Friday, March 30, 2012

Watching Saorview in the United States with a Triax 112

I'm raising my kids in Irish in the United States. It wouldn't be easy in Ireland, but it's doubly difficult in America, where there are no Irish-medium schools and precious few other speakers.

So media are important to me. Raidió na Gaeltachta, Raidió na Life, and Raidió Fáilte are all available to me on my wifi radio, but none has children's programming, so television is important. TG4 have an excellent online service, but a fairly limited range of programmes, which only remain on their site for a week.

I wanted to have more programmes, and repeated access to them when I wanted. Firing up the laptop just to see a kids' show was getting a bit old too, and the laptop speakers were fairly tinny.

I looked into recording material while in Ireland, but this was well nigh impossible. Cable and Satellite DVRs record encoded material to their own hard drives and the programmes can't be transferred to other players. That left terrestrial broadcasts. I had luck using a Philips DVR in the summer of 2011, recording about 30 hours of kids programming which I then transferred to DVDs. I used these for the following year or so with a multi-region DVD player (although the region wasn't much of a problem anyway, since DVDs aren't encoded for PAL or NTSC).

The big problem for me, however, is the analog switchoff, which is to occur in 2012. DVRs such as the Philips will be useless once this happens, as they are not digital-ready. I need something that will record terrestrial digital broadcasts.

Analog TV is to be completely replaced by Digital TV by the end of 2012. This doesn't mean you need to toss your TV, but you will need to buy a digital box to decode the OTA (over the air) signal for your television. The new digital standard in Ireland is to be called Saorview (i.e. the Irish version of the UK's Freeview).

Where does this leave me, stuck in the United States with my old DVDs and an already-old TV?

I did some looking around. There's no such thing as a Saorview DVR, but there are boxes that will record to an external hard drive. It occurred to me that, if I could get somebody to record shows for me in Ireland using a Saorview set-top box and a hard drive, they might be able to send the hard drive to me and I could watch the programmes on a computer here.

Alas, no. Saorview boxes also encode their recordings, so they'll only play back on the same machine. More thinking. What if I buy TWO saorview boxes - one to record in Ireland, and one to play the recordings in the United States?

It's a bit of a gamble. These things are €90 a pop, and I'll need two hard drives, one for each.

And that's not all - I need a box that will send the signal to an American television in a playable format. It's a bit of a gamble, but I decide to go with the Triax 112. It's getting good reviews, and has three separate video outputs: RF, SCART, and HDMI. One has got to work!

So I cast about for an Irish friend with technical smarts. Enter Pat Folan, or Craven na mByteanna, as he is known in Galway. He agrees to take receipt of the Saorview unit and the hard drive (and the indoor powered antenna!) and record the shows. After he records about 50 hours he sends me the hard drive. I had by now acquired a Triax 112 myself.

[A tip on the Triax TR 112 and hard drives: they apparently don't like powered external hard drives (the one's you plug in). Instead they're happiest with USB-powered external hard drives ideally no bigger than 500GB. Any bigger and you may get corrupted files and choppy recording. We had our best success with a Western Digital 320GB. Furthermore, although you can format the drive for NTFS, FAT32 seems to be the smoothest. Let the Triax unit do the formatting for you.]

First piece of good news: the power adaptor takes both Irish and American AC (and the unit itself takes a bog-standard 12v DC), so no problems powering up.

I have already bought a SCART to RCA (composite video) adaptor, so have a video output, which I plug into the RCAs of my TV.

It's at this stage I realize my error. Both SCART and RCA are analog formats, which means I'm certainly sending PAL to my TV. It's not a bad picture for PAL (I'd usually expect nothing, or a highly-unstable picture), but it's black and white. No good.

My TV takes RF and RCA. That's it. What now? I consider buying a new TV. This would actually solve the whole problem, as the Saorview unit has a HDMI output and all new TVs have HDMI jacks (HDMI is a digital format, not analog). But I'm a cheapskate. Anyway, the TV has a great big screen. I'd be paying a vast sum to have a similar-sized flatscreen TV.

This leads me to look at the ancient VCR under the TV. It's a Samsung SV-5000 international VCR which I bought many years ago to watch Irish videotapes in the United States. It's got several RCA inputs, and sends to the TV in NTSC. Might it convert the PAL signal to NTSC?

It does!

The upshot: I can now use my Triax 112 Saorview box with my American television by running it through an international VCR. This means I can record terrestrial Saorview in Ireland and play it back in the United States. And the kids are delighted! Bert agus Ernie ag Eachtraíocht faoi dheireadh!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Beo Comhdháil in Lehman College faoin Ghearrscéal Gaeilge

My Beo article this month concerns the Symposium/Conference organised by Thomas Ihde at Lehman College in the Bronx on the Irish-language short story.

m'alt in Beo na míosa seo faoin Siompóisiam/Comhdháil a d'eagraigh Tomás Ó hÍde ag Lehman College sa Bhronx faoin ghearrscéal Gaeilge.

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