Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chrome Remote Desktop, it makes the FHG happy.

Many people out there have an FHG-like friend or relative.  And sometimes when you have tech-trouble, you might give them a phone call.

Sad to say, but a "I need help" support call sometimes makes FHG-like people sigh.  Because it is VERY hard to diagnose and fix issues over the phone.  For example, the FHG can't see what you see, and we might be using different terminology or describe things differently.  It makes it hard on both parties.

But what if there was a way for a FHG to see what you see, and even control your computer from their computer?  That would make fixing your issues easier, wouldn't it.

We call that remote access.  It lets one person see the screen of another computer across the Internet.  Not only can the screen be seen, but control can be shared or given.  In other words, you can give control to a geeky-relative and they can move YOUR on screen mouse pointer with their mouse, and type on their keyboard and have your computer act as if they typed on YOUR keyboard.  If you've been using Windows for some  years you may know about Remote Desktop and/or Remote Assistance.  Those were methods of remote access that were built in to some versions of Windows.  The problem being that different versions of Windows had different features.  For example, Vista Home Premium had Remote Assistance but NOT Remote Desktop, making it hard for those with Vista Home Premium to assist others.

But there is other software that can do the same thing, you may have  heard of some:  VNC, X11 forwarding over SSH, Teamviewer, Logmein, etc etc.  But you can ignore all of that, because these days there is only ONE remote access method I recommend to everyone, and that is Chrome Remote Desktop for the Google Chrome web browser.

Unlike other methods it's completely cross platform, works between operating systems and operating system versions, is relatively easy to use and is made by google themselves.  To use it you need to:

Install the Google Chrome Web browser:

Install the Remote Desktop app within Chrome:

You will also need a Google/Gmail account if you don't have one already.  Having a headset plugged into your computer also helps so you can chat during the remote access.

Here is the help page for Chrome Remote Desktop to get you started:

Here's a video from Revision3's Tekvilla show, explaining the basics:

I just realized one of the hosts was Veronica Belmont, who formerly was the host of Qore on the PS3 for Sony Computer Entertainment America.

You can also start and use Chrome Remote Desktop from within a Google Hangout video chat.

There is a caveat:  Don't initiate a Remote Desktop session and give control to anyone you don't know and trust implicitly, especially not from a stranger who initiates a phone call, claims to be from "The Windows", and tells you to install teamviewer to let them fix "a virus".  You can let someone you trust just "watch" your desktop without giving control, in most cases if they can talk with you, that's all  you need to do.

Friday, April 17, 2015

HDTV, sources and connections

The FHG is sometimes saddened by what people do to their nice HDTV's.  Things like stretching 4:3 content to fill the screen, or only having SD sources hooked up to their nice HDTV's with SD level connections.  It's enough to make The FHG cry.

To have a true HD picture on your HDTV requires 4 things.

  1. HD source material.  This can be a movie, video game, whatever.
  2. Played on an HD source device: Blu-ray player, video game machine, cable box
  3. connected with a connection capable of carrying an HD signal/source
  4. to an HDTV.
Don't have all 4?  It's not HD.

For example, if you have an older satellite box connected up to your TV with an RF cable and connectors, it's not HD.

If you have an upscaling DVD player connected to your HDTV with composite AV cables or the aforementioned RF cables, it's not HD.  This is probably why some people complained about how they couldn't tell the difference between films on blu-ray and DVD on early Blu-ray players, they didn't have them hooked up with HD connections.

In fact the ONLY ways to get an HD picture on your HDTV are via HDMI connections, Component cables, and RF cables (but ONLY with over the air ATSC signals from an antenna and a few HD channels carried in Clear-QAM cable by a cable provider, usually only the local stations that you could receive with a tall enough antenna)  Technically there's also DisplayPort, DVI and VGA, but those are PC-centric connections that many HDTV's don't have

This is HDMI which is, to use the vernacular, totally awesome.

HDMI, love it

HDMI is one connection that carries both high resolution video and high quality audio on the same cable.  By high quality audio, that means lossless uncompressed multi-channel audio.  It can also carry control signals AND network connections too!  It's the bomb.  HDMI connections are smart, they're "negotiated" between devices.   When HDMI devices connect, the devices "talk" to each other and tell their capabilities:

TV: HI, I'm a VIZIO TV, my maximum resolution is 1080p at 60Hz and I can handle a 48khz stereo audio signal, but if you give me a 5.1 surround sound mix in Dolby Digital or PCM, I can try to create a "virtual surround stereo mix" with my SRS circuit.
Source device: You got it Jack, 1080p at 60Hz video with 48khz 5.1 mix on the way.
The result being that the source gives the display the best picture and sound it can handle.  In the early days of HDMI, there were sometimes issues with the "negotiations" especially between different brands, but it's worked out now.

If you have a satellite box connected to your TV, it should be using HDMI.  If it doesn't have HDMI, your satellite company needs to give you a new one that does.

If you have a cable box connected to your TV, again, HDMI

Same for for the PS4/PS3 and Xbox One/Xbox 360.

Same for a Blu-ray player, it should be connected with HDMI.

Or for one of those Media Streaming devices, like a Roku, or Apple TV.

But if you have a device that doesn't have HDMI, but does have/support Component connections, you should use that next:

Component connections  use 3 cables for video, you can see that they're red, blue and green.  Formally they are:  YPBPR  using the Green, Blue and Red connectors respectively.  It is important to not confuse Component connections with Composite connections.  Composite only uses ONE cable for video, and it usually has a yellow connector.

Component cables can carry a full 1080p picture with just slightly less quality than HDMI since component is an analog connection, not digital.  Component connections are set up manually since there's no negotiation of devices.   Component connections are often used with stereo audio connections  using red+white cables, don't confuse the two red cables!  Sometimes they're also  used with optical digital or coaxial digital SPDIF audio connections which don't provide quite as high quality audio as HDMI does.

If you have a progressive scan or upscaling DVD player,  it probably has component connections, use it.  If your DVD player doesn't have component connectors...well it's time to upgrade it to a Blu-ray player anyway.

It's the best connection you can get out of a PS2, original Xbox, Gamecube, or Wii, use it in preference to anything else if you have one of those.  Requires a component cable specific to the game machine, though you can find one that has game-end connectors for all 3 of the Wii, Xbox, and PS2.  

The last connection that can provide HD content to an HDTV in certain specific situations is the "RF" connector.  Technically it's the "F-type" RF connector:


You will notice that I said "specific situations" above.  There are only two.

  1. Using an external antenna to pick up over-the-air ATSC signals from a broadcast station exactly like you would with rabbit ears or antenna on mast with an older TV.
  2. Directly connected to a cable system that sends HD channels with Clear-QAM.  This is generally limited to the local broadcast channels that you could pick up with an antenna.  On the local cable system this is 8 channels.  You won't be getting AMC HD, HBO HD, or even the full channel lineup this way, to get the full HD and channel lineup on cable, you'll need a cable box which should be connected with HDMI.
Any other situation involving RF connectors is NOT HD.

Older cable box or "digital converter" connected with RF?  Not HD.

Dish or DirecTV box connected with RF? Not HD.

As for the other two connections commonly used with TV's, S-Video and Composite, they are not HD and we don't have to worry about those unless you're hooking up an old VCR or pre-HD video game machine.  In that case S-Video should be preferred over Composite but many HDTV's don't have S-Video connectors.   My first HDTV had S-Video but the current ones don't sad to say. It makes the FHG and the FHG's SNES (Super Nintendo) unhappy.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Aspect Ratio's and HDTV

Video sources have aspect ratios.  An Aspect Ratio is simply the ratio of the horizontal size of the picture and the vertical size.  They are usually stated as numbers like 4:3 or 16:9, though you might also see soemthing like 1.33:1, which is another way of saying 4:3, or 1.77:1, which is another way of saying 16:9

Simply put a 4:3 picture is 4 units wide for every 3 wide. it looks like a rectangle.  SD (standard definition) televisions had screens shaped like this

Sometimes a 4:3 picture is referred to as "Academy Ratio" for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  This aspect ratio dates to the early days of motion pictures when the visible area used in 35mm film used in cameras was in a 4:3 ratio.  Sound films changed the ratio a bit to 1.375:1 but it's close enough.   All films shot in 35mm between 1932 and 1952 used that ratio.

When television was created, it used the 1:33:1 ratio. Eventually the American TV broadcast standard had a name, NTSC. You could put a 1.375:1 film on an NTSC TV with minimal loss of picture.  That scared the big movie studios, they wanted people to come to theaters not sit at home and watch TV.  So they came up with the idea of "an experience at the theater you couldn't get at home".  There were several ways of doing that. 

One was increasing the use of color film.  Even after the great technicolor films of the 30's, many films that probably should have been shot in color, weren't.  While NTSC's color system was created in 1953, color sets didn't become common and affordable till the mid 60's, so color was an advantage the movies had over TV.

Another way was improved sound. While there had been previous experiments in multi-channel sound, it really started to hit it big in the early 50's.  TV didn't have Stereophonic Sound till public TV station WTTW Chicago sought a way to improve the sound of it's music television show Soundstage without using kludgy simulcasting on a friendly FM radio station.  It helped invent the MTS Stereo sound system for use with NTSC that was implemented in 1984

And then there was the widescreen picture, called by various names like Cinemascope, or Panavision, it was designed to make movies an experience.  A widescreen picture looks like something like this 16:9 image

Glorious Technicolor, Breathtaking Cinemascope and Stereophonic Sound

And it worked! Ben Hur!  Seven Brides for Seven Brothers! North by Northwest!  These were experiences you couldn't get at home. If you wanted to show a widescreen movie on a 4:3 TV, you either had to "letterbox" the picture, or pan and scan.

Letterboxing looks like that video above.  The picture is fit to the width of the screen leaving black bars at top and bottom.  You get all of what the director wanted on the movie screen but get a smaller picture on your TV. Some people were even upset about those black bars, thinking that they paid for all the picture, not black bars, because they didn't understand aspect ratios.

Pan and scan is where an after-the-fact editor simply decides which part of a widescreen picture is used for a 4:3 image on TV, and cuts out anything not shown.  So with Fred dancing there, they might decide to focuson  Fred Astaire and then you might not see piano, or Janis Paige if she's far away from Fred.  Putting it bluntly, Pan-and-scan is evil.  Turner Classic Movies did a short informative video about Letterboxing and pan and scan.  The piece was done before TCM began broadcasting in widescreen so the video itself is 4:3!

When studios began releasing a few letterboxed versions of films on VHS back in the old days, The FHG was much pleased.  The FHG was even more pleased when widescreen releases became more common with DVD.

Alongside DVD's came the first EDTV's and HDTV's. EDTV's are "Enhanced Definition Televisions", better than SD, but not quite HD.  Usually they were 640x480 screens progressive. They were the first sets to give us better than SD quality video.  They were also expensive and still 4:3.  

Now the people in charge of the TV standard had been discussing a new TV format for years, but hadn't been able to agree on anything.  They almost gave us a 720x480p analog format back in the 80's-90's.  One of the big impeti behind upgrading TV technology were the new playtoys we were attaching to TV's, video games, video players, even computers.  Those things needed more resolution and detail...and eventually they got it in 1998.

That it was the ATSC television standard, and now manufacturers could actually start making HDTV's to match the standard.  ATSC defines several types of picture, but the highest resolution is 1920x1080 progressive, usually called 1080p.  1080p, as you can guess, is a widescreen ratio.  While some of the super-widescreen 1.87:1 and 2.39:1 formats used in movies still have slight letterboxing on 16:9 screens, the era of Pan-and-scan is gone.  Good riddance!

But now we have a different problem.  All the old 4:3 content.  Old movies up till 1952, almost all TV till the early 2000's, and most (but not all) video games up till 2006 is 4:3.  When you display 4:3 content on a 16:9 screen you get pillarboxing.  Black bars on each side of the picture, like this:

That is how a 4:3 (or standard definition) picture on a widescreen TV is supposed to look.  If the picture is stretched to fill the screen, your system hasn't been set up properly which makes The FHG cry.  Whatever you do, DON'T stretch the picture.  Media should always be displayed in it's native aspect ratio and preferably at it's native resolution.  The FHG does this and you should too. More on HDTV's in another post.

Mediacom, IMAP and real e-mail clients

The FHG lives in the Midwest and the FHG's ISP, Mediacom,  has been enabling IMAP support for their e-mail accounts for a while now, mine just got enabled yesterday.  You get an e-mail before, and when it's enabled for you. Mediacom gives us a 1GB of mail storage.

This is a good thing, people should be using IMAP with proper e-mail clients, works better with multiple devices that way. With IMAP, your e-mail stays on the server so your inbox, saved mails, read mails, etc etc, are in sync no matter what you access it with.

Was looking around in Mediacom's various webmail UI preferences and saw an export feature for things like contacts, which is a good thing. If you've been using their webmail you can bring over contacts into a real e-mail client.   Said export feature exports what we 'nix users call "tarballs" aka ".tgz"  archives.

It's like a zip file, but it's not commonly used by windows users.   Mediacom must have not checked things over well when they installed their Zimbra setup.  Yeah, it's a Zimbra backend.

If you're on Windows, installing Open Source 7-zip is the easiest way to get tgz support. 

In most cases you want the 64-bit MSI, only install the 32-bit version if you're running XP or an older 32 bit Vista.

If you use Mediacom's "webmail", which you shouldn't be doing, here's the real help page on it:

But using a real e-mail client to read your e-mail is better.  Remember kids, using webmail instead of a real e-mail client with GPG and S/MIME support makes the FHG cry.

I usually recommend Thunderbird (with the Enigmail addon)

or the GPG4Win packaged version of Claws-Mail (which includes the GPG secure e-mail software as well, which you will need anyway if you use Enigmail with Thunderbird)

You may have noticed the section on "Secure Email", that's for their "Network" version users aka businesses.  Yeah, if you're a business user of Mediacom you can use S/MIME signing and encryption with the webmail version.  (S/MIME is the other system of email security, a good e-mail client supports both.)

But that's okay, because using a real e-mail client anyone can use S/MIME

Mediacom gives you a Calendar too, works like Google Calendar and you can access it with whatever calendar application you have like Calendar on OSX, Sunbird, and probably including your phone's calendar app, but it's fiddly and not quite as easy to use as the Google calendars are. I had to set the webcal URL in the vcalendar plugin on Claws-Mail manually  a la:


then it worked.  But you probably wouldn't have to do that in Calendar or on a phone.

The FHG's Operating System Bias

The FHG has a strong operating system bias.  The FHG believes that the best operating systems are "Unix-style".  If you prefer OSX, Linux, or one of the BSD's, the FHG thinks that is a good thing.

However if you run Windows, the FHG would recommend not doing so if you can.  Windows is.... not as anything Unix-y.  Sure it's better than it was, but still, if you can run something Unix-y, you should.

You are probably thinking:

"But FHG, Mac's are expensive and I've heard Linux is hard to use and all the big games are for Windows"

The FHG hears you and understands.  But you CAN buy inexpensive Mac's like the Mac-mini for only $499.

And there are easy to use Linux distributions.  I currently recommend the Xubuntu XFCE-based variant of Ubuntu to Windows users simply because the Ubuntu forums are extremely newbie friendly:

If you're a Windows Power User, you probably could get by with Fedora, though you will be updating versions more frequently. I recommend the XFCE-based spins with Fedora:

As for games, the FHG recommends doing your gaming on consoles, you'll have a better experience with less hassle most of the time, though you will miss out on PC exclusive games like World of Warcraft.

If you were to buy a console, the FHG currently recommends the BSD-based Playstation 4:


Hi, I'm the Friendly Help Geek, you can call me the FHG.  I'm the Geeky Buddy everyone wants to have.  I want everyone's computing experience to be fun and fulfilling.  I'm here to give advice, help with issues and teach various tricks to do that.