Review of Talfazat Box

September 3, 2009 by · 26 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

P8298150  

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.

P8298141  

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.

P8298151  

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).

P8298154 P8298155
P8298156  

 

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.

P8298153 P8298149

 

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

Spotlight

P8298152  

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.

11-37

What Now, Pakistan?

August 21, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Peter Symonds

2008-08-18T142847Z_01_ISL38_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-POLITICS-RESIGNATION

Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf salutes as he leaves the presidential house after his resignation in Islamabad August 18, 2008. Musharraf announced his resignation on Monday in the face of an impending impeachment motion by the ruling coalition government. 

REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Effectively abandoned by his domestic allies and international backers, Pakistan’s military strongman Pervez Musharraf formally resigned yesterday as the country’s president rather than face impeachment proceedings that were due to commence this week.

Musharraf’s resignation followed more than a week of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres involving US, British and Saudi officials as well as the Pakistani army to pressure the government to grant the former dictator immunity from prosecution. While Musharraf denied that he had been given any favours in return for his resignation, there is little doubt that a deal has been reached to allow him a “dignified exit."

The writing has been on the wall since Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) suffered a humiliating defeat in national elections in February at the hands of opposition parties—the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Musharraf is widely hated for his nine years of dictatorial rule and support for Washington’s “bogus war on terrorism” that has triggered what amounts to a civil war in Pakistan’s tribal border areas with Afghanistan.

For months, the Bush administration and its allies pressed the PPP-led coalition government to collaborate with Musharraf, which the PPP endeavoured to do. The PML-N and its leader Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister by Musharraf in a military coup in 1999, sought to exploit popular opposition by demanding impeachment and the reinstatement of 57 supreme court judges sacked by Musharraf last year. Sharif pulled the PML-N ministers out of the cabinet in May and threatened to leave the coalition completely if agreement could not be reached on these issues.

Confronting a steady loss in support for the government, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari finally announced plans on August 7 to impeach Musharraf. Opinion polls showed overwhelming popular support—some 75 percent of respondents—for ousting the president, which was reflected yesterday in spontaneous celebrations in the streets of Pakistani cities. While Zardari declared impeachment would commence, no formal charge sheet was presented to parliament, however, allowing time for a deal to be worked out behind the scenes.

Considerable international pressure was bought to bear to end the impasse without initiating impeachment proceedings. While reluctantly recognising that the president had to go, the last thing that Washington wanted was any public airing of Musharraf’s crimes and anti-democratic methods. Any such probe threatened to expose the extent of US involvement with the Pakistani security forces in the suppression of Islamist groups inside Pakistan and war being waged against armed militia in the Afghan-Pakistani border areas supportive of anti-occupation insurgents inside Afghanistan. The CIA and FBI may well be implicated in the hundreds of “disappearances” for which Musharraf and the army are allegedly responsible.

Having relied on Musharraf since the US occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, the Bush administration was also concerned that the fragile Pakistani government would fail to continue to back military operations against Islamist militias in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). After winning the February election in part by branding Musharraf as a US stooge, the coalition government initially proposed to end the fighting by reaching peace deals with the various armed groups—a move that was sharply opposed in Washington.

Senior Bush administration and Pentagon officials have mounted an intense campaign to pressure the Pakistani government into taking military action in the border areas. There is every sign that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was issued with an ultimatum during his trip to Washington in July—either take action against anti-US guerrillas, or the US military would. In response, Gilani declared that the US “war on terrorism” was “our war”.
Just one day before impeachment proceedings were announced, the Pakistani military launched a major offensive into Bajaur agency. Intense fighting is now taking place in areas from the Swat district, through the Peshawar districts, to the Bajaur and Kyber agencies. After 12 straight days of air and ground bombardment, it is estimated that up to 300,000 people have fled the border areas. The timing points to a tacit understanding with Washington to initiate extensive military action in return for US backing to remove Musharraf.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was fulsome in her praise of the former Pakistani dictator yesterday. Musharraf, she declared, had been “a friend of the United States and one of the world’s most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism”. It was precisely Musharraf’s decision to withdraw Pakistani support from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and his backing for the ongoing US occupation that was one of the major factors in the collapse of his initial post-coup support.
British and Saudi officials have also been engaged in closed-door talks to secure a deal that would allow Musharraf to resign in return for immunity from prosecution and other assurances. Saudi Arabia’s powerful intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Islamabad over the weekend and was reported to have threatened to withdraw oil subsidies worth $5 billion a year unless Musharraf was allowed to leave gracefully.
Likewise the Pakistani military, while publicly insisting that it would stay above politics, nevertheless quietly made clear its opposition to impeachment proceedings—a point underscored yesterday by the decision to give Musharraf a final guard of honour.

If Musharraf were to be tried for breaches of the constitution and other crimes, then the army top brass on which he rested during his nine years in power also risked being implicated. As Najam Sethi, editor of Pakistan’s Daily Times, commented to the Guardian: “Nobody wants the Pandora’s box opened up. The issue of impeachment is really a non-starter.”

An unstable government

While Musharraf has now stepped down, the political crisis in Islamabad is certain to intensify. The two major coalition parties—the PPP and PML-N—are longstanding and bitter rivals. As a number of commentators have noted, opposition to Musharraf was the main glue holding their alliance together. Even on the immediate issue of Musharraf’s future, there is no agreement.

PPP officials have hinted that a deal was reached to give legal immunity to the former president as long as he agreed to go into exile. At this stage, spokesmen for Musharraf have indicated that he wants to remain in Pakistan and has plans to take up residence in a villa being constructed outside Islamabad. In his hour-long televised speech yesterday, Musharraf delivered a strident defence of his period in office, insisting that he had done nothing wrong and blaming the government for the deterioration of the country’s economy. The PPP certainly does not want Musharraf within striking distance as opposition grows to its rule.
The PML-N continues to insist, publicly at least, that Musharraf should be charged and prosecuted for his crimes. Last week Sharif told a meeting in Lahore: “How can safe passage be given to someone who has done this to Pakistan?” There are also differences between the two parties over the reinstatement of supreme court judges, in part because PPP leader Zardari fears that the judges may allow the revival of corruption convictions against him.

Another immediate bone of contention will be Musharraf’s replacement as president. He has been formally succeeded by the chairman of the Senate, Mohammed Mian Soomro, a close ally who was prime minister until the election in February. A new president will be elected via country’s electoral college—the national assembly and four provincial assemblies meeting together. Zardari is known to have ambitions to fill the post, but such a move will be forcefully opposed by Sharif. The constitution drawn up by Musharraf gives the president considerable power, such as to sack the government and to make key appointments, including the army commander.

More fundamentally, the government now faces the same dilemmas that confronted Musharraf. It is under intense pressure from Washington to intensify military operations in the border areas with Afghanistan where the army has largely lost control. Gilani faces the prospect of being branded a US puppet and rapidly losing support. Any retreat risks the prospect of unilateral US military action, which would also trigger a popular backlash against the government.

At the same time, the Pakistani economy is being hit by rising oil and food prices as well as weakening demand in the US and Europe for its exports. The annual inflation rate is running at a 30-year high of nearly 25 percent; the Pakistani rupee has fallen 22 percent against the declining US dollar this year; and in the past five weeks, the country’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled by nearly $US1.1 billion to $10.15 billion, mainly as a result of the cost of imported oil. The trade deficit has ballooned by 53 percent to $20.7 billion for the 2007-08 fiscal year that ended in June. The share market has slumped by 30 percent since April.
Share values and the rupee rose yesterday on news of Musharraf’s resignation, but further political turmoil will rapidly reverse those gains. Rising prices will only fuel social unrest and opposition to the government. While Musharraf’s resignation is being presented in the Pakistani and international media as a step toward democracy in Pakistan, both the PPP and PML-N have a record of autocratic rule. Whatever its final makeup, the regime holding the reins of power in Islamabad will not hesitate to use anti-democratic methods to suppress any political opposition to its policies.

10-35