One of the most annoying aspects of IPTV is when you are watching a movie and all of a sudden you see a message that says “reestablishing connection” or your TV screen turns black with a progress bar showing that your movie is reloading. This terrible event is called buffering. It doesn’t matter if you are using a computer, Roku box or any other IP device to get your content. And to top it off sometimes the progress bar gets stuck and you have to restart the movie. UUUGGGHHH!!!

There are a number of factors that contribute to buffering. They can be divided into two categories. The first category includes items you can control. That is your home network. The second category includes everything that you may influence but cannot control.

What you can control – Your Network

WIFI vs. Cat 6 direct connection to your router:

WIFI has about half the speed a direct connection with a network cable has. It is recommended that you use newer router meeting the “802.11n” standard. Run a test. Using your browser go to http://www.speedtest.net/ and run a speed test if you are using a computer, which will tell you what your actual upload and download speeds are at the time of the test. Rerun this test just before you start your movie and you will see it may be different depending on the time of day and day of the week. Run this test using our WIFI connection and again with you network cable connection. If you have a Roku box, there is a speedtest channel you can get for free that will give you the same information from your Roku box (see screenshot below). Roku and Netflix offer the following as a guide for video content:

  • 0.5 Megabits per second – Required broadband connection speed
  • 1.5 Megabits per second – Recommended broadband connection speed
  • 3.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for DVD quality (Roku HD quality)
  • 5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for HD quality
  • 7.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for Super HD quality
  • 12 Megabits per second – Recommended for 3D quality

I recommend 3.0 Megabits per second as an acceptable minimum. My test results from my wireless computer are shown below. Keep in mind that this test gives you an average over the time the test was performed. I would add a 20% safety margin onto the numbers. So my numbers would be 99.2 download and 154.4 upload. The screen below shows speeds from my laptop computer with a wireless connection. As you can see, I don’t have a speed problem.

Speedtest PC

If you are using a computer to get video to your TV directly with an HDMI cable:

  • Make sure hardware acceleration is shut off
  • Make sure no other software is using up your bandwidth. Programs such as anti virus, or background processes can eat up band width.

Now take a look at the next picture and you will see the upload and download speeds using the Speedtest channel on my Roku 3 device. Note they are significantly lower than my laptop.

Speedtest Roku Screenshot

You should also note that there are multiple results displayed. I would note the slowest download speed of 1.34 Mbytes/sec and 2.27 Mbytes/sec which may give you some buffering. However the slowest speeds were the initial ones. I should be OK with not having buffering issues due to my network or equipment.

Once you have checked your equipment and connection speeds there is not a whole lot left to adjust on your end. One thing to keep in mind though is that if you are streaming different content to you TV’s you need to understand that each stream requires the same 3.0 Mbytes/sec of bandwidth.

Also keep in mind the bandwidth tests you ran are specific to the time of day and day of week you ran the test.

You should not have to check your network or calculate movie file sizes to enjoy streaming movies at home. So the simple steps are:

  1. Check your PC to make sure no spyware, or other applications are running that use bandwidth.
  2. Run Speedtest to make sure you have at least 3.0 Mbytes/sec of bandwidth to your device (Roku, PC, etc.)
  3. Make sure no one else at home is streaming anything

Once you have done all that and you still get buffering, it is most likely coming from the source (the website providing the video). Remember that at the source end, different videos can reside on different servers. So if there are a ton of people hitting the same server your movie is on, then you may have problems.

There is no gauge, guide or indicator that shows you on screen or otherwise how hard a providers server is getting hit; and it can vary over the length of a 3 hour movie. That is why buffering is so hard to avoid. There is an alternative to streaming that most people will not run to right away. That is to host your own movies on a media server at home. Acquiring all the movies you want to watch (many only once) is not an option for everyone.

How can you stop or minimize buffering?

  1. If your network is running properly you might be able to adjust your resolution from 1080p to 720p
  2. Connect your streaming device (PC or Roku) to your router with a CAT 6 cable
  3. Watch streaming content when there is less load on the providers servers (early in the day)

By the way if you are ready to jump into 4K quality content, remember 4K consumes twice the bandwidth of 1080p HD.

Also keep in mind that video content streaming over the internet is at its infancy. Adjusting your expectations for occasional buffering vs. a ton of commercials may be a new acceptable standard. Also remember that content providers server demand and bandwidth is right now the biggest factor in causing buffering. Pick your streaming sources carefully and keep score of which content providers have more buffering than others.

How do you calculate how much bandwidth you need for video streaming?

Suppose the video you’re streaming is one hour long, and the file size for that video is 6 GB. While a broadband connection of up to 10 Mbps lets you easily stream a lot of video content online, you’ll want 15 Mbps or more for this six-gigabyte HD video. Here’s a quick look at the math:

  • Approximate megabytes: 6 GB = 6,144 MB (1 GB = 1024 MB)
  • Approximate megabits: 6,144 MB = 49,152 Mb (1 byte = 8 bits)
  • Number of seconds per hour calculation: 60 x 60 = 3,600
  • Megabits per hour calculation: 49,152 / 3,600 = 13.65 Mbps

When you’re streaming HD content, also consider whether the connection jumps over a wireless router. If so, note that the connection speed could drop over the connection if the WiFi standard isn’t fast enough. You’ll want to avoid slower 802.11b connections, and the newest 802.11n is the ideal choice to keep up with faster broadband services. I got this information from Howstuffworks.com (http://bit.ly/1A69R5I).

French TV programming without Cable!

Posted: February 15, 2015 in Home Media

I have been looking for an internet source for French television for a couple of years.  They include channels such as FR3, FR4, FR5, and more. The programming is repeated twice each day after the original broadcast to make it convenient for everyone, and they have DVR capability, all for $29 a month.

For anyone who has been waiting for genuine French TV programming, this option is the one you want to pick. Visit their web site and find out for yourself (http://www.voilatv.com).

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France 2 France 3 france O France 5
BFMTV LCI BFM BUSINESS Fr 24
SPORT 365 MCM TOP MCM POP Télé Mélody
Stylia [1] Histoire _-1[1] Ushuaia _ok [1] Luxe TV HD
zen sortiescine Voiloo [1] Coming Soon !

Announcements were made this week by Microsoft and Raspberry Pi that the new Raspberry Pi 2 computer will be able to work with a special version of Windows 10 (http://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/). This is a big deal. There are apps like Plex and Playon that run on the Windows operating sytem that add value to your home media environment. Remember Plex (www.plex.tv) allows you to view your movies, pictures and listen music from just about anywhere in the world. And its Free! Playon (http://www.playon.tv) gives you pretty much all the programming you get on cable (without ESPN). It also gives you access to the free Hulu content you want to watch. By the way playon is on sale now for $19.99 vs. the normal price of $100.

So getting back to the Raspberry Pi 2 and Windows 10. First a Raspberry Pi computer only costs $35 (http://www.raspberrypi.org/blog). Second are the specs:

  • A 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU
  • 1GB LPDDR2 SDRAM

Raspberry Pi 2OK, so now you have to wait, because the version of Windows 10 is a developers version. But considering 4.5 million of the older version Raspberry Pi’s have been sold. Someone very quickly will have a Raspberry Pi with Windows 10 available for sale.

I am currently posting questions on the appropriate forums looking for someone who will tackle this project and load Plex on it to be sure it works. I believe it will and for less than $50 (a guess) you will have a home media PC that can provide you content anywhere you go.

By the way, Plex works very well with Roku boxes, android tablets and IOS.

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As the personal media and IPTV industry starts to mature, there is always hope that we can migrate away from computers that boot up and require updates to something more sexy like the Roku box solution. Seagate has just taken a major step for those who want to watch their movies, pictures, or home recorded video anywhere and share with anybody.

Seagate has just come out with a line of Personal Cloud Home Media Storage devices that include an operational Plex media server. Holy Cow Batman! That’s right. You now do not need a full blown PC to run Plex at home. The best part is the basic unit is scheduled to retail for $170 (3 TB device). Cheaper than a decent tablet. Are they nuts? No they are smart. The future for home media consumption should not require a PC or daily maintenance and having to worry about viruses. It should be simple and reliable. Like the complementary Roku and Tablo devices are designed to be.

In addition to the Plex capability, you also have your own personal “private” and “secure” cloud storage capability without having to rely on some big corporation peeking into what you store on their cloud storage services.

So click on the link (http://www.seagate.com/products/network-attached-storage/home-network/personal-cloud) to check out this really cool non-PC Plex and cloud storage solution.

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Tablo is well known as the go to company for over the air DVR solutions. They offer two devices which can allow you to record and watch up to 4 channels simultaneously. At the big consumer electronics show this year they introduced a new feature sorely missing from many solutions. Antennas. That’s right plural. The new Tablo “Metro” comes with two antennas and has the ability to pull signals from two separate broadcast antennas up to 25 miles away (http://www.cnet.com/products/nuvyyo-tablo/). The results are broadcast images better than Aereo and Simple.TV. The device sells for a little over $200. A steal to get live HD local programming with DVR capabilities. Tablo has a program guide for $5 a month but you can just knock that off the $200 a month you pay for cable.

Add a Roku box to each TV to tie into the Metro box and you are up and running. Add a number of FREE Roku movie channels like “Directors Cut”, “Archive TV” and a half a dozen others and you won’t miss cable.

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Put simply, a media server is usually a PC which can store your various media files such as photos, music, home movies and purchased movies. You can also install software to manage your media. Media servers can also hold specialized software to allow you access to internet media content not normally available from a web browser.

A good example of the latter is a software package called Playon (www.playon.tv). Once installed on your media server, Playon allows you to access a host of cable channels including ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Bravo, LMN and others. The ability to easily install plugins, allows to access channels like TVLand and NatGEO provided by third parties. Playon offers HD programming for a onetime cost. Playon transcodes (converts) your media at the media server, thus requiring a fairly high performance processor. CPU chips with a Passmark score over 2500 are recommended. Since Playon does not have a button available to tell you the Passmark score of your CPU, You have to find the chip information in Windows and look it up yourself. It is well worth the effort if you are building a server to have an idea of your server performance before you start buying components.

My favorite media server application is called Plex (https://plex.tv. It is an open source program that allows you to access your media content on tablets, smartphones, and PC’s from anywhere in the world. You can also share your media libraries with others very easily. There are also apps for Android, IOS and Roku.

These applications also have channels on the Roku devices. Allowing you to take your Roku box with you when you travel and watch your media content anywhere.

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There are two ways to find the antenna that will get you FREE local HD reception. The easy way. Go to Best Buy and spend a few bucks on an indoor antenna and try it. If it doesn’t work take it back for another one. If you have only two or three TV’s, buy one antenna for each to find out what channels you receive. Let’s say you get all the channels you want but also need a DVR. Simple, jump down to the section in this blog entry called “Can’t Live Without a DVR!”.

The second way to install an antenna, is doing some homework and fine tuning your TV reception with the best antenna for your location; which may cost the same as the easy way method. These are usually installed in your attic or outside.

But first, go to http://antennaweb.org and fill out a form with only two pieces of information. You will then find out what the signal strength is at your location for Over the Air (OTA) TV. The results come back using green, yellow and red codes (see below). Click on one of the sponsored antenna suppliers and click on the color you want (number of stations).

You will be directed to a specific antenna you can buy. HOWEVER, click on the specifications tab and print it out.

Antenna Selection

Legwork

With the specifications you got, you can find any number of manufacturers who meet the same specification. Yes, it takes time and effort, but don’t forget, you will save a couple hundred bucks a month!

Can’t Live Without a DVR!

No problem. Go to www.tablo.tv and buy a DVR that hooks up to your antenna and uses WIFI and Roku boxes to distribute your recorded shows to all your TV’s. You will need one Roku box for each TV. The Tablo box cost $200. The cost of one month of cable.

Final Note

If you buy a whole house antenna using method 2, you will have to install it in your attic or outside. The connection to your cable wires in the house will be at the cable company box. There may be an additional connection in your attic. Check before you go buy all this stuff so you know what to do when it gets to your home.

Happy cord cutting.

Homemediaguy

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Playon (playon.tv) makes a great product. It works all the time. The updates are automatic and seamless. The channel selection rivals cable TV. Oh, It’s also priced right (click on link at bottom of my blog). They also give you plenty of information under their support heading to let you know if your PC or laptop can run their software. Be sure you get the processor specs from windows and then go to www.passmark.org like they say on the site. When you match up your processor with the list they have, you will immediately know if you equipment is up to running the Playon software.

I am not a big advocate of repurposing older PC’s and laptops when it comes to video. That is why my friend Jim built me media PC from scratch so I could easily meet Playon’s requirements along with other software I run on my media server.

Listed below are some of the small form factor PC’s you could buy new today that meet the hardware requirements for Playon and other video/media tools for your media server.

  1. ASUS VivoPC VC60 Intel Core i5-3210M   3,803 (http://www.asus.com/us/ASUS_VivoPC/VivoPC_VM60/). A good review can be found at http://tech.firstpost.com/reviews/asus-vivopc-vc60-review-107177.html. The Asus VC60 sells for around $518.00.
  2. A Chinese company Eglobal sells a fanless mini pc (http://www.dhgate.com/store/product/fanless-computer-mini-pc-windows-with-intel/212423374.html#sd1-2-1|4245773825) for $389.46 which includes 4GB RAM, 16G SSD, 1TB HDD, 300M WIFI. Not a bad deal if you buy a lot online.

You wonder why I have not included many of the US brands you are used to seeing. First, I am looking for affordable devices. Second, many of the other brands use and Atom or Intel chip not listed by Passmark (http://www.cpubenchmark.net/common_cpus.html ). So take your time and look around.

What do you get for your $500-$600 PC purchase? Like the title says, you get Playon on a media server. So add up your monthly cable bill, and see how fast you get payback.

With Playon you get pretty much all your cable programming, and Hulu FREE, along with being able to send programs from your media server browser. And if you had a Roku box you can cast/mirror content from your tablet or smartphone.

Homemediaguy

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I have tried a number of apps and hardware solutions to get my free HULU content on my TV. For those of you who don’t know. There is a free version of HULU out there. The problem is that unless you have a computer, Amazon Fire (HDMI connection to your TV), or Playon.tv, you are out of luck when it comes to getting the free HULU content on to your TV. That is until Roku recently added their mirroring feature on the Roku 3 box for FREE! I love those guys.

It is so easy it’s hard.

  1. Just download the Roku app (IOS & Android) to your smartphone or tablet. Make sure the mirroring feature is turned on in your Roku box (under settings) and BAM! You are ready.
  2. Next use your smartphone or tablet to go to the www.HULU.com website and pick the shows you saved when you signed up and selected the shows that interested you. Click on the show to start and then click on the share button. You will see the Roku device listed and then select it.

That’s it. It works.

For international programming, I downloaded a small app called HOLA (www.hola.org). This app gives you VPN capability to your smartphone or tablet. You can select certain apps to VPN from different countries, thus eliminating geo-locking of certain foreign content. I have a couple of browsers loaded on my tablet and one of them is set with HOLA to run from France. I use this browser to mirror my French content to my Roku box.

I can’t write anymore because that’s all there is to it. Enjoy.

By the way. I have a boost mobile smartphone I use as a remote and mirroring/casting device. I bought it on craigslist for $20 and leave it on the coffee table so I can use my regular smartphone or tablet for other things.

Homemediaguy

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Companies like DISH and Sony are looking to jump into the IPTV market and make a ton of money. That is your money. But there are options.

DISH is exploring an internet TV option geared to 18-34 year old consumers that would provide content to all devices EXCEPT TV’s for $20-$30/month. I am not sure how that will work for the rest of us. Not all local TV providers will be included based on the original Bloomberg article (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-22/dish-said-to-target-summer-debut-for-internet-tv-service.html).

Sony on the other hand wants to provide IPTV service for $60-$80/month (https://gigaom.com/2014/10/06/looks-like-web-tv-is-going-to-be-as-expensive-as-cable-unless-you-use-an-antenna/). Like I want to pay more for what?

We will have to wait and see how all of this posturing by the big guys shakes out. In the meantime, buy yourself an HD antenna, subscribe to Netflix and Hulu and you won’t care what happens with the big boys.

Homemediaguy

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