TCL 55″ E5691 Series 4K Ultra HD LED LCD 3D Capable Smart TV

I’ve recently just purchased the TCL 55″ E5691 Series TV and given that there weren’t a lot of reviews out there I thought I should write one up.

First impressions of the TV when I got it home were, “Its big”. Like really big. The previous TV that we had in our space was only 40″ and it looked large because my couch is only 2 metres from it. This one is huge, the 55″ screen looks blisteringly large. When you first turn it on the splash screen is white. Bright white and enough to have you casting shadows on the wall behind you. It took us about 4 hours of tweaking the brightness, contrast, sharpness, and other settings to get it to a point where your brain doesn’t hurt. A few other reviews that I’ve read indicate the same initial problem.

Once we had it up and running we plugged a Playstation 3 into, popped on the Bluray of Harry Potter, and started noticing some issues. Dark scenes with lightning in them were distorted and looked quite dreadful. After the movie I flipped over to the Apple TV 2 and tried a HD copy of the same movie and found that things were pretty much perfect. After a fair bit of Googling I came to the conclusion that the distortion was produced by the older Playstation 3. The Apple TV 2 and the Chromecast had no issues at all.

I received the Active 3D Glasses a week later due to a retailer issue and since then I’ve played around with some content. The glasses themselves aren’t bad, they are pretty light for an Active 3D set. The trouble now is trying to find decent 3D content. Youtube has a few videos that worked really well, others just didn’t line up properly. The TV has an auto 3D mode which detects the type of 3D and adjusts the display accordingly. Most of the Side By Side content matched up in the middle however there were a few movies where the text wasn’t lining up properly and I couldn’t find any options on the TV to adjust the picture to have the text line up properly. I don’t know if that is something that is a problem in the content or the TV but it would be nice to have a sliding control on the TV to fix issues like that.

I’ve not been able to find any 4K content to play on the TV yet so everything I’ve been watching has been 720p or 1080p upscaled. The in-built Apps on the TV are somewhat limited but they do offer a few cool things. Some of the Streaming apps are good for watching TV, as long as you don’t mind getting everything in Chinese, and the inability to uninstall these default apps is a bit frustrating but I’m sure that TCL probably has deals with the App creators about that kind of thing.

Overall, for a 55″ 4K 3D capable TV costing only $1000, it is pretty good. It isn’t as blazingly good as a $4000 Samsung but it certainly slides neatly into the mid-range “I want a big screen but I am poor” market.

If anyone came up to me with a limited budget but big hopes and desires I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them about the TCL E5691 however I would advise them that the first couple of hours will be sent tweaking settings and to ensure that the devices they are going to plug into it are at least HDMI 1.4.

Drobo 5N vs Synology DS415+

It is time to compare the Drobo 5N and the Synology DS415+ NAS Devices. Through an awkward process I’ve managed to end up with both NAS devices without having to fork out a lot of cash.

When I first started my hunt for a new NAS last September I was looking for two features.

The first is I wanted the option to be able to mix disk size and still be able to use the most amount. Both the Drobo and the Synology have the option to use dynamically expanding partitioning. Drobo calls it BeyondRaid, Synology calls it Synology Hybrid Raid (SHR). Essentially you can put any combination of any sized disks into the device and it will partition each drive to get the maximum amount of storage space out of it while still being able to survive a disk failure. Both systems also offer dual disk redundancy too.

Second feature that was a big decider was the ability to serve media. My old setup had a FreeNAS box storing the media but it was all served from my computer via iTunes to the AppleTV. I did have Plex running but only I had forked out any coin for the Mobile App and it didn’t have multiuser options at the time.

The Drobo website advertised an iTunes server and the Plex App and they could both be installed on the Drobo B800FS NAS, an 8 bay storage machine. It was a pricy purchase but I figured this one outlay would allow me to keep upgrading my home storage without much fuss for a long time. When I received the B800FS I quickly found out that it could not actually have Apps installed on it. A few emails back and forth with Drobo Support lead to me returning it for a full refund and they then sent me a Drobo 5N for free.

Drobo 5N

The Drobo 5N is a good machine if all you want is storage. You can install Plex on it and assuming that your media is encoded in a format that the device you are watching it on can play natively you won’t have any troubles. Unfortunately this is where it all fell down. I often watch my media on the go, either at work or on my tablet. Given the appalling upload bandwidth that Australian ISP connections have, I need to transcode all media to a lower rate so that it won’t stop and buffer every 15 seconds. And this is where the Drobo fell down. Even on the same network the Drobo just could not transcode my media to play on my Phone without a significant delay.

I did a comparison between the Drobo and my FreeNAS Plex servers. The same media file would start playing on my phone in just 5 seconds from the FreeNAS box, the Drobo would take almost 60 seconds before playing.

Further investigation also revealed that the Drobo presents itself in an odd way to the Operating System that you are using to mount shares. It seems that a quirk in the BeyondRaid system results in all shares presenting with a little over 17 TB available. The available space will decrease as you put data on it but if you currently only have five 1 TB drives in it, your operating system will still think there is plenty of free space even when the device is full. The only way to see the accurate usage is via the Drobo App.

Synology DS415+

It took me another five months before I finally decided on and purchased the Synology DS415+. After my experience with the dashed expectations of the Drobo I tried to not let my hopes get the best of me but once I got the Synology home, plugged it in, and fired up the web-based Control Panel I was hooked. Everything just worked and it worked well. I had the DS Video Station App installed, the free apps installed on an old iPad and I was streaming media to my Chromecast in now time.

Since that first night I’ve got the system configured to run as a DNS server so that I can give fancy names to the IP Addresses internal on my network, I’ve got a small webserver running on it, Plex is going with smooth transcoding, Sickbeard and Couchpotato were a breeze to install. Basically everything about the Synology was perfect.

Why the Difference?

The devices are essentially the same in how they are advertised. The DS415+ is a 4 bay NAS, 2 Network ports, a couple of USB ports and an eSATA port. The 5N is a 5 bay NAS, a single Network port, and nothing else. Their expandable partitioning systems allow you to use any sized drives in them. They essentially perform the same task. And the big difference comes down to the base hardware.

As far as I have been able to determine, the 5N has an underpowered ARM Processor with very limited RAM. The DS415+ has a Quad Core INTEL Atom C2538 running at 2.6Ghz with 2 GB of RAM. It is that simple difference that results in one NAS being able to run multiple services while the other is only good for storing data.

The Conclusion

When I was researching which NAS to get there wasn’t very much information regarding my specific requirements, namely: which NAS handles Plex the best. So here is the answer to anyone else out there wondering. The Synology DS415+ is the best NAS for media-centric users who want to be able to stream their media on to multiple devices.

Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy

I work in the industry of Backing up data. I am constantly amazed by the number of people that install the backup software once, press Start, and then assume it is working.

The key to a good backup plan for your computer’s data is a three step process:

  1. Store your data in 3 locations. The original data on your computer, an onsite backup, and an offsite backup.
  2. Every couple of weeks check on your backups, make sure that whatever software solution you’ve gone with to handle the data is working correctly and is not throwing up errors.
  3. Test your backups. When you are going through Step 2 you should also do a Test Restore. Pick some data at random, restore it to your computer, and make sure you can open it.

Step 3 is where most people fail in their backup plan. It is all good and well that your data is being backed up to somewhere but if that data is corrupt then it will be no good to you when your hard drive catches fire. Whilst in a previous job we had a major file server go down and the RAID card just died completely around 1400 on a Monday. We weren’t to panicked as that server had been getting backed up to tape for months. By 2100 on that Monday we knew we were in trouble when we discovered that the tape backups hadn’t actually been working and all that we had stored on tape was corrupt data. We were REALLY in trouble when we went on a hunt through the tape library to find that the last good backup was more than 9 months old. Thousands of dollars and 6 days later we got our data back from a data recovery agency just in time for the Payroll Run to go through for the month.

The big lesson that I learned from that experience is never assume that things are working. Set up a schedule to to check that your backups are running, make sure you restore the data to test it, and if you notice anything wrong, fix it straight away.

Cutting back on Caffeine

I’ve recently been trying to cut back on the amount of soft drink that I consume during the day. Thanks to work having a free supply of soft drink I’ve been drinking far to much Coca Cola. Upwards of three cans a day. This has led to me feeling super twitchy and running out of pants that fit.

Yesterday I went cold turkey. The office was out of Coke and I thought to myself that I could use that absence to really get a start on my reduction of caffeine. How wrong was I. An hour before home time and my head was pounding. It hurt to blink, my neck was throbbing, even my shoulder was hurting. No amount of water consumption or drugs helped. In the end I had a can of the Coke Zero and instantly my head started feeling better.

The plan now is to wean myself off of caffeine. I dislike the taste of Coke Zero but I am having one a day until the headaches go away instead of upwards of three Cokes like I was consuming previously.

Eero Mesh Networks

Found this little device on Facebook. My first thoughts were, “Hey, this is cool” and then I thought on it more. It would be very useful to have something like this in an apartment block or townhouse setup. Have one person get the super highspeed, normally to expensive for a single household, super internet connection and then everyone shares it via a mesh network of these little devices.

Of course you’d have the downside of everyone being able to see any public shares on your computer but that could be managed with some careful locking down and also vetting of the neighbours who are included in the mesh.

There are many upsides, instead of having everyone all download a copy of a TV Show you could have one person do it and then store it on a Media server that everyone else could access. Or you could play LAN games from your own house without having to lug your computer next door.

Opal Card Tricks Part 2

This is a follow up to Opal Card Tricks.

After a week of experimenting I have found that you can indeed save money by taking short bus trips to nowhere. My last week’s travel looked like this:

  • Monday (no travel since I drove to work)
  • Tuesday
    • Home to Work – $5.04
    • Office to North Sydney – $2.10 * 2
    • Work to Home – $5.04
  • Wednesday
    • Home to Work – $5.04
    • Office to North Sydney – $2.10 * 2
    • Work to Home – $5.04
  • Thursday
    • Home to Work – Free
    • Work to Mona Vale Beach – Free
  • Friday
    • Home to Work – Free
    • Office to North Sydney Station – Free (I was feeling lazy)
    • Work to Home – Free

A total cost of $28.56 compared to $40.32 had I just caught my usual journeys in.

What I need to do now is work out a way to mitigate the number of Home to Work and Work to Home trips that I am paying for. If I were to put some effort in I could conceivably get up early enough on Monday to get a bus up to the Station with enough time between them to break them into two hourneys, it would take one $5.04 journey and turn it into 2 journeys, one costing $2.10 and the other costing $2.94. That would change it to work out as:

  • Monday
    • Home to Station – $2.10
    • Station to Work – $2.94
    • Office trip – $2.10
    • Office trip – $2.10
    • Work to Station – $2.94
    • Station to Home – $2.10
  • Tuesday
    • Home to Station – $2.10
    • Station to Work – $2.94
    • Work to Home – Free
  • Rest of the week – Free

Total would be $19.32 Less than half what I should be paying if I were to get my regular journeys. That is $80 a month just for getting up a bit earlier on two days of the week and catching some superfluous bus rides during the day.

Opal Card Tricks

Thanks to a recent car crash and the writing off of my car I am now back onto public transport. And because of that I have been contemplating the costs of using public transport especially since the fares have just been increased.

Full Legit Savings

After the Monthly, Quarterly, and Annual Tickets were removed from service, the cost per week for those customers increased as well. Obviously people were upset by this but there are ways around the increased costs. It turns out there is a loop hole in the system.

Eight Journeys

The Opal Card week starts on Monday. You will pay for your first 8 Journeys, everything after that is free. What this means is if you are able to take 8 very cheap journeys at the start of your week, everything else will be free. What does this mean for me?

To get from my house to North Sydney I have a couple of options:

  • Walk through the Uni and get the Train ($2.94 offpeak) (One Trip, One Journey)
  • Get the Bus to the Uni Station and then get the Train into North Sydney ($2.10 bus + $2.94 offpeak train) (Two trips, One Journey)

Considering I am lazy I’ll be getting the bus in which means that is $5.04 per Journey, two Journeys per day which means $10.08 a day to get to and from work. I’ll make 10 Journeys a week but I only have to pay for the first 8 which means my weekly cost is $40.32.

Here is where the loop hole kicks in. If I make a couple of cheaper Journeys on Monday and Tuesday, I can reduce my weekly costs. As I have a bus stop right outside my office and the next stop is only 50 metres down the road I can take 6 Journeys for $2.10 each.

To put it mathematically:

  • Bus + Train to/from work for $5.04 = A
  • Bus + Train to/from work for Free = B
  • Bus trip outside the office for $2.10 = C
  • All other Journeys = D

A typical week’s travel will look like this:

  • Monday I will take 2 * A and 3 * C (I’ve a limited lunch break) for a total of 5 Journeys costing of $16.38
  • Tuesday I will take 1 * A in the morning, 2 * C in the day, then 1 * B in the evening for a total of 4 Journeys costing of $9.24
  • The rest of the week I will get free travel

Weekly cost will be $25.62.

Journeys make it a little harder to dodge the system. If I get on the bus at 0800, get off, and get on another bus/train/ferry within one hour it all counts as one journey. Combined with my hour lunch break, this means I won’t be able to just go on lunch and catch a couple of buses around North Sydney. I will need to space them out so that each ride is its own Journey.

LifeHacker Australia puts it a bit more concisely than I can:

The weekly reward applies when you make any eight journeys using the same method — they don’t have to be the same distance. So if you (for instance) work in the CBD and use the train to go to lunch, you’ll add an extra journey — one that might be cheaper than your usual trip to or from home. This won’t work for everyone, but it does give you an extra incentive to use public transport when you might avoid it otherwise.

Now this is my understanding of the process, I am yet to test it out and confirm it but once I have I will update this post.