I like technology when it works. But when it doesn’t, which is often, I feel the time and money spent on it could have been put to better use.

For the past couple of weeks, my British Gas Smart Meter has been somewhat unreliable. One evening it disconnected itself from the network. I assume that there was a problem with the 3G connection which caused the problem, but it was off for a good number of hours. It came back online the following morning, thankfully.

The same thing happened yesterday, but it also took down the Hive system too. Okay, I doubt is what actually happened, but it’s very spooky that both issues happened at the same time…

The computer says no…

When I went to check the boiler, the Hive receiver had a right light..

Choose life. Choose a replacement thermometer from Worcester Bosch. Choose a Hive thermostat from British Gas…

What followed was a series of multiple reboots of the Hive hub, multiple re-pairings of the receiver (shown above) and the thermostat, and while the receiver and the thermostat eventually talked to each other again, the app/hub wouldn’t acknowledge that the heating system was online. The app kept showing heating as being offline, but I could still operate the thermostat directly.

So I had to work from home today to give Hive technical support a call. They had me go through the same process, but they had to get the Hive hub (which is connected via ethernet via a switch which, in turn, is connected to the Netgear router) to re-pair as well. I’m not sure whether this is something that only Hive technical support can do, but there certainly wasn’t any user instructions that I could find to do this.

And this leaves me rather concerned. Hive technical support can look at my existing devices and turn them on or off. You are effectively handing control of your home to a third party. I’m now quite concerned about taking out any additional Hive products – especially the security cameras.

Anyway…

The technical support agent got everything re-paired again. Only to find out later that the app was out of sync with the thermostat. So I called Hive technical support again and was advised to reboot the hub. Which resolved the issue. They also upgraded the firmware of the hub. Which involved another reboot. But – touch wood – this has resolved the issue and everything is working as before.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Netgear R9000 router is how much larger it is compared to other routers. You’ll also notice that it kind of looks like Hela from the film Thor: Ragnarok, what with the big, thick antennae poking out from back and sides of the machine.

Which is which? Difficult to tell..

It took some effort just to get the blasted thing out the packaging. But once you’ve got it out the box and plugged in, it’s an extraordinarily easy experience to get it up and running.

The box is nearly as big as my Drobo’s box
A router so premium, it’s on its own pedestal…

You have a choice of configuring the Netgear via the web interface or via an app on your phone. I chose to use the web interface. A quick set-up wizard prompts you to connect to your ISP. It was able to detect the encapsulation required, and prompt me for my ISP username and password.

Once connected, speed tests weren’t that much different from the Fritz! box, and having done a bit of digging around with the Netgear app, despite the line of sight, I’m only achieving 62% signal strength from my Mac. I also noted something really odd about the Mac. Link speed is 54Mbs despite the transmission being over 800Mbs?

54Mbs link speed on the Mac, yet connected to 802.11ac?
MacOS Mojave’s Network Utility confirms link speed

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years being an Apple owner – Apple’s Wi-Fi hasn’t been terribly great with different third-party routers and Wi-Fi. Over the years when I’ve had PCs, they seem to have done a better job working with different router manufacturers. That said, when I had Virgin Media and their 300Mbs broadband connection, the SuperHub 3.0 (which is made by Netgear) never had any issues.

I’m intending on moving the router away from the brick wall and to the centre of the room. In order to do this, I’ll need 2 x 5m Cat6 cables in order to bridge the Netgear ProSafe switch where the TV, Apple TV, Sony UltraHD Blu-Ray player and the Hive Hub all reside along with the G.Fast modem. It should provide a stronger Wi-Fi signal, though I’m considering just connecting the Mac via ethernet. By bringing the router closer, it’ll make it much easier to hook it up without too much cable mess.

The Netgar Genie app conveniently maps your network and provides stats for each device.

That said, the HP printer works perfectly fine with the Netgear. With the FRITZ! Box, it constantly dropped off the network. Now it’s rock solid.

Netgear Genie apps shows signal strength of each device.

The router has confirmed that it has been able to connect to the full negotiated speed of the broadband connection here, using the Netgear Nighthawk app. Ookla speed tests from the Apple TV show regular download rates of around 122Mbs.

Even with a less than ideal signal strength, the MacBook Pro is able to achieve decent download rates – again, around 122Mbs – from the likes of iTunes and Steam.

Overall I have been very impressed with this router (and less so with the MacBook Pro), and it has a lot more tricks up its sleeve. I’ll be covering some special features that this router has that no other router has in another blog post soon.

On Tuesday I had BT Openreach pop around to convert my master telephone socket to cope with the new G.Fast protocol which allows me to download speeds up to 330Mbs and upload up to 50Mbs (though I’ve gone with a package that offers up to 160Mbs down, 30Mbs up).

ALAS!

While everything checked out on the master socket, and a new fancy faceplate fitted, Openreach didn’t have sufficient instructions from Zen Internet to be able to test internet connectivity. It turns out that the FRITZ! Box 7350 doesn’t contain a G.Fast modem. It can support VDSL up to 300Mbs, but itself cannot handle the protocol. So Openreach had to pull out a – controversially some would say (though I have no problem with the company or its products) – a Huawei MT992 G.Fast modem. A white box that connects to the DSL line with an ethernet port to connect to LAN 1 on the FRITZ! box. Openreach had the PSU and the box itself, but strangely not a RJ-11 DSL cable. So I nicked the one from the Sky Broadband router.

The next part was to figure out how to get the FRITZ! box routing through the LAN rather than the DSL connection. The Openreach engineer called Zen and they talked me through doing so. After a while, the router established a working internet connection and all was well. Or so I thought. Initial speed tests were showing 100Mbs down, and 27/28Mbs up. Upload speed is fine, but I’m missing a potential whopping 60Mbs. We made sure that the cable between the FRITZ! Box and the Huawei modem was capable of gigbit speeds, and that LAN1 LAN port was set to gigabit speed. It was.

The Openreach engineer left – he tested the line and demonstrated it was connecting at expected speeds. I, meanwhile, took the MacBook Pro and hooked it up to ethernet with Cat6 cable to LAN port 3. I achieved a maximum of 140Mbs down – an improvement over the Wi-Fi test. Single thread download, however, wasn’t pleasant – around 37Mbs. Since the majority of multimedia stuff is going to me multithreaded anyway – this isn’t too big of a problem for me – but hardly the stuff that Sky Broadband was offering at £12 less per month.

One extremely annoying problem that cropped up with the FRITZ! box was that my HP OfficeJet printer would not establish a stable connection via Wi-Fi despite being line of sight of the router. No matter what changes I made to the FRITZ! box’s Wi-FI settings, or ensuring it received the same IP each time, it would not hold connection. I had a pear of Netgear powerline adaptors to hand and hooked up the printer via ethernet – a ridiculous situation given the Sky Q Broadband router had no trouble with this at all. I had restarted the printer several times too. But with the powerline adaptors in place, the printer was finally on the network. It should be noted that I changed all of the FRITZ! box SSID and WPA passwords to match the old router to try and avoid having to reconfigure all my devices – by and large it worked. Even my “smart” scales connected just fine. But the HP printer? What a stubborn git.

The FRITZ! Box definitely seems to have some strange ideas over QoS, Wi-Fi channel management – but it has terrible throughput/range. With my iPhone and iPad upstairs, I achieve less than half speed of that downstairs. Signal strength seems strong, but throughput is not what I thought it would be. Definitely much weaker than previous routers I have used.

I’m shortly going to be testing a Netgear X10 Nighthawk R9000 router. This is a flipping expensive piece of kit – more expensive than many of Draytek SOHO routers that I’ve been using on and off over the past (nearly) 2 decades. But as I have a Netgear ProSAFE switch to hook up all my wired kit, and previous ISP provided routers have been rebadged Netgear routers which have worked very well, it seems sensible to invest in something that I hope will last 3-4 years and provide good range and throughput. If it doesn’t do what I hope it will do, it’s going right back. I need a stable home network & internet access for work AND play, and I’ll pay what I need to get it – though I will frown upon Zen’s choice of router if this thing fixes all the problems.

BTW, in Zen Internet’s customer portal it’s possible to find stats relating to the connection. I’m currently connected at 146981Kbs which equates to the kind of speeds I was seeing when connected via ethernet.

However, last night I did see substantial performance problems during the evening in which I couldn’t get download speeds above 30Mbs and upload speeds of around 10Mbs. Whether this was Wi-Fi or the broadband connection itself, I can’t say as yet. We’ll see what kind of speeds we get with the Nighthawk.

I’ll soon be changing my broadband ISP. I’ve been with Sky Broadband for a while, but as they are unlikely to re-introduce their Pro level package which featured a static IP address among a few other features that were extremely useful, so I had to look for an alternative – especially as (a) Sky are putting up their prices and (b) I’m at the end of the contract.

So I’ll be switching to Zen Internet – hopefully sometime this week. They provide a well-respected router from German firm AVM called the FRITZ!Box 7530 which arrived today via DPD.

FRITZ! seems like an odd choice of a brand name, as I always associate the word “fritz” with the phrase – “on the fritz”, which means something is broken. Hopefully that’s not going to be the case here!

The FRITZ! Box shares the same chipset as the well-respected Draytek router range

I’ll be going from a 80Mbs down/20Mbs up connection to a G.Fast 160Mbs down/30Mbs up. Useful for downloading UltraHD content from Sky’s On Demand services. It’ll also be useful for work – especially having a static IP (which will save me £65 a year via NordVPN).

A BT engineer will need to pay a visit to replace the faceplate on the master phone socket in order to make use of G.Fast speeds (which can support speeds up to 330Mbs down and 50Mbs up – and it’s about an £8 difference between the products – if Zen proves themselves worthy, I’ll happily upgrade later down the line).

I’ll report on how things go when they happen.

The recent BAFTA and Oscars have stirred up a hornet’s nest of trouble from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Vue and Cineworld cinemas who have objected to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video winning awards for movies that have debuted on their streaming services.

Vue and Cineworld have been spitting feathers at BAFTA because, they claim, the eligibility for films being nominated aren’t fair because Netflix and Amazon streamed films aren’t available on the big screen. Or if they are, they’re not in cinemas long enough.

I get it. They’re cinemas and want bums on seats and their sole business is to show films. Though these days, some cinemas also specialise in live theatre performances which are broadcast live. Or some even show TV shows on the odd occasion (Doctor Who springs to mind). Their bread and butter is to show things on the largest screen possible.

ALAS!

Spider-man, spider-man, shown on the smallest cinema screen..

Cinemas these days are fighting a losing battle. Have you been recently? I went last Sunday to watch the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which was absolutely incredible. Very worthy of its win, and should have won Best Picture as well. Loved it. But:

  • It was shown on the smallest screen in the cinema.
  • The seats were filthy and worn-out. And this particular chain, even in with bigger screens, the seats are uncomfortable.
  • What was once a mighty foyer with snacks and drinks galore is a mere shadow of its former self. The nachos I had weren’t fantastic. The choice of drinks and snacks are abysmal. And costly.

And my general complaint about most cinemas are:

  • Trailers and adverts are not shown in the correct aspect ratio – you have black bars (like you do on TV) for everything.
  • You’re constantly made to feel like a criminal by numerous reminders about not recording the soundtrack or video of the cinema screen.
  • Ticket prices are expensive.
  • The quality of the cinema and presentation vary enormously between different cinema chains and towns.
  • Costs of time and travelling to the cinema and back again.
  • People playing with their bloody mobile phones.
  • People walking in after the film starts.
  • People talking throughout the film.
  • Seat quality. You often pay extra for this, and I don’t mind that too much, but there should be more expensive seats on offer.

Cinema is a shared experienced – especially with family and friends. I get it. But now with the same technology being made for the living room (Dolby in particularly are doing well with their Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos systems), you can experience the same thing at home with a large(ish) TV and decent sound system. Nobody is ever going to have the kind of screen and sound system that IMAX offers, but it’s still pretty damn good – home entertainment has improved leaps and bounds over the years.

As has the ability to finance films. It’s a whole different ball game with theatrical releases versus streaming (effectively you’ve already bought a ticket), and theatrical releases are far more risk averse as a result (and to the consumer too – you spend over £40 for a family day out to the cinema for a film nobody likes, you bet you’re going to be upset).

I watched Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (which rightly won in the categories it was nominated for at the BAFTA and Oscars), and it’s truly an excellent film. He’s done extraordinarily well with it – as writer, director and cinematographer. I watched it on a 60″ TV in 4K (without HDR) and thought it was visually stunning (my former employers, MPC, were responsible for the visual effects and there is one sequence that knocked my socks off – my brain trying to figure out how it was done – and I was wrong!). Roma deserves to be nominated (and to win) as much as everybody else, regardless of how it was financed and distributed.

Imagine the fuss if a YouTube film won an Oscar or BAFTA. The old school and the cinema chains would spontaneously combust.

Spielberg’s complaint is that he wants to preserve the theatrical experience. I get it. I really do. When I was much younger it was a treat to go the cinema. Prices were reasonable. The seats were enormous and comfortable. The big screen was the big screen. And there were very many more cinemas around. Very happy memories of watching the likes of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Back to the Future (at the Empire Leicester Square no less). I’ve been on a few dates to the cinema, been to the cinema with my mates, and all sorts. But over the past 5 or 6 years, things have slowed down a lot. Cinemas have been closing down. Television has become more interesting.

Some films I’ve had real problems getting to see due the very limited theatrical run. I can only seen them via physical disk purchase, iTunes (or similar) or via one of the streaming service. Should those films still be eligible for Oscars or BAFTA? And what of screeners and VOD that the Academy hands out to members? I’m told it’s a last resort, but even civilians like me don’t have the time (or inclination) to go to the cinema or the time.

Films are films regardless of however they’re made. This is the 21st century. We have the technology. But people want their films to be wherever they are. Whether that be in the cinema, on TV, on their mobile devices. It’s high time that the old school (I include Cannes in this) wake up and smell the coffee.