Saturday, 29 August 2015

Building an LED-free tv setup.

Our CRT tv gave up recently and we've been working out how to set up a new tv system without having to buy an LED backlit tv. We're doing this because I don't get on with LED screens (described in a previous post).

We have managed to do it and now have a pretty exciting new setup, which we are enjoying very much, and which also saved us a bunch of money. Here's what we did:

Previously we had a Humax box (which records and replays tv), a video player, a DVD player, and a big CRT tv like this:

We also had a 23" CCFL backlit Apple cinema screen, and a tower PC that my son uses for playing computer games and watching YouTube. We decided to try using that as a tv. 

(In case anybody else wants to do this - you need to find a CCFL backlit screen which can be bought secondhand off ebay.) These cannot be connected directly to the Humax box because they don't support the right resolution.

It took a bit of fiddling to organise our new setup, but here's what we have now:

1) Humax box with updated firmware, which is now connected to our house's internal internet. This means that we can programme the Humax to record tv from the browser window of any PC in the house:

The Humax box has a Samba server inside and so it shows up in the file explorer window of the PCs in the house. This means we can drag programme files from the Humax box to any PC in the house to watch them on that other PC.

2) We have the tower PC set up next to the Apple CCFL tv. In practice we drag all the new recorded tv programmes across the internet connection on to the tower PC so that we can watch them easily on the big Apple screen. We then delete them from the Humax box by controlling the box from the PC brower window. This setup is handy as my son has access to all his favourite CBeebies tv shows using the Win 7 file explorer interface which is much faster then the Humax interface. 

3) The internet connection to the Humax and PC is set up using ethernet over power, which means that the network packages travel through the electric wiring of the house and pop out at the power sockets, where we have plugged in special plugs with ethernet sockets. The PC's ethernet cable then plugs into these special sockets. 

4) We also have a USB video capture device in the PC so that we can use the Apple screen as a tv directly using the Humax remote and without having to interact with the PC at all. The quality of the picture is not great, which is why we have the rest of the workaround. 

5) The PC is still in use as a regular PC, still with the Apple screen. It still has the internet connection for online games, and internet browsing and for watching Youtube. We can also use it for photo editing and all the usual stuff. We have a wireless mouse so we can sit far back from the screen for good ergonomics. An extra perk of this is that our son does all his tv watching and computer stuff in the living room where we can see what he's doing and help out. 

6) When we watch DVDs we put them in the tower PC and it plays them directly onto the screen.

We had a lot of fun setting all this up, and the result suits us down to the ground. It cost a lot less than buying a new tv. :-)


Here are a couple of photos of our setup. 

Apple screen on the top, PC on the left and Humax box at the bottom in the centre.

In case you were wondering, "Dogtanian" is still great. :-)

Monday, 10 August 2015

Do you have trouble with LED backlit screens?

I am one of the many people who do not get on with LED backlit screens. LED backlit screens are a relatively new phenomenon, introduced mainly because they consume far less electricity than the older CCFL types and CRT screens. Unfortunately for many people LED screens seem to cause a lot of health problems.

For me, the overly bright light from the screens causes pain inside my eyes and blank spaces in my vision, just as if I had been staring at the sun. After only an hour of LED screen use, this effect takes weeks to go away. This is politely known as "eyestrain". Other people apparently experience insomnia and mood changes.

Even more unfortunately, the industry has switched to making *only* LED backlit screens, long before the technology was ready to be used by everyone. This means that a large group of people are no longer able to buy a screen at all and are relying on old devices, while they wait for the industry to solve the LED screen problem.

I, for example am currently relying on:

                     - 5 year old phone, on its second battery,
                     - a 6 year old laptop (much repaired with parts from ebay),
                     - a secondhand CCFL apple cinema screen from ebay,
                     - I have no television, because I can't find one
                       that works for my eyes at all.

It's no longer possible for me to go to a shop and replace any of these items because only LED backlit products are available and I can't use any of them.

I was thrilled recently to see that someone on ebay is selling brand new CRT tvs again. So sensible!

It would be wonderful if the rest of the industry would step back a bit, and start selling the older CCFL screen technology. Even if they only did this for just for a few more years, while they get LED backlit screens working properly, it would be a real lifesaver for those of us who are currently excluded from the use of screen-based technology.

Screen-makers! We need your help. Please listen up!


Here are some tips that I have received:

It seems that Eizo do still make just one model of CCFL backlit monitor, although it's very hard to find that out because the backlight type is not specified on the web advert. The monitor is called DV2324-008. 

It is also possible to watch tv from a Humax box on a CCFL computer screen over a network connection by upgrading the firmware in the Humax box. This installs a samba server on the Humax box and allows it to be controlled remotely from the pc without having a tv set. We have set this up and it works. 

A friend has directed me to this BenQ Flicker-free technology white paper. I've no idea whether it is the flicker or the blue light that is the problem for me. I have done a lot of experiments to try to figure it out, but with no success so far. I suspect that the wavelength is at least part of the problem as I have the same trouble with undimmed blue LED backlit mobile phone keypads. 

For the technology luddites amongst us, John's Phone is a true classic. No LEDs in sight, standby time of three weeks. No text messaging unfortunately, or I'd be buying two right now.

TTFone produces nice, basic mobile phones with old school screens and user interface. The TT800 is the only one with non-LED screen and it instead has something called a Chroma screen, which I am waiting to hear more about.