I went out to Chase Cafe, and was feeling a bit restless so I left pretty quickly and went biking down the path along the waterfront in Rogers Park. A front had been working its way through this evening, with a few light showers and a pretty strong breeze.
The beach was quite lovely; the illumination from the street lamps and night lights provided for an interesting contrast with the clouds and the recovering sky. The last blues of the sunset brilliantly offset the deep oranges of the scud passing overhead. It was really breathtaking to watch the speed in which the sky cleared up...
Here is the scaled down 'original' version of the panorama that makes up the new header for this site. It has the original water and unsurprisingly, no real reflections! The lake was an absolutely luxurious color that afternoon. Below is an example from the original photograph at a 1:1 pixel ratio. My old Casio digital camera took pretty decent shots; especially considering the smog that was present at the time which was providing a strong blue bias.
In a clear attempt to completely embarrass myself I've stumbled across some ancient works of mine and I figured I might as well dust them off and put them up on the site. Hopefully they won't totally destroy any belief that people have that I am actually artistically talented. So without further ado, here are several examples:
I finally have posted the photos that I took of Utah when I visited it last fall. I went out for the Macromedia developer's conference in Salt Lake City. I made sure to check out a whole bunch of the National Parks while I was there. Utah is an amazingly beautiful state, but one that I could never imagine living in. Outside of SLC, civilization drops off very fast. Just outside of Moab was a truck covered in signs from the local right-wing militia, and tourists have been known to be shot at by the local loonies around Escalante National Park.
I visited these major parks while I was there:
Some sample photos...
El Gato, the creators of Toast and the Tivo-like EyeTV recorders recently released the EyeHome, a networked multimedia player for Apple Macintoshes. Instead of crowding around the computer to watch a video or listen to one’s music library through puny computer speakers, the EyeHome is an A/V component like a DVD player or radio tuner. It is a small, extremely lightweight silver box the size of a large paperback with a bevy of ports on the back. It includes connections for composite video, y-c, component (including 1080i HDTV), stereo RCA, optical audio out, and a 100-megabit Ethernet port. Control is completely handled by the remote; there isn’t even a power button on the front!
The EyeHome is a wonderfully simple system to set up. On the Macintosh side, an installer creates a new preference pane in the System Preferences. Currently this new pane includes only a single button - to start and stop the EyeHome server. (The simplicity is nice, but as we will see later, this places some major limitations on the system's flexibility.)
Installing the hardware is pretty much the same as any other A/V device, and once the cables have all been plugged in it is just a matter of turning it on, selecting the computer, and choosing something to play. This device really helps show off the power of Rendezvous networking. Everything just worked; there weren't any IP addresses to enter or cryptic commands required. Within seconds of first turning it on I had divx video playing on my TV.
It automatically finds your iTune's music library, as well as your iPhoto library and movies in the Movie folder. (I don't have an EyeTV, but it integrates that as well if it is available.) It even pulls in Safari's bookmarks for web surfing.
Since the EyeHome uses Ethernet, there are a number of different ways to get rid of the long cables stretching across one’s home. If you are planning on displaying video, 802.11g or 802.11a is going to be required to handle the necessary bandwidth. Streaming audio and pictures shouldn’t be too much of a problem with older 802.11b connections. One cool thing about the EyeHome is that it supports multiple machines on the local network – So you can access the libraries of everyone who has installed the preference pane.
I researched the options extensively before I settled down on a 802.11g system. First off, I have a few computers that are equipped with 802.11b, so I didn’t want to lose compatibility with an “a” based router/access point. The backwards compatibility of “g” is both a blessing and a curse. In a mixed use setting with “b” and “g” radios, the throughput will drop precipitously – from 20 mbps to 7mbps. Obviously this is a problem for video playback.
I ended up getting a Buffalo Tech WRB-G54K Wireless Router and Repeater kit. My main computer is plugged directly into the router and the EyeHome is attached to the bridge. The repeater neatly solves the throughput issue, since it can handle 19 mbps in a mixed-use environment. I also got the added bonus of greatly extending the range of my wi-fi setup! I now have extremely good access throughout my apartment, the dead spots I used to have are now gone. One word of warning: While Buffalo makes decent hardware; the web interface and manuals are ghastly. If you aren’t familiar with advanced networking, you might want to try a more consumer friendly option!
When I had first heard about the EyeHome, I wondered why the unit had a basic web browser built into it. It seemed like an odd additional feature to me because the web and television don't really combine very well. WebTV is the classic example - I used to occasionally amuse myself with the developer WebTV browser, it was fantastic at butchering site designs in creative ways.
The reason why the unit has a web browser built in is because the interface is actually web based. The preference pane runs a miniature Java based server, and what is seen on the TV is the interpretation of the pages that it produces.
A number of EyeHome owners have complained about the slow response of the on-screen menus, oddly enough the bottleneck is their own computer... The EyeHome appears to be slowest when browsing the iPhoto library. If you are serious about using the unit this way it definitely helps to have some extra muscle on your Mac.
The good news is that for music and video watchers, the EyeHome will run fine on even old machines. The computer is only streaming the video file to the unit; the dedicated GPU in it handles the display. The dedicated hardware plays back divx video smoother than my first generation TiBook using VideoLan or Mplayer.
I am really impressed by the sound quality of the EyeHome. The sound is full, and overall it is very well balanced. I haven't heard any clipping with loud files and my MP3s sound great. (Well, as well as they can sound, considering the compression...) The same holds true with soundtracks of the movies and shows I have played.
The video is lovely as well. It appears that the color output has been well calibrated; it doesn't have the chroma or luminescence issues that many computer-to-NTSC video devices have. NTSC color space is quite different from the range that computers display. Video devices that don't conform to "NTSC legal" tend to cause bleeding and distortions on televisions.
The EyeHome appears to be working in a 24 or 32 bit colorspace, I haven't seen any color banding issues with the device - except where already present in the source material. One great feature is the ability to toggle between actual size, fit to screen (keeping the same proportions), and full screen with the press of a single button. The frame rate overall has been excellent, with most files not appearing to drop any video at all. A few of the higher encoded videos have had some problems with dropped frames, and one movie in particular (Oshii’s fabulous and surreal Angel’s Egg – which I’ll have to write about sometime soon) has both frame issues and a problem with the sound dropping out of sync.
While the fast-forward and rewind functions could be smoother and easier to use, I’m not really going to complain about it since it is streaming the video of the network! Many of the supported formats don’t scrub all that well to begin with, even on the host computer.
The EyeHome in its current revision is lacking in a number of areas, and has a number of issues that need to be tackled to become a truly excellent multimedia player:
AAC Playback – Playback of AAC encoded files and iTunes DRM encoded MP4s is currently missing from the software. The feature was available in earlier revisions, but it has been removed for the time being. Supposedly there was an issue with it and large iTunes libraries, and El Gato is claiming that they will try to add the feature back. The lack of this feature is a real showstopper for many people – Especially since iTunes defaults to AAC encoding for ripped discs.
Limited Video Codecs – I’ve found that there are some serious limitations to the range of video formats that the EyeHome will play back, even within the officially supported types. For instance, many of my divx files won’t play back in the unit. It returns a cryptic error message, and tries to play the audio if possible. VLC and Mplayer both support a much wider range of options. I’d love to see the device support OGM videos with integrated subtitles. (OGM is a divx variant that is very well suited for international translations, one set of files I have has 10 language choices, from English to Pikachu!) At the same time, I have to acknowledge that there are more video codec variations than you can shake a stick at… I just hope they really push for a wider range soon.
Streaming Audio Skips – It looks like the buffer size for streaming audio needs to be fixed in a major way, or the buffering needs to be more dynamically handled. Stations that play back flawlessly in iTunes and WinAmp end up stuttering horribly after a few minutes of playback.
Movies must be in the Movie Folder – I keep my video files on a separate drive, since they take up too much space to keep in my user movie folder. Unfortunately the EyeHome will only look in that one location for files to play back, and El Gato hasn’t provided a method to choose a different location. Some users have been able to get Symbolic Links working, but for some reason or another it always returns a link error when I try to view external files – even though it does allow me to navigate the folders. For the time being I’m stuck copying files over manually so I can watch them on TV.
Photo Browsing is Cumbersome – Browser based image browsing really sucks on a low-resolution display. Possibly the biggest flaw in the integrated browser is the complete lack of real-time scrolling. This forces the display to always be the height of the television and the information density ends up being extremely low. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I had 10,000 images, and I had to go through them 10 at a time.
This is a good example of why HTML makes for a poor interface - just imagine what they could have done with a technology like web service based Flash - The pauses would be lessened dramatically, and they could have even added useless eyecandy effects! Plus the bandwidth would have been cut down considerably since the look and feel would be stored in the hardware.
No Customizability – The preference pane’s single button approach really limits things. To begin with, it would be really nice if I could just drag and drop movie folders into the preferences, so that they would be available for playing. Here are some other things that would be nice to configure:
Basically they need to add some tabs to the preference pane, under the easy "1-click" button.
The EyeHome is actually a re-branded Chinese product called "myiHome," from a relatively unknown company called Syabas. (Searching Google with the company and product name returns just three results!) It looks like they’ve created a standardized player/server system that can be easily altered to fit the needs of different companies. D-Link appears to be selling a version with built-in 802.11G for Windows users, the interface looks a good bit different but the remote and inputs are both very similar.
One of the more interesting things about the EyeHome is the server that forms the core of the system. When the server is running, you can point any web browser on the same machine to http://localhost:8000/index.jsp to gain access to the mini-website. Looking into the http header, it turns out that the server is identifying itself as “Apache Coyote/1.0.” It is running an old version of Tomcat, the open-source Java servlet engine.
Poking around inside of the App bundle is quite fun… There are lots of interesting things hiding in there. First off, here are some of the apps it is using:
There appears to be some functionality in this system that hasn’t been implemented. For instance, some of the XML files mentions Chat (There is also a Yahoo style Chat icon, but I can’t imagine typing messages with the remote control), DVR/Recorder, Sport, Weather, and Java (Can the EyeHome run custom Java Apps?).
The folder that should interest users the most is "Themes." Hiding inside is the actual look and feel of the interface, and the files are simply JPEGs and PNGs. If you don’t like the way it looks, it is a simple matter of replacing the images with new ones to your liking. Just make sure to keep the dimensions the same. I replaced the default slides that are shown during music playback with pictures that I’ve taken.
I haven’t even tried to look into the actual EyeHome unit itself. I imagine the potential is there for some serious upgradeability, but at this point I have no idea what is under the hood. I’d love to hear more from anybody who knows more about it.
While there are a number of rough edges with the EyeHome, it is still a very good product overall, and one that I don’t hesitate to recommend to most people. Hopefully El Gato has the resources and the authorization to fix the current crop of problems – Features like greater customizability shouldn’t be an issue since it isn’t a part of the "black box." I watched the original EyeTV improve steadily since the initial release and I hope that El Gato will similarly improve this new product of theirs.
Unfortunately support for AAC and more video formats quite possibly rest with the mysterious Syabas Corporation. Hopefully they are taking a proactive approach to their product development, upgrades, and source code. I'm looking forwards to seeing what improvements are done with this overall excellent product.
Pardon the dust, but the site is going through some serious changes right now... Hopefully things will be fixed soon!
I figured it was about time to get with the program and update this site to use a CSS based design, since it affords a lot more flexibility than the old Table based system that I was using before. I've even added the ability to switch Themes, between the new Chicago Skyline look, and the old Ginkgo Leaf design.