Slow iTunes Rental Downloads on an Apple TV (2nd Generation)

The Short Version: My Apple TV (2nd gen) downloads were requiring far more time than necessary. I narrowed down much of the problem to a setting on my Apple Airport Extreme Base Station. By switching it over to “802.11a/n – 802.11g/b” from “802.11a – 802.11g/b” I noticed an immediate and significant improvement. 

A little while ago we tried to rent a movie from iTunes to watch on our 2nd generation Apple TV. The download was agonizingly slow. On average the load time showed it would be one and a half hours before the movie would be ready to watch. Obviously, this was an issue and made even more annoying considering it was already past 9 PM on a weeknight.

To make a long story short, I made three changes and though I’m not absolutely positive which one actually made the difference I think I know which change worked.

I came across several posts where users had improved their download speed by changing their custom DNS settings to instead use their ISP provided DNS servers. That did match my situation so I went ahead and set the Apple TV to use my ISP’s DNS. However, that didn’t seem to make a difference.

I also changed the iTunes rental preferences to only download SD (instead of renting HD when available). Considering I had already started the download of whatever format was available for the movie I don’t think this change made a difference and I may go ahead and set it back.

The one change that seemed to make an instant difference was to change my Apple Airport Extreme Base Station to use “802.11a/n – 802.11g/b”, instead of the “802.11a – 802.11g/b” configuration that it was apparently set to. This probably was the problem considering that the Apple TV does support 802.11n. Perhaps it just wouldn’t work properly on the wireless without 802.11n support enabled.

Updated 06/27/2011: Ever since I made these changes the rentals have started immediately. We’ve rented two TV episodes and three movies and all have worked great. I didn’t set the quality back to HD. Everything I’ve viewed has looked great at the SD setting and usually saves about a dollar per rental so I haven’t bothered to change it back.

Using a 4X2 True Matrix HDMI 1.3a Powered Switch w/ Remote (Rev. 3.0)

A while back I purchased a 4X2 True Matrix HDMI 1.3a Powered Switch w/ Remote (Rev. 3.0) from Monoprice.com and it’s proven to be a good investment. This switch has four inputs and two outputs. One of the features I’ve enjoyed is the ability to mix and match the inputs and outputs in any way.

For example, I can have the same source go to both TVs or any one of the sources go to different TVs at the same time. The switch has only three buttons on the front. A power button and then two output selectors. Each button press of an output selector (A or B) alternates between one of the four inputs.

It also comes with a very easy to use IR remote for changing the input/output combination. Since we use an IR repeater to control multiple devices from two rooms I went ahead and purchased a spare remote from Monoprice.

In general, the HDMI switch is a solid product but it’s not without its hiccups. There have been a few times when I had to reset the HDMI switch, but so far those events have been very rare, especially when compared to my first, single output HDMI switch. The rare problem I ran into was a very distorted display and perhaps once or twice I wasn’t able to receive audio until I reset the switch. Of the few times I’ve had issues I think I only had to physically unplug the power from the device just one time. Hopefully, problems will remain few.

Before I bought this switch I had an issue with my Philips 32″ LCD HDTV, typically when used with the PS3. It had a tendency to drop the HDCP signal, which is a problem with an DRM content such as video-on-demand. For a while I put an unused 2×1 HDMI splitter in line to boost the signal and that worked. Since I put the new 4×2 in line I haven’t had to use the other switch – it also seems to do a good job of boosting the signal.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the switch, especially when considering that the cost is lower than many other high-end HDMI switches that provide these capabilities.

Updated 08/28/2011: In June of 2011 one of the output ports on the switch died. I purchased a 4×1 switch for temporary use but that didn’t work out. Instead, I went ahead and bought another 4×2 switch (same model). Last week I mailed the defective switch back to Monoprice for replacement.

Philips 32″ LCD HDTV Flashing Green

Last night my wife called me into the living room. She had been trying to watch something on the Tivo but at one point the television screen began alternating between black and green. She tried turning off the TV and then turning it back on but each time it powered up it was flashing.

I powered off the Tivo. At first, it seemed to work. The Tivo startup screen displayed. But I guess when it switched over to a different part of the startup sequence the TV went back to alternating between all black and all green.

I tried switching to different inputs on the HDMI switch and even powered off the unit and unplugged it, but still the TV flashed.

Finally, I went for the more elegant trouble-shooting solution and did what I should have tried first.

I unplugged the television from the power outlet.

When I turned the TV back on it was working fine. I’m hoping this was just some odd fluke in the HDMI port and not an early sign of a soon-to-fail TV.

Scion tC 2006 Window Won’t Roll Up (Problem Identified – Not Resolved)

In a recent post I mentioned a problem with our Scion tC’s driver-side window not working properly, though I didn’t go into many details. Several months ago her window stopped working and she wasn’t able to roll it back up. It would go about halfway and then stop. I pulled the door panel off and started poking around. It was a learning experience – I’m not a mechanic and though I will do some work on our cars I’d prefer to have a repair manual. As far as I can tell there aren’t any Hanes or similar manuals for the Scion line (at least none that we can afford).

The day the window failed I was able to guide the window back into place once I realized the front part of the window was sliding in between the rubber guide and the door. I then disabled the window control.

Since then I’ve explored the problem and I eventually discovered the cause. The window track was bent out of shape and crushed by a metal piece of the door (at the front, where it connects to the body). Based on other people’s forum posts, and what I could see of the damage, the door was opened so far that a part inside the door was bent out of position and into the track.

I made an attempt to fix it but I ran into a stumbling block that I haven’t tried to resolve, yet. My final plan was to remove the speaker in the door so I could access the window track and door piece and bend them back into position. Well, it turns out that instead of screws the speakers are attached with rivets. Removing the speaker requires that I purchase a rivet gun and the correct rivets or find screws that will work (or build a new mount for the speakers). I’m not certain what we’re going to do but at least we know what the problem is.

We figured out that the problem was caused when a strong gust of wind caught the door and pulled it open too far.

Updated 10/04/2011: We took the car to a body shop in our town but the result wasn’t encouraging. The shop told us that we’d have to buy a used door (estimated at about $150-$250), which they would remove the replacement part from. Labor was estimated at $150. The door estimate is better than I’ve seen in many forum posts, but it still seems unnecessary. In the end, I think it’s probably only the window track that needs to be replaced and that there’s got to be some place we can get one for less.

In several different forum posts individuals reported getting a body shop to simply bend the part back into place. I had the sense that the body shop hadn’t considered this. It’s possible the part is bent to a point at which it wouldn’t be useful, but this was never mentioned.

But then, I’m not an expert on automotive repairs.

We’re not sure if we’re taking her car back there to get it fixed. Aside from a few other things about the experience that didn’t leave us with a good feeling, I was uncertain why the owner wasn’t able to figure out how I had disabled the window, especially after I tried to tell him more than once exactly what I did (he also didn’t understand why I didn’t just unplug the cable but the reason is simple – I wanted the door lock and the passenger-side window controls to still function).

At the least, we’ll probably check another local shop for a second estimate.

Updated 06/25/2012: Just in case you were wondering we still haven’t found a good fix for this problem…

MAXSA Innovations 40218 (Solar-Powered Motion Security Light)

One of my pet projects has become adding solar-powered lighting to our property. My goal is to increase security, ambiance, and safety around our property without having to extend power or add to our electric bill. On more than one occasion I’ve walked into a raised water faucet in the yard at night on my way to a shed (the last time this happened I went to Lowe’s the next day and bought a solar spotlight for that area).

I wanted to add a motion-activated light to our carport to provide a little more security around the cars and to illuminate the area better when we return home after dark (some light from the back porch bleeds over but it’s not always on and the carport wall blocks much of it). Since we don’t have power run out there I started looking at solar-powered options and settled on the MAXSA Innovations 40218. Overall, reviews seemed positive and since I wasn’t lighting a particularly large area I wasn’t too concerned if the LEDs turned out to not be especially bright.

Last weekend I installed it. The light/motion detector assembly is inside the carport and the solar panel was easily installed on the outside edge of the roof (thanks to a 9′ cable that came with it). So far I’ve been impressed with the light output. It’s not brilliant, but it does a good job of covering the carport, especially the areas near the lights. The motion detector reaches just to the edge of the carport when set near maximum sensitivity.

It’s currently mounted on the lower edge of the carport wall, where it’s within reach. I may move it up higher so anyone goofing around the carport can’t turn it off as easily, while I could still adjust simply enough with a ladder. It’s also not centered, which is a minor issue but it would probably look better if installed a board up higher to mount it near the center. I’ll also need to point the sensor down a bit more. Currently, it doesn’t detect motion that’s very close to the light and almost beneath it.

Updated 11/27/2011: For several months the light worked just as well as when it was new. About two weeks ago I noticed that it wasn’t working. Finally, about a week ago I replaced the rechargeable batteries with a set of Eneloop AAs that I recently purchased. So far it’s working. I’ll monitor the light to ensure that it’s actually recharging the batteries and not just operating off the original charge in the new batteries. If it stops working then I’ll check the solar panel and see if it’s dirty.

Updated 04/11/2012: Replacing the batteries didn’t solve the problem but the cause appears to have been exactly what I thought it would be. The solar panel was dirty. I think it was covered with dust and pollen along with a little bit of bird crap. I changed the tilt of the panel to its steepest setting (it was sitting flat with the hope that it would catch more sun) and then shot the hose up at it to clean it off. It seems to be working properly once again.

And yes, I really did put off fixing the problem for more than four months…

Updated 01/03/2012: Once again, I had to replace the batteries to get this light working in the winter. I installed a different solar powered motion light on my shed and I’m considering replacing this one with that model.

Updated 07/28/2013: This thing can’t seem to keep the batteries alive through a winter and barely manages to work with a fresh set. I haven’t even bothered to replace the batteries this season. At the moment it’s little more than an ornament. I’ll probably just remove it and toss into our pile of items for a yard sale. The other solar light I purchased is still working great and a similar model will likely replace this one.

Faster PS3 Downloads (via a Mac Proxy and Disabling UPnP)

Like many PS3 users, I’ve been frustrated by horribly slow PS3 downloads since I purchased the console (firmware and game updates included). I’ve tried setting a local IP and using DNS servers other than my ISP’s. I also tried turning off the option to search for media servers. None of that seemed to make a difference. I’ve made two changes recently that appear to have improved download speeds. Unfortunately, I implemented them without properly testing them individually so I don’t know if only one change or both is what made the difference.

The first change I made was to implement one of the standard suggestions found in forums, which is to setup a local proxy server and have the PS3 connect through it. Since I use a Mac I downloaded SquidMan (a Squid GUI), which will also download and install Squid itself (the proxy server software). I did have only the proxy setup at first and it didn’t seem faster but that wasn’t for very long so I can’t state that it didn’t help – perhaps it took a little while for the PS3 connection to really get moving through the proxy. When I configured the proxy server I set it up to only accept connections from a local IP address assigned to the PS3.

The second change I made, when setting up the PS3 again after installing a working hard drive, was to turn off the option to enable UPnP (only in the PS3 network settings, not in my router). Perhaps the PS3 detects UPnP as working in situations where it really isn’t and thus the connection is slower than expected?

Again, I don’t know which option (or if was a combination of the two) made the difference but downloads have been significantly faster. It’s worth noting that this seems to have been the solution to my problem, but each network configuration is different so you may or may not benefit from these changes. Please feel free to leave a comment to let me know if it does work for you.

Updated 06/28/2011: I had a request via comment to include more information about the setup of SquidMan. I’m not planning to add a complete guide or screenshots but I am including a few notes that may be critical in setting this up.

I left out one critical piece of information, most likely because it’s how my gear has been configured for a long time. Your Mac will need to use a static IP address configured for the active interface. For example, if it’s connected via ethernet then the port will need to have an appropriate IP setup. By appropriate I mean one that’s in the local subnet and isn’t in use elsewhere.

For example, if your router is configured with 192.168.1.1 then you could assign 192.168.1.2 to the Mac. For a home network the subnet mask will usually be 255.255.255.0.

It may be a good idea to also assign a static IP to the PS3. Continuing the example, it could be assigned 192.168.1.3. You can usually use higher numbers that might be easier to remember. Most residential routers I’ve had won’t use IP addresses below 100 (and sometimes 200) for DHCP assignments so manually assigning an IP address above 1 and below 100 is often safe (again, this depends on your network and additional gear).

If you don’t assign a static IP to the Mac but enter it’s DHCP address into the PS3 proxy settings, then it will quit working the next time the Mac receives a new DHCP address.

My setup of SquidMan isn’t very customized. I went through the standard installation and allowed it to automatically install Squid. I’ve set SquidMan to automatically start Squid on launch, it uses HTTP Port 8080 (which may have been the default), and under the Clients tab it’s configured to only provide proxy services for the PS3’s IP address.

Sony | PS3 Internet Connection Settings (advanced settings)

Updated 07/12/2011: I had another request via comment. This time I was asked if I could recommend Windows software that would do the same. I couldn’t find a Windows GUI for Squid but I did find a couple of resources that might be useful for someone needing a basic a proxy server in Windows. I haven’t had a need to run a proxy under Windows (at least not since the days when Windows 98 was still new) so I’m not familiar with any of the current options. I’ve listed two resources that may be useful, but I haven’t tried either so I really don’t know how well they’ll work.

Updated 08/18/2011: I rarely even turn the PS3 on so I decided to remove the proxy server software and not setup another one.

Using a Terk HDTVO Antenna

We recently dropped DirecTV and switched to using various VOD services along with a Tivo and a Terk HDTVO. Previously, I had an indoor Terk antenna, which was a step up from the flat RCA indoor antenna we had. The Terk HDTVO performs a bit better.

Part of our problem is that we live almost 40 miles from the nearest broadcast towers (in any direction).

I had tried using the Terk in the attic but it couldn’t reliably pickup more than two of the four stations that we would prefer to have. There are several more stations that larger antennas could pickup (and under the proper conditions the Terk is capable of bringing in more stations from time-to-time.).

This weekend I moved the Terk from the attic down to the pole where the DirecTV dish was installed. Granted, it’s only a few feet off the ground so the position isn’t ideal but at this time I consider it better than sticking it off the side of the house. I was able to use the existing RG6, and assuming the dish was properly installed, then the cable is already grounded, as required.

Reception has improved and most channels that we are able to receive have few drop-outs. The “mast” was obviously cobbled together and at some point I may paint the wood gray to make it blend in better. This location may not be its final mount but for now it will work.