Monday, June 21, 2021

How I solved my network issues

I frequent some help forums for different things related to streaming. One common complaint across almost every help forum is people losing network connection. Related to that is when people have an issue that can be explained by network issues.

Most of the time, people don't like the suggestion that their network is at fault. That is akin to saying they wasted money in setting up a poor network, and nobody likes to be told they wasted money or otherwise made a bad decision. The thing is, people do waste money and make bad decisions. I do. You do. We all do. We just don't like being reminded of that.

So, rather than tell you that you made a bad decision about your network, let me tell you a good decision I made about mine. Oh, and if your network is working just fine and you have no issues with your streaming devices, then you made a good decision. Working is the goal, and if it works, you met the goal. You did good.

However, I had network issues that it took me a while to solve. Actually, I didn't have the issues. My mother had the issues.

Her house was built in the 1950s. And the 1960s. And the 1970s. You see, it was expanded and added on to many times over the years, and in none of that time was the thought of its 21st century layout and accounting for wireless networks considered. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, all that was science fiction.

However, the 21st century did roll around and my mother had network issues. There were spots in rooms where one person was able to use a laptop on her wireless network, and in the same room, sitting in the next chair, another person couldn't keep a stable connection. The house, with it's weird wiring and rewiring and former outside walls that are now on the inside, was a wireless network nightmare.

So, how did I fix it? Let me tell you what didn't work first.

I got a bigger, more powerful wireless router (okay, access point, but it was all in one and we're calling it a router). That helped a little, but only a little. There were still some dead spots.

WiFi extenders were tried. They didn't really work. Maybe it was the location of them, but we never noticed a continued improvement.

We thought about running network cables and connecting additional hotspots, but didn't.

Finally, I replaced her network with a Google WiFi network. That cost a little bit of money because a set of three was around $300 on sale. And, as it turned out, three wasn't enough. There are now seven of those in that house. But, you know what? There's good network connectivity in every room.

Google WiFi was the one I tried, and it worked. This isn't to say you must get Google WiFi devices to make your network run properly. Rather, it's a suggestion that a mesh network, such as Google WiFi, Amazon Eero, Netgear Orbi, or one of any other such may be the way to go if you are having issues.

How well does it work. During her last year or so, the only time she ever mentioned the network was when I asked. She always responded that she hadn't thought about it because it simply worked. And, when family came over, there were no more questions or complaints about her wireless network.

In my and my family's experience, a mesh network works well. To my mother, she said "It just works." And it made her Streaming Life much simpler and easier.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Ripping a DVD to Plex - TV Show

I mentioned before that Plex is a good way to stream your DVDs. Actually, I don't stream my DVDs, but rather the content of my DVDs. I mentioned that it's not that hard to do, and that's true, unless tedium is hard. Tedium isn't hard, it's tedious. And those aren't the same thing. If you think tedium is hard, you really won't do well with hard. But, yeah, it's tedious.

My statement that "it's simply a matter of launching Handbrake, inserting the DVD, picking the format (I used MP4) and starting the conversion" did not sit well with me. So, I decided that the next time I ripped a DVD, I'd document it and show what's involved. If this seems complicated, it's really not.

For some time, I've been looking for streaming episodes of Police Squad. I've not been able to find it. So, I finally decided that I wanted it more than I wanted to wait for it to ever show up in a streaming format, so I bought the DVD intending to rip the show into Plex.

For no particular reason, I chose Wondershare UniConverter for Windows to rip this series. There are several applications will work as well, and while the particulars may vary slightly, the overall process is the same. I have other Windows apps, and I have a couple of Mac apps, but this is what I did this time.

To start, I put the DVD into the computer's DVD drive, then launched the app.

I told the app to use my DVD drive and it started reading the drive, finding content. Since this was a TV show and there are more than one episode on the disc, I told it to use all the videos it found.

It chugged along for a while...

... and found a lot of videos.

The disc contained six episodes, so I had to find the videos that were not part of the show and remove them. What would those videos be? Those are the DVD extras you find. Sometimes, they're episode length, and sometimes they're short videos.

After removing the unwanted videos, I picked the format I wanted. I always pick MP4, but you can use whatever works better for you.

After all that is done, I told the app to start the conversion.

That can sometimes take a while, so either wait it out or go do something else. I did something else. I took a nap.

After the conversion is done, I opened the destination folder and found the converted files.

You can't really see from these images, and this doesn't always happen, but sometimes you end up with more videos than you need. Why? Well, remember I said the DVD extras were sometimes full length? How do you tell the difference? You can't look at the names of the files, because that's not based on the content. You have to launch the video and see which episode it is. I did that, and found they were in order, and was easily able to rename each file according to Plex standards.

After moving the files to a directory (folder) structure that Plex likes, I moved the overall TV show directory (folder) into the final destination for Plex to read.

It took Plex a little while to read the directory and file names, look up the data in its database, and get all the little data bits that you need to know just what episode you're watching.

When it was done, it automatically had all the show images and episode descriptions in place, ready for watching.

Yeah, it's a little tedious. But it's not hard. The key things when it comes to naming the files are to follow Plex standards, and everything works well.

I use the TV show name for the show directory (folder), to include the debut year. Since Police Squad debuted in 1982, I named the directory "Police Squad (1982)" even though there isn't another show called Police Squad. Sometimes, it's very important, particularly on movies. But if you always do it, things will be easier.

For the next directory (folder), I follow the standard of the season number. Even though Police Squad had only one season, I still put a Season 01 directory (folder) under the show parent. Inside each season folder, I put the files.

Naming the files is easy enough. I use the longer method, but the shorter method is just fine. It's using the show directory (folder) name, a space, a dash, a space, then the season and episode number in the following format: sXXeXX. So, season 1, episode 1 would be s01e01. The 6th episode would be s01e06. You see how it goes? Good.

I said I use the long version. After the sXXeXX I put another space, a dash, a space, then the episode name. This can be helpful if you ever need to refer to a file and would find it easier to know the episode name. But, it really doesn't matter for Plex. Either way works the same in Plex.

And that's it. I now have Police Squad episodes to watch to make My Streaming Life more fun.. I know, you may still find this daunting, saying "surely that can't be easy." Well, it is easy. And don't call me Shirley.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

My problem with MLB TV

Every baseball season since I started streaming -- maybe not quite that long, but for some time -- I get offers and notifications about MLB.TV and how I can watch my team. Well, I can't.

You see, I'm a Braves fan. I've been a fan of the Braves for many years. I remember the excitement of watching Hank Aaron's chase of Babe Ruth's home run record in the 1970s. I remember the Braves losing to the Mets in three in 1969. I remember when Milo and Ernie were the broadcasters. And, of course, the classic broadcast team of Skip, Pete, and Ernie. And Don. And Joe. Those broadcasters were as big stars as many players.

I listened to the Braves on radio, and every so often, watched them on TV. Then came Ted Turner and WTCG. That became WTBS and it made it to cable systems, allowing me to watch nearly every Braves game. During the days of cable, it was easy to watch the Braves. But now I'm streaming.

I can subscribe to live streaming services and get many of the Braves games, but not all. Certainly not to the degree I was able with cable and WTCG/WTBS. But there is this thing called MLB.TV that says you can watch all the games. That's perfect right? Not qutie.

You see, there's fine print, as listed here. I added the bold for emphasis.

Except for certain MLB regular season and Postseason games as described below or in certain MLB Club home television territories for which MLB may offer in-market subscription services, all live games will be blacked out in each applicable Club's home television territory.

How big is the Braves home television territory? Five and a half states. Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, and most of North Carolina.

Source: NBC News

And the blackout covers all live games, not just home games. So, Braves play in New York, or in California, or Canada, or anywhere, and the game is blacked out for everyone living in that section of the United States. And I'm in that area. So, no live Braves games for me via MLB.TV ever.

If I was a Cardinals fan, like many in this area were before the Braves moved down from Milwaukee, I'd be fine. But I'm not a Cardinals fan. I like them fine, but they just aren't "my team." The Braves are. And MLB.TV won't let me stream the Braves games live.

So, I'm sure the service is fine for many, but before you plop down any money for the service, make sure you can watch the games you want to watch. Go here to see what games and team you can watch.

This service has, and for years has had, the potential to be a great service. For now, it is of no use to me or My Streaming Life.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Hockey here tonight

I've rarely watched hockey. Growing up in southeast Georgia, ice hockey wasn't big around here. A friend of mine went to some hockey games when he went off to college and loved it, so it's not like we were unable to enjoy the sport, we just didn't have much opportunity to attend.

The only way to watch a hockey game was on TV. In fact, around here, that's still the only way to watch a hockey game. As a streamer, what are my options? Well, not bad, really. Because NBC Sports is carrying the NHL playoffs, and they've made the semifinal games available to streamers via Peacock TV.

Yes, I'm kind of late on this, as the semifinals are already underway. But, as each matchup is a series, the games will go on for at least another week. Peacock is carrying the games:

Peacock announced the service will stream all remaining Stanley Cup Semifinal games, starting Monday, June 14 at 9 p.m. ET with Game 1 in the Semifinal between the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights. As previously announced, NBC Sports’ coverage of all Stanley Cup Semifinal games will also air on NBCSN or USA Network and NBC Sports digital platforms.

If you're an Xfinity Internet customer, you get Peacock Premium included. If not, the $5/month price is pretty good. Peacock is a good service, and if you're a hockey fan, its value is that much more.

I'm glad to see more and more sports available streaming. It makes our Streaming Life so much more enjoyable.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Tablo to the forefront

I mentioned a few weeks back that deciding between an Air TV or a Tablo to replace TiVo would be  a tossup. I'm not sure I feel this way any longer. The more I use Tablo, the more I like it better than Air TV.

Part of it is the interface. I don't think I am particularly enamored by the Tablo interface, but I really don't like the Air TV interface.

Actually, the Air TV interface is Sling TV. Don't get me wrong, I think the Sling TV service is a good service. Of course, you don't need a Sling TV subscription to use Air TV. You can use the free Sling TV service and it will add the antenna channels right there.

The thing is, I really don't like the Sling TV interface. Again, that's not to say I really like the Tablo interface. It's more like I dislike Sling TV's interface so much more.

That's a little unfair, but I'll go into all the details later. I'm not sure when. The point of this post is to share that I'll be doing a deeper look at Tablo and report back on that later.

I mentioned that I managed a couple of household setups, and that I ran Air TV at one and Tablo at the other. Well, I'm going to focus on Tablo for a bit and see if I really do like it better. I mean, I already think I like it better than Air TV, but I want to actually use it for a bit before I say for sure.

I do think I know how this will go, though. Me and My Streaming Life are so predictable. I'll post my thoughts on Tablo after using it for a week or so. Stay tuned.