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Tales from the Sharp End: I'm in the Mood for a Boycott (6/6/2012)
By The Urbane Installer
Well that was an interesting May. It didn't actually stop raining for the most part of it - to the point where a house we did last year suffered the ignominious honour of being the first house to totally fail in its rainwater harvesting system, resulting in the kitchen being three inches deep in water (it's below ground level) and bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase 'Kitchen Island'. At least the homeowner was philosophical about it, reckoning that he'd bought a great house from a kindly developer who had thoughtfully provided a swimming pool for free. Mind you, he was looking for the phone number of his solicitor at the time.
The Kaleidescape Debacle
I got a whole bunch of emails this month from a certain manufacturer of media servers that was directly aimed at coaxing me away from Kaleidescape and into their green and pleasant garden. 'Fair enough' I hear you say? Well actually no, I have an issue with this. You see this company was claiming that it is fully legal and can provide Blu-ray and 3D support etc, etc. The problem is that like every other company making media servers, they rely on the end-user - or more likely us as an installer - to load up DVD Anywhere or some other codec to allow the device to actually rip and play protected content.
My problem is that yes, as they say it, it is legal, but the minute you start to use the system as the manufacturer intends, you as the installer (because you installed it and sold it as a DVD server) or your customer (because the EUL (European Union Law) will cover the fact that the client is responsible for the rip of protected content) breaks the law and effectively makes the unit illegal.
The maker may sell it as legal, but if the device is used as the maker intends, then it's not legal. A subtle difference, but to me it's hiding behind words, and frankly it's like the guy who makes grenades saying hey, he doesn't actually pull the pin.
Kaleidescape is having some legal fun, and winning, from what I hear, but as far as the Kaleidescape-alike is concerned, I still don't want to sell something that if the DVDCCA or others decide that installing these other devices is illegal, I find that all of a sudden they are coming after me and my company rather than the manufacturer or distributor. I don't have the same level of funding as Kaleidescape, and I would find my business closing because it's the only way to get out of the situation. So thanks, I admire your marketing prowess, but I am still not selling something that can drop me or my client in hot water.
It's all a moot point anyway. I have LoveFilm on my Blu-ray, TV and iPad. The quality is a bit crappy on a big screen, but welcome to the dawn of the future.
Product of the Month
Who's got a Dymo Rhino printer? Is it brilliant for labelling cables, or not? It dawned on me this week that our Rhino unit never really works properly. The tapes always jam up half-way through the cassette, meaning we have to waste loads of them - and they aren't cheap - and worst of all is the heat shrink tubing - the machine won't cut it. The unit is nine months old, so it shouldn't be worn out. So the Dymo Rhino printer isn't my product of the month, which is a shame, because it's brilliant if the tapes work.
What did come to our rescue this month though, was a small HDMI detective box from Keene. It is cheap at less than GBP200, but it has a little window that gives us readouts on EDID and HDCP, plus it generates test patterns and does all sorts of funky stuff, that only Übergeek understands, and he has been raving about its coolness. So our product of the month goes to the CYP XA-1 Xaminer.
Our New Apprentice has Arrived
As you may know, the UK government is worried about the millions of unemployed youths, to the point where they are giving businesses assistance in taking on apprentices. We figured this was a good call, as it gives us a chance to take someone on, train them and have some assistance with the cost.
We got plenty of hopeless applications, so having rung the people running the scheme and complained about time wasting, they sent over a couple of CVs of their 'star' candidates. One of them was for our new apprentice. He's a 17-year-old lad with the world's deepest voice for a kid of his age, and he came with Microsoft qualifications (and the world's worst taste in iPhone cases).
We've had our new apprentice for a few weeks now, and he's bedding in nicely. He is even starting to tease Pony and Captain Awesome, although I think he is still a little shell-shocked at some of the properties he has been to in the last few weeks. Anyway, we are looking for a nickname for him, and I am tempted to call him Minion (have you ever seen Despicable Me?), although he is not small and he is not yellow, but he is a good addition to the team.
How many of us have tried to program an RTI or URC remote to operate a small collection of devices? They aren't hard, until you try to find discrete codes for actions such as 'power on' and 'power off' or specific input selections. Some manufacturers make this data available - it may be a hex string or an NEC code, although with a bit of knowledge and experience it's easy enough to convert the data into a format we need.
The problem comes when there are no discrete codes available. You ring the manufacturer to see if they have a listing, but to be honest, most of the 'consumer' brands think you are speaking Martian, and even worse, some 'prosumer' devices still come up short on information. So you are forced to spend ages on RemoteCentral or Google looking to see if someone else has struggled with the Blu-ray or TV you are faffing with, and with a little luck, you find the info you need.
I had just this situation recently in a small media room with a Samsung TV (discrete codes from some odd website), Yamaha amp (good data) Samsung Blu-ray (forget it), and a Sky box (just as bad). Yes we know the little workaround for control of the Sky box, but inventing hex strings for the Blu-ray?
So I have a plan. Here at Technology Towers we are no longer going to specify devices for which we have no IR code sets that include power on/off (and not a toggle) or where needed, no discrete input selection. It affects almost every install where IR has to be used. More importantly, we look to devices that provide RS232 and much better IP control. Basically, for a higher-level install in order of preference, we will buy devices that are controlled by IP, RS232 and then only IR. For a small programmable remote job however, we are usually limited to IR.
I wonder if we as an industry should be vocal with manufacturers and distributors and actively push the factories to provide complete data sets. Perhaps we should boycott kit that just doesn't have sufficient control protocol sets available. It'll never work if it's just me on my own, but if we all start doing it, we might just see our lives getting a little easier. So, who's up for a boycott? Join me in the HiddenWires LinkedIn group to have your say.
That's me done for this month. I hope that June is a great month for you. Happy installing!
The Urbane Installer is a home control expert based in Middle England. Messages can be sent to him via the HiddenWires LinkedIn group.
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