50m jump range I said she needed for gold. It's now looking very good for gold for Jessica tonight, provided she can get close to or exceed 47m in the javelin. One minor trivia point about Austra Skujte whom Jessica is leading by 258 points - Austra is actually the decathlon world record holder. She's managed to hold onto that world record for 7 years because I bet that very few women's decathlons actually take place.

Not clever to interview people at the rowing regatta right by the PA speaker - that's happened at least twice this morning and you'd think they'd have learned not to try to out-shout David Bowie's "Heroes" by now :-)

An excellent new PB of 47.49m in the javelin for Jessica has sealed both Olympic gold and the British record (which she holds already anyway). There's now some silly talk on the BBC of exceeding 7,000 points, but Jessica would have to beat her 800m PB by a full 2 seconds, which isn't going to happen. Showing how weak Jessica's javelin is, she only threw the 10th longest distance and her lead to Skujte has actually been cut to 188 points.

Well done to the women's cycling team pursuit who picked up our 11th gold of the games, now meaning that we have a 2 gold lead over South Korea and remain in 3rd place in the medal table. The cycling, like 4 years ago, has been very impressive, with a load of world records and some dominant performances.

3 gold medals for Team GB in one night in the athletics stadium is nothing short of astonishing - I wasn't sure we'd get more than a couple of athletics golds in the entire Olympics. Jessica's run in the 800m was almost as good as her 110m hurdles yesterday. She won her heat, but surprisingly didn't set an 800m PB on her way to a new British and Commonwealth record total of 6,955 points and the gold medal of course.

I did pity Greg Rutherford in the long jump though - his was the big surprise gold of the night, but everyone was cheering Mo Farah to his historic 10,000m gold at the time so it got a little lost in the Mo-fever in the stadium. It was the first time  GB had won three Olympic golds in a single athletics session, but seeing GB - predictably! - lose on football penalties against our medal table rivals South Korea left a little bit of a sour taste to the evening's end. Still, GB's 14th gold has stretched our lead to 5 ahead of South Korea, which should keep third place safe for at least a few days.

A lot of late-night terrestrial overruns by some 25 minutes because of the athletics (yes, including the lottery show), but I see the BBC threw in a 2 hours 59 mins Now/Next slot on BBC One HD at 22:25 to cover all their Olympic overruns in one giant block, so I'll leave that running until Olympic Sportsday ends.

 Day 11 recording size: 1011GB - grand total so far: 9461GB (9.2TB)

Friday, 3 August 2012

Day 10 - Athletics begin...c'mon Jessica!

The athletics are probably my favourite sport in the Olympics, so today is a big day, with my viewing loyalties a bit split between Jessica Ennis and Rebecca Adlington tonight. It's another sub-200 hour full day though, with 24 channels, 24 sports, 55 slots and 193 hours and 43 minutes of recording time. Yes, you read that right - with up to 4 athletics events happening simultaneously today, the BBC doesn't allocate more than 2 channels (in fact, only 1 for most of the time). doesn't list an evening basketball session tonight (there is one according to the BBC Website - update: Now/Next slot claims a 00:30 finish), but basketball and volleyball (23:40) are the only events to finish after 23:00 tonight. Another omission is the 12:00 tennis slot on channel 24 (I've complained on their forums that virtually nothing is on channel 24 in their listings through to 10th August, but fresh Now/Next slots keep turning up on it!).

Is it just me or is all the best terrestrial Olympics coverage on BBC HD? We get HD, a reasonably unobtrusive logo (unlike BBC Three's equivalent SD purple logo), not much inane studio chat and - IMHO of course - a better selection of sports than the main BBC One HD channel, which to me adds up to a superior experience. They just covered the mammoth Federer vs. Del Potro tennis match, although the commentator made the classic maths error of saying "Federer is serving for the Xth time to stay in the match" when it was actually the X+1st time...whoops!

The first time Federer was serving to stay in the match was at 4-5 in the third set, so you don't just subtract 4 from Federer's current third set score before he serves, but actually 3. So at, say, 15-16 with Federer to serve, that would be the 12th time he would be serving to stay in the match. The commentator kept saying it incorrectly just virtually every single time (about a dozen in all) which  drove me mad!

Another annoying thing about the tennis is that they allow babies/very young kids into the crowd who inevitably start bawling at the worst possible times in a close match that needs quiet just before serving and during the rallies too. This has happened several times in the Federer match and in most matches I've watched so far - the Wimbledon tournament doesn't allow babies or very young kids in, so why should the same tennis venue allow them for the Olympics? A mistake from the organisers, I reckon - there should be a minimum age limit of 5 and even then, if a kid persistently cries, they should be warned initially and then thrown out if it recurs (with no refunds!).

And, yes, I waited until the match finished to split the Federer recording and it looks like I'll have to add another tennis slot to cover a late night session (it overran until about 20:45) with Murray, who impressively won his semi tonight and is guaranteed a silver medal.

Just put in a big grocery order to Tesco online for delivery on Monday morning (yes, in 2-hour slot that only has one or two new recordings to deal with). It's mainly junk food to keep me going for the final week or so. Normally, I'd go to my local Tesco, but I'm not leaving the house during the Olympics, so I'd always planned for an online grocery shop. Delivery is £3.50 in case you're curious, which I think is reasonable for such a large purchase.

Just an off-topic lottery note here - next Tuesday's Euro Millions will capped at 190m Euros (about £150m) and if Tuesday's jackpot isn't won, next Friday's draw will be similarly capped. If no-one wins next Friday's draw either, all the jackpot prize money (which will be 190m Euros plus whatever was capped in the 2 draws) will be added to the Friday draw's 5+1 prize pool (i.e. it would be a "roll-down" draw). Yes, the rules are completely confusing and there shouldn't be any cap anyway. Oh, don't forget that lottery money was used to fund Olympic athletes in a major way, so there is a tenuous connection after all :-)

 Day 10 recording size: 1133GB - grand total so far: 8450GB (8.3TB)

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Day 9 - Quietest full day so far

There's a definite drop in events today with 21 channels, 21 sports, 46 slots and the first full day under 200 hours of recording (173 hours and 28 minutes). We still manage to get another 5 sports starting simultaneously at 08:55 though.

It struck me today that it's possible the BBC Olympic theme tune for these Olympics has now aired more times than any other song in the history of the BBC (and maybe the history of the world?)! Think about it - 48 channels on sat/cable all looping the song and it started playing maybe a week before the Olympics (not sure exactly when) and whenever there's no live video on the 48 channels (SD+HD, which must be at least 12 hours a day per channel). The previous record holder for UK TV was probably something like the Coronation Street theme tune I bet.

Some basic calculations for the tune coming up. Assuming it is 3 minutes long (at some point I'll time it, but I'm so sick of it at the moment, I really can't :-) ) and it aired for 7 full days before the first events and for 12 hours a day (that's conservative because there were probably less than 10 hours per day of live sport per channel) from 25th July to 12th August (19 days). So that's (24 * 7 + 12 * 19) * 48 = 19,008 hours! If it is 3 mins long, that's a staggering 380,160 times it will have been played. The mind truly boggles and let's hope the BBC negotiated a fixed fee for it, because the performing rights alone could pay for, well, an hour of Graham Norton's salary.

I thought I'd actually try out the BBC's Flash-based Olympics video player today to see what the quality was like and also what events you could watch after they've finished their live stream. After all, the BBC Sport site heavily plugs them as "catch up" video and I suspect that's how the majority of people will watch them. After all, there's several HD channels (dozens if you have sat or cable) to watch or record the events live, without needing a Net connection too.

The first thing to note is that you can't seem to get the entire video coverage that is on the 24 channels I've been recording (i.e. an exact copy of every minute that they transmitted) once the live stream for an event has finished. All the events seem to have been edited right down to the actual live sports action and nothing more. One advantage with that, at least, is that each sub-event is properly split, unlike the sat coverage which is just hours of blocks of video (often doing nothing but showing a live picture of the stadium or showing timetable video - football being the worst offender here with its stupid 2-match 5-hour slots with nothing happening in the middle for an hour).

Also, Gary Lineker's endlessly repeated plugs for the video player claim that you can click on fullscreen and see the sport in HD. Well, that's a lie on two fronts I suspect - the fullscreen option still leaves huge black borders down the left, right and particularly the bottom (though not at the top for some reason) and also the quality seems to fall well short of HD to me (no idea if it was a bandwidth issue, but I typically get 8Mbit/sec and wasn't doing anything else on my connection at the time) and wasn't even SD quality I reckon. It all goes to show that recording the original HD transmissions was indeed the way to go.

I also had a good look around on iPlayer to see what they were offering, but they seem to have just the terrestrial channels on there - it's as if the 24 sat channels never existed. Considering iPlayer is available on loads of platforms, it's a shame that the full set of Olympics video coverage isn't on there.

transmedia on pc1 and pc2 is now using the second 3TB disk on both machines. pc1 only has two 3TB drives, so in 5-6 days, I will swap out at least one of the drives in pc1. It might be two drives swapped out then, depending on calculations as to how many swaps will be needed on both PCs. pc2 may need one more drive than pc1, but it's not clear yet if that's the case.

The Now/Next (EIT) system has been working fairly well so far with automatically setting recordings on the various channels - though I have to put all the sports strings that are in actual live sport programme titles into tvheadend's Automatic Recording otherwise I'd have recorded loads of "This is BBC Olympics X HD" timetable videos :-) Predictably, it's not been perfect so far and here's some of the weird things that have been happening with it to date:

  • Fresh Now/Next info (I have "idle scanning" set in tvheadend to pick the EIT info up regularly) just seems to occasionally appear from nowhere and add to a currently recording slot! Although the Web interface of tvheadend doesn't allow you to record the same programme to two separate files simultaneously, if the new info does add to the current slot, it does end up with you recording the same channel twice from that point onwards. I just leave both running unless there's SSD space issues, because often the new info may extend the current slot's running time.
  • I have EIT enabled on terrestrial channels too and a few days ago, it set about 12 identical recording slots for the red button channel 301! I just deleted 11 of them and that was fine.
  • Today, I had a tennis slot at 12:00 being continuously updated with seemingly exactly the same EIT info, but for about 20-30 minutes, the tvheadend Web interface kept refreshing every few seconds and a new log line appeared in the logging window for each of the EIT "updates". It eventually stopped and there was indeed only one event scheduled for the tennis after all that!
I suspect that Now/Next with some sort of string-matching automatic recording facility is the only way to actually schedule the 24 channels without doing a huge amount of manual programming of the EPG. It's even worse if you have two "recorders" (PCs + tuner cards) because that's double the effort too. Of course, I don't think any well-known brand of sat hard disk recorder can do more than 2 or 3 channels out of the box, though I believe some firmware hacks can raise that limit. Plus twin tuners limit you to a max of 8 out of the 24 channels of course, so you'd have to buy 3 of those recorders and hack the firmware, at which point you're better off with a PC media centre IMHO.

You also wonder if the BBC has dedicated anyone to actually look at all 24 video streams in, say, a 6x4 mosaic and have something flag "5 minutes or less to end of slot" on a particular video stream. If the live sport continues with less than 5 mins left of the slot, that video should be touchable and an option to extend the slot by, say, 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes should appear. When one of those extensions is selected, the Now/Next info changes and introduces a new slot starting at the same time as the original one would have ended and also shortens the next originally intended slot (though the BBC usually space out the slots with an empty one inbetween, hopefully exactly for this purpose!). That would allow anyone like me recording as much as they can to be able to get all the overruns too.

Typical that as soon as I start talking about Now/Next info, I have the first real crisis involving it! Basically, tvheadend went berserk and put in hundreds of identical events for the evening hockey today on channel 13 on pc1, which is a terrible, terrible bug in the software. I started to delete them, but couldn't trash them fast enough (ludicrously, no bulk deletion of scheduled recordings is possible in the tvheadend Web interface) before they actually started.

You can guess what happened next - tvheadend tried to start hundreds of simul recordings, the load average went through the roof and the Web interface and all recording on pc1 ground to a halt. I found the solution fairly quickly - I moved the channel 13 config file out of the way and restarted tvheadend (at least it's good at resuming recordings in a fresh file when you do that). I then trashed the multiple recordings with endless mouse clicks and fired back up channel 13 again to record the hockey. So I lost a few minutes of about 5 events, maybe 15 minutes of the hockey and, no, before you ask, pc2's tuner/transponders were busy and couldn't record channel 13 as a fallback. Not best pleased with the tvheadend author - time for a bug report methinks!

Great to see three golds being won by Team GB today in cycling, shooting and canoeing, though sad to see Pendleton and Varnish get disqualified in the cycling. Did we actually ever get a decent replay of the early overtake? The one I saw already had Pendleton's wheel overlapping Varnish's when it started.

Just had a peek at tomorrow's athletics schedule on the BBC Sport Website vs. the athletics slots they've allocated tomorrow and I'm quite disappointed. Just like the gymnastics, the BBC aren't allocating enough channels to the athletics. We have 3 athletics sub-events overlapping tomorrow morning/lunchtime and up to 4 overlapping tomorrow evening. So the BBC decides to allocate just one channel to the first session and only two (in fact only one for the first 90 minutes!) in the evening. What's worse is that channel 24 is completely unused all Friday and channels 22 and 23 are free on Friday evening too...grrr!

 Day 9 recording size: 1097GB - grand total so far: 7317GB (7.1TB)

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Day 8 - Oh come on, someone win a gold...and they finally did!

We're into the second week of events and although less gold medals are obviously awarded in the first week since most events are in heat rounds rather than finals, it's still quite disappointing that the Olympics host has failed to win a gold medal. There's chances of a few today though, but so far the British Olympians have disappointed - many not getting into finals when they were expected to.

Today's recording stats are all 24 channels, 23 sports and 54 slots totalling 211 hours and 2 minutes recording time - this includes 3 minutes pre-padding and 5 minutes post-padding for every time slot. pc2 has generally been recording more than pc1 (up to 16 HD channels simultaneously in fact) and its first 3TB disk is now 92% full. My transmedia program should therefore start using the second 3TB disk in pc2 by lunchtime.

Just been checking's listings for the 24 channels through to the 10th August (yes, 2 days short of the end) and the 8th August is apparently only using 12 of the 24 channels! A "half-day" of sport next Wednesday then? Or a listings error? Who knows.

I'm going to experiment with a tuner allocation program I wrote the other day. It basically suggests which PC/tuner should be allocated for the next event to avoid over-allocating tuners like I mentioned in yesterday's post. If either PC is already recording the same transponder it is used again for the new event, otherwise it's the PC with most free tuners available. If that ties, then it's the PC with the most tuners overall, which is currently pc2's 4 compared to pc1's 3.

I have no doubling-up code in it yet, but that gets trickier because there will times where you'll have to cancel one or more of the double-ups to free up a tuner for a new slot that needs a fresh transponder.

Hey, did we just have five events start simultaneously at 08:55 this morning? Two badminton and one each of beach volleyball, archery and fencing. That may be the first time it's happened because I can only remember four simultaneous starts prior to today. That fencing slot has also joined the bad boys hall of fame of overly long slots at a painful 7 hours and 15 mins and will be split today. The only other scheduling note of interest is that basketball sets a new latest-ending record by finishing at 00:30 tomorrow morning (update: strike that, it  looks like basketball finished well before midnight and left timetable video up when it was done in the slot).

Just been watching the swimming heats this morning on BBC Olympics 1 HD and I've aways liked the two commentators, but they're making a classic error - probably the production team not prompting them - of stopping commentary on the sat channel whilst Sharron Davies interviews whoever just finished the previous heat (presumably for one of the terrestrial channels, I dunno). Problem is that the sat channel continued with the live action and never showed the interview at all. We even had the silly point where Michael Phelps starts his heat to total commentary silence on the sat channel for a length and a half of the pool!

Needless to say, I missed the first GB gold in this Olympics whilst watching the swimming - Glover and Stanning, who amazingly (considering our good gold medal record in men's rowing) are our first ever women gold medallists in rowing, albeit the sport was only introduced to the Olympics in 1976.

A tennis session seems to have appeared out of nowhere on channel 24 - it was supposed to be badminton until 15:40, but the Now/Next has kicked in tennis between 14:45 and 20:00 today on the same channel. I've left both recording for the moment and I'm sure this has happened once or twice before as well.

No golds for 7 days and then we get 2 in one day. Watching Bradley Wiggins win the cycling road time trial was great, only soured as usual by Hugh Porter's utterly useless commentary. Why that guy still has a BBC job is anyone's guess - misidentifying the riders regularly, stating who was leading time checks without actually looking at a computer screen first (and therefore getting it wrong and having to correct himself when actually looking at the screen afterwards) and even calling the event the team time trial at one point! I believe he was equally bad in the men's road race (which I didn't watch because I wasn't convinced we'd get a medal despite the pre-race hype). Liggett and Sherwen on ITV4's TDF coverage were just so much better.

I decided to take the one and only fsync() call out of my transmedia program today. It's a C library call used usually just before you close an open file you're writing  - to HDD in this case - to physically commit the data to HDD. It does take many seconds - proportional to the file size - to execute fsync() because the writes are buffered in RAM and I have 12GB/16GB in the PCs. However, Linux is very good at disk buffering and flushing smoothly at regular intervals, so I've taken the fsync() out.

Although the file written to is only on HDD, I'm not convinced that the Linux kernel doesn't cause it to affect other filing systems. For example, it's very strange that the equivalent command line program, "sync", doesn't let you specify a file, directory, mount point or device at all! It does mean that a power failure may lose video, but I have a UPS on both PCs, so that's quite unlikely to happen. It also makes transmedia "finish" its SSD->HDD copy significantly more quickly, though of course it's not truly finished until the buffered disk writes are written to HDD a little later (I suspect that'll generally be completed within 30 seconds).

I was reviewing the transmedia source code further today and spotted two minor stupidities. When the verify pass is turned off, I still calculated the checksums for each 1MB of data read in, despite never actually comparing those checksums with the data written and then re-read from the HDD (because I don't do that re-read if verify is turned off). That was an easy fix, but the second dumb bit of code was that if the source file couldn't be deleted after the copy to HDD was successful, I'd madly delete the HDD copy too!

The reason that deletion was stupid is that if the source file is deleted or renamed after transmedia opens the file, Linux is neat enough to allow the reads to continue on the open file handle until the file is closed again. Yes, the source file has gone from a user-visible point of view (e.g. "ls" doesn't list it), but Linux will not finally delete files until all processes that have it open actually close the file. Now I just log a warning about not being able to delete the source file, leave the probably fine HDD copy intact and then continue on with the code, which is much more robust IMHO.

  Day 8 recording size: 1132GB - grand total so far: 6220GB (6.1TB)

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Day 7 - Can Team GB finally win a gold? is missing channel 24 yet again (I've posted on their forums to notify them of the problem - almost all their listings to 10th Aug have nothing on channel 24!), so my initial figures of 23 channels, 23 sports, 56 slots and 212 hours and 38 mins of recordings may need revising if the Now/Next data pops up a sport on channel 24 later today. Yes, I'll be splitting the usual suspects (tennis, sailing, equestrian), so I won't bother mentioning the splits in the future unless a new sport is involved that I haven't split before.

You may have noticed that I'm using day numbering three ahead of what the BBC are saying. The reason for this is that Olympics events did not start on Saturday (that's the first full day of events admittedly), but actually three days earlier. Yes, there were "only" 6 women's football matches, 8 men's football matches and a scandalously unaired archery competition on those three days, but they were all part of the Olympics and should be counted as taking place on an Olympics day.

So we now reach the end of a week's events and Team GB are desperate for a gold medal. Just don't ask me where the first one will come from, but if they don't get one today, I think I'd call the first week a failure. A 15-year-old girl won a gold medal in swimming for Lithuania yesterday and even they're beating us in the medal table now.

Watching bits of the artistic gymnastics yesterday - well done for the bronze medal, lads! - it did confrm what I was thinking before the Olympics was needed to cover the event: multiple channels surely? There were clearly multiple apparatus in use by competitors simultaneously, so we actually missed quite a bit of live action (some of it was shown recorded, but I suspect we didn't get all of it even then). Athletics will be in a similar position of course.

Just finished watching an epicly long tennis match between Tsonga and Raonic on BBC Olympics 7 HD today. A real shame the terrestrial BBC channels didn't pick up on it - no British player in it I guess. It ended 6-3 3-6 25-23 to Tsonga! That's 66 games and something like 3 hours and 57 minutes. I believe the number of games is a record for an Olympics tennis match, though the points were almost all short and there were no tiebreaks, so I'm not sure that the total time sets a record. No commentary on most of the match and I actually quite liked that - plus the umpire was announcing things with quite a sarky voice :-) At 21-21, a Scottish commentator finally turned up and then Tracy Austin joined in at 22-21.

In case you're wondering what happens when the first of my eight 3TB HDD's gets close to full, I'll explain the setup to you. My transmedia program will only copy to an HDD with at least 1% free (something like 29-30GB) and also with enough actual free filestore space to copy the file into. The disks to be checked are listed on the command line (e.g. /mnt/disk1 /mnt/disk2 /mnt/disk3) and each one is tried in the order specified. If none have the space, the file remains on SSD.

So what happens when all the 3TB drives are almost full? I have 2 in one PC and 3 in another, so when a full day would fill the final disk, I simply swap out any one of the nearly-full 3TB disks for a fresh empty one before the first recordings of the day start. I have three 3TB in a drawer and another two 2TB as emergency spares. I would also remount the "full" disks read only to avoid anything being written to them. Clearly, there must be at least two 3TB disks in each PC at all times for all of this to work. Note that I use /dev/sd* syntax in /etc/fstab and not the UUID (which would change each time a disk was replaced).

I picked up one trick in the last few days with my setup - after the final slot to start is allocated to a tuner in the evening (it's currently boxing at around 20:25 or so), then I double up as much recording as I can on both PCs. The reason I don't do it earlier is that it's possible to over-allocate double-ups and lock out recording later slots. Those later slots could need a 5th transponder that's not available because 4 tuners are using the first 4 transponders already. There's no SSD space issues because there are far less evening slots than afternoon ones, at least in this first week.

Well, the answer to this particular posting title was a sad "no". A week of events, something like 55 golds awarded and we're now probably at the lowest position (21st) in the medal table that we'll be in for the entire Olympics. The BBC Website (I'll eventually find the link again!) showed each day's progress in 2008 compared to 2012 and we are already behind that (we won a gold on full day 2 in 2008).

 Day 7 recording size: 1011GB - grand total so far: 5088GB (5.0TB)

Monday, 30 July 2012

Day 6 - Still a packed schedule

Today is only a fractionally less busy day than yesterday with all 24 channels used again, 23 sports involved and 58 recording slots totalling 220 hours and 40 minutes. Apart from missing channel 24's events completely, the other interesting note is that the BBC has finally decided to experiment with splitting up some of the tennis slots into two, which is something I've been banging on about for days now.

Channels 22 and 24 will broadcast tennis in 11:30-16:00 and 16:00 to 20:10 slots, which is great, but sadly the mad 8+ hour tennis slots remain on channels 6 and 7 (I will be splitting those along with sailing, which is still over 6 hours today). The BBC have also finally mostly split each football match onto separate channels, though channel 4 wrecks it with a 2-match 5 hours 5 mins slot at 14:20. So better scheduling from the BBC at last, but by no means perfect.

It's slightly worrying that Team GB have no gold medal yet and languish 16th in the medals table after 5 days of events. We were far too optimistic about Cavendish for road racing gold the other day, IMHO. If anyone's seen the Tour De France over the years, they'll know it's an unpredictable sport, particularly if a strong breakaway occurs.

Also, I was surprised how all the British riders behaved like they were a team and didn't have anyone try to join the breakaways - it was an individual event after all (there are no team prizes or glory like in the TDF). As an individual rider, Cav's complaints about other teams not working shows the wrong attitude - it was every man for himself (the winner wasn't working with anyone!) and this was the flaw in all the British riders' tactics.

A couple of times today, the Now/Next info has actually managed to double up recordings in tvheadend for the same satellite channel! Something seems to pick up an empty slot title (e.g. "This is BBC Olympics 9 HD") and put it into the current active recording slot and, somewhat bizarrely, also records it despite it not matching any of my Automatic Recording strings (I deliberately made sure that empty slot title didn't match, otherwise I would end up with thousands of  hours of timetable video :-) Luckily, the original recording in that slot continues as well and I just leave both running unless there's SSD space issues.

I just realised I didn't show some of the output from the script I wrote the other day to keep an eye on the recordings from a filestore point of view. It was mainly written to make sure that what was on the tvheadend Web interface matches what's on the filestore. So here's an example from today (I have the script on both pc1 and pc2):

  4992 MB: BBC-Olympics-2-HD/-Olympic-Gymnastics-Artistic-.mkv
18320 MB: BBC-Olympics-4-HD/-Olympic-Tennis--1.mkv
11843 MB: BBC-Olympics-5-HD/-Olympic-Tennis--1.mkv
 9616 MB: BBC-Olympics-6-HD/-Olympic-Sailing--1.mkv
21932 MB: BBC-Olympics-8-HD/-Olympic-Hockey-.mkv
 8242 MB: BBC-Olympics-12-HD/-Olympic-Weightlifting-.mkv
 4877 MB: BBC-Olympics-13-HD/-Olympic-Basketball-.mkv
16437 MB: BBC-Olympics-14-HD/-Olympic-Beach-Volleyball-.mkv
 9908 MB: BBC-Olympics-15-HD/-Olympic-Archery-.mkv
 6137 MB: BBC-Olympics-20-HD/-Olympic-Table-Tennis-.mkv
 7327 MB: BBC-Olympics-21-HD/-Olympic-Tennis--1.mkv
13610 MB: BBC-Olympics-23-HD/-Olympic-Boxing-.mkv
Active: 12, total: 133247 MB (130.1 GB), free: 32050 MB (31.3 GB) = 16.32%
16675 MB: BBC-Olympics-19-HD/-Olympic-Badminton-.mkv
Done: 1, total: 16675 MB (16.3 GB), free: 32050 MB (31.3 GB) = 16.32%

Any filename with "--1" in it is a second file that is recording after a split (i.e. I split Tennis and Sailing today). The first file will already have been moved to HDD of course. You can see a 16GB Badminton file that would be moved to HDD a few minutes later by my transmedia program, which freed up that space on the SSD. If anything appears in the Done list that shouldn't, then I'll know something is wrong.

One handy thing to do is to keep a rolling set of 2 runs of the script output in the terminal permanently, so you can compare between runs and see what's changed. I tend to run the script when multiple recordings start simultaneously (which unfortunately happen a lot!), to make sure things look OK.

On another note, I've been running a BBC One HD feed in XBMC permanently during the day (switching it occasionally to a sat feed when the BBC One HD sport is boring). Prior to today, I'd only put it on occasionally if there was really something important to watch.

A little sad to see that after 6 days of events and the awarding of 38 gold medals, Great Britain has failed to win a gold and has slipped even further to 20th in the medal table. Let's hope that we climb up the table soon! An impressive start by France I see - thanks to their swimmers, they've got 3 golds and lie in third place in the table.

  Day 6 recording size: 1104GB - grand total so far: 4077GB (4.0TB)

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Day 5 - Busiest day in the first week?

Despite being a Sunday, it's not a day of rest for Olympians as we have record numbers of sports (24), satellite channels (24), satellite recording slots (58) and recording time (226 hours) to deal with today. To cope with this, I'll be splitting equestrianism (split at 13:25), sailing (15:00) and tennis (15:45 or 16:05) into two recordings because they're all crazily over 6 hours each. I may do each split a little earlier if 90% SSD usage on pc2 is reached before then and if things get really tight, I'll look at splitting the football at 14:30 too (5 hours 20 mins for two fixed-length matches that last about 2 hours each! It's totally criminal the BBC don't have those in 2 slots with at least an hour gap between the slots).

Other PC adjustments include suspending at 1.15am, 1.30am or 1.45am (whenever the machine is idle and has no-one logged into it) with a wakeup 15 mins before the first event in the morning (though I'll power it up an hour before the first event anyway to do my system checks). On both pc1 and pc2, I've removed transmedia's verify pass and also reduced the check interval for files to copy from SSD->HDD from 5 minutes to 3 minutes (two successive checks have to have the same timestamp and filesize for the file to be copied).

Each day, I check all the tuners are reporting 100% quality and I also check whether duff tuners 2 and 4 on pc1 are working. This morning saw a bit of life from tuner 2 - the transponders reported OK for the first time since the fault, so I've decided to try and use tuner 2 today (handball is recording on it as I speak). Tuner 2 is now also recording the dreaded 7 hour equestrian slot.

Now tuner 2 in pc1 is operational, I've removed the recording of Freeview 304 (HD version of 301) again and this has balanced the SSD usage between pc1 and pc2. The extra tuner available in pc2 (used for recording 4 HD channels) is counteracted by recording 2 HD and 3 SD terrestrial channels on pc1.

One thing I can look at is possibly doubling up now on one or two recordings. I'm experimenting with the 12:00 tennis session on both pc1 and pc2 since I'll be splitting both at 16:05 and can do the split a minute apart to avoid losing any video. Yes, it did occur to me that you might be able to record the same slot on the same PC and tuner twice, but tvheadend won't let you do that (presumably once the process has the tuner stream for the initial recording, it can't access that stream a second time).

So far so good with balancing the SSD space and tuners today, but it struck me that after 14:40, there's only a couple of recordings finishing until 16:25 (so only a little SSD space can be freed up except for my splits of course), but loads of stuff - 9 recordings! - fires up between 14:20-14:55 that accelerates the SSD usage from as low as 30% right up to 80% or beyond an hour or two later (I'm hoping my splits will keep it below 80%). I suspect we'll see this pattern throughout the Olympics, because it certainly happened yesterday as well.

The good news is that I got through the peak recording period with a maximum of 83% of the SSD space used on either PC. There are less simultaneous sessions in the evening than in the afternoon, so there's no issue with space for the rest of the day. I still won't be able to watch my recording of today's F1 GP until about 20:30 tonight, because all evening sessions will have started by then and they can be run unattended.

Another day over and I've written a script to show me the active recordings and the space they use on the SSD (and the free space left on the SSD), plus any that have finished and not yet copied to HDD. It's just for reassurance that the "recording blobs" in tvendend match up with what's going on w.r.t. the filestore.

 Day 5 recording size: 1192GB (a new record) - grand total so far: 2973GB (2.9TB)

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Day 4 - Now we hit the big time

Today is the first time that my recording system will be truly stress tested, with a packed schedule of 51 recordings across all 24 satellite channels (plus all the terrestrial recordings on top of that). This means it marks the debut of BBC Olympics HD channels 4-24 in showing actual live Olympics sport (rather than timetable video or the torch relay).

My quad sat tuner cards are actually two twin tuners on one circuit board, so with tuner 4 on one card out of action, it was predictable that another tuner would fail shortly after and that's what happened this morning (tuner 2 on pc1 - I guess they alternate on the connectors?). The good news is that I mis-typed one of the transponder numbers in the program I finished yesterday, so it does look like you can just about scrape by on 6 tuners today with absolutely no overlap though.

What I've done is allocate all sports strings to Automatic Recording on both PCs and then manually abort events which one of the two PCs can't find a tuner to record on. I can now see five 8+ hour tennis sessions today starting at 11:30 or 12:00, so that's going to be "fun". So far, I've managed to record everything, but it's probably my first all-day "dressing gown" session of the Olympics :-)

As I suspected, it got very tight at lunchtime on pc2's SSD since that's the more heavily loaded of the two. I ended up stopping and deleting the terrestrial recordings on pc2 because I'm doubling up on all of those. The problem is that the BBC haven't split up long slots into sub-events (tennis being the worst - 5 slots of over 8 hours each) so many of them start in the morning and either break at lunch or go on right through lunch continuously, so 4-6 hour single slots are quite common.

This means my SSD->HDD copier has more simultaneous long slots to deal with and hence a lot more SSD space is needed. As a precaution, I've now turned off all terrestrial recordings on pc2 and will just record them on pc1 only from now on. Things have calmed down since I've done that, with pc2 SSD usage around 50-60% now (but this will climb this afternoon of course). The only actual gap between events starting today that is longer than an hour is at 15:25-16:50, which I finally get a break (once events are recording, I can relax a bit and leave them unattended).

The latest starting time today is 20:25 (boxing), so once that's started recording, I'll get to watch the recording of today's Hungarian F1 GP qualifying which has been rudely shoved to BBC Two and in SD only :-( At least the race tomorrow is on BBC One HD - yay! - although only a 90-minute long highlights show sadly. The only other non-Olympics activity tonight is the lottery show at 10.20pm on BBC One HD, where I'll be updating my unofficial lottery site at the same time as the show airs (unlike Camelot's official site...).

Around about 15:30 today, pc2's SSD started to exceed 90%, so I found a way to free up space manually. I stopped my transmedia program temporarily so I could move stuff without a verify (and 5-10 mins earlier), then I targeted the ludicrous 8+ hour tennis slots (8 hours and 40 mins is the longest - 2 hours longer than today's road race slot!) and split them at the half-way point like the bleeding BBC should have done. I did this by stopping the recording for a few seconds and starting it again - the fresh recording uses a numerically incremented separate filename and then I could move the original (4+ hours!) recording from SSD to HDD and free up some 20-25GB of space in one go. I will probably have to do this wiith anything that exceeds a 6 hour slot in the future.

I didn't know what to do with Freeview channel 304 (an HD version of red button channel 301) when I was first setting up the terrestrial channels and I decided that because I was recording all the sports in HD already and also 301 in SD, it would be a duplicate almost all the time. However, now I'm down to recording everything just once, I've activated the recording of 304 as a precaution on pc1 (which is fine with its SSD free space at peak times).

I guess hindsight is a wonderful thing - if I'd have known about all these problems in advance, I'd have got dishes with octo LNBs instead of quad LNBs, four quad tuner sat cards instead of two and 480GB SSDs instead of 240GB. That way, any two tuner failures wouldn't have mattered and I wouldn't nearly have run out of SSD space either. Plus I'd have been able to record everything twice, which would have been a bonus and would allow me to leave the whole setup mostly unattended.

I made the mistake of believing the blurb for the sat cards when they said they could record 48 HD channels simultaneously. The problem with the Astra satellites is that their transponder bandwidth is around 45Mbit/s and the BBC uses around 10-11 Mbit/sec for their HD channels, so there was never going to be enough tuners (4 tuners * 4 HD channels = 16) with a single quad card to cover the 24 channels. The cards took weeks to arrive and I finished my sat installation a few months ago, so I'd already lost some redundancy before the 2 tuners gave up on me. If it was as easy as just ordering two more cards, I'd have done it, but it would also require a quad LNB -> octo LNB replacement and another four cables off of each dish, which is yet another callout for a sat installer.

My Automatic Recording strings picked up Now/Next info for unscheduled fourth and fifth 8+ hour tennis slots (11:30-20:00) on channels 23 and 24, which I recorded (with mid-slot splits like I mentioned earlier). I say "unscheduled" because's site that I paid a subscripion for failed to list anything on channels 23 and 24 today :-( It definitely pays to use the Now/Next (EIT) system I guess!

I actually went to bed early tonight (yes, before the last events had finished recording!) because I was so tired monitoring the recordings. The problem is that tomorrow is even busier, but now I know what to do with the long slot events, things should be a lot less frantic (i.e. not 90%+ full on pc2's SSD). Apart from serial offenders equestrianism (7 hours) and tennis (8+ hours), it looks like sailing (over 6 hours) is another sport for the split treatment for overly long slots.

Day 4 recording size: 961GB (a new record) - grand total so far: 1781GB (1.7TB)
In case you think I'll run out of space in a few days, don't worry - I have about 25TB of HDD space available for the recordings (8 * 3TB and 2 * 2TB - you never get the full 2TB/3TB remember).

Friday, 27 July 2012

Day 3 - Wherefore art thou archery?

If I were an Olympic archer (especially a British one in my home Olympics), I'd be somewhat miffed that the BBC is staggeringly refusing to air any of the first day of my sport, despite having 24 (and more!) channels available doing nothing until this evening's Teletubbies opening ceremony (which I won't watch live cos the EuroMillions on BBC Two is actually more exciting).

The "Now and Next" info on the 24 BBC Olympics channels this morning has no mention of the sport, neither does (either in the "normal" BBC channels or in the 24 Olympics channels) and it appears that even the BBC Website has an ominous "No video coverage" for 8 hours that the archery ranking competition is on. Yes, it's just a method of seeding who plays who in the "real" rounds, but it's still part of the Olympics and really should be aired. Shame on you BBC!

Archery update 1:
To compound the mistake the BBC made in not airing any of the 8 hours of archery today, two world records - both involving a blind man! - were set in the archery ranking competition that the BBC deemed apparently not worth airing. Yes, the whole of the UK missed the first two world records of the Olympics thanks to the BBC's ridiculous omission of any actual Olympics sport on their 30-odd channels today. What's even more galling is the world record article I've linked to now has bleeding video of the competitors in action (complete with the standard event captions etc.). Yes, the BBC cameras were actually there, filming it all and then not broadcasting any of it - arrrrgh!

Archery update 2:
Even in real life, it appears much confusion (and a fake ticketing web site) led to many people thinking they could go in person to the archery ranking competition and watch it because it was deemed "non-ticketed". However, the Guardian reports that it was always intended to be behind closed doors with no spectators. With the BBC not airing it either, this surely must rank as the least viewed event of the whole of the Olympics? A real shame, because a blind archer setting world records is a great Olympics story - sadly, all we're left with as a record is an 80 seconds video and a few paragraphs on the BBC Web site.

I just powered on pc2 this morning and tried re-configuring sat tuner 4 and - lo and behold - it's now working perfectly. This is quite mystifying because I did a load of test recordings on both PCs with up to 20 simultaneous channels without an issue (we've had 6 or 7 simultaneous so far). I have some time until the evening opening ceremony to test this out (some dummy recordings etc.) and decide whether to use tuner 4 at all. Most of today, though, will be spend finishing the coding for my "find the best Automatic Recording strings per PC" that I started coding in C yesterday.

What's slightly bizarre on the radio front though (and they ignore archery too) is that Radio 5 Live is spending a ludicrous amount of time today covering the "build-up" - the whole channel is dedicated to that from 10.00am this morning onwards, even pushing the more important Hungarian F1 GP practice sessions - which is actually, you know, live sport - to Radio 5 Live Sports Extra! At least the BBC TV channels are only airing a few build-up programmes during the day, which I'll be recording. I'm not going to record any of that radio build-up coverage though - far too much of it with no live sport (which is the whole point of that radio channel!).

It doesn't help casual viewing of the 24 Olympics channels that the BBC have three major issues with their 24 channel allocations:
  1. I was under the impression that with 24 channels, there would be an absolute maximum of two sports on a particular channel (and they wouldn't wander channel numbers between days, which they sadly do) and only then when there was an unavoidable clash due to a busy day across the board. At least half of the time you'd hope for one channel per sport. Nope, the first full day on Saturday 28th July has six channels (1, 2, 7, 8, 9 and 12) each all showing three different sports during the day on the same channel.
  2. The number of channels carrying a particular sport on a particular day should also hopefully be limited to the minimum required for actual schedule clashes of the sport. Again, half the time you'd hope for one channel and perhaps two (or even three) when there's simultaneous events in the sport. Nope, the BBC has allocated four channels (3, 9, 13 and 22) to badminton on Saturday 28th July, made even worse that channel 3, 9 and 22 badminton could have been put on one channel, because they don't overlap themselves at all!
  3. After the first two points showing how haphazard the scheduling is, the BBC compound it by leaving channels 23 and 24 completely empty on Saturday 28th July! A huge waste of half a transponder on a busy Olympics day that no-one will bother viewing or recording (it'll just be timetable video and the dreary Olympic theme).
Luckily, I just finished coding my program to use Automatic Recording strings in tvheadend ("Olympic Equestrian" and so on) with a few hours to spare. The bad news is that if you have two PCs with a quad tuner card in each like I do, the minimum tuners you can use to cover tomorrow's over-crammed schedule is 7 (3 on one and 4 on the other). Here's some of the example output for Saturday 28th July:

22 channels/19 sports/49 slots totalling 200 hour(s) 12 min(s) recording time
Earliest time: 08:22, latest time: 24:15 (this includes 2 min pre/5 min post padding)

With 3 tuners in each, allocations work only until 09:17 on Saturday, when volleyball on channel 18 wrecks everything and can't be recorded.

With 3 tuners in pc1 and 4 tuners in pc2, the allocations work, with 16 of the 19 sports on pc1 and 15 of the 19 sports on pc2 (11 of the 19 sports are doubled on both PCs). Because of multiple sports on certain channels, this does work out on pc1 (in case you think it only has 3 * 4 channels it can record from - we're talking sports, not channels here).

I have some optimisation code that tries to double up on my favoured sports if they're not already, but I suspect it won't work with only 7 tuners. I may try it at some point though. In case you're curious, it's 427 lines of C code so far including comments, but it's not had some user-friendly code added for parsing command line options yet.

Tomorrow is getting me a bit worried now - with me being one tuner short and hopefully not going to get transponder clashes with the automatic recording strings, I can see a hotspot at 09:17 tomorrow as I mentioned. I'll be nervously checking the system at that point - if it gets past that point, my code works. If not, there'll be a frantic scamble (to do what?! Stop some of the double-ups until the programme can be recorded?).

It'll also be the first stern test of my "transmedia" program which copies recorded programmes from SSD to HDD with a verify pass and a file sync to confirm it's written to physical disk. It can do 50-60 Mbytes/second, but it could get tight on free SSD space, particularly with the two 8 hour slots I can see for the tennis tomorrow. It's the long slots that are the problem - they leave 10's of GBs of recordings on the 200GB SSD that I can't copy/delete until about 10 minutes after the recording ends. I think I will have to monitor the SSD space free on Saturday evening - one trick is to stop the recording as soon as the action ends (i.e. it goes back to the timetable video), which means it'll get copied off a bit earlier. One thing I can do with transmedia is turn off the verify pass, which cuts a lot off the copy time at an increased risk of bad/failed copies not being spotted.

Opening Ceremony update 1:
Although I won't be watching it live, I've just realised I will be recording the opening ceremony fourteen times over (10 in HD, 4 in SD). WIll this be a world record for an individual recording the Olympics opening ceremony? Yes, this includes all three versions on Olympics channels 1-3 twice over and even the 3D version (on BBC HD) twice over, despite me not having a 3D set!  I believe this may well be the first BBC Olympics 3D broadcast, right at the end of day 3, sigh...

Opening Ceremony update 2:
In a predictable scheduling cock-up, the Opening Ceremony programme overran by 21 minutes - it's a good job I tuned in at 12.30am expecting to see closing credits, only for the ceremony still to be in full swing. ho hum. I quickly added some extra programmes to the schedule manually - it's always a bit of a panic when there's no EPG entries for it! I wonder how many people got knackered watching, set it to record the rest before going to bed and then missed out on Sir Paul McCartney and the finale completely? The pre-ceremony rumour was that the show was to be cut short a bit, but obviously that wasn't the case!

Day 3 recording size: 217GB - grand total so far: 820GB