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Thursday 4 September 2003

Knock-on effects of sorting power [lurks]

By and large the power is pretty reliable in London although recently I had 3 surges/brownouts lasting a second or two in the space of 24 hours. Each time this required rebooting of the server and manually running some service stuff. That's a bit annoying so I ordered a nifty and inexpensive APC UPS called the Back-UPS ES. This is basically just a chunky powerboard with a small 350VA UPS built-in. Three UPS sockets, 2 surge protected sockets. It was about £60 or so from Dabs. It'll run my server, ADSL Router and external drive for about 15 minutes. Which is plenty enough for the few seconds the power runs out.
Thing is, it kind of forced me to climb into the huge birds nest of wires in the back of my HiFi set up and sort things out. I discovered that the power leads for some devices were very long and threaded underneath pretty much everything else. There were redundant leads, an entire redundant power board (out of 4!) and a few redundant power supplies. I wrapped up all the wires for the things going on the UPS and sat them rammed next to it.
I half expected this to be the case but as you may recall from my blog about the Pundit upgrade to Wench, video quality was very poor. To some degree this was the Pundit's fault but it also looked like a bad case of interference. At a 1Hz frequency or so, the picture would shift a few pixels horizontally and back. That's a typical symptom of having two systems on the same frequency interfering with eachother without being precisely coupled. IE the 50Hz television outputs etc. I could digress into some nasty technical speak but we'll leave it at that.
Meanwhile, I had placed a Geforce 4MX 440 in the Pundit and the picture was improved dramatically (better insulation from the Pundit's power supply than the on-board video) and it is a just plain better TV-output card (more later). But after I fixed up all the power and fired it up, UPS went into test mode and ran Wench, router and hard drive off batteries for a minute or so before switching back to mains... then I tried the TV-out.
Oh my lord. It's good. I mean completely and utterly interference free. It looks astounding. Better quality than the Xbox TV out even. Running 1024x768 out to the TV means there's some scaling going on (because PAL doesn't do 768 lines, especially not in the visible frame) didn't make much difference. I could read IRC on my TV. I turned the flicker fixer down (so it flickers more, but more resolution) and it got even better. Chucked some vids through it, absolutely stonking.
What fixed it? Electrically the server and the TV set both operate on filtered power now but in particular, the server is completely electrically isolated because it's on the UPS side having power generated for it from a DC to AC switching transformer. Exactly what fixed the problem, difficult to say because I fixed up a fair few things in one swoop. However, it's fixed and it's absolutely astounding.
Now I've actually got the lounge set up I always wanted. Wench is as quiet as hell and as powerful as hell. It looks dead sexy and thanks to the excellent Nvidia drivers which just promote 'overlay' mode to the television - any media player type application results in full screen video on the television and I can minimize the player on the actual desktop. That means full screen XViD playing on the TV while I'm typing away on IRC on the little TFT to one side. Bliss!
All this technology, all this mucking about. Takes ages to get the perfect result but when you get it, it is very sweet indeed. Of course, then I play some VHS capture MPEGs of Blake's 7 which are so low res and blurry it would have looked the same as before anyway :)
(Actually I watched Treasure Planet with the missus and it was brilliant, looked stunning. Oh a slight audio buzz I had from PC audio has also vanished)


  1. I too suffer from the wires madness, and I'm getting a geezer in to rewire the downstairs. Do you think it's worth getting AV and PC kit on it's own ring main and look into some sort built-in power filterer?
    Btw, have you used Powerstrip?It allows you all sorts of resolution shenningans on your pc, like sets the vertical resolution on the fly to 480 for NTSC dvds and 576 for PAL dvds. So you don't get any scaling or owt.

  2. I bought this UPS back in May. See blog #315.

  3. I think you can get some nice filtered plugs for the wall which your electrician could put in. Regarding the fucked blog link, I've texted Slim how to fix it but he's busy eating pies or something...Homer with regards to scaling, it has to be done somewhere along the line. You want diddy 320x240 vids full screen so they get blown up etc. Typically you run the TV out at 800x600 and then the verticle lines don't get scaled very much at all. In reality, the hardware video out scaling done in the TV out chips is very good indeed and that's not much of an issue. Suit actually mentioned some dedicated tv tool which does a bunch of handy things that might be worth looking at though. I've just not really found anything that I've needed that nvtool doesn't do so far...