Why does the government want to kill Community TV?

It takes a special kind of cunning to first nobble the National Broadband Network, that if fully implemented might have been able to reliably deliver realtime high-definition video into homes…

…and then cancel community television licences, and demand those stations go online instead.

Obsolescence, sculpture in Bourke St Mall

This seems like a bad idea in many ways, not the least of which is that many of the disenfranchised and elderly members of our society who might use community TV may be less likely to have good quality internet connections.

Community TV doesn’t just broadcast programmes and issues that can’t get an airing on mainstream channels, it’s also a training ground for talent, and to help that happen, the broadcasts need to be easily found. Having them on free-to-air helps achieve this. Even fewer would watch if they were a hidden needle in the YouTube haystack.

It’d be a crying shame if these stations around the country could no longer broadcast, while the apparently precious broadcast spectrum is used for multiple stations which just play ads all day every day (SpreeTV, TVSN, Fresh Ideas, Extra, Extra 2).

One proposal was that community TV could take over unused SBS channel 31. Great idea! Nope — the Government says No. Why on earth are they so keen to get these channels off air?!

Commit To Community TV campaign

Aussie Sportball finals time!

You can tell it’s footy finals time — this rather impressive tribute of sugary drinks was at the Oakleigh South Safeway Woolies this week.

Spotted at South Oakleigh Woolies: grocery tribute to Aussie Rules sportball

Somehow I’ve won the tipping in Tony’s competition for the second year in a row.

I think this might mean I get to present the perpetual trophy to myself.

PS. The term “sportball” is a mildly mocking word for organised sport, in particular football — less derisive than “footbrawl”. I note in Canada it’s an actual sport aimed at children.

The new toy

In Parks and Recreation they celebrate an annual Treat Yo’self day. Mine was last week. I took my birthday and the next day off work.

After much pondering, I bought a new home theatre setup.

The new hifi: Yamaha YHT-4910

I’d spent way too much time pondering what I was going to buy. For a while I considered buying into the Sonos system — having seen J’s setup, it’s really very impressive. The multi-room stuff is very neat and it sounds great. I almost went down the same path, but what finally steered me away from it was:

  • surround-sound for watching TV/movies was a priority, not multi-room music, and doing 5.1 with Sonos costs a fortune; and
  • you’re a little bit at the mercy of the Sonos company and its software updates — recent changes for instance have made it unusable for iPad 1 owners

So call me a luddite, but the old-fashioned receiver and speakers is for me for now. Having looked at the various models and decided that Yamaha might know what they’re doing more than most — they’ve been in business since 1887, and everyone I’ve known with their gear seems happy with it. (By the way, did you know their logo is three tuning forks?)

So I looked at the various models and decided that by cashing in credit card points, and knowing that my aim is to make this a once-a-decade (if that) purchase, I could just about afford a model going under the snappy name of the YHT-4910AU.

It’s a 5.1 surround speaker set (including underdog subwoofer plus a receiver that’s got neato network capabilities — it’s able to play songs from iTunes or shared drives, as well as internet radio, and can be controlled (and play music from) iDevices and Android phones and tablets.

Searching around I found it’s not too hard to get for about $100 less than the RRP of $1099. But I decided initially to go into The Good Guys in Brighton to play around with it. It sounded good.

The salesbloke got chatting. He confirmed my suspicion that soundbars can be quite effective for surround sound, but not in a room with lots of big open doorways… like my livingroom. He also said the wooden-cased speakers in this set sound better than the plastic ones in the cheaper ones. Sounds plausible.

I was on the verge of walking away to think about it overnight when he said he could get me a good price on it. How good? About $200 off RRP (and their advertised price), or $100 cheaper than the cheapest online price I’d seen.

These salesblokes are good. He haggled for me. I was sold. And he didn’t even try and sell me an extended warranty, nor did he (in line with their old “Pay less, pay cash” slogan) ask me to go and get cash instead of paying by credit card.

He helped me load it in the shop, but it comes it a box so big and heavy that I needed to wait for help to arrive home to unload it from the car.

The box features a green couch (which wasn’t included, if you were wondering) and their slogan “Powered by music”. Wait. So music from the hi-fi is powered by music? Had they invented some kind of hi-fi perpetual motion music machine?

The new hifi box

It turns out, no, it needs to be plugged into the mains like other systems.

It took my second day off to get it all set up — including a trip to Jaycar to get an optical audio cable, an extra HDMI cable and a set of wire-strippers, which made life easier.

To make it all fit in the cabinet, the VCR is being banished into a cupboard, only to come out when actually needed (which probably in practice means keeping it for another 5 years unused, then chucking it out.)

There’s an unbelievable amount of dust that gathers in the hifi cabinet. Perhaps if I get a new one, it should have doors.

Once the new setup was all running I spent some time trying out various music, DVDs and Blu-ray to check out the sound. It sounds great — a huge improvement over the old system.

I’ve got both the Blu-ray player and the DVD player hooked up, as only the latter is multi-region, and we have a few out-of-region DVDs from the bad old days when some stuff wasn’t available locally.

I’ve installed the app on my Android phone and the iPad, and that seems to work well.

It’s got AirPlay, so I can play music out of iTunes, which is nifty. Theoretically you can also play music off an iPod via the USB port, but it appears my iPod is too ancient for that. Well, my current iPod. [grin]

I’m still figuring out the multitude of controls, but so far I’m very happy with it.

I’ll leave you with this explanation of some hi-fi terminology, from Smith And Jones:

…and some questions:

1. Does anybody want some horrible old brown speakers and an old (but good) Technics receiver? I feel a Freecycle post coming on.

2. Lip sync is an issue with some setups, given picture processing in the TV takes more time than audio processing in the receiver. For now I’ve flicked the TV to Game Mode, which puts things back in sync but reduces the picture quality. I assume it’s generally better to use the audio delay feature of the Receiver? But wouldn’t I still need to turn that off and switch the TV back into Game Mode when playing games (with the Wii U signal via the Receiver)?

3. As I’m pondering a supplementary purchase to get radio and music into the kitchen (yes, I do have Sonos envy), does anybody know of a compact DAB radio which also does AirPlay? And if I set iTunes to Airplay to multiple devices, will they be in sync, or annoyingly just out of whack?

Updates: Edited the questions a bit.

Belt up: Stockade Leather

A shout-out to a good shop which doesn’t have a web site of its own:

About once every decade I buy a belt.

They last that long — I get them from a place in Elsternwick called Stockdale Stockade Leather (552 Glen Huntly Road), which I’m amazed is still in business because their stuff is so resilient — they must get a lot of repeat business.

Stockade Leather, Elsternwick

It looks rather like their belts are made in the shop — the front section is where they’re displayed, and further back it looks more like a workshop than a shop.

I went in today for a couple of belts. I don’t remember how much they cost last time, but now they’re $45, which is not unreasonable for quality that lasts. Another customer was in there praising their belts too.

I hope they’re still around in a decade when I need another.

Update 31/8/2014: I’ve somehow been getting this shop’s name wrong for years, thinking it was Stockdale not Stockade… and therefore not finding its web site. It does have one.

Thinking again about hi-fi

One of my long-term objectives is to update my sound system.

My current system is a mix of devices collected over many years.

  • The horrible old brown Sanyo speakers I’ve had since I was a teenager, which originally came with a Sanyo DC J3K receiver and turntable (click through for some photos of what this looked like… some still survive to this day, obviously — though my speakers are bigger and I think browner than that). I think I paid about $120 secondhand for it in about 1986 — it replaced a white plastic turntable I’d had previously which was probably from the 70s — not sure, but that one was old enough that it could play 78s.
  • A Technics SA-EX300 receiver that I think I got in the mid-90s when the Sanyo amplifier died. At that point the turntable had to be ditched too, but I’d started switching to compact discs in 1988 after buying a CD player, so it was no big deal. The receiver theoretically does Dolby Pro-logic surround sound, but I’ve never used it for that, and I assume it’s not compatible with modern surround sound encoding.
  • Most of my music plays off my nine-year-old 40 gigabyte iPod, plugged via an iPod dock and 3.5mm cable into the back of the receiver. Combined, these three devices put out a reasonable sound for a small room/house. The sound quality isn’t half bad, but certainly isn’t as crisp as newer, better systems.

Old brown speakers

The wish list:

  • Newer, better equipment will mean better sound quality.
  • It’d be great to have surround sound, particularly for TV/movies. I pondered this some years ago but didn’t act on it.
  • It’d be nice to have reliable radio, including digital radio such as Double-J. The receiver is of course analogue only, and the reception is pretty poor, as it has no proper aerial, and nowhere convenient to put it.
  • Playing music and/or radio in the kitchen (without blasting it all around the house) would be a good bonus.

Sonos – very impressive

I’m quite enamoured of the new Sonos system that J+M have just got at their place. (It’s what has inspired this post.)

You can buy speakers of various types, and scatter them around your house. They are smart — they must have little computers inside them. Together they form a wireless network of their own and play music in sync between them. They can interface to your LAN and play the media collection on your computer(s) or a NAS drive, and you can control them using an app for iOS or Android, and play music directly from those devices too. And they can play internet radio stations, including the online versions of all the local stations.

Sonos make various sizes of speaker, and some of them can be plugged into other hifi gear… for instance their soundbar can be connected to a TV with optical audio out. Their Play5 large speaker has analogue audio in, for older devices. Speakers can be paired to provide stereo — some of the larger versions have stereo within the one speaker, but this is obviously limited. You can combine a soundbar, a sub-woofer and two smaller speakers to form a surround 5.1 setup.

It’s all very neat, if a little pricey (though not in the grand scheme of quality hifi equipment). But you can buy bits and bobs gradually and build it up.

Some of the Sonos gear is available through Commonwealth credit card and Qantas Frequent Flyer points — I have heaps of the former (enough to get a Play:5 or a couple of Play:1s), and a small amount of the latter.

Niggling doubt: will all their stuff keep running and be supported in 20+ years time like my current old speakers, which keep just working? They seem heavily dependent on compatibility with a home network, and handheld devices, as well as software maintenance from Sonos themselves.

What to get?

It’d be lovely if there was a surround sound setup made by one of the reputable brands that was expandable like the Sonos system is.

A surround setup with Sonos gear would be extremely expensive (about $1700 just to get the basics — though $700 of that could be got on points), and for me that’s probably a higher priority than cool networked music and internet radio. There are a few rather nice home theatre kits that do similar things, such as from Yamaha — but these aren’t as smart and expandable into the rest of the house later.

When I say surround sound is a priority… well, as much as any of this is a priority of course… all this stuff is the very definition of discretionary, unnecessary spending.

What I love about my blog is I can post on topics I know not too much about, and have all sorts of informed people commenting with good advice and ideas. So, no pressure, but over to you!

Update Monday 25/8

Some more thoughts over the weekend (with thanks to all those commenting):

I’ve been thinking about Sonos vs a Yamaha home theatre package, one of the ones with networking capability, so either option will play from a NAS or internet radio.

Sonos, eg Playbar and speakers in the livingroom, other speakers elsewhere:

  • Closed eco-system, makes it easy to select hardware, but harder to break away from it later
  • Great for multi-room which is so very cool, not so good for surround/theatre (no DTS, for instance, and more expensive). I have checked – my TV will output the 5.1 signal via the Optical Out which the Sonos Playbar needs.
  • Can be much more easily expanded later
  • Can easily temporarily move speakers around, eg have two Play1s for surround with the Playbar, but move them to the backyard for a party
  • Does it phone home? Would a Sonos system keep working if the company went bust? This may sound alarmist, but I’m pondering if the system will keep running 10, 20 years in the future. Maybe I should ask on the Sonos forum about this.
  • Sonos devices use a fair bit of juice even when inactive/on standby. The playbar alone uses 13 watts when not doing anything.
  • Hmm, it seems Jongo is a Sonos competitor. Probably similar issues.

Home theatre package in the livingroom with AirPlay, internet radio, controller app etc:

  • Better surround for the money, will handle DTS soundtracks
  • Less good on multi-room. Even the setups which handle Zone 2/Zone B are really tied to one additional room, not many.
  • Still get the coolness of a mobile/iPad app to control, play from music library etc
  • Wires around the place
  • Not tied to one manufacturer. Can upgrade individual components later
  • Uses far less juice when on standby.

I’m leaning towards the latter option, perhaps complemented by a DAB radio for the kitchen, for instance for playing Double J. Are there some good ones that might also have network capabilities? Or is that getting back to the Sonos gear and internet radio? Some might at least have bluetooth — eg Pure have some of these, for instance the Pure Contour, though of course it couldn’t be in sync with the livingroom setup.

If only home theatre setups had a way of broadcasting to remote speakers elsewhere in the house. Is there a device that will do that? Or do you have to wire everything up? Or you could use Sonos gear to hook into that I suppose.

So many options!