The latest instalment in life with an Android TV. The picture above says it all. Samba Services is an app on the TV that Sony uses to analyse what you’re viewing so that it could build a marketing profile for ad targeting. You can disable this service like most non-system services in the apps list, and you can also execute the setup of the app and opt out of the tracking.
You would think that if you’ve opted out of the service, and then gone to the apps manager and disabled the service, that would be the end of it… Wrong! You apparently can never stop the app from running. When you disable it, you get an infinite loop of popups as pictured above.
A not oft discussed topic in router reviews (which are a dime for a dozen on the web) is how to see just how much data your household is consuming.
Here I attempt to fill that gap by outlining the capabilities that my my router which is powered by Advanced Tomato provides. This is not a general review of the router software (which is excellent), but just some screenshots and some discussion about the bandwidth monitoring capabilities so that you can look before you leap, if you’re in the market for something that provides you with good statistics.
The router software provides two primary views by which you can monitor bandwidth usage. They are called “Bandwidth” which tracks total usage of the device across all it’s interfaces, and then there is “IP Traffic” which is useful if you want to get per-connected-device granularity. We’re only going to cover the bandwidth monitor, but you can be confident that the per-IP statistics are just as granular.
Realtime Bandwidth Usage
The realtime bandwidth page provides an instantaneous view of all the traffic going through the device. I personally struggle to make much sense of the way the view is subdivided. The LAN (br0) is the bridge that links all the interfaces on the device (the two Wifi Radios as well as the 4-port gigabit ethernet switch — I’m using an Asus RT-AC56U).
You’d expect whatever is shown in the WAN tab to be what’s actually leaving your local network onto the wider internet. WL (eth1) and WL(eth2) reflect the 2.4Ghz and the 5GHz wifi radios. It’s unclear what Eth0 represents, but between Eth0 and Vlan1, one or both of them represent the 4-port ethernet switch present on the device.
Last 24 Hours Bandwidth
The 24 Hours Bandwidth chart is a little more interesting. Shown above is the WAN coverage. This presents a 24-hour view of the internet. The Y-axis shows the peak average speed and the X-axis represents time of day. Shaded areas represent times when data was being transferred. Grey shades represent downloads, blue-ish shades (which are hardly visible) represent uploads.
You can see that large file downloads will represent comparatively wider “mountains” on this graph, and the faster the download went, the taller the mountain will be. A small, fast download will be a very thin and tall mountain.
Daily Bandwidth Usage
The total transfers done per day are detailed here, going as far back as your router storage permits. This is an aggregate of internet bandwidth usage across all devices over the date measured.
As you can see in the chart above, we did a lot of downloading/streaming on 2018-01-05.
A similar view is provided for the weekly bandwidth chart.
Monthly Data Usage
The most interesting chart to me is the monthly data usage. It allows me to see how much data we consumed going back as far as I want, grouped by month. The top-billed month would have been October 2017 if we didn’t have an unlimited Internet Connection.
There aren’t many routers out there that can provide this kind of information. The closest competitor I have found is Google Wifi, whose statistic go back at most 60 days. This is partly the inspiration for this post. I’ve been evaluating migrating to a multiple access point system in order to improve coverage in certain parts of the home, and it’s very difficult to find out how modern-day competition compares to this configuration in terms of usage statistics.
Worry no more. It’s a 3-step process to fix it. You just need to do it from the monitor’s external/physical power management settings.
Witness the photo below. Since the power management appears to be at fault, I have to assume that the monitor actually powers itself off, causing the OS to think it’s disconnected, which results in windows being rearranged. Flipping this setting to “Never” fixes the issue for me. The display continues to go into power-saving mode controlled by the OS.
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You’re curious what this Android TV thing is and what’s in store for you if you wind up with an Android TV; Read on.
You probably know that Android is the Ubiquitous mobile phone OS (Operating System) made by Google. It’s been adapted to fit TVs and some manufacturers are making TVs that ship with this OS built-in — theoretically opening up access to potential value offered by the Android platform:
relatively open platform
more apps than you could ever need
Not exactly. As far as apps go, Android TV is not much better than any other TV OS out there. As you can’t simply execute any mobile phone app on the TV (which is sensible considering the different input sources available on phone vs TV), the app selection is limited to apps that have been designed for TV. For TV-related needs such as watching videos, playing music and playing video games, there isn’t much to complain about.
You should assume therefore that Android does not confer any special advantages on your TV even while it brandishes the highly charged green droid icon. As far as I can tell, all the TV services available on Android TV are available everywhere else. For the UK, this means: BBC iPlayer, ITV, Channel 4, Demand 5, Netflix, Youview…
I will spare you the typical talk about beauty (it is beautiful to me), organised (I think that at least Google put some thought into menu layout) and Sony generally in keeping to tradition makes a well-laid out remote control.
Honourable Mention: Line-of-Sight Bluetooth Remote
One specific feature that deserves honourable mention, and one of those features which I think reminds us that is Sony in the same class as Apple when it comes to UX design is the fact that the remote control for the TV is a bluetooth device, but unlike most bluetooth remote controllers, it requires Line-of-sight for every function that does not require bluetooth to work (that is, it uses infra-red for most functions, and bluetooth for voice). This is important because:
it prevents you from accidentally operating the remote control when you’re otherwise simply moving it away from the spot on your sofa that your feet have just now decreed that they wish to rest.
if your toddler lays their hands on it while you were watching something, they can do limited damage unless they aim it at the TV 🙂
It must therefore, make it’s mark — or miss it in how well it serves you as a TV. In this regard, for someone who upgraded from a previously dumb Panasonic TV from 2013 to a Sony XE-85 series Android TV, there is a mixed bucket of hot and cold, resulting in an overall neutral if not slightly negative result. Here go the key things I’ve noticed shifting my habits to work within Sony’s implementation of Android TV.
Slow and Steady Almost Wins the Race
Out of the box, the TV was a laggy and relatively frustrating experience. This is pretty much fixed in the latest firmware (PKG6.2671.0070EUA at the time of Writing this — 31-Dec-2017). Remote control input is generally relayed fast enough to match expectations.
It makes me wonder if it’s a lack of computing power, or just insufficient software optimization, but one of the still-noticeable deficiencies is with voice input: it takes a few seconds after clicking the voice input button before the system is actually listening to you… Why?
High-Decibel Unwanted Movie Trailers
Sony’s Android TV will “helpfully” start showing you movie Trailers from Google’s Play Store when it thinks there is no active input source currently available, and there is no way to turn this off. This happens frequently for example, after a gaming session on a playstation 4. When the console goes into standby, the TV will automatically start playing movie trailers at a volume (anecdotally) 50% higher than what you were previously listening to, startling everyone in the room in the process.
This is even more frustrating because the “Prog +/-” buttons which are unneeded if you don’t watch Terrestrial/Youview TV will automatically launch these high-decibel trailers if you accidentally press them, since the spam is launched whenever you try to switch inputs and there is none available.
Voice “Maybe” Control
Google’s voice recognition is generally accurate enough to be acceptable. The trouble with the implementation in Android TV is the fact that the voice input button is not unversally supported, and they haven’t done a thorough job of classifying what voice commands are global, and which are app-specific.
You would think that if you said “open Netflix”, that would be a global command that would do exactly what you ask wherever in the TV you happen to be, but in practice, what it does depends on the app you’re using. In youtube, voice input “open Netflix” will do a Youtube search for “open netflix” and show you a bunch of videos you do not want. In the Netflix app, the voice command does nothing… Heh.
Being familiar with Computing, I can understand how difficult it is to build software systems, and you could perhaps expect future updates to improve this. The only catch is, at approximately one firmware update per Year or more, this may never reach it’s full potential in it’s lifetime. Perhaps Netflix may update their app sooner and improve this?
It’s well-known that Amazon is the sworn enemy of Google and Android (to Amazon’s detriment, in my view), but Sony somehow got Amazon to make the Amazon Video app for it’s Televisions. As a Prime Member who periodically wants to watch The Grand Tour, the app is a helpful addition (which spares me from using a video game console, as Amazon flatly refuses to implement Chromecast support).
As someone who likes watching high quality video, Amazon just can’t help but keep treating it’s customers with disdain. Note, all my vitriol is directed at amazon in this section, but as this contributes to the overall experience of using Android TV, it’s a slight dent on the platform as well.
Amazon’s Android TV app has the following problems:
video playback stutters badly when you adjust volume, and sometimes just on it’s own accord
the app quits when it’s backgrounded. So you can’t easily go do something else briefly and then come back to the home screen and hit resume on your video.
What Amazon fails to understand is that they’re not somehow making me seek out Amazon hardware by making it difficult to get their stuff on Android. They just make me use Netflix more, except of course for the one Amazon Exclusive show that I care to watch (Grand Tour).
Dear Amazon, you should make your content easier to access by your customers no matter what platform they are on, like Netflix does.
The Chromecast is a useful device. An essential device for anyone who occasionally has people over and they need youtube music to keep the guests entertained. Youtube has a nice feature where a group of people connected to a Chromecast can queue up music to play centrally. This is how parties rock in the future where building codes pay no heed to sound isolation and you still need something to link people together and get them grooving.
I have found nothing yet that works quite as well as letting everyone take turns playing their favourite songs. Even at low volumes, it generates a lot of discussion and debate, which is a key ingredient of a low-key house party.
Having the cast protocol built in means that you can for the first time use the Play/Pause, Skip buttons on the remote control to control cast playback, something that the standalone Chromecast quite oddly does not support.
Again, Sony reminds of their class. The HDMI-CEC implementation is seamless. It makes sense why the Playstation 4 does not have a Sony media playback remote control. With the exception of Startup where you need a PS4 controller to sign in to your profile (since the HDMI CEC way of “pressing the Home button” is a bit convoluted), you can control the entire media playback experience using just the TV remote. Disc Menus, subtitles, audio, pretty much everything I use when watching blu-ray discs.
Routing audio via ARC to the AVR is seamless, and the volume controls are routed sensibly. Well implemented stuff (Microsoft, get your act together).
The home screen has a row of recommendations. I don’t recall ever seeing BBC iPlayer or Netflix or Amazon content there… perhaps the developers of those apps have not bothered to implement this feature. Can’t blame Android TV or Google for that.
Notice the Recommendation about Make-up? LOL. If that were based on my viewing habits, it should be suggesting yet another review of the Mercedes S63 AMG.
It’s worth pointing out some things that I have not yet discovered, that I wish were present.
No Remote Control Finder
I often lose sight of the remote control, and this being a bluetooth device, you’d expect that there’s a beeper built-in so that if you pushed the “beep” button on the TV, the remote would start making noises, making it easier to detect which section of the sofa it’s crept into. You’re out of luck on this one.
Only Two of the HDMI ports accept 4K-HDR inputs on my Sony XE-8596
HDMI 2 (Audio Return Channel) and HDMI 3 are the only inputs that will accept a 10-bit input signal. This is a shame, because if you read the product specifications, it says “all input support 4K connected inputs/devices”. What isn’t very clear is that 4K does not automatically mean HDR… so… if I ever want to connect more than 2 HDR devices to this TV, I’d have to get an AV-Receiver which supports HDR inputs.
Android TV is a usable implementation of smart TV functionality. Sony’s design is well-thought out and the built-in Chromecast is nice, and provides a nice screensaver when it’s not otherwise hijacked by the user-hostile Google Play movies trailers.
Personally, I find the inability to disable the movie trailers frustrating enough that I will not consider an Android TV next time I’m in the market for a TV (which isn’t too far off, considering a growing household). When I went to the shop to buy this TV, OLED (LG) was out of my budget, and as I generally like Sony’s design choices, it was easier to choose Sony over Panasonic. LG’s WebOS TVs were considered too, but lacking any prior experience with LG devices, I opted to stay closer to home.
Next time, WebOS looks like it deserves a look. If doesn’t have any owner-hostile features like the movie trailers, it just may be the better smart TV platform.
Could not choose appropriate plugin: The requested apache plugin does not appear to be installed
Attempting to renew cert from /etc/letsencrypt/renewal/nucco.org.conf produced an unexpected error: The requested apache plugin does not appear to be installed. Skipping.
When this happens, all you need to do is install “python-certbot-apache”.
Migrating from your teenage Gmail account with the unprofessional, or hard to share email address to a new spiffy, professional email address is really easy, but scarcely documented. Here is how to do it.
Sign in to your new Account, and go to Settings (the cog wheel):
Then go to Accounts and Import, and select Import from another address.
From here, you need only sign in to the old Gmail address and Google will take care of the import in the background.
You need to make sure that you have enough storage in your account for both the new and the old data. For me, this meant ensuring that I had the $2 a month 100GB plan for Google. Totally worth it. I just wish they had a 10TB option for $9.99 a month so I could use it as my cloud drive to rule them all 🙂
The Internet forums would have you believe that USB-based ethernet adaptors aren’t good enough if you’re performance conscious. I’m planning to deploy an Intel NUC mini-PC as a home router/firewall. NUCs only have one ethernet adaptor built in, but have USB3 ports.
I naturally wanted to find out what performance I might be sacrificing if I used a USB3 port as the second LAN port on the NUC, so I got an Anker-branded USB3 to Ethernet adaptor, plugged it into a laptop, and configure iperf3 as a server on my desktop.
A quick information card comparing VMWare Workstation 9.0 with Workstation 12.0 Pro.
The Old Version (9.0)
There are many modal dialogs which often get in the way (example, the virtual network editor)
Too many clicks required to get some basic information (like NIC mac addresses)
Too many clicks to add extra hardware to VMs
limited ability to scale virtual machines to fit monitors.
Performance for my use case (Linux dev and test boxes, enterprise networking and Web App Firewall virtual machines, Windows Server and windows 7/8/10 VMs for test and experimentation) is more than satisfactory. All I had to do was fully load my core i5 3570K box with 32GB of RAM (which I have yet to exhaust), and replace the spinning disk with SSDs (1.5TB worth for both bulk storage and VM disks).
Guest OS Compatibility
As far as my experience goes, I’m able to deploy everything I want on Vmware workstation 9.0. This includes Windows Server 2012 and Windows 10.
(this is not an exhaustive list):
It still looks and feels mostly the same as version 9.0
The virtual network editor no longer appears to be modal which is nice
It no longer assigns Floppy Disk controllers to new VMs — hurray!
What Hasn’t Changed?
It still takes too many clicks to add hardware to VMs (VMWare ESX is easier in this aspect)
Still too many clicks to find a NIC’s MAC address
Still limited scaling options it seems (it either adjusts the VM resolution, or adjusts the window size of the hypervisor). It would be nice if it allowed you to resize a window in the hypervisor by scaling the guest OS.
What would it take for me to upgrade?
A lower asking price
My use case is probably a narrow one. You should make sure you consider your own needs when evaluating version 12.0
I’m looking towards updating my desktop to two 4K displays, and it appears that two good choices of GPUs that support this kind of setup (I don’t really care about gaming on this rig) are:
Nvidia NVS 510 – £220+
AMD Firepro W2100 — £120
I’ll probably go for the AMD as it has a lower power consumption profile (hence lower cooling needs) and looks on paper to support exactly the features I need.