Saturday, December 26, 2015

Extending wireless networks; some gotchas

Visiting the family over Christmas and of course there are the tech-support duties. One of which was making a wireless network extend further through an old house with very thick walls. In the small amount of time I had there wasn't the option of running network cables to some strategic points where additional WiFi access points could be installed so I invested in a couple of Netgear wireless extenders
I've used these before and been impressed; fast throughput and lots of features. They are proper NAT routers and you can use them as firewalls between ethernet network segments or extend an existing wireless network. In that mode (and it's a small switch that sets that mode) the ethernet ports become wired outlets for the WiFi network; intended for set-top boxes that can't be connected via a cable. They can turn a USB drive into a NAS drive and all this for less than twenty quid!
The only downside is that they have a single radio and so can only repeat a network on the channel that it arrives as. In a relatively WiFi-free environment you'd think this wouldn't be a problem, but I didn't figure on how rubbish the provided BT HomeHub 3 is! 

Since they have a flip-out antenna I figured I'd place one downstairs and one upstairs as close as possible to the room with the aDSL router and see how I got on. 

  • It is a cheap, plastic, single-board gadget
  • It has no external antenna or even socket for one
  • You have to use it as the BT mothership monitors for their own secret sauce
What I discovered after two days of frustration is that it is entirely intolerant of other devices sharing it's channel. The Netgears can only repeat on the channel they receive on and so I was off to a non-starter. I would work for a few hours an then both of the Netgears would drop off the network and a round of re-booting (and half an hour for them to all settle down again) told me that this was not a reliable configuration for non-technical users.

So - after a bit of chin-scratching I came to this configuration;
  • Netgear no.1 is wired to the BT hub and set for Access Point mode; it's re-serving the connection with a new IP range and (crucially) a new WiFi channel some distance from the BT hub.
  • Netgear no.2 is set for wireless extender mode and is located at a mid-point in the house repeating the signal from no.1
This has been stable for more than a day now (I've insisted that my boys use the furthest repeated network) with only minimal speed loss (typ. 8 mbits-1 against 10mbits-1 at the BT) so I'm going to run away and hope!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Colourists are the last people who should have a say on monitors!

I was recently in a decent grading room - Dolby PRM 4220 monitor and I was demo'ing a Boland BVB25 OLED display. The demo unit had come back from a try-out at another customer's and I hadn't had a chance to check it's calibration (Rec.709, illuminant-D yada yada...) and so I grabbed the colour probe kit and calibrated it whilst chatting to the engineer and colourist. Once done I looped it off the Dolby to see how they compared and they were quite different! The Dolby was sat-up, over-saturated and a bit red-in-the-whites. The conversation went;

Colourist:"It doesn't match my Dolby",
Me:"…you just watched me calibrate the monitor for Rec.709",
Colourist:"It's wrong",
Me: "Is the Dolby set for Rec.709?",
Colourist: "No, I feel that when I export Quicktimes for customer approval how I have the monitor set now matches what they see better"
 I also have the same convesation about black levels endlessly. An online editor had a go at me because I'd left his monitor "too crushed in the blacks" - here is a frame from his timeline;

It is a continuous battle to persuade people that monitor calibration is NEVER a matter of opinion, rather it is defined by measurable technical standards and when I calibrate a display it is correct. Your material may well not look how you want it, but don't corrupt your monitoring pathway to make your project look good.
Often I'll ask the colourist what standard they want the monitor calibrated for; it's rare that they know what I'm talking about, but they'll often venture an opinion that their display is currently "too cool" or something (quite how they know without a reference I'm not sure?).
I suppose a lot of this is down to the fact that colourists are people who have to be very confident in their ability and are paid handsomely for what they do. However, they have to realise that their mojo doen't extend to how their monitors are set up. When I demo a monitor my heart sinks when someone says "we'd better let the colourist have their say" - monitoring is not about creative magic, it's about compliance.
This December I've calibrated over thirty customer broadcast displays; I've been there/seen that more than you!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Gotchas with updating firmware over RS232

I've recently been upgrading Boland BVB25 OLED monitors over their RS232 serial ports; aside from needing a USB/serial adaptor (I use the Keyspan which mimics an old PC serial UART) you also need a null-modem cable (i.e. where Tx and Rx are swapped over). You can tell if a null-modem cable is required by the sex of the connector on the back of the equipment. A 25-way or 9-way D(male) indicates a DTE ("Data Terminal Equipment" - a PC or terminal) and a female connector a DCE ("Data Communication Equipment") - a modem in RS232 speak. So, if the gear is a DTE then you need a F-F cable and by definition is has to be a cross-over (AKA "null modem" cable. I've banged on about this in the past, and there is also the consideration of handshaking; does you gear/app need the hardware pins (DSR, DTR, DCD etc) or does it use software flow-control (XModem etc). Hugh and I did a podcast on the subject if you need to brush up on your serial comms.
Anyway, because RS232 is such a low level way of doing things it's often the case that the receiving UART in the equipment can get direct memory access before the OS has loaded and you may need to jump through some hoops to get the thing into "serial update mode". In the case of the Boland monitors we sell it's necessary to have the updater software running and looking for comms before you do a power-down reset of the monitor; and not just power-down - tug the power cord, and then within a second or so of re-applying the power the monitor will start talking and appear dead from it's front panel but stuff is going on.

This kind of three-finger tomfoolery really reaches a zenith when you're upgrading the Linux SOC kernal on Amulet DXiP cards!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

4k and UHD cabling and signal standards

I've had to dig into signal transport for 4k/UHD over the last week or so. Essentially I have a test-signal generator (SRI Visualizer TG100) running at a maximum raster of 4096x2160 at a maximum of 25 progressive frames/sec (and only 4:2:2 colour sampling; Y, Cr, Cb) with a 6G single-link output (so really 4 x 1.5G links) and HDMI 1.4 (so the same raster as the SDi). The monitors are the 24" and 30" Canon IPS 4k native monitors.
The Canon monitors will take quad-link HD/SDi and (in the case of the 24") HDMI. So, feeding the SRI single-link into a Blackmagic 4k multiplex (to produce quad-link) and then into the Canon produces four quads in the wrong colour-space!

 For an insight into what the multiplex is doing it's worth looking at the two standards for quad-link SDi. Put aside if it's 4 x 1.5G or 4 x 3G (that allows an increase to 50 or 60P OR 4:4:4 colour). But, in this case we're de-mux'ing a 6G to 4 x 1.5G signals. 

The original 4k-over-four-BNCs standard

The more recent standard; each link looks like an HD version

Clearly the converter is producing 2SI but the Canon expects SD quad-link. In fact the guys at Canon tell me they have a firmware update early in 2016 to address this. The other error is that the Canon has mistaken the 4:2:2 video as RGB - but it has at least got the raster correct.
So, what to do? Well, by throwing in another converter and taking the HDMI out of the SRI means the BM mux will get an older SD quad-link input;

This produced what we need; clearly HDMI has not concept of mutliplexed pixels and so we're now fully in SD quad-link;

tugging BNC no.4 shows the monitor is now in quad mode

The monitor gets it all right

The other thing that you have to pay attention to in "True 4k" displays (for the film snobs!) is that feeding 3840x2160 signal into a 4096x2160 monitor and letting the monitor scale-up to fill the line risks killing your resolution;
The aliasing should only the present in the top-most block, the other alias frequencies you can see here are due to my iPhone's camera!

Some very strange aliasing when a 3840-pixel line is mapped to 4096 pixels

As ever with display devices, pixel-pixel (native resolution) is always preferred

Friday, December 04, 2015

Barnfind integration with third party control panels

Barnfind are one of the products I'm responsible for at Root6 and I love them for their forward looking attitude and the fact they embrace open standards; if you see an SFP hole or a BNC connector you know that it will work with any other manufacturers (unlike Evertz who re-define the standard and put an X at the start of the product name!).

So - the BarnOne BTF1-07 is the chassis I have in my demo kit and at IBC this year Wiggo and the guys were showing a much wider set of third party control panels they have integrated to work with their cross-point router. So, to make our demo more compelling I bought a BlackMagic VideoHub Smart control panel and set about making it talk to the BarnOne.

Since I have to rock-up at customers' facilities to show this gear I figured it's daft to rely on their networks and so I've included a TP-Link travel router to dish out IP addresses to the panel and the BarnFind; it also allows you to use a wireless laptop to then run the demo. These little gadgets have single WAN and LAN facing ports but rather splendidly the BlackMagic panel has a little ethernet hub inside so you can loop the network connection to the Barnfind. 
This screen-grab is from BarnStudio - the config/control software for Barnfind products. It has a discovery protocol so it can find any chassis on the same LAN segment. However - I discovered a couple of gotchas;

  • When upgrading the chassis you can either attach a USB stick to the front and the embedded Linux machine will grab the image OR you can use BarnStudio. Initially I couldn't get either to work! 
  • Barnstudio just instructs the Linux machine to do an apt-get (or similar) and so it has to be able to see out to the internet; connect the WAN-side of the little router to the workshop network!
  • If you do the USB route then the installer checks the signature on the package; again, it needs to get out to the web to verify the cryptographic signature.
  • The Blackmagic panel does not have any host-discovery protocol built in and so it seemed only sensible to set the router to always dish out the same MAC/IP address combinations by using the DCHP reserved assignment page in the router. Then assign those number in the BlackMagic config software.
After that it really is very simple - you set the virtual buttons to be whatever sources and destinations you want. You can even reserve some to be macros (which are then just a list of route assignments) - in fact that is how you would do duplex signals; Ethernet etc. You have to assign both the in and out of each SFP (Tx and Rx). You don't have to have sequential sources or destinations and I can't honestly see how they could have made it any better!

So - with BNCs 17 & 18 on the front of the Barnfind defined as 3G HD/SDi video in and out and these button assignments on the BM panel I've got proper router control. These forty-button panels will be very useful for controlling all the synchronous broadcast signals (HD/SDi, HDMI, MADI etc.) and asynchronous data signals (Ethernet, fibre-channel etc) running through a Barnfind router (and then out and over CWDM fibre?).

The only criticism is that the software matrix takes a second or so to update after panel changes are made; but I can't honestly see when that would be an issue - this software matrix is  tool for the engineer, not the operator.

As an aside they have recently published a very complete integration guide with lots of examples and advice.