Game Streaming From Home to Anywhere

In late 2017, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. After trying a few oral medications, I’m moving on to a biologic infusion. That means, at least for the first several treatments, I’ll be hanging out in a chair with an IV in my arm for a couple hours. I’ll need something to entertain myself. I find that I quickly exhaust my usual website reading rotation if I’m faced with a lengthy wait, and I’m not really a book reader. So I thought a portable game console, such as a Nintendo Switch, might be a decent buy.

To be honest, I’ve been trying to justify a Switch since I’ve been watching Super Mario Maker 2 on Twitch for the last month or so. This seemed like a great way to justify that purchase. Additionally, someone got Android working on the Switch a few days ago, expanding the the gaming possibilities to include streaming PC games. I knew Valve had a Steam Link app for Android and I figured it couldn’t be too hard to make game streaming work over the internet.

So I dug into the Switch idea a bit more. In order to hack a Switch, its firmware has to be older than a certain version. That means I can’t buy a new one to hack, and would have to search for a used one with a serial number in the right range. I found several eBay listings for hackable Switches, but the prices turned me off a bit. Most were asking about $160 for just the console, with no Joy-Cons, no AC adapter and no dock. After adding $50-$80 for new controllers and $15 for an AC adapter, it didn’t seem like such a great deal.

If I did get a Switch, I’d definitely want Super Mario Maker 2, which could be a problem with a hacked console. Nintendo has some means of detecting a console that has been tampered with, and can ban that console from accessing any features that require internet access. If the console was cheap enough, I could deal with that, but not for $250 or so. Then I realized that I didn’t even need a Switch. I could just use an Android tablet, and I already have one.

Almost immediately after that, I figured that I could probably just use my nice Windows laptop (a base model Surface Book 1). And it turns out I can. I tried to get Steam Link Anywhere going, but couldn’t figure it out. Which was probably a blessing in disguise. I decided to try Moonlight, which I was originally going to use on the Switch, and then the Android tablet. Turns out the people behind the project have developed a client package for just about anything with a network connection.

To use Moonlight, I first installed Nvidia GeForce Experience. Moonlight works by making your client look like an Nvidia Shield to Geforce Experience. Initially I was skeptical about this solution because I wasn’t sure it would work with UWP games, like Forza Horizon 4 or Sea of Thieves. I was wrong. GeForce Experience auto-detected the UWP games right away. I installed Moonlight on my laptop and gave it a try.

I was stunned at how well it worked. I launched Sea of Thieves, and after a bit of loading I was in the game, with it working as if I was sitting at my desktop. I bumped the resolution from the default 720p to 1080p, and it was just about perfect. The laptop’s trackpad wasn’t terribly responsive, but I plan on using a PS4 controller instead. I installed the Moonlight internet access utility on the desktop and tried it using my phone’s wi-fi hotspot. I didn’t want to use up all my data, so I only tried it for a tiny while, but it seemed to be just as good as the local network.

I’m really pleased with the results. It was so much easier to set up than I expected and the gaming experience was better than I hoped for. Now I just need to set up my Raspberry Pi to use a wake on LAN command to start the desktop and I’ll be all set. I’m looking forward to trying this out from another building. I’m expecting more perfection.

So we finally got FiOS

After a couple false starts, we got our FiOS service going on Thursday. We got the gigabit internet and lifestyle and reality custom TV package. The download speeds have been a tad disappointing at about 330 mbps, while the uploads are an excellent 700 mbps. The download is three times better than we had before, but I’d like it to at least match the upload. I’m not sure what’s causing that problem, but I’ll have to try a few things to fix it this coming week.

The TV side of things is going very well so far. The Ceton PCI tuner is working just fine for now, but I’ll still probably upgrade to the new HD Homerun Prime when it comes out. I have the Ceton card in my living room computer, connected to the TV. It runs NextPVR which contains a client for local use and a server that other devices on the network can connect to.
It’s a very powerful program, with lots of options for customization. In the living room, we just use the local NPVR client. I didn’t realize that cable TV services don’t transmit program guide data like the over-the-air service does. The Schedules Direct service is supported by NPVR, with fairly easy set up. It costs $25 per year, but, to me, that’s very reasonable for the convenience.

I was originally planning to use Emby with the NPVR plugin on the server side and the Emby Roku app on the client side. Quite frankly, it sucked. It just dumped all 1200 channels the tuner card sees into a menu with no options to sort or filter them. When I clicked a channel to watch, it didn’t work either. It’s a small caveat, but to use the live TV function of Emby, you have to pay a subscription fee of $4.99 per month, $54 per year, or $119 for life. So I had to go back to the drawing board.

I decided to try out Kodi on my Raspberry Pi server. I installed the NPVR add-on and adjusted some settings. It kind of worked. The guide was perfect, but playback was a little wonky. The audio was fine, but the video would stutter or freeze. I figured it was good enough and I could fix the problem. I ordered a new Raspberry Pi 3B+ and set it up with OSMC. OSMC is a fork of Debian with Kodi preinstalled. I installed it on the Pi, and then velcro’d the Pi to the back of the TV. After a little bit of setup, it was working perfectly. The guide looked just like NPVR, live TV worked without any catches and watching recordings was great. I’m extremely satisfied with the setup.

There’s only one small thing left to do; add a remote control. In the living room I have a Logitech K400+ couch keyboard, which is great for changing app settings, launching games and light web browsing, but it’s really clunky and unintuitive for watching TV. A regular remote control would be ideal. I remembered the new computer my dad got for Christmas 2006. It was a Dell XPS 410, which had a novel for the time TV tuner card. This meant it came with Windows XP Media Center Edition, and a remote control. The remote had every button you need, but none you don’t, with a very solid and high quality feel. To my surprise, I was able to track down two new in box examples on eBay. Set up with NPVR should be a breeze, because it has native support for these media center edition remotes. I also discovered Kodi has an MCE remote add-on, so hopefully set up should be easy there too. The first one comes tomorrow, so I’ll find out soon.

While the internet service so far is a tad disappointing, I’m totally thrilled with the TV. This setup with a cable card tuner inside an HTPC with client computers around the house is something I’ve wanted since not long after we opened that new computer over a decade ago.

After doing some more reading about the Ceton TV tuner cards, I discovered the Ceton company went out of business a few years ago. Their website lingers on the web for some unknown reason. It turns out the InfiniTV 4 PCI card I bought is one of many with defective on-board storage so I am unable to update the firmware to the best version. I’m really hoping that it works reasonably well. The new HD Homerun Prime 6 is the tuner I really want, but it’s not out yet. They say it’s coming in 2019, hopefully sooner rather than later. I’ll pre-order it if I can. With that tuner I’ll be able to switch to using Emby’s built-in tuner support rather than the NextPVR plugin.

Upgrading to Verizon FiOS

Currently at my house, we have Spectrum internet with an advertised speed of 100 mbps, though it’s often a tad faster, and there’s no data cap. For TV, we subscribe to Sling TV, which was a pretty decent deal at $20 per month, but less so at the new price of $25 a month. It gets the job done, but the basic tier we have doesn’t have several channels we’d like to have. We use an antenna occasionally to watch the local channels.

This weekend I stumbled upon the Verizon FiOS sign up page. We considered FiOS when we first moved in, but decided on Spectrum because at the time, FiOS had the same speed, with a data cap, for a slightly higher price than Spectrum. Now though, the tables have turned. FiOS now offers gigabit (actually around 950 mbps down and 850 mbps up) internet, your choice of several TV packages and home phone starting at $75 a month (without tax of course). The current Spectrum bill is around $65 a month with taxes and everything. Seems like a no brainer, right?

Verizon encourages you to rent their router and set top boxes, neither of which I want. And it turns out that’s fine. I already have a great Netgear Orbi setup I want to keep, and according to the forums, I can hook that right up to the FiOS box in the basement with an ethernet cable. In lieu of renting set top boxes at $12 a month each, I’ll be getting a single CableCARD at $5 a month. The card is going to plug into a tuner connected to an old computer acting as a server. I’ll be able to watch my TV channels and record things from anywhere I have internet access.

The only hold up right now is the tuner. I’d love an HD Homerun Prime. Unfortunately, and somewhat stupidly, they don’t have any for sale right now. They say the new six tuner model is coming this year, but in the meantime, they’ve stopped producing the three tuner model. So I can’t buy an HD Homerun unless I want to pay a lot for a used three tuner model.

The other option I’ve found is the Ceton InfiniTV. They have a few models, but the new ones are too expensive at $300. I’ve found a few used ones on eBay, so we’ll see if I can get one. There’s a problem with this tuner though. I really want to use Ubuntu sever for this because it’s free, and faster and easier to use than Windows for this project. There are Linux drivers for the Ceton tuners on Git Hub. The DVR and media management app I want to use, Emby, runs on just about anything. Emby only supports the HD Homerun Prime natively, but will work with the Ceton if you use the NextPVR backend for TV watching and recording. NextPVR only works on Windows though.

I think what I’ll do is get a used Ceton for a hopefully low price, and use my living room computer as the server. I’m just worried that with the transcoding Emby needs to do that there won’t be enough processing power left over for gaming at the same time. If it doesn’t work out I can always build or buy another computer I suppose.

Here’s a quick update on things.

I got the Bronica, it turns out though it’s an ETR, not a newer ETRS. Not a big deal I suppose, but it wasn’t what was advertised. The shutter speed dial does not click into each speed setting like it should, but it still works for setting the speed. There was an exposed roll of film in the camera when I got it, but the pictures were junk. I put a roll of film in it to make sure the camera works. Once I get that roll back from processing, I’m probably going to sell the camera. It’s not all that much faster than the Rolleicord to use, and the maximum shutter speed is still only 1/500 of a second, which is pretty limiting. I’m going to try to get a Mamiya 645 AF instead. That camera has (mediocre) autofocus and a focal plane shutter with a maximum speed of 1/4000 of a second. The 645 AFD and newer models are also compatible with digital backs, in case I win the lottery and can suddenly afford a $10,000 camera accessory.

The light meter is still on my back burner. I don’t have a ton left to do on it, but I just never seem to have enough time to do a meaningful amount of work on it in one sitting. We’ll see when I finish it.

In more exciting news, I finally got a check from my totalled Volvo XC90, some of which I decided to put towards upgrades on my BMW 535xi. I purchased an Evolution Racewerks charge pipe with blow off valve, and a JB4 piggyback ECU tuner. FedEx and UPS say both shipments should arrive on Thursday. I’m looking forward to installing everything.

So I bought another camera yesterday. It’s a Bronica ETRS. I was looking for a medium format camera that’s quicker to operate than the Rolleicord. I thought an SLR style camera would be the way to go, and I stumbled on the the 645 format Bronicas. Here’s the sole picture on the eBay listing for the one I purchased.

It seems to be in excellent condition. It has a slightly damaged 75mm lens, which I’ll be replacing with a newer version anyways. It has a 120 film back, which is great because they cost about $150 on their own. The AE-II metering prism viewfinder costs about the same separately, too. Including shipping and some eBay Bucks discounts, I snagged this for a tad over $200, which is a pretty good deal. I’ll probably be adding the speed grip to the camera, making the handling experience very similar to a 35mm SLR.

The ad said it was untested, but it seems so nice that I’d be surprised if it didn’t work after installing a fresh battery. And even if it turns out to be a dud, I can probably make my money back by selling the parts individually.