Category Archives: Movies & TV

Posts about movies and TV programmes.

Sorting the Frame Rate Problem Using RasPlex

Back in January I wrote about the problems of trying to get streaming video to play back smoothly from Plex on our Apple TV, or XBox, or Fire TV, or pretty well anything, whilst I’d got around the problem by manually switching the Apple TV back and forth, it was still not really a satisfactory solution, and also didn’t solve the problem with any 24fps movie content. I also found that even well established apps like Netflix suffer the same problem on the Apple TV when we were watching The Crown where the shots with trains passing the camera had exactly the same jitter problem that was coming up on my content from Plex.

After a bit of research I’ve found that there is only one TV streaming box that can switch frame rates for Plex playback, and that is the NVIDIA Shield, but since that retails for £170 and doesn’t do anything much more than the XBox, Apple TV or Fire TV options we have already I wasn’t too keen.

From looking through the many online discussions of the problem, it seems that people running the now deprecated Plex Home Theater had got around the problem, and people using the built in Plex clients on smart TV’s didn’t have the issue, but again getting a new PC or Mac to go in the living room, or replacing our TV wasn’t really a cheap option either.

Then I came across RasPlex which is an actively developed port of Plex Home Theater to the Raspberry Pi. Like the PC and Mac versions of Plex Home Theater it was able to switch resolution, and with the arrival of the Raspberry Pi 3, the little £33 computer is more than capable of driving 1080p video.

At this point, after my experience setting up flight tracking with a Raspberry Pi I thought I’d be writing an explanation of setting it up, but RasPlex is really dead easy. The most fiddly bit of the whole process was getting the tiny screws that mount the Raspberry Pi 3 I bought into case into the equally tiny holes. RasPlex provide installers for Windows, Mac and Linux that will set up the software on a suitable memory card, and then it is as simple as plugging the Raspberry Pi into a power socket and your TV and turning on. The Raspberry Pi 3 has built in Wifi that RasPlex detects, and whilst it takes a bit of time when first booted to cache data from your Plex server, once it is up and running it is fine.

To get the resolution changes you’ll need to dig down into the advanced video settings, because by default RasPlex will stick to whatever resolution is set for the user interface, much like the commercial streaming boxes. However once that setting was changed, whatever video I threw at it worked fine on our TV – a slight pause as the TV switched frame rate and off it went. The other nice plus was that even with our seven year old Panasonic TX-L32S10 we didn’t need a separate remote for the Raspberry Pi as since the TV has HDMI-CEC support we can navigate the RasPlex user interface with the regular TV remote.

There are a couple of downsides, firstly unlike the Apple TV, the Raspberry Pi doesn’t have a sleep mode. The power save options on RasPlex will shut the whole Raspberry Pi down, at which point you have to cycle the power to wake it up again. Also the Raspberry Pi didn’t seem able to drive the picture through the cheapie HDMI switcher we have connecting the increasing number of HDMI devices we have to the TV.

However even with buying the Raspberry Pi, a suitable case with heatsinks for the processors on the Raspberry Pi that potentially get rather a workout, memory card and power supply, I still ended up with a Plex box for less than £60, and one that plays video significantly better than any of the established players by switching the TV to the correct frame rate.

That of course just leaves one final question, if a £33 box can do it, why can’t Apple, Roku, Amazon and all the rest do the same thing? Apple and Amazon especially are selling content that would benefit from a switchable box, and yet none of them do it, and instead ship boxes that make their content look rubbish.

The TV Frame Game

Through another one of the numerous techie competing standards stories, (the TL;DR summary being that NTSC TV standard was considered a bit rubbish on this side of the pond and as a result in Europe we developed two alternative standards PAL and SECAM) in the UK and the USA we ended up with two somewhat incompatible TV systems. In the USA they had TV pictures with a vertical resolution of 480 lines, playing at a frame rate of 30 frames per second, whilst on this side of the Atlantic we were watching a  higher resolution 576 line picture, but playing at a frame rate of 25 frames per second. The TV companies had ways of converting pictures between the two standards, and eventually we got to home video recorders being able to play tapes recorded in the other standard, and TV’s that could cope with both, indeed these days in the UK you’ll find most DVD or BluRay players and TV’s will quite happily switch between European 50Hz standards and the North American 60Hz, whatever the standard of the material that was put into the machine.

When the HD standards came around there seemed to be general agreement across the world, and everybody settled on 720 lines or 1080 lines for high definition pictures and all seemed right with the world… Or maybe not…

That brings us to me watching a video last night which involved a number of shots of trains going left to right or right to left across the screen, and a really annoying judder as the trains went past. I was watching from an HD video file playing back on our Apple TV through Plex. Thinking it was a problem with the Apple TV I tried it through Plex on our Xbox One – same problem, and watching the raw file on the desktop, same problem again. Looking at the file it had come from a UK production company and was encoded in 1080p with a frame rate of 25 frames per second, perfectly standard UK file. So I took a look at the Apple TV. Digging into the settings I had the picture standard set to Auto, further down it said it had automatically set itself to 1080p 60Hz. There was also an option to specify which picture format to use, with a 1080p 50Hz option, so I switched that over, watched the file again, and away went the judder, switch back to auto and the Apple TV would decide to switch to 1080p 60Hz.

The basic problem seems to be that unlike the DVD Players, video recorders or BluRay players the latest generation of devices like the Apple TV or Xbox, even though many are capable of switching the resolution, automatically go for 1080p 60Hz and then behave as if the TV they’re connected to is a dumb panel that can’t cope with any other standard, as a result they then try to convert video at another frame rate in software. The judder I could see on the video is a result of the Apple TV or Xbox trying to show 25 frames per second on a device that is wanting 30 frames per second, so on smooth movements you get the judder because 20% of the frames in any one second of video are being shown twice. Knowing my TV is a European model that can cope with a 50Hz picture I can switch the Apple TV over and it works fine (not so for the Xbox incidentally) but then if I watch a North American video at 30 frames per second the Apple TV is locked in 50Hz and has much the same problem trying to handle showing 30 frames in the period when it only has 25 frames.

At this point the cinema purists are going to point out that there is another very common frame rate, with is 24 frames per second, which is the frame rate that most movies are made at, and many BluRays are now released as that standard because again a lot of TV sets these days will cope with the frame rate. So what do the Apple TV, Xbox and other TV streamer boxes do? They try and show those 24 frames in whatever frame rate the box is currently set to, and have exactly the same problem.

Going through my digital videos I have a real mixed bag. Most of the UK stuff is 25 frames per second, some where it has come off film is 24 frames per second, US stuff mostly 30 frames per second. Looking at home videos I have the same mixed bag, primarily because even though they’re all UK bought devices the cameras and phones I’ve had over the years don’t always produce UK standard video, for example iPhones using the standard camera software will consistently record in 60Hz standards – you have to resort to apps like Filmic to get the phone to record in European 50Hz standards, or even 24 frames per second if you want to work with cinema standards.

So even though world has agreed the size of a picture, there is still no agreement over how many of those pictures are shown per second. Most of our digital streaming boxes either will only work at the US 60Hz standard (the earliest Sky Now boxes were stuck on 60Hz) or are switchable but thanks to the software are difficult to switch across – the Apple TV you have to go rummaging in the settings, on the Xbox you effectively have to con the Xbox into thinking your TV can only do 50Hz pictures before it will switch – with the devices doing a second rate job when your TV is quite often perfectly capable of playing things back correctly.

Having one standard is never going to work as we’ll still have vast amounts of archive content at the older frame rates, so for the moment it would really help if the digital streamer manufacturers actually started acknowledging that there are a variety of standards – even your average US consumer who doesn’t have any 50Hz content is going to notice glitching if they watch a movie. We’ve had DVD and Video Recorders that could switch for years, why is it that the new tech seems to have taken such a massive step backwards?

Featured image old tv stuff by Gustavo Devito

TV star Larry Hagman dies at 81

See on Scoop.itNews and Current Affairs

His character was at the heart of Dallas, indeed in the recent revival he carried on appearing despite having ongoing treatment for his recurrent cancer. Indeed quite whether the revival can continue remains to be seen as despite the show ostensibly being about the younger stars Hagman still dominates the show.
See on www.bbc.co.uk

Jubilee pageant composers condemn BBC coverage


“They obliterated it with some fatuous piece of commentary about something else,” [Orlando] Gough said. “I am incensed. It was extraordinary – so much work went into this, we spent hours and hours clearing the rights and negotiating fees and it was reduced to this. It is very, very frustrating, especially when the rest of the coverage was absolutely inane.”

via Jubilee pageant composers condemn BBC coverage | UK news | The Guardian.

The chorus of criticism of the lamentable coverage of the Jubilee River Pageant from the BBC on Sunday, this time from composers commissioned to produce special pieces of music for the event that were played on the many music barges during the event. If you watched the BBC coverage it was pretty easy to miss, indeed the piece composed by Gough got a grand total of 8 seconds coverage in the four hours of programme.

A Preview of the New Series of Top Gear

No sooner has the last series of the massively popular motoring show Top Gear ended, than details of films in the next series are starting to leak out.

In one entertaining film, Jeremy Clarkson and James May take a Mercedes and a BMW on a trip to Scotland and amusingly forget to fill their cars with petrol, although that isn’t mentioned in the film. Having taken a trip over to the Isle of Raasay they then drive round and round the island trying to find a petrol station before running out of fuel and being told that the nearest petrol station is a ferry crossing and twenty miles away. When Mercedes and BMW complain about the way their cars have been presented, producers release a statement saying that the entire purpose of the item is to highlight the lack of petrol filling infrastructure on the island.

Doesn’t sound like a great film does it? Indeed you would probably understand why BMW and Mercedes would be annoyed, and probably agree they’d be entirely justified, I mean what does not filling the cars with fuel prove when you know there is no petrol on Raasay. So quite why they felt the need to prove that an electric car stops when it runs out of charge on Sunday by failing to charge it enough for the journey I don’t know. The fact is that whereas they could recharge the Leaf from a regular three pin plug, of which there are thousands in Lincoln, if they ran out of petrol on Raasay unless a local farmer took pity on them they’d be well and truly stuffed.

The fact is that if the film was about demonstrating range rather than once again trying to make electric cars look bad, I must have missed the point where Clarkson said that, and highlighted their failure to fully charge the car before setting out. Just as driving a petrol car in the Highlands you make sure you have the fuel, with an electric car you make sure you charge it up for the journey at hand, you’d be an idiot not to.

Jeff Conaway

Sad news today that the family of actor Jeff Conaway have taken the decision to turn off his life support machine, after ongoing problems with drug and alcohol addiction.

The news is concentrating on his involvement in Grease, but for many sci-fi fans like myself he will be much better known for his ongoing role in the superb series Babylon 5 where he played security officer Zack Allan, ending up as security chief by the end of the series.

As a little tribute, here is the last five minutes of Babylon 5.

The Band You Know Well – But Have Never Heard Of

Of late I’ve been listening to a new album, called Don’t Ya Love Life, I’ll venture that you’ll not have heard of the band, the Tommy Blaize Band, although like me you’ll probably find the name a little familiar.

Of course the reason you’ll not have heard of them, is because you know them as something else, something that becomes clearer when you realise that the keyboards on Don’t Ya Love Life are being played by a certain Dave Arch, a name familiar to many millions of people as being in charge of the house band on Strictly Come Dancing. Then when you take a look at the Strictly Come Dancing album and find that Tommy Blaize is one of the regular singers on the show, suddenly all the pieces start to fit together.

At it’s core the Tommy Blaize Band is the same group of singers and musicians that we see every Saturday night on BBC1 during the autumn, but this is them playing mainly their own music and under their own name. Whilst on the show they turn their hands to pretty much any style the dancers throw at them, on their own there is a definite motown, old school feel to the music on the album, with brass sections and an orchestra in evidence on certain tracks. Across the whole album it is easily up to the quality of the cover versions they produce week by week on our televisions.

The album justifiably deserves to do well, and give an excellent bunch of musicians a bit of recognition in their own right, rather than just as the Strictly Come Dancing house band.

You can find the album in a number of places, including from Amazon – buying from the link below gives us a little help funding the site here.