Aug 02 2009

Blog - AntiPack - Get your videos working without destroying your PC

We welcome this post from guest blogger Andrew Van Til. Also known as Babgvant, Andy has been a longtime contributor in the HTPC space and is an expert on file codecs, formats and such. He's also the creator of the world famous DVRMSToolbox application which removes your commercials from your recorded TV programs.

I’m no fan of codec packs, more often than not they end up causing much more harm than good.  Solving the short term problem (how do I get this file to play) , but leaving behind a larger mess that often leads to the conclusion that there is something fundamentally broken with the PC as a A/V device.

The real problem with PCs (and not just in this case) is complexity; most (understandably) want the convenience and not the hassle of dealing with containers and codecs so they turn to a pack to solve the immediate need.  I completely understand that it’s a complex topic; something that everyone that has ever tried to get mystery file X to play has struggled with.  Doing it the right way is hard, where codec packs are easy. After repeating “uninstall the codec pack” more times than I care to remember, I figured it was time to do something proactively to hopefully reduce the pain.  So it is with some hesitation (and irony) that I’ve decided to roll my own “codec pack”. 

AntiPack is intended to be part guide and part installer; hopefully making it easy enough for everyone to understand what they are doing, and provide an excellent/easy end user experience at the same time.  Most important it is based on the filters I use on my system.  Most are almost completly stock (with some changes to merit to reduce the arms-race nature of many OSS filters) but some I have customized to fix issues or to make them play nice with other filters. 

Jul 30 2009

Blog - Tip of the Day: Calibrate Your Receiver



I recently found myself sitting in the family room and I realized something.  My receiver has only been calibrated once since I pulled it out of the box about 10 years ago (has it been that long already?).  Needless to say, we've moved since then, and re-arranged our family room three or four times at least.  As you can probably guess, the sound was way out of whack.

Most, if not all, receivers that you can get today will have the ability to produce a test tone that allows you to calibrate the system.  Some higher end units will even have a mic input that will allow the receiver to self-calibrate.  If your receiver is like mine and does not have that feature, tuning the audio levels is a simple enough task.  If you really want the best balance from your speakers, you can use a SPL (Sound Pressure Level) meter, or if you just want it to be close then feel free to use your own built in audio sensitive tools (your ears).

In order to calibrate the setup properly, the receiver generates a test tone that is output on every channel of your setup, one speaker at a time.  The mic or you are then situated in a regular listening position, and as the test tone cycles through the various speakers you can adjust the gain for that channel so that each speaker outputs the same audio level.  This is a simple tweak that takes only a few minutes and can have a substantial impact on your listening experience.

One nice side effect for me in doing this tuning was that I found that my right and left surround channels had been swapped.  So for at least the last six months, maybe longer, my rear speakers have been reversed.  No wonder the rear channels didn't seem to be adding much to the viewing experience.

Jul 21 2009

Blog - C|Net Calls Media Center a Flop, C|Net is Wrong

I recently came across a post from C|Net regarding Microsoft's Windows Media Center, calling it one of the decades 25 biggest flops in technology. Here's the excerpt:

Windows Media Center Edition was the enhanced version of Windows XP that featured multimedia extras and a special user interface optimized for viewing on a TV screen. It never really took off. Solution: integrate it into Vista. Alas, that hasn't worked out so well either. Early reviews of Windows 7--which includes even tighter Media Center integration in most editions--are promising, but we still think Microsoft will have a hard time convincing users to use a PC in place of a cable box (despite some obvious benefits).

C|Net argues that it never took off, not really offering facts but more just guesses. Ask Microsoft and they will give you numbers of the millions of Media Center users throughout the world. Take a look at TheGreenButton forums and you'll see the thousands of posts weekly from enthusiasts. I would argue that while certain aspects of Media Center have flopped, Media Center in general was revolutionary and an extraordinary vision from a company as large as Microsoft.

 The original Media Center User Interface

Nowadays people take the 10-foot Media Center experience for granted, but those of us around the HTPC community in 2001 remember what a fantastic design Microsoft had developed. While there had been other 10' User Interfaces designed for media playback from your PC connected to a television, nothing was as solely 10' as Media Center (most required lots of configurations, settings, tweakings or *gasp* even using a mouse to browse the interface). With the introduction of the classic gray remote control (inexpensive, familiar, comfortable) it inspired a plethora of clones and competitors, all which helped the home theater PC develop into what it has become.

 Original MCE Remote Control


Initially the biggest hurdle it had was simply keeping up with the horse-power requirements. As more users adopted the notion of connecting their PC's to their TV's, new more demanding file formats would come out that would make it difficult for playback. Even today, new technologies such as HDMI 1.3 and 24p plague home theater PC builders. But that negativity is precisely the beauty with what Microsoft pulled off with Media Center--an open platform that can continue to evolve with the changes in technologies and times. Want a Blu-ray player? drop in a $100 drive and voila, who needs a PS3. Want to play video games or emulators? Drop in an Xbox-for-PC Windows Controller

Are there flops within Media Center, absolutely. The Media Center Extenders have been a disaster, "Softsled" has never been close to reality and the lack of a true competitor for the set-top box has been obvious. However, I think the longevity of it should prove that it's been anything but a flop. Many careers and companies have been formed directly or indirectly as a result of what Microsoft has done or continues to try to do with the Media Center platform.

It has been 8 years since the launch of Media Center and the overall outlook remains a mystery, and maybe that is what troubled the C|Net authors. I have great difficulty calling an application which has continued to evolve and play such an influential piece in a significant category of products a "flop." Only time will tell, and even 8 years later I would believe that it's still too early to judge...ask me again in 2017...I would venture to guess that Windows Media Center in some form will still be around and will have its own new problems/faults.

Jul 08 2009

Blog - Windows 7

So my first taste of freedom was installing Windows 7 on my Athlon 3200+ with ATI IGP. Vista performance on this "Designed for XP" laptop was miserable at best, downright crappy at the worst. Hulu barely performs and often stuttered on 480p content. If you can believe it, I could not even carry a webcam conversation without it stuttering horribly.

With all of the talk about Windows 7 performance improvements, I had to check to see if it would run on my old beast of a laptop. The installation was lengthy. It took about 90 minutes to install and another hour to get all the drivers downloaded and reboots performed. I was beginning to have doubts but after everything was straightened out I found the performance to be snappier in every aspect. It works quite will with 768 MB of RAM and leaves me with 200+ free when browsing the Internet.

Hulu? - No problem

Webcam - No problem

DVDs? No problem

Blu-ray rips - Yah forgettabout it.

If you have Vista loaded on a lower grade laptop, you should walk, nay RUN, when W7 ships and get in on the performance increase. It is well worth it.

Now if only Softsled was available. If only.

Next HTPC project is to integrate my iPod into mysetup. Remote control for my HTPC box and extender AND streaming of videos from my server.


Edit: Jenny reminded me that the upgrade plan is only until Jully 11th. $50 is a great deal on W7 Home Premium upgrade. It is available from stores like New Egg as well.

Jun 09 2009

Blog - More fun with Hulu Desktop - Using any remote with EventGhost

After getting EventGhost up and running to integrate PowerDVD 9 with SageTV, I took a look at Hulu Desktop. Integration was pretty straight forward as all of the keyboard commands were available in the software. I'm too lazy to write a plugin, so instead I pulled all the relevant XML from my save file, and you can just copy/paste it into your saved EventGhost XML file. Then all you need to do is associate the remote control buttons that you want to use with it. Here it is below, and I hope this is useful for some of you. Read on for the full XML code you'll need...

Jun 07 2009

Blog - The Analog to Digital Changeover

samplecoupon_en.gifAs you are likely aware of by now, the United States is about to go through a changeover from analog Over-The-Air (OTA) broadcasts to Digital.  We at would like to make sure that all of our affected readers are prepared for this to happen.  If you are receiving your TV signals OTA and if you are tuning them with an analog TV, then you will want to make sure that you have a converter box in place when the changeover happens on June 12, 2009 (just 5 days away). 

To help make sure that you are prepared, here is a link to the governments converter box coupon program , as well as links to our recent converter box reviews in case you missed them the first time around.  Both of these boxes will work well for you and we will have a third box to recommend shortly.  If you have not already ordered your converter box coupons, the process is very easy but it does take a few weeks to receive the coupon, so do it sooner rather than later.

We hope that all of our readers stay well informed and do not want to see anyone in our forum have problems when this changeover happens.  Good luck and thanks for reading.

Jun 07 2009

Blog - Where did I leave my MP3 Player?

It seems that these days, in one form or another, most of us have portable MP3 players.  Whether they are 1 or 2 gig players or larger 120 gig players, audio only or video and touch screen, MP3 players are everywhere today, especially with the younger crowd. 

For a long time, I've been watching the MP3 player market waiting for the right option to come along and grab my attention. Not only did I want the ability to play MP3s, I was also looking for one that could play some movies as well on a reasonably large screen.  And if I could find an FM radio built in, all the better.  And on top of it all, I wanted it to cost as little as possible.

There are a few options out there that I think fit the bill, but the one that I recently ended up with was an 8 gig model from Creative, called the Zen.  Right off the bat I decided that I am not a huge audiophile, I just wanted reasonable music capabilities, so I decided to save a few bucks and not go with the X-Fi series of Zen.  While it would have been nice, it was more than I needed.  But I got everything that I wanted.  There's 8 gigs of solid state memory allowing me do throw on tons of music as well as a handful of movies, and there also an SDHC memory card slot for memory expansion.  The Zen has a 2.5" LCD screen with a resolution of 320x240, which is pretty good for an MP3 player of that size.  In my opinion, this is the smallest size screen that I would go with if you want to be able to see the videos that are playing.  Anything smaller and you're just listening to the audio.  The FM radio is not the strongest, especially due to the lack of an external antenna, but it does pick up a decent signal and I am unaware of any MP3 players that do the job better.  These are not the only capabilities of the player, but this is not a review.  Just the start of a discussion on MP3 players.

So for all of you out there, what do you use and what features do you like/dislike about it?  Leave some feedback.  We'd like to know.

May 19 2009

Blog - Are Media Center Extenders Dead? (again)

The answer has been asked by many and presumed by even more, but ask the folks at Microsoft and they still stand strong around the Extender platform. With Linksys announcing their discontinuing of their Extender products, it leaves us guessing what's to come, since Linksys was one of the original Extender partners for Microsoft. Are they simply discontinuing a 2 year old device to make room for a Windows7 version? Are they out of the game? Nobody outside of Microsoft (and Linksys) knows, but looking back at the Extender history should give us a good idea of what to expect.

5/18 EDIT: In an odd timing from the publishing of this article, HP Announces today that they will also be discontinuing their MediaSmart Televisions and Connect receiver devices. {joomsay}As part of HP's ongoing strategy to accelerate the growth of key product categories, improve efficiencies and profitability and continue to drive innovation for its Personal Systems Group, the company made the decision to place its Connected Entertainment and Managed Home product lines into its global Attach Business. The Attach Business develops products and services that supplement and extend the customer experience of HP's core product lines such as the MediaSmart Server. With these changes, there will not be any follow on MediaSmart TV or MediaSmart Connect products in 2009. With the PC at the center of the experience, HP continues to be committed to delivering high-definition, connected entertainment to consumers around the world.{/joomsay}

Apr 22 2009

Blog - HTPC Flashback - A Decade in Review

For those of you that are familiar with my writings, I often have a case of nostalgia. Having been involved in Home Theater PC's for over 10 years now, I often reminisce at how this all started and where we are today. I think it was Alan's blog about Start Menu's that made me think about the plethora of Home Theater PC Software that has existed over the years, and just how much they've changed--and just how similar some of them are. I hope you enjoy this look back as much as I enjoyed trying to remember them! (Of course, if you remember anything I forgot, let us know in the forums!)

Here's the list, in no particular order...

ATI All-In-Wonder Software


I have the fondest memories of this piece of software. It was bundled with ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon graphics cards, which were REVOLUTIONARY for having the cost savings idea of Graphics AND TV Tuner all-in-ONE! And it even came with a great remote with a touchpad.

Keep in mind, this was before any other Media Center taught us how this (left) is NOT a 10 Foot Interface. But it sure was fun trying to teach my non-geek friends how to schedule a recording they could barely read on my old 32" Toshiba tube television's whopping 640x480 display.

Continue reading the rest...


showshifter2-thumb.jpg showshifter-thumb.jpg

Started back in 2002, Showshifter was one of the oldest Home Theater PC applications, which sadly bit the dust a couple years ago. Their design/interface didn't change much throughout the years, but it was one of the first and was pretty popular.


SageTV-2.0-thumb.jpg SageTVSkin2-thumb.jpg

SageTV is another one of the first HTPC companies that jumped onto the scene in 2002. They prided themselves in customizability. In a world where Windows Media Center and others were extremely rigid in their integration, SageTV has, and still does rely on a phenomenal community of users and developers who contribute to it and makes it people of various tastes to enjoy it. Still a bit for the more technically inclined, but arguably one of the best HTPC software on the market today.

MyHTPC > Meedio

meedios1-thumb.jpg meedios2-thumb.jpg

One of the most entertaining pieces of software for its time, MyHTPC was a 100% customizable (and easy to do) front-end software. It was a bit different than the others in that it was strictly a front-end--meaning that it merely interacted between tasks and the programs, instead of programs like SageTV which have their own integrated players. It definitely made for some challenges, but it was also the ultimate in flexibility as you could configure playback with any software. Head on over to AVSForum and I'm sure you will find some people who still are using a version of MyHTPC they took a long time to perfect (ok, maybe just a few...but everyone remembers it!). Did I mention that MyHTPC was completely FREEEE!! Along with a fantastic community of support, it was definitely one of the most popular applications in its day.

They leveraged their popularity and created an even slicker commercial application in Meedio, which was quite short-lived. The most popular of its features was their 3rd party applications store, called MAID. Even to this day, no other software has come close to the seemless integration of outside applications and plugins into a Media Center application. Unfortunately, soon after creating an amazing amount of buzz for their software and potential TV integration (something that MyHTPC always lacked), Meedio was sold to Yahoo!....who took the codebase and development community they had grown, and abandoned the project entirely. Go figure.

Luckily for us, that community that made Meedio so popular did not take death lying down, and created and continue to develop the aptly named MeediOS . Still a relative baby on the scene, MeediOS has impressed already with some stunning visuals and the commitment of their dedicated community. And oh yeah, it's back to FREE!

Snapstream Personal Video Station > BeyondTV


Snapstream is another one of the classic HTPC companies which I'm happy to say continue to thrive and innvoate in the market. They have not been afraid to push the boundaries on their development, and have collected some nice buzz recently on their search technology for businesses to monitor keywords from TV channels. Personally, I was most impressed with their Medusa setup. While many enthusiasts were hacking it with whatever software, Snapstream was one of the first to really encourage users to have a large multi-tuner setup.

Initially marketed as Personal Video Station, it got a facelift with the BeyondTV moniker, and has since developed quite a brand with that developing remotes, frontends and now even complete systems. While not nearly as customizable as SageTV, it is a bit easier to setup with comparable features, which has placed right near the top of the best in class.

Windows Media Center (XP, 2005, Vista and Windows7)

VistaMCE-thumb.jpg Win7MCE.png

Love them or hate them, it's hard to argue that the Home Theater PC market would not be where it is today had it not been for Microsoft's 2002 relase of their Windows Media Center platform. A bit different than other 3rd party applications in that it was built into the operating system and was originally exclusive to OEM PC vendors (similar to how CableCard systems are today). With a fresh and modern look to it, Media Center quickly gained ground and eventually became the leader of the pack. Without any customizing or tweaking supported, Microsoft gave us the first real out of the box and ready to go experience, and all from the exclusive use of a groovy gray remote control. Before this, most HTPC remotes included touchpads or other mouse controls as it was still occasionally needed.

As time has progressed, so too has Microsoft's vision blurred a little on how they see Media Center in the home, but the fact that it is already on a lot of computers makes it at least easy to try. They were rarely the first to include features such as QAM support or multiple tuners, but without them we would never have had cablecard (is that a good thing?)...and they eventually do support those must have's.

Media Portal

MediaPortal1.0.png MediaPortal3-thumb.jpg

Media Portal initially began as what appeared to be just another Windows Media Center Clone with a basic interface, but as you can see from the above...they've grown quite nicely! Entirely free, the Media Portal community has a wealth of developers and just as important, DESIGNERS who have helped make it one of the most attractive solutions on the market. Similar to SageTV, Media Portal is highly customizable and allows for many tweaks to configure and adjust. Setup is a bit more technical than most however, but it's hard to argue with their design and supportive community.


CTPVR-2.0-thumb.gif CTPVR-2.0-PIP.gif

Oh CT-PVR, how were you able to include a feature which big Microsoft still has been unable to deliver?!? That feature of course, is Picture-in-Picture! CtPVR was always a bit behind from a user interface standpoint, but they were the first (and only to-date) to support PiP. The rather basic looking user interface always made me shy away from them, but I had to credit their technological innovations. ctPVR is no longer in development as they were sold to another company, so who knows if we will hear from it again.



MythTV is really the basemark for free HTPC software, based on Linux though. It's been free since day one, and has offered the ultimate in tweaking and adjusting...which has equally attracted as it has scared people away. Few HTPC clients offer as much control over their environment, and we have a recent writeup of how it compares to SageTV.

It's been so popular, that people have developed various versions based off the MythTV code, most popular was Knoppmyth--which would run entirely off of a CD. As with most popular linux applications, the community surrounding it is unbelievable, as they continue to innovate and evolve the product, essentially for free. The interface may not be as stylish as some of the comparable Windows applications, but there's few (if any) that can match it from a feature-to-feature comparison.


Freevo is along the same path as MythTV. Not much to say about it other than it's out there, and it is pretty popular as well. The design is a bit different than MythTV, and it's based on GeekBox.



Announced in 2007, LinuxMCE is another Linux HTPC software that is based partially off of the MythTV code (which is OK in the Linux world).  What set LinuxMCE out, was their creator's ridiculous sales pitch videos which announced how ridiculously easy, stable & compatible it was, and how it just demolished Windows Media Center in every way, shape or form. Given that, I hope you enjoy the screenshot of the application as much as I did. Needless to say...LinuxMCE has not exactly gained fast adoption. linuxmce2-thumb.jpg



Xlobby is a frontend HTPC solution for the professional dealer market. Don't tell that to the many loyal users from AVS-Forum however, who have been loyal followers and supporters of the application for years! Founded on the idea of being 100% customizable, it really has an appeal to installers trying to not only satisfy many a customer wish, but also be easy to use. It was never really meant to be for the mainstream, so the difficulty of using is higher than most other apps, but as you can see above, it really has grown in development as the HTPC world has grown.



XBox Media Center (XBMC) has been so important on so many levels, and it's ironic that it's original design was strictly for the old black Xbox console.  XBMC is actually the foundation on which the aforementioned Media Portal was based on, as the group wanted to migrate it to an actual PC, instead of a modified Xbox. Even to this day, as the Xbox black console is old and obselete, plenty of people keep them (or buy one) strictly to run as their Media Center solution. And why not?! The interface was fantastic, stable and played a plethora of file formats. It truly was revolutionary and we probably would not have the XBox 360 or Playstation 3 Media interfaces we have today had it not been for the popularity of XBMC.


TVedia had been around for quite some time, but their softwawre never really took off like the others. It's asking price was always reasonable, but to me it always seemed behind in terms of design and cutting edge features. TVedia has since shut down, but is just another case of a commercial application that could have used a design shot in the arm.


Talisman is an application designed to modify your desktop's appearance (think WindowBlinds to the extreme), and the reason I bring it up is because it shows the desparation us HTPC-fans were in during the growth stages, when there were simply no attractive HTPC interfaces around. So, with Talisman you could essentially design your own Front-end. Not extremely popular, but definitely shows the growth of the industry.


NeroHome2.png NeroHome-thumb.jpg
Cyberlink-PowerCinema-thumb.jpg Cyberlink-PowerCinema2-thumb.jpg
Imedian-thumb.jpg IMonTheater-thumb.jpg

I am bundling together the HTPC software solutions from Intervideo, Nero, Cyberlink and Imon/Imedian because they all show really ho these have been fairly paltry attempts at a comparable solution for the user. The majority of these are bundled as freebies along either a display device, remote or other software, and you can see from the interface that they really lack innovation or exciting design. Not to say these wouldn't be of any use, but just with so many free and superior alternatives I certainly hope users are aware and go with a better solution.

JRiver Media Center

JRiver does large music collections really, really well. They are not however, on the most cutting edge when it comes to a 10' Media center-type interface as shown. It's really just a basic and simple interface that allows access to their more powerful software. If you have an obscene volume of music tracks, it may be worth checking out, otherwise, there's better alternatives.

Got All Media

A smaller development, Got All Media is another in one of the earlier HTPC pieces of software which never really took off. They haven't released anything since April of 2008, this commercial piece of software could use a facelift (or two!).  

And that's what 10 years in the home theater PC world has looked like, literally. If you're keeping track, that's over 25 different programs designed to essentially do the same thing. Of course, not all of these programs are still in existance, but I think it goes to show the growth of those that do, and also shows where we have been. In a market that initially started fairly bland and simple, where playback of content was the primary, we have since grown to expect more from our Media Center software, not just being powerful and customizable, but also attractive--also known as the WAF (Wife acceptance factor).

I don't think that it's by chance that SageTV, BeyondTV and Windows Media Center have climbed to the top of food chain, with their innovative design, reasonable prices and quality feature set. It's even more impressive their success given the immense competition from free competitors such as MythTV, Media Portal and MeediOS, as they offer phenomenal value for the quality of product they provide.

So where does this leave us? Where will we be 10 years from now? Hopefully HTPC's continue to grow in popularity. I think the one thing lacking in the current solutions is interactivity and online integration. I don't think it's by coincidence that a company like Boxee can become so popular in such a short time, since it offers you a 10' portal to a multitude of online content sites (such as Hulu). The future is sure to be the hybrid of both and I'm sure will be as fun a voyage as the last 10 years have been.

Apr 15 2009

Blog - Sarah Conner, Terminated?

While I have not seen anything official yet, there are lots of rumors floating around right now that the show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is on the chopping block.  This makes me very unhappy because it is one of the few shows that I'm actually interested in this season.  What is making me even more unhappy is that the ratings aren't as bad as they appear to be.

When ratings are taken for shows like this, they ignore viewers that see it via Hulu or DVRed, or in other markets such as the UK.  The problem is that the group that this show is targeted for is the same group that is likely to have a DVR or watch the show online.  We all know why they do the ratings this way.  It's all about advertising dollars.  The ratings only include those watching the show while it is being aired.  If you're watching it DVRed or online, chances are you are skipping over the commercials. And if you're watching it live in the UK, this doesn't help US advertising dollars either.

The problem is that in time to come more and more people are going to be viewing their media online or DVRed.  Obviously, I personally watch most of my TV via my homebrew HTPC running Mythtv, and what I don't watch there I watch with my laptop via Hulu or similar online sites.  I rarely watch anything live, directly on the TV these days.  And this is going to be the case for more and more people.  This is not a new concept anymore.  Networks, cable companies and satellite companies are going to have to find a new way to rate their shows (and make revenue) because the current way of doing things don't work anymore.  All of the good shows will be canceled.

What do you think?  Is the current rating method fair?  How should it be improved? 


Apr 13 2009

Blog - Recommend My Next Netflix Rental

Which ever rental I pick out of the suggestions gets another entry in the OnAir GT giveaway! I won't pollute your recommendations by giving out my personal preferences.


Apr 09 2009

Blog - Am I spoiled?

My family and I have been on vacation for the last week visiting my mother-in-law.  It's been a great trip.  We got to see lots of scenery, have lots of experiences, and in general, expose our daughter to lots of stuff she hasn't seen before.  Some of those things I could live without.  What am I talking about?  Commercials!

After a long day of seeing the sites, we decided to kick back and relax in front of the TV before going off to bed one night.  After flipping through the channels for a while, we settled on The Fast and the Furious.  Everything was going along fine until a few minutes into the show, it stopped and there was this other stuffbeing advertised.  What's up with that?  Commercials?  I haven't seen those in years now.  I've forgotten what it's like for the rest of the world out there.  Every few minutes, you have to take a break while waiting for the show to start up again.  How annoying.

So now I find myself at the end of this journey.  We fly back home tomorrow.  I know that I am going to miss the warm temperatures and visiting family.  But one thing is for sure: I am looking forward to getting back to my HTPC with its pause button and auto-commercial skipping.  Am I spoiled?  Oh yeah.  And I'm proud of it!

Apr 07 2009

Blog - I want FIOS!

Prices and content of Comcast, MN and Verison FIOS, CA.
Apr 01 2009

Blog - Get with the program

brlogo.jpgA couple weeks ago I was walking around the house and I came to the realization that I was once again behind the times.  Shortly there after, I ran across a nice deal from an online retailer.  That was good enough for me.  It was time to scrape together some funds. 

One week later, I have in front of me the LG GGC-H20L Blu-Ray and HD-DVD ROM / DVD burner.  As you can probably tell from the description this drive is capable of playing both Blu-Ray discs as well as HD-DVDs (if you happen to own any).  It can also be used as a regular DVD player/burner.  As is the standard these days, it connects via a SATA port.  All in all, I am very happy and look forward to many hours of movie bliss.

What do you think?  Was it a good buy?  Am I really really late to the game with my upgrade?  Let us know your thoughts in the forums!

Mar 30 2009

Blog - SageTV News: Sage HD Theater Sale and SageMC 6.3.9 Released

Just got back from Tahoe and saw a few tasty tidbits in my inbox. For those looking at buying SageTV extenders, Sage is running a March Madness Sale (until end of month).

Enter the coupon code MMAD09 when checking out to get the indicated discount. (Coupon expires April 1, 2009)

- $20 off SageTV HD Theater (only $179.95)
- $25 off SageTV HD Theater and SageTV Media Center for Windows software (only $224.95)

MeinMaui also just announced the latest release of SageMC. Here's a look at the new features. Things that caught my eye - Intelligent Sorting of Recorded TV Screen (that might do something for you Autoboy), Subtitle Support, Cycling through Fan Art, and Screen Capping Fan Art from Video

Click Read More for the full list of fixes and changes.

Mar 25 2009

Blog - Home Automation: Getting Started With Z-Wave and mControl

To get started, let me give you a quick idea of my planned home automation infrastructure. My plan, at least at this point in the ball game, is to automate lighting and HVAC systems. mControl server is installed on a Windows Home Server with access granted to mobile clients, internet connected PCs, and any locally connected Media Center clients and of course extenders. That is right, that light dimmer won't know what hit it.

Getting started with a Z-Wave network is pretty easy. I have an HA07 Intermatic controller that I used as the primary controller on my Z-Wave network. mControl uses the Z-Wave adapter utility to communicate with this controller. Check out page 30 in the manual for specific directions but the gist of it is that by pressing Start Receive the utility will download the devices that are setup on your controller and they will now be available for use within the mControl program. Easy as pie so far right?


I stumbled a bit through this process because I didn't read the user manual :). No one's fault but my own. I would like to see Embedded Automation  provide a "work flow" approach and a bit more background information in their manual. With that said, boy kudos to them for putting together a 300 page manual.

Mar 24 2009

Blog - A humorous website

A friend recently went my wife a link to a website we had not seen before.  The name of the site is and I wanted to make sure that all of you see it also.  Beware though, it's not a website that is workplace friendly.
Mar 23 2009

Blog - I Hold All Of The Power In The World

It was about 7:30 pm last night, give or take a couple of hours, and I was hard at work attempting to wrap my feeble mind around the shroud of mystery that surrounds home automation. Deep in its bowels I toiled for well over 10 minutes while I read the manual of the Intermatic Master Controller and how to assign a Z-Wave lamp dimmer module to a particular channel on the master controller. A couple of button presses later, BAM, the level 1 boss that had thwarted me in the most basic of HA tasks had been defeated. That is correct, I wirelessly controlled a light. Even better, it was from another room.

*Technical Note* - Although the Z-Wave USB adapter can be used as a primary adapter, it is recommended to get a master controller that is used as a primary adapter to setup your network. For security reasons, you have to be within 6' of your primary controller to set a Z-Wave module up. Who wants to take a computer around to each module for setup:)?

Level 2 promised not to be as easy. There were programs to install, devices to sync, zones to program, and scenes to produce. Really the procedure here was installing mControl on my WHS machine and doing a basic setup to confirm the local and internet server was running for future expansion. I admit, I fumbled my way through the setup for a few minutes. I had forgotten about the Zwave setup utility that should be used before attempting to setup mControl itself. All that was really involved in this setup was syncing my primary controller with mControl. This sync captured the fact that I had one lamp module connected to the setup and was now available for use within mControl. From there, I simply setup a zone and added a new device.

After that, I went to testing out various methods of controlling this one light. Since this is a WHS install, I simply logged into my WHS server http://whsserver/. With that you are taken to a webpage for mControl. It can be viewed on mobile devices as well by going to http://whsserver/mcontrol/mobile.aspx. Just like that, I am able to control this device via my mobile phone, iPod touch, and any internet connected computer.

Tomorrow I will throw up a few screen caps of the process and provide a little more detail on how I arrived from point A to point B As well I should be able to share the process of connecting VMC and 7MC clients.

In summary, this accomplishment is only rivaled by early man's successful attempt at taming fire. My next step is world-domination with one button press from my cell phone. A Windows Mobile cell phone no less........ 

Mar 19 2009

Blog - BoxeeTV on AppleTV - Getting up and Running

BoxeeTV is a new home theater type software, but they have gone a different route in the ways they began distributing. They launched with an initial alpha version for Linux, Apple, and AppleTV's, and shunned us Windows users. That didn't bother me as I wanted to get my hands on it, until I remembered how terrible I was with Linux. So I was content on waiting for an alpha version of Windows, and the wonderful folks at Boxee promised to get me one...that was until they kept releasing such cool features and forced my hand--I had to buy an AppleTV solely for the purpose of installing Boxee on it!


The benefits for me of using the AppleTV over the alternatives were obvious. Already having a dedicated Vista Media Center PC, I did not want to kill my electricity bill by powering an entirely new PC strictly to run Linux and Boxee, so with the AppleTV, which is showing a wattage of between 18-22 Watts is a vast improvement over the 100+ Watts a computer would draw. Do I wish AppleTV was lower like an HP Media Center (7 watts), sure, but given that it's essentially a computer and it allows me to run Boxee...I can live with 22.

Mar 17 2009

Blog - XBMC on AppleTV - Beautiful User Interface

As I continue to test, play and poke around the enormous amount of resources that exist for XBMC (Xbox Media Center) on AppleTV, I felt obliged to comment on just how stunning the visuals are. I briefly mentioned the user interface in my last post, but this is the type of appearance that can only be expressed with pictures.

From an HTPC background, the closest memory I have to ever being as impressed with a user interface was with the old Meedio, which had some similar awe-inspiring user interfaces. Keep in mind, the following have all been designed by the community--proving just how important having a loyal following can be. These skins are not that easy to implement properly, as you have to source and install the skin and all the wallpapers used. But again, with the resources from the XBMC forums, I had little problems figuring out how to SFTP into the AppleTV and then uploading. Still nowhere near the simplicity of other HTPC software like Boxee or Media Center, but they don't look like this either.

Mar 16 2009

Blog - Oops, I did it again!

Sometimes I can't just leave good enough alone.  Let's see...  It's been a month since my last blog post, and a month and a half since my last issue...  So this time I had to be pretty creative in order to break things. 

As some of you know, my HD server/development system died on me a little while ago.  Around the same time, I revived my old frontend, thanks to Autoboy.  This time around I decided to throw in a bunch of hard drives that I had sitting around, throw in my HD tuner from the dead server and rebuild a dual boot system that can be used to play with new hardware as the options arise, as well as run Mythtv under Linux.  On the Linux side of things I am in the process of building a development Mythtv server that is intended to allow me to test out new features without killing the production Mythtv setup.

Mar 09 2009

Blog - XBMC on AppleTV - First Impressions

One of the benefits of the installation of BoxeeTV on an AppleTV, is that XBMC (Xbox Media Center) HTPC Software is basically already installed onto your AppleTV. Remember that BoxeeTV is based on XBMC's code, so it makes the install that much easier. If you are only interested in installing XMBC, there are a number of writeups like this . I have been using BoxeeTV for a few weeks now, and I think it's only fair to give XBMC on the AppleTV a try to see how it compares to its sibling.

XBMC has been around since the original Xbox days, and what initially began as software exclusively for modded Xboxes to have a HTPC frontend (in the pre-Xbox360 days) has since expanded to a multitude of platforms and branched development items such as BoxeeTV and MediaPortal. XBMC is fully open source, which has clearly been embraced among the community while still maintaining to develop on their own.




Mar 06 2009

Blog - A Taste of what's in the new Boxee...with Hulu again!

EDIT 3/6 @ 3:30pm: Well that didn't last long :-( Good thing this update has some cool new features besides Hulu!

By now you have probably heard the news about Boxee releasing an update with a different way of approaching Hulu. While previously Boxee had an amazing integration with Hulu, that service had since been terminated due to unknown reasons by the request of the content providers.

With today's announcement from Boxee, it seems that not all hope is lost. The latest version--which is admittedly unstable--shows a glimpse into what the future can hold for Boxee users clammoring to have their Hulu back. And so far...I'm impressed.


As you can see, the integration is still fun and blends wonderfully into the Boxee interface. In using the RSS feeds, the hope is that this model can last longer and not get axed down as fast as the last model. These images are of the Hulu Feeds app by default, all the shows are there by default and it's just the pipes of Boxee have changed as to how you get them. You still just click on a show to play, and you still get all those wonderful commercials.


I'm sure on a related note, this new version of Boxee also includes an auto-update feature which is really a must have as I imagine the back and forth with Hulu will continue for a bit longer at least. But that's not all...

I'll cover this briefly, but Boxee is not resting on their laurels with the content they have. They've clearly listened to the community and have added their "App Box" which allows you to add other video feeds. I'll cover this more in depth in the future, but for now here's a taste of what's already available and how seamless the integration continues to be.

 App Box offerings
 Funny or Die (from Will Ferrell)


This is all much more than just the beginning and I think will continue to add to the popularity and relevance of Boxee in your home theater environment. Kudos to the Boxee team for such quick development on all of the above and I'm sure more that's coming!

Mar 04 2009

Blog - I reached a milestone!

diabloii.jpgWell, it's been close to four years now that I've been working with HTPCs and it just dawned on me that over this last weekend I finally reached one of my original goals that got me going down this path in the first place.  What is that you might ask?  Well, keeping in mind that this was about four years ago, one of my original driving forces to start looking into HTPCs was to be able to play Diablo 2 on our then new CRT HDTV.  I am now proud to say that after years of work, I finally found myself with time and ability (two things that never occur at the same time for me) to sit down and play a game of Diablo 2 with my brother and our wives.  Yes, that's right, both of our wives played also, and I am proud to say that they both did great.  Sure this may be a small achievement for most of you out there, but this is why I started down this path in the first place.  And I had a lot of fun too. 

Now that I've actually accomplished something after all this time, I can rest easy knowing that this was all worth it!  And I didn't even realize that I've already been doing it this long.  In some ways it seems like only yesterday, and in some ways it seems like there has always been an HTPC at our house.  Here's to many more years of successful projects for all of us! Cool

Feb 20 2009

Blog - Boxee CAN (and will) Survive without Hulu

News broke last week from both Boxee and Hulu camps that effective immediately, Boxee was no longer allowed to utilize Hulu's offerings--arguably a large reason a lot of folks began using Boxee. Hulu integration on Boxee was way ahead of anyone else and allowed you to watch any and all Hulu TV shows streamed from your remote control. Some have argued that this announcement could mean the demise of Boxee as a whole. I would argue, they are wrong. :-)


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