Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Linux Nvidia Overscan Fix

The ATI graphics card in this media center recently died and I decided to avoid all the ATI-related issues and just put a Nvidia card in instead.

This allowed me to upgrade the operating system to the (current) Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx - well, I decided I like the Linux Mint 9 version a bit better. Nvidia's Linux drivers are much, much better than ATI's.

The last problem remaining was the "overscan" - well, for me it was actually UNDERSCAN, which puts black border all the way around the picture. The newest Nvidia drivers do have a slider and text entry box for overscan correction. This works for some people, but I was in the camp for whom the control panel crashes if I touch the slider.

The default values the Nvidia driver inserts vary and I don't know what determines what they are but I suspect it's tied to resolution as it was "13" at 1024x768 and "8" at 800x600. Most sites that talk about how to fix this talk about "Modelines" and other Xorg.conf fixes, but thanks to THIS POST there is a MUCH easier fix to implement! Enter the following line in a terminal:

$ sudo nvidia-settings -c :0.0 -a 'TVOverScan[TV-0]=15'

Your value may be different, but for my set-up "15" is the magic number that fills the screen. I found that even using "sudo" permissions and saving settings to xorg.conf with the Nvidia Control Panel that this setting didn't stick after a reboot. It's annoying to have to re-enter it on every boot and I also realized it doesn't HAVE to be entered with "sudo" which makes it a cinch to execute at startup. Just take that line and (without the sudo) paste it into a text file and save with a simple name like "nvidia-fix" into your home folder. Right+Click, go to Permissions, and check the "executable" box. Then, I used the "Start Up Programs" control panel and created a new entry with the command to execute that text file as a program (the same as if I'd typed it in a terminal):


and name the entry something that will make it execute AFTER the Nvidia Panel is loaded (I named mine "Overscan").

Now, every time I reboot the media center it loads the Nvidia stuff (with the black border all the way around) and within a second the fix script executes and expands the picture to fill the screen, then XBMC launches full screen. Simple! Fully automatic fix at every boot, no mucking with the Nvidia control panel, no editing your xorg.conf file.

Note: When you run the overscan fix without sudo permissions and you launch the Nvidia Control Panel the fix will be over-ridden by whatever setting is in the panel (the screen will shrink and the black border will re-appear). Make whatever changes you were going to make, save them to your xorg.conf file (if you want them to persist beyond the current session), and then either re-run the overscan fix script or reboot the system so is auto-runs again.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review: Matias USB 2.0 Keyboard vs. Apple Aluminum Keyboard

I know some people rave about the Apple aluminum keyboard, so I'm probably in the minority of people who don't like it. Actually I really kind of hate it.

Sure, it's thin and sleek - it wouldn't look out of place in a modern art museum collection. However, I can't stand typing on the damned thing. I tend to type in bursts, usually around 80 wpm at about 90% accuracy - some people have said listening to me type sounds like a machine gun! LOL I'm definitely not one of those people who "caresses" a keyboard and I generally don't even look at the keyboard unless I need a key I don't tend to hit very often. Which is why the Apple keyboard bugs me. First of all the keys are too FLAT. I like the dished keytop as it helps me to better feel my positioning on the keys. Sure those little bumps on the home keys help make sure you're not typing gibberish, but totally flat keys just feel awful to me. According to what I've read, the Apple aluminum keyboard is supposed to be similar to a laptop keyboard, and I hate typing on a laptop keyboard too. They frankly feel like calculator keys - or (and this just popped into my head) it reminds me of the Timex-Sinclair 1500 "chicklet" keyboard. Oh, and the USB port on it is tucked under the edge which is a pain in the butt when you want to plug a thumb drive in there (especially desirable if you're using the iMac) you pretty much have to fumble around until you plug it in sight unseen OR you end up lifting the keyboard to see where the port is and plug in your device.

There also isn't enough travel to the keys when you type like I do. On the Apple keyboard I continually found myself entering keystrokes when I hadn't intended to do so, and because I press the keys pretty hard the shorter travel results in greater finger fatigue for me. All in all, the Apple keyboard cuts my speed and accuracy in half. Obviously that's not the case for everyone, as you don't have to look far online to find people who LOVE that keyboard and argue it's possibly one of the best Apple ever made. That's fine if it works for you, but it doesn't mean I have to live with it.

Secondary problem is that I switch back and forth between Mac and Windows a lot on the same machine. I know other people who do that with Parallels rather than rebooting into another drive or partition, but the problem is the same - Mac and Windows keyboards are NOT alike! You always have to make a trade-off when platform hopping between the two with keys being in different order or some functionality missing whether you try to use a Windows keyboard on a Mac or an Apple keyboard on a Windows machine. It's annoying!

Clarification: Someone said to me today "All USB keyboards are cross-platform compatible." Well, yes, technically they are. The keys will just re-map, and a Windows keyboard will use function keys for media keys, etc. But this is about having a keyboard that actually HAS all the keys for both platforms as well as has the keys MARKED for both platforms where they are different. This same person also told me "Logitech makes keyboards for both Mac and Windows." I went to the Logitech web site and, sure, they have check-boxes to narrow your search to "Mac compatible" and "Windows Compatible" keyboards. All of which are gaming keyboards and all of which are ONLY have their keys marked for use on Windows.

Which is why I'm really diggin' this new Matias USB 2.0 keyboard. Nice, springy, responsive keys with the right amount of travel, just enough dishing so you don't end up with high or sharp edges, a 2 port USB 1.0 hub for my mouse and tablet and a single USB 2.0 port on top for easily plugging in my thumb drive. But the coup de grace to my Apple keyboard experience is that this is a CROSS-PLATFORM keyboard! It's kind of weird to see a keyboard with BOTH a (Windows Logo) and (Mac Command) symbol on it, but if anyone else sits down at my computer - regardless of which OS I've booted - there would be no guessing which keys to press.

Well, maybe unless you want to eject the DVD drive - that requires holding down F12 in OS X, but for some reason Matias didn't bother putting the "eject" icon on it. I do, however, have volume control keys nicely made half the height of the surrounding keys so they're harder to hit by accident and easier to find by feel. They also had a really good idea regarding the Caps Lock key - instead of being over by the Tab key (where people - including me - hit it by accident all the frickin' time) they moved it to the lower right next to the Alt/Command key. They also put the Num Lock key there and replaced it with a Tab key on the keypad - which is sweet for entering data ten-key style in forms or spreadsheets. Set-up on Mac does require you to reassign the Command and Option keys so they match the keyboard layout. Windows automatically recognizes it as a Windows keyboard and USB hub.

The only design changes I think I'd make to it (or recommend Matias consider) are to add that eject icon to the F12 key (or maybe ADD an eject key - there's plenty of room above the keypad), and possibly move that USB 2.0 port into the bezel space on the left side of the keyboard by the additional CTRL key. Why? Because my keyboard sits in a pull out tray and unless I pull it out so far it's falling into my lap the USB 2.0 port is still under the desk top where I can't plug my thumb drive into it. Other than that, this is one of the nicest keyboards I've used in a long time and it can be had for a pretty reasonable price of around $30. I got mine at Micro Center, but tons of places online carry them, and you can buy direct too. If you dual boot, are using Parallels a lot, or if you also don't like the Apple aluminum keyboard, you may want to give this one a try.