More on syncing MLB GameDay audio to DirecTV video

For today’s Giants-Phillies NLCS game 6, I’m using the same setup as described in my earlier post. It’s working moderately well and is of course miles better than the torture that is listening to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

The strangest thing is how the delay between GameDay audio and DirecTV seems to vary minute by minute. It’ll be steady at around nine seconds, then drop to seven and go up to twelve, all without any pauses in the audio stream. This means I have to keep my VNC window (all the audio processing software is on my old Dell Windows laptop) open and adjust the buffer in Radio Delay every so often. I can see several reasons for the delay between radio and TV and therefore between radio or GameDay and DirecTV, but I can’t quite grasp how the delay can vary in realtime without the stream dropping or pausing.

It seems to me that the overall delay is the result of the differing paths the audio and video take to reach me. If I was listening to KNBR on a standard AM radio, I’d be hearing the play-by-play in near-realtime; the signal goes from the ballpark, through KNBR’s onsite processing/uplink, to KNBR’s studio, to Sutro Tower and then to my radio. Most of that happens via broadcast, i.e. speed-of-light, and is point-to-point with no satellite bounce. Add another couple of steps for retransmission to MLB’s studio so it can go out over GameDay audio, and of course the streaming audio is affected by Internet speeds.

The video path is very different and a lot longer. It goes from the ballpark, through Fox Sports’ onsite processing/uplink (“the truck”) to Fox Sports’ central studio or processing center–I don’t know where that is, or if they use KTVU’s facilities–to KTVU’s studio in Oakland, to DirecTV’s facility in Denver and then via direct-broadcast satellite to me. There are at least two satellite round-trips there, possibly three depending on how the signal is sent from the Fox Sports truck to their central facility. The signal is encoded, decoded and re-encoded an unknown number of times during the whole process, and that takes time as well.

Most of the above is speculation based on some knowledge of how these things tend to work and a bit of research. I’d love to know any better and/or corrected details.

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In-progress notes on watching baseball with GameDay audio synced to TV video

Why: http://dodgerhater.blogspot.com/2010/10/say-no-to-buck-mccarver-delay-radio.html
How: http://www.botecomm.com/bote/radio/radiodelay.html (Radio Delay With MLB Gameday Streaming Audio, Virtual Audio Cable method).

Yes, I paid the $20 to MLB for Gameday Audio streaming. I gave up on getting listenable sound from a portable AM radio into the laptop. It sounds fine from the radio, but as soon as it’s connected to the laptop there’s a huge amount of line noise and static. I think it’s coming from the TV equipment and being picked up by the audio cable, but I haven’t found a way to block it.

  1. Install and start Virtual Audio Cable.
  2. Start Radio Delay with input device set to Virtual Cable 1 and output device set to the computer’s audio device (e.g. SigmaTel Audio, etc).
  3. Try playing a sound file on the computer. It should register on the “Input Device” side of Radio Delay, silently, and then playback through the “Output” side with audio.
  4. Launch GameDay audio.
  5. If the GameDay audio feed is playing without delay, stop and restart Radio Delay.

So far, with quite a bit of head-beating and hair-tearing, this is working. I am waiting for the actual game to start so I can sync audio and video. There’s a sixteen second (!!) delay from KNBR to DirecTV, but I don’t know how much of a delay there will be between GameDay Audio and DirecTV. I’ll update this post later with that information.

Update 1: The delay seems to vary between nine and eighteen seconds, probably because MLB’s Flash audio player seems to stutter, pause and catch up. Unfortunately, changing the buffer in Radio Delay causes the current buffer to be cleared, so it’s difficult to properly sync the audio to video. So far.

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Disappointed in @DIRECTV today

Posted here because it’s too long to Tweet and I dislike serializing Tweets.

I’ve been a DIRECTV subscriber for around twelve years. Through all that time I’ve almost always been pleased with both the actual TV service and their customer service people. There has been the occasional hiccup, as you’d expect, but overall it’s been great and I wouldn’t hesitate to strongly recommend the service. (In fact, if you’re considering it, click the “Contact Me” link on this page for a $100 referral credit.)

DIRECTV recently, some would say “finally” introduced their whole-home DVR service- essentially the same as the local share ability built in to TiVo since the beginning- and since I have two of their HD DVRs (one upstairs, one downstairs) and an ever-growing list of subscribed series, I decided to order it. Unlike TiVo networking, which is free except for customer-provided equipment, the DIRECTV service costs $3 per month plus installation. I have a very strong wireless-N network but apparently HD signals require more bandwidth so they install a hardwire network for the DVRs.

I called last Friday and had one of the single best customer service experiences in my life. The rep was friendly, knowledgable and very helpful. She got the service ordered, gave me a break on the installation charge and took care of a few other unrelated issues on my account. We scheduled the service installation to take place a week later, today, between 4 and 8 pm. All would be well and I was quite pleased.

This morning, I received a call from someone who, almost completely unintelligably, claimed to be the DIRECTV installer and said he wouldn’t be coming today because he “has no equipment.” That’s a direct quote. He’s a DIRECTV installer and he can’t make it because he “has no equipment.”

I didn’t know what to say to that so I agreed to wait for his call next week when, presumably, he’d have some equipment. Then I got on the phone to DIRECTV customer service to find out what the hell was going on. The rep could only tell me that the appointment was still scheduled and she didn’t see anything to suggest that the installer wouldn’t be there as scheduled. She said she’d have “Dispatch” call me back shortly to confirm it.

Well, “Dispatch” never called and no installer ever showed. I blocked time for this today and it was wasted. I’m surprised and disappointed.

I’ll call back tomorrow, I guess, and try to reschedule. I will insist on a different installer because I will not allow the one I talked to this morning into my house.

Updates as events warrant.

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Olympic-size DVR storage – an update

Following up on this post from earlier this month, about the trials and tribulations in adding external storage to my DirecTV HD-DVR. I’ve returned the Buffalo DriveStation unit back to Fry’s. We used it with moderate success to buffer two weeks of Olympic events, but the DVR was markedly less stable and there were noticeable gray-screen delays when deleting saved programs or browsing the list. That, combined with DirecTV’s lack of support for the eSATA port and anything their customers might want to attach to it, made the decision to return it a pretty easy one.

What would DirecTV have to change in order for me to use external storage on the DVR?

  1. Supporting the port in hardware, by which I mean acknowledging its existence; recommending specific drives and performing compatibility testing.
  2. Supporting it in software, by which I mean not having to reboot the DVR to use external storage; using external storage as additional space for the internal drive and not, as is presently the case, an either-or situation that doesn’t transfer saved programs or Prioritizer entres.

For now, I’ll stick with the internal drive. The Olympics were really the only situation, aside from our recent three-week vacation, in which we risked running out of space on the internal drive, so I don’t anticipate needing more any time soon. If I do, and DirecTV still isn’t supporting eSATA, I’ll probably investigate an internal upgrade.

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Olympic-size DVR storage

With the Olympics coming up — starting tomorrow! — and now that we can watch them in HD, and NBC’s promise of over 1,000 hours of programming, well, I took a look at the storage capacity on my DirecTV HR21-700 HD+DVR. It has an internal 320GB drive, which translates into around 37 hours of HD programming. Obviously that would not be enough to buffer the events we want to watch. The HR21 (and its predecessor, the HR20) have an eSATA port which can be used to add external storage, but it’s not actually supported by DirecTV. It’s there, and if you can get it to work then great, but they aren’t going to help. Luckily the various online communities (notably DBSTalk.com) have stepped up with lots of information and helpful tips, and after a bit of research I decided to give this a try. My main requirement was one terabyte of available storage, and I was also not looking to spend a lot of money. Finally, it had to be something I could buy locally — unfortunately I started this mini-project too late to try to buy it online.

I started with a Western Digital My Book Home Edition ($279.99 list, $199.99 at Fry’s). It was the most attractive and least expensive of the available options. Unfortunately, and if I’d read all of the eSATA threads on DBSTalk.com I’d have known this, the My Book series are for some reason not compatible with DVRs. Specifically on the HR21, booting with the unit attached gets to the second screen of the six-screen boot process and then goes into an infinite reboot.

Next, I tried a Seagate FreeAgent Pro ($259.99 list, $237.49 with a white sticker at Fry’s). I went with this one when the WD didn’t work because I was looking for another “known” brand name. Unfortunately, again, not supported. On the HR21, booting with this unit attached gets to the third of six boot screens and then hangs.

After returning the Seagate unit, I found a Buffalo DriveStation Combo 4 ($229.99 at Fry’s, around the same on PriceGrabber). This is the least attractive of the three–it looks like nothing more than a Radio Shack project box–but its form factor is such that it can be tucked into the stereo cabinet out of sight. I unplugged the DVR, connected the eSATA unit and powered the DVR back on. And it worked! The DVR got through all six boot screens and came up normally. As expected, there were no saved recordings or Prioritizer entries–they don’t move over from the primary drive–so the available space reads as “100%”. 1TB should give me around 110-120 hours of HD recording.

The one remaining sticking point is that existing saved programs and Prioritizer entries are not copied to the external drive, but remain intact and inaccessible on the primary internal drive as long as the external drive is connected; and the only way to switch between internal and external drives is to completely power off the DVR and connect/disconnect the external drive before powering the DVR back on. It should be possible to simply copy the contents of the internal drive to the external bit-for-bit and in fact at least one third-party DirecTV upgrade vendor offers a copy service for an extra $59 when buying a new drive. If they can do it, I’m sure I can do it, but doing it would involve delicately easing the DirecTV DVR out of the stack and opening it up and I’m not sure I want to go that far right now.

So, to summarize:

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