Saturday, April 21, 2012

Better TV show naming for Plex Media Server

Files added to Plex Media Server need to be named a certain way so that Plex can find the right information online. The naming convention is documented online. Movies should be named "Movie name (year).ext", which is perfectly appropriate. However, the TV show "Show name\Season #\Show - s##e## - Optional episode name.ext" naming isn't the best choice. Some shows only have one season, making the "Season 1" directory and "s01" in the filename pointless. Also, the "Show name - " is pointless at the start of the filename, because the file is already under the "Show name" directory. When viewing the folder via DLNA or other means, a long show name can make it harder to view the episode number and name, which is what really matters. Fortunately, it is possible to simply use "Show name\E## - Episode name.ext". When there are multiple seasons, it's also possible to not use the "Season #" directories, but I do not recommend this. The season number can be a single digit, but episode numbers must be two digits. The " - Episode name" part is ignored by Plex. However, it is useful when viewing the files via other means, so I recommend including it. If you have a show with no online metadata, you can use a Perl script to import episode names from the file name into Plex.

I automatically renamed all my shows to this more sensible naming convention, and Plex Media Server automatically picked up the changes without any problems. Here are the commands I used. They create a shell script which does renaming. You can just add | sh to the end but it's better to look through the output a bit first, to make sure that it's sensible.

find . -type f -iname "*[Ee][0-9][0-9] - *" | sed -n 's|^\(.*/\)\([^/]*\)\(/Season [0-9]*/\)\2 - \(.*\)$|mv "&" "\1\2\3\4"|p'
find . -type f -iname "*[Ee][0-9][0-9] - *" | sed -n 's|^\(.*/\)\([^/]*\)/\2 - \(.*\)$|mv "&" "\1\2/\3"|p'

Cogeco clear QAM list for Windsor, Ontario

Here is a list of clear QAM channels I could receive via Cogeco cable in Windsor on April 21st, 2012. It is based on an old list I found, but a lot has changed since then. Clear QAM is not an official offering from Cogeco, and channels can be moved, removed or added at any time without any notification. It's a good idea to re-do auto tuning regularly to pick up any new channels. Almost all channels are SD and there are channels which cannot be received via analog or clear QAM. As a result, clear QAM is not a good alternative to a Cogeco receiver. Note that in some cases, the second number of the channel corresponds to the channel number in the official Cogeco lineup.

[ Updated January 10th 2013 ]

Note: It seems channels which are available for free preview for the month are available via clear QAM. For example, the four channels from the High Fidelity HDTV network are listed here.

QAM Number Call sign Long name HD
46-774774OASHDOasisHD HD
47-275741SCRHDThe Score HDHD
65-117950BETBET - Canada
65-710710TVOTVO (TV Ontario) HDHD
65-803803CTV2LCTV Two Windsor, ON HDHD
91-1714MMMuch Music
91-3668SCOREThe Score
91-7021CTVNNCTV News Channel
92-1212CBLFTSRC (CBLFT) Toronto
92-2817CBCNNCBC News Network
92-4058SHOPShopping Channel
92-6013CKCOCTV (CKCO) Kitchener, ON
92-6620TFOTFO - Chaine Francaise
92-10549SPEEDSpeed Channel Canada
92-9519HOMESReal Estate Channel
93-22TVOTVO (TV Ontario)
93-5670CPACCPAC Ottawa
93-5819VISIOVision TV
93-8625TV5TV5 International
93-123123BITEBite TV
94-2716YTVYTV (Youth Television) - East
94-6857CFTMTVA (CFTM) Montréal
94-7169OLAOntario Legislature
94-7476APTNAPTN - East
94-9164OWNOprah Winfrey Network Canada
94-93111BNNBNN - Business News Network
102-38045TOONTeletoon - East
104-524911TVCCogeco WindsorHD
105-306134GOLDComedy Gold
124-33CIIIGlobal (CIII) Ontario
124-761CITYCITY TV Toronto, ON
124-1059CHCHCHCH Hamilton, ON
124-93918TWNWeather Network
124-9416CTV2LCTV Two Windsor, ON
124-94862WMYDMNT (WMYD) Detroit, MI
124-979979TVLISTV Listings
125-463OMNIOMNI Television
125-783CIIIGlobal (CIII) Ontario
125-8167WTVSPBS (WTVS) Detroit, MI
125-10353GOLFGolf Channel Canada
125-92711TVCCogeco Windsor
125-9457WJBKFOX (WJBK) Detroit, MI
125-94760WKBDCW (WKBD) Detroit, MI
126-6722RDIRDI (News)
126-9770CPACCPAC Ottawa
126-118118GTVGame TV
126-151151RSESportsnet (East) - Satellite/Digital
126-152152SNWSportsnet (West) - Satellite/Digital
126-153153RSN-PSportsnet (Pacific) - Satellite/Digital
126-184184EWTNEWTN Canada
126-185185SALT&Salt & Light
126-555555AMI-tAMI-tv East
127-10848FOODFood Network Canada
127-11042STAR!E! Canada
127-11232MMMMuch More Music
127-114114MTVMTV Canada
128-11VODPVOD Preview
128-149149WMOVW Movies
128-151151RSESportsnet (East) - Satellite/Digital
131-764764FOODFood Network CanadaHD

Monday, April 02, 2012

LG Smart TVs are kind of stupid

Here are some stupid things about the 47LW5600, a 2011 LG "Smart TV":
  • In SmartShare (USB and DLNA mode) only a short bit of the file name is initially visible. When episode file names start with the show name (like Plex recommends), I only see the show name. My photo folders start with the date, and there I only see the date. To see more, it's necessary to highlight one item and wait for text to slowly scroll.
  • When switching between photos in SmartShare, the screen abruptly goes black and stays black until the next photo appears. Loading of 4MP photos takes over a second. That's ridiculously slow! They could have made it instant by pre-loading the next photo. It's a lot better in LG Media Link. There, only very large photos display a loading animation, and the slide show has fades.
  • High bitrate spikes will cause playback interruptions when streaming over the network via SmartShare or LG Media Link. The TV can peak at around 86% network utilization, but it can't sustain that and there is very little buffer space to accommodate peaks. Sustained H.264 bandwidth exceeding 50 MBps is sufficient to cause video interruptions. These problems don't happen when playing from USB.
  • The lack of DTS support is stupid because the format is popular. It can be transcoded while streaming, but that doesn't work correctly. When using Serviio, seeking becomes impossible. This seems to be because the TV can only seek based on file offsets, but those are not known while transcoding. When using Plex Media Server, video gets transcoded. Even when that is fixed, there are pauses, apparently due to excessive CPU usage and inefficient multithreading in the server. The only good solution is transcoding audio beforehand. When using MKV files, that's easy to do via MKV2AC3. It kind of makes sense because AC3 offers almost the same quality at less than half the bitrate, but I don't like transcoding from one lossless format to another. The best solution is encoding the DTS-HD lossless track to AC3 when ripping, but I'm not sure how to do that.
  • The TV mysteriously rejects some AVI files. Fortunately, that's easy to fix by converting to MKV using mkvmerge. As a bonus, that decreases file size a bit without losing anything.
  • When playing files, it's not possible to switch audio tracks or use MKV chapters. Subtitles embedded in MKV files are only supported when playing from USB. When a file of sufficient length is played from USB, the red remote button can be used to switch chapters, but those are just the file divided into 10 equal sized parts; they have nothing to do with MKV chapters.
  • No idx/sub subtitle support. (The "*.sub (MicroDVD, SubViewer 1.0/2.0)" mentioned in the manual is not the same thing.) You must use OCR to convert graphical subtitles to text-based subtitles such as .srt.
  • The web browser is slow and it lacks Flash support. You can't stream any video using it, and so you're forced to rely on what's available via apps and LG Media Link. If you just want to look up some basic information, it's certainly usable. However, getting up, waking a computer from standby and looking it up on the computer is faster.
  • The YouTube app does not show much information about videos, so it's hard to choose which video to play. Again, LG Media Link does it better. There is one good thing about the built-in YouTube app: it will play YouTube 3D content in 3D.
  • SmartShare seems to occasionally drop frames even when playing 30fps SD content and not experiencing any buffering issues. It's not a big deal; I just think it ought to be perfect. I wonder if it's just an AVI issue. It's possible to play 640x480 H.264 at 60 fields per second interlaced in an AVI in both SmartShare and LG Media Link, but both result in horrible frame dropping. If I simply remux it to MKV, it's super smooth. (The TV also seems to deinterlace really well. The image is so good that I'm very happy with my decision to encode NTSC video to interlaced H.264.)
  • Some settings are not remembered properly. Audio can become un-muted when switching between modes. In LG Media Link, all files start playing stretched to the whole screen, requiring a few clicks to get the proper aspect ratio.
  • The interface is inconsistent. Different modes have different looks and different ways of changing settings. Most notably, SmartShare and LG Media Link have two different video playback screens (overlays). That's understandable because they're two different applications. However, they're built in applications in the same product. The user interface should be consistent. (I'm not complaining about how the file browsing screens are different. That's part of the fundamental nature of the applications.) 
  • There is no support for common Bluetooth or USB devices like headphones or keyboards. The TV does have Bluetooth for the Magic Motion Remote. It would be nice to be able to use Bluetooth headphones or wireless keyboards. That would be truly smart.
  • It's not possible to zoom 4:3 content while preserving the aspect ratio. This means if you encounter 16:9 content that has been letterboxed to 4:3, you can't expand the content to fill the screen. (No, it's not really a Smart TV issue, but it is definitely a software issue.)
The only really impressive part that deserves to be called smart is LG Media Link and Plex Media Server. It can present beautiful indexes of content, with covers, other artwork, and various information. Plex also provides a gateway to many sources of online streaming video. Even in Canada, many full TV shows can be streamed from TV channels via Plex. However, there are various bugs and issues. Also, Plex isn't very nice when it can't find online data about a show, making SmartShare better in those cases.

I like the picture quality. The higher black level of the IPS panel can seem a bit disappointing in bars around the image, but the image is vivid and not washed out. It's so good it can feel like actually being there.

The LG passive 3D is great too. The glasses feel like cheap crap that would deserve a bad review on DealExtreme, but they're light and very comfortable. If they break, they would be inexpensive to replace. As long as you're within the very limited vertical viewing angle, there is no crosstalk. The horizontal viewing angle is wide.

Overall, it's a nice TV, except for the "Smart" features. They feel more like an alpha or maybe beta, and definitely not like a final release. While they are usable, they can't fully replace the direct connection of a computer to the TV. The hardware is certainly capable of much more, but I don't think any TV manufacturer is going to spend much effort on improving firmware once a model isn't sold anymore.