Review of Talfazat Box

September 3, 2009 by · 27 Comments 

By Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Farmington–September 2–I recently had the opportunity to review the Talfazat (http://www.talfazat.com) television box supplied by Neulion–one of the advertisers we are proud to have in this newspaper.

Bottom line:  For $30 per month, this is a reliable way to get 24 channels of Arabic television into your home, even if for example you live in the middle of an apartment complex and have no ability to put out a satellite dish.

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I received the Talfazat box late last week and tested it extensively, testing the bandwidth usage of the box, testing the picture quality and resolution, refresh rate, testing the robustness of the system by intentionally bringing it to the breaking point–and the short answer after this testing is that the Talfazat box will not halt or buffer, despite mistreatment–despite some rumors to the contrary about other IPTV sources.

Talfazat in Arabic means “televisions,” more and more of which are displaying signals through means unimagined twenty years ago.  The newest means is IPTV.  Just as VOIP revolutionized and is revolutionizing home telephones, so too is IPTV in the beginning stages of revolutionizing home television.  One key difference is price.  Where VOIP providers charge a flat fee that is perhaps one fifth of a standard telephone monthly bill, IPTV providers are much closer in price to their satellite and cable competitors.

When you get the box, it is about the size of a thick hardback book, but lighter—see above.  It has a power switch on the front, and another power switch on the back.  The box has an HDMI out, Component out, S-Video out, it has at least two USB ports; it also comes with all the cables you need to connect to your TV and internet (except HDMI) and a remote. It comes with a component cable, a special adapter cable to plug component cables into your box, audio right-left channel cables, and more, plus a LAN/ethernet cable.

Setup

Setup is super easy, and the directions are also simple, colorful, and easy to follow.  Without cracking the directions book I was able to install the Talfazat box and begin watching television.

Channels—Live TV

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Note—Mr. Alyas Ali of Talfazat explained to me that in Canada more channels are available than in the US—Canadians have about 10 additional channels available.

The box supplies 24 continuous live stream channels, including Al Jazeera in English.  Most of the other live channels are state broadcasts from the Arab world, except for Al Jazeera Arabic.

Here are the channels I found.

Future TV Al Rai TV
Mehwar Al Aan TV
Sama Dubai Alsumaria TV
Infinity TV Bahrain TV
Arab Woman Channel Program Baghdadia
ZMTV Hannibal TV
Sudan TV Emirates
Tele Liban Palestine TV
Abu Dhabi Bahrain
Al Jazeera (Arabic) Al Jazeera (English)
Arabic News Al Alam
MICFM Panorama
   

The channels are numbered 2 thru 74, with of course many blank channels between 2 and 74.

I can’t comment on the actual programs because I neither speak Arabic nor am familiar with Arabic television.  But AlJazeera in English is interesting, with very high quality stories and not biased as some would have you believe.

There is a program guide that shows programming data about 28 hours in advance—you push a button on the remote and can see what’s currently on (showing six channels on the screen at a time).  You can see up to 28 hours in advance what will be on.

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Channel Quality

Unfortunately I am not in a position to review the quality of the live TV streams made available by Talfazat—I might understand a few words of Arabic but if I try to force myself to watch these Arabic channels I will probably fall asleep.  I did watch Al Jazeera in English—which for some of TMO’s readers might be by itself worth the price of admission to the Talfazat world.

Video On Demand

There is also video on demand, which gives you access to back episodes of perhaps 100 total different TV shows–some individual shows have as many as perhaps 50 different episodes available.

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There are 7 categories under “Video on Demand.”  They are:  Comedy, Drama, Lifestyle, Music, Religious, Talk Show, and Ramadan 2009.  Under each category a varying number of shows are listed (under Comedy there are perhaps 30 shows, under Religion or Ramadan there are only a few).  Once you select a show, you will see the available number of episodes for that show, which again varies.  For some shows perhaps 50 episodes are available.  For other shows, only a few episodes are available.  You select the episode you want with your remote, and after a few minutes it should begin to play.

A few episodes refuse to play, but if you have your heart set on any specific serial you should easily be able to find an episode that will work from that serial (pictured below see the show “La Youmal” with 9 available episodes to watch; Also pictured is a cartoon episode playing via video on demand).

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There are on the remote buttons for fast forward and rewind of video on demand shows, but they did not work well for me—being perhaps the only way I could (despite my tries) to make the Talfazat box seize up and start heavily buffering.  Therefore you will likely have to watch your shows start to finish unless Neulion fixes this feature—it is possible this was just my connection.

 

Settings

In addition to the live TV and video on demand features, there is also a “Settings” screen you can access from the home directory.  When you go there after a few moments you will see a readout of your network, showing ip addresses.

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Note—as far as I can see there is no benefit in tampering with the settings.

Spotlight

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Another screen at the Talfazat home page.  As yet this is unsupported by Talfazat, likely preserved for future use.

Performance Testing

Capture

Here is a screenshot of Tomato running on the wrt-54g after testing.  The test began with Youtube videos towards the left of the screen (where the three sharp peaks are at about 300 kbits per second about a quarter of the way from the left side of the screen), and ends on the right side of the screen. 

I have a DSL network connection that I tested before doing a quick bench test of the Talfazat box at an average speed of 2.22 Mbits per second downstream.  I came to this number by using Firefox’s Broadband Speed Test and Diagnostics add-on, running the download speed check five times and averaging the results.

From this starting point I then went to my Linksys wrt-54g router running Tomato and watched the bandwidth usage as I did tests of the Talfazat box and other computers on the network accessing Youtube, Boxee, and Veoh.

I turned on Youtube and began watching the District 9 original movie, and my bandwidth usage went to 322.27 kbits/sec, then up to about 410 kbits/sec, and hovered in that area.

I turned on Pandora via Boxee and listened to my music stations, where my bandwidth was again in the same region—about 327.15 kbits/sec.

Then I used Boxee to watch Youtube instead of watching Youtube directly via a browser, and my bandwidth was at about 375 kbits/sec.

Then the real testing began—I turned on CSI Miami via Boxee.  After some initial choppiness during the CBS advertisement, the CSI show began, clear as a bell but perhaps with a little bit of choppiness, bringing my bandwidth usage up to 556 kbits/sec.  It varied as high as 1054.69 kbits/sec.

Then I turned on the Talfazat box and tuned to Al Jazeera in English—bandwidth went up to 1510 kbits/sec (Boxee was still on); when I turned off Boxee my bandwidth went down to about 850 kbits/sec and stayed pretty steady at about that level.

I stress tested the Talfazat box by running online video at two other places on my network, using Boxee and Veoh to stream video from three sources at the same time–although the network traffic went up to over 2 Mbits per second, I never saw Talfazat buffer or hesitate.

Therefore Talfazat’s promises of not buffering, and of not requiring more than 1 Mbit / sec, appear completely justified.  It may be that the box needs a little bit of overhead on top of the 700 kbits/sec, so I wouldn’t recommend going below their recommended 1 Mbit / sec, yet in my test Talfazat seemed to want only 700 kbits/sec in order to work just fine, as usual.

Picture quality

Picture quality is slightly worse than a standard definition satellite signal’s image.

Things that could improve

While testing the box I disconnected it from the internet completely while watching a show—to see what would happen.  What happened was the screen went dark.  It would have been better if there had been a simple message—“are you sure you are connected to the internet?” or “lost internet connection.”

More about the box

So if you want affordable Arabic television or if you live in an  apartment and can’t access a spot from which you can put up a satellite dish, or if you just don’t want to pay the relatively exorbitant fees charged by Dish Network and DirectTV, support one of our favorite sponsors, Talfazat and try out their box.

Also consider Talfazat’s Subcontinent cousin, DesiTV—for Indian and Pakistani channels and movies.

 

I will be mailing my box back to Talfazat with heartfelt thanks for their having allowed me to review Neulion’s cutting edge product.  You should definitely consider Talfazat if you are looking for a new way to get Arabic TV.

 

Note:  Since writing the above review I was told by Alyas Ali of Talfazat that the box is also capable of replaying any show from the last 24 hours (as long as it is green in the EPG guide pictured above).  This is like an automated Tivo function, very nice.  I have not yet tested this function and intend to add to this review once I have had a chance to try it.

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The Tender Plants Of Our Society

August 20, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sara Yousuf

483px-Handicap.svg July fourth, 2009. A Saturday at ISNA in Washington D.C. on an Independence Day morn. But not just any Saturday at the ISNA bazaar in Washington D.C., where my family and I manning a booth for HelpHandicap Foundation, a non-profit organization enabling people with disabilities in India. It was a Saturday that would mean so much to my family and I, and, I think, also to various Muslims with disabilities who would attend it and go home with a spark of hope amongst them.

It was the day the first panel discussion on disability would take place in ISNA history. There would be four speakers, one of whom would be my father, Mr. Mohammed Yousuf. Also featured would be, a psychiatric doctor, Mona Amer, who had done research on the inclusion of Muslims with disabilities, the general topic of the panel, the distinguished Imam Zaid Shakir, and Mr. Mobin Tawakkul, who had written with my father a chapter in a book about the lives of people with disabilities, along with Ms. Isra Bhatty, who would be serve as the moderator in the discussion.

My brothers, my mother, and I were really excited about the discussion. After handing out brochures all of Friday, and having trouble getting to sleep out of over-excitement, we were up in a flash Saturday morning. My mother and father had given me camera-duty. At first I thought, “Oh, what a snap this will be, only five-ten minutes here and there.” Later did my mother tell me that I had to videotape the entire discussion, which would last for two-hours plus, when I noticed that maybe my task would not be such a delicious piece of cake.

Well, my five- and nine-year-old brothers and I took our seats, three rows down from the stage. When asked why, I merely told the older of my brothers that though my hand may ache, I would not like to crane my neck. I turned on the camera before the panel started; in fact, I started it when I spotted my father talking to one of the speakers. Enjoying myself blissfully, I did not notice the time left on the camera before the memory was full.

The discussion started—finally! I thought. Of course, I couldn’t wait to hear my father speak, as I am sure neither could my brothers nor my mother. The first speaker was Dr. Mona Amer, and I really liked the way she started off. She asked the audience why most of them had come to the discussion: because they, someone they know, or someone in their family has a disability, knew a speaker in the discussion, were interested in the topic, or had just heard about the discussion; or because they were interested in the topic or had heard about the discussion.

Though I am not an adult, I wanted to be a part of the panel, too, so I raised my hands for the first two reasons. As I had predicted (I’ve always understood human feelings, and this I could feel in the crowd), most hands were in the air for the first reason: because they themselves had a disability or knew someone with a disability. From that moment, I was hooked in the discussion as I watched it through the screen of the camera.

Halfway through the doctor’s speech, my hand ached to be in another position. By this time I was so into the panel that I was only thinking, seeing, hearing the panel, and nothing else. Well, I did also notice my throbbing hand. For a second I thought, “Well, when you take pictures, you can turn the camera sideways and the pictures come out vertical.” Flipping the camera, I said to myself, “By the way, the video looks better vertical.” So I kept on switching the camera every five minutes or so.

Imam Zaid Shakir started his speech then, and he, along with the doctor before him, really started emphasizing and I really started to think, not just listen. Why was I here? Was I a part of this? How could I, an ordinary preteen from the mid-north of America, work towards the “inclusion of disability in North America”, when I was only a child? What could I do to change my corner of the universe? Now wait a minute……change the universe? Ha! That was long-term! How would I even begin to change the lives of those with disabilities? Moreover, what could I do? Could I, a single kid, amend the way the common society overlooks these people with disabilities???

I, an eleven-year-old, sat there amongst the couple hundred of people in Conference Room D in the Mount Vernon Place Convention Center, in Washington D.C., thinking.

Next, a video was to be played about the issue of including people with disabilities. I shut off the camera while watching, and I can tell you that though my brain was working, my face was totally frozen, struck by awe. In the movie, a part was entitled to the problems in the masjids in their local areas. One brother stated that yes; his masjid’s bathroom was made into an accessible bathroom for wheelchair use, but had been turned into a storage area for janitor supplies and boxes! To myself, I think: why is this happening, happening that the masjid’s handicap features are being changed?

It was like the video sent me flying. Thinking I began about everything in the video. How could I help? Donations? Articles? Words? Actions? HOW?!?! Answers I needed, not questions.

I turned the camera back on for my father’s speech. The projector screen displayed the image of cupped hands holding rich brown soil in which was growing a s mall, two-leafed, lime-green plant, about the size of your average thumb.

My father explains that those with a disability in our community are like this plant. Tender, small, totally dependant. It needs sunlight, water, and air.

Now I completely understand what my father means. Those hidden in our communities need sunlight—love and attention, water—knowledge to nourish them, and air—friends, people around them.

Who can give them these three necessities of basic living? Who? Who is responsible for this amongst us?  

Us.

We.

We are.

We are the ones responsible. We can change the way Muslims with disabilities are excluded in their local masjid and our societies. We can try to include them in every way possible. You’re the one who can change your corner of the universe. You, yes, you!

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Niqabi, Interrupted

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Wearing my niqab is a choice freely made, for spiritual reasons

By Naima B.Robert

Niqab3 I put on my niqab, my face veil, each day before I leave the house, without a second thought. I drape it over my face, tie the ribbons at the back and adjust the opening over my eyes to make sure my peripheral vision is not affected.

Had I a full-length mirror next to the front door, I would be able to see what others see: a woman of average height and build, covered in several layers of fabric, a niqab, a jilbab, sometimes an abayah, sometimes all black, other times blue or brown. A Muslim woman in ‘full veil’. A niqabi.

But is that truly how people see me? When I walk through the park with my little ones in tow, when I reverse my car into a parking space, when I browse the shelves in the frozen section, when I ask how to best cook asparagus at a market stall, what do people see? An oppressed woman? A nameless, voiceless individual? A criminal?

Well, if Mr Sarkozy and others like him have their way, I suppose I will be a criminal, won’t I? Never mind that “it’s a free country”; never mind that I made this choice from my own free will, as did the vast majority of covered women of my generation; never mind that I am, in every other respect, an upstanding citizen who works hard as a mother, author and magazine publisher, spends responsibly, recycles and tries to eat seasonally and buy local produce!

Yes, I cover my face, but I am still of this society. And, as crazy as it might sound, I am human, a human being with my own thoughts, feelings and opinions. I refuse to allow those who cannot know my reality to paint me as a cardboard cut-out, an oppressed, submissive, silenced relic of the Dark Ages. I am not a stereotype and, God willing, I never will be.

But where are those who will listen? At the end of the day, Muslim women have been saying for years that the hijab et al are not oppressive, that we cover as an act of faith, that this is a bonafide spiritual lifestyle choice. But the debate rages on, ironically, largely to the exclusion of the women who actually do cover their faces.

The focus on the niqab is, in my opinion, utterly misplaced. Don’t the French have anything better to do than tell Muslim women how to dress? Don’t our societies have bigger problems than a relative handful of women choosing to cover their faces out of religious conviction? The “burka issue” has become a red herring: there are issues that Muslim women face that are more pressing, more wide-reaching and, essentially, more relevant than whether or not they should be covering with a niqab, burqa or hijab.

At the end of the day, all a ban will do is force Muslim women who choose to cover to retreat even further – it is not going to result in a mass “liberation” of Muslim women from the veil. All women, covered or not, deserve the opportunity to dress as they see fit, to be educated, to work where they deem appropriate and run their lives in accordance with their principles, as long as these choices do not impinge on others’ freedoms. And last time I looked, being able to see a woman’s hair, legs or face were not rights granted alongside “liberté, egalité et fraternité”.

As a Muslim woman living in the UK, I am so grateful for the fact that my society does not force me to choose between being a practising Muslim and an active member of society. I have been able to study, to work, to establish a writing career and run a magazine business, all while wearing a niqaab. I think that that is a credit to British society, no matter what the anti-multiculturalists may say, and I think the French coul d learn some very valuable lessons from the British approach.

So, three cheers for those women who make the choice to cover, in whatever way and still go out there every day. Go out to brave the scorn and ridicule of those who think they understand the burka better than those who actually wear it. Go out to face the humiliating headlines. Go out to face the taunts of schoolchildren. Go out to fight another day. Go out to do their bit for society and the common good. Because you never know, if Mr Sarkozy and his supporters have their way, there could come a day when these women think twice about going out there into a society that cannot bear the way they look. And, who knows, I could be one of them.

And, while some would disagree, I think that would be a sad day.

Na’ima B. Robert is the founding editor of SISTERS , a magazine for Muslim women and author of ‘From My Sisters’ Lips ‘, a look at the lives of British Muslim women who cover.

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