Getting started with XRF modules and LLAP

Months ago I picked up some radio modules – specifically the XRF radio modules from Ciseco. They’re about £10 a pop and are in theory very simple to use. This is… almost true. In the end my modules sat dormant in my component store, and the OpenKontrol gateway I got from them at the same time was never assembled, owing to some missing parts for the ethernet module and abysmal documentation for the entire project – it’s still sat on my desk and will probably migrate to the bin eventually. This theme of abysmal documentation is unfortunately consistent across all of the Cisceo product lines, which is a real shame since they make great bits and pieces in theory. I really do hope they’ll pull their finger out and fix their documentation.

All that aside, last week at work, we had a two-day event for physical prototyping and I decided that I’d try and get the things working – and after a day or so, succeeded. This post is a brief introduction to how to get the modules working as advertised. Continue reading Getting started with XRF modules and LLAP

Broadcast-quality OBs with Raspberry Pis

OpenOB‘s been ticking along nicely but it’s historically needed a bit of oomph and capital in the form of two computers running Linux. This isn’t often what you’ve got on your PC and it’s not something you can easily chuck in your reporter’s rucksack to take along to an event.

This limits its usefulness somewhat. So what you need instead is something cheap, small, and lightweight, that can run Linux and do everything you need it to with regards to OpenOB and network management.

Enter the Raspberry Pi, the £25 wonder-SBC. It’s got audio out (not in), runs Linux off an SD card, is small, runs off 5V power supplied via USB, and did I mention it’s £25? Okay, £30 if you buy from Farnell with shipping thrown in, and probably more like £60 when you’ve bought a power supply, sound card, SD card, etc. But we’re still talking an outside broadcast remote and receiver for a grand total of around £200. Compare that with the £1,500 per end of the current cheapest commercial solution, or the £5,000+ an end and up boxes found in most professional OB trucks. Sure, you don’t get their slickness or polish or even all their features, but you can move audio and you can do it well with OpenOB. With Opus, now from 16kbps all the way to 384kbps or linear PCM.

The primary OS supported for the Pi is Raspbian, a Debian derivative, which is awesome – because Debian/Ubuntu is the standard platform on which I develop OpenOB.

So can we actually make this perfect storm come to pass?

Update, 3rd Apr 2014: This post has been superseded by the OpenOB documentation. Please don’t try and use this post to configure your Pi – it is wrong in places as a result of updates and is not being maintained.

Continue reading Broadcast-quality OBs with Raspberry Pis

Sustainable low-budget infrastructure

This month I finish my university career and along with this move I sadly will stop working at Insanity Radio, the student (now community) radio station I’ve been running tech at for about 3 years now. Needless to say, I’m going to miss the place and the people, and the challenges that came with that environment.

Specifically: No budget (a total of £3,000 income annually, compared to the average income of £75,000 for most Community Radio stations according to Ofcom). No paid full-time staff. And a desire for 100% availability regardless.

Over the years the systems at Insanity have evolved and grown – they started out as a single computer for playout, a single encoder and streaming server running Windows Media Encoder with about 50% availability best-case, and we’re now deploying high availability clusters for streaming and encoding, have very few single points of failure, with a total of 21 computers. Back in 2009 we had significant amounts of dead air – outside of a processor failure we’ve had very few incidents since 2011.

Building systems for reliability on no money is a tricky thing to do, and it’s even harder when the people maintaining the infrastructure change on a potentially annual basis. This post is basically a quick encapsulation of some of the most important things to focus on to make such a situation work – not just from a technological perspective but from a human perspective too. Continue reading Sustainable low-budget infrastructure