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In Use - TV

The first thing I did was fire up the Samsung TV and access TVersity. The nice thing about DLNA is the consistent look and feel, and TVersity looked like every other media server from the DLNA screen of the TV. I had a 25 GB bit-by-bit Blu-ray MKV 1920x1080 rip of a Super Troopers movie we own, so I accessed that from the TV.

When accessed directly from our Vortexbox to the TV, this file will stutter. The TV supports it, it just can't seem to handle the size of it. I set TVersity to transcode only when needed, decrease the bitrate if it is too high for my network, max resolution of 1920x1080, optimize for quality, minimum compression, decode as fast as possible and a wired (100 Mbps) high quality connection speed. I expected TVersity would simply pass the file through since the device supported it.

With the new 2.1 version of TVersity, the file played with no stuttering, but quality was not HD. I looked at the CPU of my repurposed TiVo and it was sitting around 20%. I noticed in the Transcoding status screen that it was transcoding the file even though my TV supported the MKV format the file was in, so I looked at the specs of the transcoded file. The specs that TVersity transcoded to were MPEG 762x428, much lower than what my TV, network and media PC will support. You can see the settings I chose below.

TVersity transcoding settings page
Figure 4: TVersity transcoding settings page

I then removed "Decrease the bitrate if it is too high for my network", but it had no impact on resolution. I changed compression from minimum to average and resolution bumped up to 1078x606, close to HD, but not nearly the 1920x1080 that my TV will support. I put in a support request to TVersity to see why the dramatic decrease in resolution was happening when my CPU is hardly being touched.

Support was very helpful and the response I got was transcoding to the TV was done in an MPEG1 format to avoid patent royalty issues. Since MPEG1 format has a large bitrate, they decrease the resolution. It was also mentioned that the system I was using for TVersity was not the norm and the software is geared more towards more average PCs, so that's why my CPU was hardly being touched. They mentioned I could disable transcoding, but that it would be global for all devices. I played the same file through Mezzmo and Mezzmo simply passed it through, however it stuttered at the TV since the TV couldn't handle the size.

I noticed that I could not fast forward or rewind the movie on our Samsung TV. Fast forward and rewind are available through Mezzmo and through our Vortexbox. The TVersity forums confirmed this was an issue and had SamyGo, an alternate TV firmware, as a workaround. Our Samsung TV does not support SamyGo, so I couldn't try that.

I also found that MKV files ripped on my Vortexbox would not work at first. It was obvious it was a codec problem, however it took an email to support to iron it out. This is where I learned TVersity should be reinstalled after installing a codec pack. The installer looks at what is on the system and sets things up accordingly. The subject of MKV files not working is a pretty popular thread over on the TVersity forums, but mine worked fine after installing ffdshow-tryouts and reinstalling TVersity.

For a better transcoding test, I went to the Seagate FreeAgent Theater+. The Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ Tim sent me for testing was first recognized by TVersity as a tablet. After a firmware update it was recognized more appropriately, but had the exact same resolution as the TV, also transcoded as MPEG1. I also tried a much smaller 5.6 GB 1920x1080 MKV movie against both the TV and Theater+, but still got the same resolutions. So I moved on to the iPad.

In Use - Mobile

TVersity is accessed on an iPad by pointing Safari to port 41952 at the TVersity machine's IP address. This produces an app-like experience, as you can see in Figure 5.

TVersity iPad web interface page
Figure 5: TVersity iPad web interface page

I found out from TVersity support that iPad video is limited to 720p, even in version 2.1. When I first tested version 2.0, I looked at the actual file being served and it was only 538x302 MP4. I also tried a 720p movie and it reduced to 468x272. This was fixed with version 2.1, where it now streams at 1280x720 if you set Compression to Average vs Minimum.

When streaming at 1280x720, I had a stutter every now and then. The stutter appeared to be a transcoder delay even though my CPU was only at 20%. By fiddling with the iPad settings, I eventually found 1010x568 to be the ideal resolution for absolutely no stuttering on the iPad. I also found that "rewinding" a minute or two to make an artificial buffer stopped the stuttering.

I probably could have "turned down" a few settings too, but my CPU still had lots of headroom and I was looking to max out the settings if at all possible. I was hoping to have better results with a beefy CPU and a fast network. Figure 6 shows my system status during transcoding to the iPad.

TVersity iPad transcoding test
Figure 6: TVersity iPad transcoding test

I then moved on to my Samsung Android phone and it did not go well. TVersity recognized the phone as a Samsung AllShare TV when I went to TVersity's media web interface. The phone tried to play videos via MoboPlayer, but switched to soft decoding almost instantly. That sort of worked, but TVersity was simply streaming and the phone was doing the work. I then tried Mezzmo and had similar issues. Ironically, despite what I've said about its support for local media, PlayOn worked best for this test. I used the PlayOn Android app and it worked nicely.

TVersity has a nice flash interface that can be accessed via any browser through port 41952. I pulled up one of the smaller 1920x1080 videos and played it on my computer. The specs of the file transcoded to the Flash player web interface on my PC were FLV 640x360. I was again disappointed to see my CPU sitting at 2%! The Flash interface is nice though and a little easier to use than the DLNA functions of Windows media player.

TVersity Flash-based web interface
Figure 7: TVersity Flash-based web interface

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