Lee Rowson's
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My personal projects: past, present and maybe future


Mediacentre: My mother enjoyed a number of TV shows (mainly of the British crime drama and British home (re)design shows), but it became increasingly apparent that as her health deteriorated she was in no state to watch these programs at the times they aired.
  So in early 2010 I built a new computer from scratch that included a dual digital tuner card that allowed her to watch her programmes at times that suited her. Thanks to the combination of the digital tuner card and the software GBPVR (and later NPVR) I was able to easily schedule her shows to be automatically recorded, she could use the software using a Mediacentre remote, and if need be her programmes could easily be shown in her bedroom or anywhere else a laptop could go.
  This multimedia PC also slowly but surely gained "rips" of my DVD movies and TV shows, along with many CDs and other recordings. And it's still going strong to this day.

PC Router: Having lived in the rural part of the Waikato region for most of my life, internet access has never been great. In fact, until 5 years ago I was still having to use dialup. Not good dialup either, but the sort where it took an hour to download 3MB if you were lucky enough that the connection didn't drop half way through. But to top it all off, there were usually 2 or 3 computers in the house that would want to access the internet at various times of the day yet turned off at other times of the day, so coordinating the dialup connection through any one of them was awkward.
  I set up an old desktop PC with a good dialup modem and a copy of Windows Server 2003, and set it up as a router, with network cables I made to connect all the other computers to it.
  Eventually it also took on the role of a download server for any files considered too big to download within a few hours. It also became a mail server, acting as a backup to the mail on the other desktop computers in the house, but also allowing any emails to be downloaded immediately into part of the fast home network, rather than any email user in the house having to wait to slowly download the emails from the remote mail server.
  Eventually it all became superceded by a much faster wireless internet connection and wifi within the house.

Emulation/Virtual Machines: Over the years I've set up emulators for various devices on various devices; there's nothing quite like trying play Day of the Tentacle via ScummVM on an old Nokia phone with a screen the size of a commemorative stamp. I've worked with emulators and virtual machines that emulate Apple Macs, PCs (to run a number of OSes), Amigas, and most game consoles that are at least a couple of generations old.
  My most recent experience was setting up VMWare Player to seamlessly play on a Windows 8.1 64-Bit touchscreen laptop a Bridge game that hadn't been updated in over a decade and was made of a horrible mix of 16- and 32-bit code. VMWare Player was used to run a 32-bit copy of Windows XP (the latest version of Windows the Bridge program was known to run on, while still providing a small memory footprint) that was not allowed any internet access, and, thanks to some lovely trickery by VMWare Player, an icon on the Windows 8.1 desktop started the Bridge program up directly; the only evidence of it not being a natively run program was some VMWare information in the window title.


Playstation 2:

Home networks:

Video Digitisation

VHS, SVHS, VHS-C, Super8, Video8, Hi8 to digital files and DVDs.

Over the past couple of years I have been copying video tapes of programmes that haven't been released on DVD, as well as old family movies from VHS-C and Video8 tapes, to a digital format on a PC. My initial digital copy from the tapes is stored losslessly, using Lagarith or Huffyuv for video, and uncompressed Wave for the audio. From the lossless copy I then do any deinterlacing, cropping, resizing, clean ups, and even reinterlacing to produce at least two types of video: an avi or mp4, and a DVD Video compatible set of files.

I hope in the near future to begin investigating the best ways to clean and record Super8 films, both video and audio. Most of the films I have are 30 years old, so they can't be replaced. Plus, Super8 runs at 18 frames per second, which will make for an interesting puzzle if I decide to make DVD copies of them.

Video Correction

This project is related to the Video Digitisation project, but it also covers video sources that are digital before I even get my hands on them - two major examples being cellphone videos and DVDs.

With cellphone videos they can sometimes be stored in formats that don't play well on modern equipment; the main offending format being malformed 3GP video files. So I do what it takes to convert the video into several more popular video formats so that the videos can be played now and hopefully well into the future.

Video from DVDs can be even messier to get into a clean, clear state fit for viewing on modern screens. Most of the problems stem from the 3 major framerates the world uses: 24fps (for film), 23.97/29.97fps/59.94 fields per second (NTSC for the North America, parts of South America, and parts of Northeast Asia), and 25fps/50 fields per second (PAL for the rest of the world). Converting between these three standards can be done in several different ways, but none of the conversions are perfect. The most common (and thankfully easiest to correct)conversion is NTSC to PAL and Film to PAL where they simply speed the footage up by ~4% to get it to match PAL's 25fps. The problems with this are three-fold: everything on screen moves ~4% faster, the movie/programme is now ~4% shorter, and, worst of all, sometimes they simply speed up the audio, making everyone's voices higher and faster. This can be corrected by simply setting the video's playback speed back to the old fps number and slowing the audio down. One downside to this is that the audio has now been resampled twice: once when they sped it up and once when I've slowed it back down, so the sound will never be as clear as it could have been. But a largely unheard fuzziness in the audio is preferable to fuzziness in the video, which is what pretty much every other conversion method causes.

Needless to say, I am grateful for Blu-ray and modern televisions that support most, if not all, of the modern video standards, thus removing a lot of the need to butcher video or audio to make it work.

Audio Digitisation

Vinyl records, audio tapes, reel-to-reel tapes to lossless and lossy digital files.

This project has mainly involved the copying of vinyl records, of the 33 1/3rpm, 45rpm and 78rpm varieties. The process begins by seeing if any audio tracks to be copied can be replaced with high quality existing digital audio tracks and placing them into a folder ready to be substituted in at the appropriate point. The record is clean carefully with a cleaning solution and a soft cloth to remove any surface dirt and dust. Then, using a special turntable connected to the computer, each side of the album is recorded using Audacity. I then run through each digitised album side and save each track that hasn't been replaced by a pre-existing digital track. Initially the tracks are saved in the lossless FLAC format. They are then tagged and given cover art where possible. Only then are the FLAC files used to produce lossy versions of the tracks, for use on devices that either don't support lossless formats or that don't have the capacity to hold more than a handful of lossless tracks.

When a record skips or gets stuck, there are a few ways to get the track. If I'm lucky, applying a little bit of pressure on the stylus as it passes the broken groove will keep it in the correct groove. If that doesn't work, then it means hunting for another copy of that track, no matter the format. Sometimes a track can be fixed digitally if the skip (or forced skip when you have to correct it when it's stuck) if the bit missing happens to be repeated later in the track - a chorus, for instance.

I hope in the future to buy a record cleaner that washes and deep cleans the records.

Image Digitisation

Photos, negatives, colour slides to PNG and JPEG.

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