Sunday, February 23, 2014

Another essential gadget for the engineer's rucksack

Hugh and I did a video podcast about essential tools and testers a jobbing broadcast engineer might have in his ruck. An item I didn't mention was a network router - yes, you're right; I came across one of these around a year ago;

It's a very basic NAT (network address translation) router with WiFi. It has a single LAN port and a WAN/LAN port (depending on what mode it's in) and you can pick them up on eBay for less than £20. The best feature is it doesn't need a power adaptor; it plugs into a 13A socket and is little bigger than a MK plug. There are three typical jobs mine gets used for.

  1. I'm demo'ing a piece of equipment that has a network connection but I don't have the means to connect my laptop to it because it's at the back of the room (connected to the projector, for example) - I just connect the equipment to the LAN port and then I can hit it over the WiFi from my laptop. This is typically how I demo Tektronix WVR / WFM series TV test equipment.
  2. I need internet access but I don't want to hook up to an existing network - either someone drops into the workshop asking me to fix their PC or laptop and I'd rather not give them access to our network; this is a NAT router and so connecting the WAN port to our network and their machine to the LAN port gives superb isolation via the devices firewall. If I'm at a customer's premises and I have the same worry I can connect my laptop to their network with confidence.
  3. I need a means of genarating DHCP IP addresses when demo'ing Amulet (i.e. several pieces of equipment).
  4. We're on site and all the wiremen want wireless for their 'phones/iPads etc - this is just the way to build a quick adhoc little network.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Friends don't let friends use stock firmware in their routers, part 2

Just a month since I wrote the first piece on this and there are more domestic router breaches.
  1. "The Moon" worm on Linksys routers - The worm works by injecting vulnerable devices with a URL-encoded shell script that carries out the same seek-and-hijack behavior. The exploit may also change some routers' domain name system server to or, which are IP addresses used by Google's DNS service. Compromised routers remain infected until they are rebooted. Once the devices are restarted, they appear to return to their normal state. People who are wondering if their device is infected should check for heavy outbound scanning on port 80 and 8080, and inbound connection attempts to miscellaneous ports below 1024. It seems that most E-series Linsys routers are vulnerable. 
  2. ASUS routers expose shared USB drives over the public internet - The exploits against Asus routers has been known about by Asus for a year and they have yet to correct it in old and current models. 
 Ars Technica's stories are here and here

Do I really need to remind you NOT to use manufacturer firmware in your router when DD-WRT, Tomato and others are available?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Antrica - performance at different data rates

After my testing with the Antrica 32000AS I thought I'd better do some screen caps at different data rates; all the tests I did yesterday were at 2048kBits/sec.






It does seem that you don't get much benefit once you pass 2Mbits/sec - now these are only still frames and sub-500kBits you get quite a few dropped frames (I haven't figured out how to increase the buffer size at the receiver which apparently smooths this out at the expense of latency).

Finally, in an effort to get a feel for the overall degradation of HF content I grabbed a couple of frames at field-rate at each end of the encoder's range;



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Antrica video-over-IP encoder/decoders

Every TV industry magazine is currently honor-bound to run a "video-over-IP will replace baseband this year" article at least once every three months. Despite the attraction of sending video over networks there are fundamental problems related not to the fact that it's a network (but, then again TCP/IP was never meant for synchronous, timely delivery of data) but rather the compression used. Actually, not the compression (after all MPEG4 v.10 variants; H.264, AVC etc are pretty good) but the latency; for long-GOP material 12-frames encode is not unusual.
I was pleased to get my hands on a couple of Antrica 32000-series encoder/decoder units. These are HD/SDi and HDMI i/o and you can configure each to be either an encoder or decoder. They are clearly based on a security camera chipset (all the Pan-Tilt-Zoom controls are grey'ed out!) but they have some very nice features;
  • The outputs remain live when one is being used as an encoder so you can get a feel for what the untransmitted pictures look like (it isn't just a loop-through of the input HD/SDi). 
  • They have up and down converters and so a 1080i input signal can be sent at 720P and an incoming 720P stream can be displayed at 1080i (or SD, for example).
  • They have three streaming modes; their own single-port over TCP mode that streams macro-blocks and hence gives incredibly short latency; 80mS at best but more likely 200mS. A buffer at the receiver end can be wound-out to smooth the spikiness of the data rate (with the worsening of the latency). If that isn't working the units fall back to RTSP over TCP or UDP and finally if all else fails MPEG Transport Stream over TCP.
  • They also do a software video-wall that will receive a dozen streams.

So, proof of the pudding and all that. I made a 1080i sequence of static frames with resolution gratings and so moving stuff. At only 2MBits/sec (which is allowed to spike-up to 3MBits/sec) I was impressed. Here is BBC HD Test-Card F straight into the monitor and then via the system;

The aliasing you can see on the lower gratings is from my iPhone's camera - you really can resolve them to the 15Mhz grating, so no resolution is seemingly being lost.

 These two are taken from the Belle Nuit Montage test chart which shows up all sorts of problems with resolution, colour-space and levels. The finest grating is not resolvable in 4:2:2 encoded material and so what you're seeing here is in part an artifact of the sampling structure of 1.5GBit video.

This is a screen-grab from my trusty Tektronix WFM7100 - I've parked the line-selector on that final grating and zoomed in so that we're looking at 300nS/div on the horizontal. The waveform has been faithfully reproduced with only a low-frequency (I estimate 2Mhz) harmonic. I initially thought this was a fault in the optical transfer function of the monitor but it's there on the signal.

I was playing off my laptop via a Black Magic UltraStudio Express. If you want to play with the clip I've stuck it in my useful clips folder on Google Drive (there is also so DolbyE material in there). It's also worth mentioning they have a software tool for monitoring their end-points. It's called True Manager can as well as allowing you to tweak settings etc you can also monitor in realtime the bandwidth used. This is all very encouraging as tomorrow I will stick an encoder in Root6's office and see what sort of performance I get across the public Internet. As ever with these systems they are adaptive and for still frames they settle at a very low data rate, but at scene changes the system seems to spike to around 50% bandwidth than I'd configured. BUT, the fact remains, I *seem* to be seeing very nice looking 1080i pictures over a few MBits/sec!

Friday, February 14, 2014

System Design with Excel - The Engineer's Bench Podcast

Phil and Hugh go over a few tips and tricks for using MS Excel in the design of film & TV facilities. Find it on iTunes, vanilla RSS, YouTube or the show notes website.