Jan 20 2009

Blog - The story of my life

Well, I'm kinda depressed this morning.  I admit that things were finally going smoothly for once.  Everything was set up the way I wanted.  None of my scheduled recordings were being missed.  Things were actually calming down around here for once.  Then, about this time last week, the UPS on my HD server/development system beeped on me, and when I went to check on it wouldn't you know it?  The system won't turn on anymore.  It wasn't a power flux in the house.  Only that one UPS beeped.  I imagine that the PSU went out and spiked the UPS.  I guess that's not too unreasonable though, because after thinking about it for a while I realized that that system was about 9 years old at least.  

But the reason that I'm depressed is that this is the system that housed my HD tuner and I now find myself with only an SD recording of Monday's episode of The Big Bang Theory.  So I have a bit of a dilemma.  Do I spend the time and money trying to revive the system so that I can continue to use the same configuration and not have to do a new OS installation on a new system or do I spend a bit more money and build a new system to do the same function as the old system.  Or, do I ditch that system all together, throw the HD tuner in my frontend system - making that a frontend/backend - and then use my laptop for development?  I could probably build a new system for around $500.  What to do, what to do...  Hmm...

Until I figure out what I want to do going forward, I imagine that I will at least start by throwing the HD tuner into my frontend for now.  I would really like to have something functional by the time the Super Bowl comes around in a couple weeks.

Feel free to offer an opinion.  What would you do in this situation?  If you'd build a new system, what would you use for parts?  Let me know!

Jan 18 2009

Blog - 3DTV updates

Back in October I started to talk about how 3DTV was going to be the next big technology to hit the home theater experience.  Now that more time has passed, I thought it would be a good idea to see how things sit today.  Many companies were sharing their products and plans at CES2009  so lets take a look at where things are now.


Jan 18 2009

Blog - Transition Time

Those of us who have the privilege of having a significant other also have the distinct joy of ensuring our media system design meets their specific requirements.  This has been referred to in the past as the "Wife Acceptance Factor" or WAF.  I'm not talking about whether it's a 720p or 1080p display or what RAID level the drives are running, but rather something much more important.  Let me give you an example; "Why does it go to that screen when I click this doohickey?"

After time has passed and they have been sufficiently trained in the system's operation, the questions become less frequent and the impatient sighs diminish.  So, why would you ever think about rocking the boat?  There are a million reasons and eventually the time comes to bite the bullet and make the leap of faith.  Days of planning, testing, and tweaking culminate in the evening of the great unveiling.  You sit her down, explain the vast improvements that the new system will provide (her eyes roll into the back of her head half way through), and you hand her the shiny new remote.  What happens next can be best described as "shock and awe".  Nothing is as it was before.  "Where's my recordings?",  "How do I watch a DVD?",  "This remote feels funny", and my personal favorite, "Can you put it back the way it was?"

Yes, the WAF just took a plunge deeper than the crashing stock market.  With some careful planning, your next HTPC software platform transition can be a little less harrowing.  Read on for some tips.

Jan 17 2009

Blog - Home Automation Shopping List

When I pitched the idea of Home Automation to my wife, all she asked was, "Why does our house need to be automated?". Not a good start to my home automation project. Starting off with a negative WAF can be a hard hole to climb out of. The good news is that after several years of marriage, I am ready to climb another everest. I hope this one is as successful as the HTPC w/CableCards & extender route.

For more information on getting started I recommend checking out Chris Lanier's Guide to getting started with Home Automation . He summarizes the available standards, hardware installation and use of mControl. I won't duplicate his fine work :). A quick search of "getting started" on his site will reveal more useful posts.


Mike raised a good point in his comment. I really didn't outline my intentions and I sort of left it vague because I wasn't sure where it would lead pending my evaluation of the software, expense and economics of the situation. I do have some very general goals in mind that I will share. 

  1. Convenience - Lving in a two story house with kids is the perfect storm for lights left on all over the house. It would be nice to have the convenience of checking to see what lights were left on in the basement, outside etc. I am not sure the reduction in my powerbill for this will ever payoff my investment but I think it is worthwhile.
  2. Security - There is no window in our door so you have to open the door to see who is there. Not only for security but not having to answer the door when a sales person is there :)
  3. Temperature Control - Though I have a programmable thermostat, I think remote access (all over house) and Internet, will have a big impact on gas and AC bill. As a family we tend to manually change the thermostat and forget about it, this should help resolve that issue.
  4. Cool Factor -A lot of my project is driven my the inner geek in my. I want to have the lights dim when I start a movie etc :)
  5. Remote Access - Access via the internet to check up on things while I am gone is important as well. I have had one house flood, that is enough for me :).

Hit the read more for more my shopping list. Update 1-18-2009 to include Zwave shopping list.

Jan 15 2009

Blog - BoxeeTV - Day 3 - Configuring AppleTV with Harmony Remote

After using Boxee with my Apple TV for a few days (Day 1 Setup | Day 2 First Use ) I noticed the one downside about using AppleTV as my platform of coice--I absolutely hated the remote. I don't have abnormally large hands, yet the remote would constantly get lost in my hands and pushing buttons was not very comfortable.


So knowing that I have a Harmony 890 for everything else, it only makes sense to try to pair that to the AppleTV. I was already curious how this would turn out given the vast difference in buttons from the AppleTV remote versus the Harmony's, as well as the setup process. Some simple google searching showed that it could be done, albeit with some workarounds. By the time I launched the Harmony software, low and behold they had already updated their database not only to include the AppleTV, but even a dialog box with apparantly a known issue in regards to pairing.

Here is how I set up my AppleTV for an eventual "Boxee" activity: Add Device > Media Center PC > Apple > AppleTV, and it found it right away. Then I was prompted the following popup alerting me on what to do if I encounter pairing issues:


It's nice to see Logitech incorporate this type of FAQ into the product setup--it was the first device I had seen that with and should help in reducing the number of support calls they receive. Once that was completed, I synced my remote just to confirm it worked.

For creating an activity, I used the "Watch LiveTV" configurator to go through the manual process, and had to manually select each option individually (sorry, there's not yet a "Use AppleTV for Boxee" pre-defined activity). This was as painless as normal, and then I was up and running.

Using the Harmony after using the AppleTV takes a bit of an adjustment, but the buttons seem to press faster for me, and the entire experience is just smoother. Of course, there's only a few buttons you need to use--Menu, OK, and then the arrows. The only option on the screen is "Aspect" to adjust the aspect ratio. I occasionally found myself pressing the wrong button, but for the most part it was acceptable.

My only gripe is that the Activity takes an awful long time to start and for the life of me I cannot figure out how to speed up the process, or even how to change the order in which the devices are turned on. A minor quibble sure, and more of a complaint of Harmony's software than Boxee....of course Cool

Jan 15 2009

Blog - My Experience Using HP's Server Recovery

For those of you that read my Home Server challenge review , you will know that I have been living with HP's original EX475 for several months now and have really had fun playing with it, and of course upgrading its memory to be a wonderful and reliable server. I had since taken the system and replaced all three of the available data drives--replacing the 2nd 500gb Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 drive with a quieter 1tb version, and adding two 750gb drives in the other two slots. My only complaint was that the operating system drive was MUCH louder than the other drives, with lots of seeking noise that I could hear from my bedroom during heavy activity. In an HTPC environment, that simply would not do!

So I did some research and saw my available options. Even though the HP does not include a video output, it still is capable of doing system recovery in the case of disaster. There's mixed reviews on the forums, with some very nightmarish reports, but for the most part fairly positive.  After weeks of deliberating (literally) I decided I would take the plunge. I purchased a special Seagate drive optimized for home theater environments and read the instructions online very carefully.

The process is quite simple, inserting the Server Recovery disc FIRST, and then just following the step-by-step instructions. I connected my laptop wired just to make sure there were no other issues. I selected to do the 1st option of recovery, which is meant to recover the data, versus the Server reset which restores the entire server to it's blank original configuration. The process completed relatively quickly (~20 minutes) , but then the data recovery portion took about 90 minutes longer before beginning the original WHS setup configuration where you set the name, password, updates, etc.


The updating software portion froze initially for some unknown reason, but since the Connector software had installed, I just cancelled and restarted without even the need of a CD. I eventually had to restart the WHS box, but then everything worked fine, and guess what....all my data appears to have remained intact! I was even more surprised to see that all my individual computer backups also were still there!

Of course I have to re-update to Power Pack 1 and re-add all my user accounts and add-ins as those are all lost as well, but overall I would say this was an overwhelming success. Within 2 hours I was able to completely replace the operating system hard drive and recover the WHS back to functional use while still keeping every bit of my data. Another impressive victory for this already overwhemingly successful machine!

Jan 15 2009

Blog - BoxeeTV - Day 2 - Using and Loving

Following up on part one of setup of Boxee on AppleTV , is the actual living and using the software in a home theater environment. Luckily my receiver has multiple inputs, so I didn't necessarily have to CHOOSE to migrate 100% over to Boxee, as I still have a need for my cablecard and blu-ray abilities that my main Media Center provides.

I ran into a launcher 2.2 bug (serves me right for hacking appleTV!) which prevented ther resolution from changing from 480i. Fortunately, a quick hardware reset of the AppleTV made things right and within no time I was ready to go in HD on my 32" LCD. Since my internet and cable TV has been down for the last few days, I figured it was the PERFECT time to test Boxee to be able to catch up on my favorite shows.


My initial feeling about Boxee is there's no central search ability. I understand this is the limitation based on all the multiple providers and not having clear APIs for each, but it is challenging if you are not familiar with the content all the sites provide. If anyone knows of a guide which helps you on this voyage, it would be greatly appreciated. For example, I was looking for the latest episodes of "How I Met Your Mother" (Great Show!) and was confused--do I start at CBS, Joost, Hulu or something else? The Videos > Internet is wonderful because of all the options available, but it's also a bit overwhelming as well. I struck out at CBS right away, but luckily had more luck on Hulu and was able to watch my show. The quality was good (what you would expect), and browsing over to CBS the quality was even better--near HD! I was able to watch a full length episode of "Worst Week"with 2 commercial interruptions. The only odd thing in that experience was that the Pause feature did not work at all. I'm sure it's just a bug, but just a heads up.

After the first day, the main message I left with was "I need more friends!" The reason being, the main portal of Boxee has social networking integrated quite well. On the top, you get "Recommendations" and after that you see "Friends Activity." Why is this so important? Well, lets say you have some friends (who are using Boxee, of course) who are more religious about promptly finding and watching the very same shows you like. Once they watch a show it will show up in your "Friends Activity" section--meaning you would not even have to drill down into the Internet Videos. My request would be that they expand this to also have a "Top Viewed" feature from all Boxee users, just in case people like me only have 1 friend.


Stay tuned for more info as I continue to learn, live, love and write about Boxee!

BTW, if any MissingRemote readers want a Boxee invitation and haven't received theirs yet, feel free to ask in the Comments and I'd be happy to oblige. 

And of course, if you are a Current Boxee user, add me as a friend (Shadymg).


Jan 15 2009

Blog - Defining The Fight

There has been a bit of hub bub in the Media Center world with Chris Lanier lashing out against Microsoft for lack of online content and the apparent lack of market focus Media Center has. Posts can be found on his blog here . With that came a number of response from various other ehome blogs such as Ian Dixon and Brent Evans and even had Charlie Owen from Microsoft commenting.

I am not really here to rebuke or provide agreement with articles, rather I would like to try and define the fight and provide perspective. As always, I would like to encourage everyone not to worry to much about marketing. Ultimately the software will be what you make of it. 

Regarding the online content to the TV. I am trying in my mind to define the battle that has been raging but from where I am sitting I am a few days early to a skirmish that has yet to take place and the main battle is still a couple of years away. It is easy to get excited when we see websites like Hulu pop up and alpha versions of software pop up to take advantage of it. As of right now, there are no commercially available software that enables online content. Its easy to compare XBMC to Media Center but they are two different animals. One with licensing agreements, one with out. Without a doubt online media is in its infancy (maybe toddler) years.

On the flipside, its easy to get frustrated when a gaming platform gets alot more love. Media Center should be a part of the Xbox experience not in addition to it. The marketing opportunities are far greater.

The battle for HD content from a TV source provider is roughly a tie between Windows 7 and SageTV. One has CableCards and the other has the HD PVR. I fully expect to see HD PVR support as it is only a matter of driver support at this time. Hauppauge would be silly do let this market go. It certainly isn't the cheapest or best option in the world but it certainly works. 

The extender front basically became a non-issue with Windows 7 support of many mroe CODECs. The 360 is a very viable extender and should support most anything you throw at it. 

There are many ways Microsoft can improve the Media Center product and I will outline my thoughts as I spend more time with Windows 7 and what it has to offer. Do keep in mind that we are in beta mode :).

What do I think of TV on the PC marketing? Eh? The marketing people fell asleep. Why would I use a 10' UI to navigate anything on a desktop when I can do it much more efficiently via the Zune software or another 3rd party product.

I don't believe the battle has even started and I am looking at throwing a few swings in the coming months ;)

Random suggestion for the day. Microsoft buying Netflix.

Jan 15 2009

Blog - Windows 7 Media Center - Music Library


The music library, a place where an HTPC application can live or die. Microsoft has managed to keep the music library in good health with a few needed tweaks but has failed to take it to the Olympic level.

Let me start by saying I think Microsoft has really shined with their music library. All of the possible sorts you would want are their including auto-generated playlists of what music you listen to the most. Navigation has improved significantly with the Turbo-scroll option, making it a lot easier navigate through a large library.

The visualizations got a nice addition in the form of a music wall and picture wall. This animation will be a love it or hate for most people. If you get motion sick, avert your eyes ;).

The revamped "more information" screen continues to the music library. The improvement isn't huge but it does flow a bit better in my mind and gives easy access to actions you can perform.

I can't say much about albumn art at this time as I have yet to confirm if they are moving to higher resolution cover art or if they are sticking with the lower 200X200 artwork. So far it looks like they are sticking with the lower res artwork but I have seen a few bits of info to indicate they are moving to better covers.

There are a couple of things I would like to see improved on the Music Library.

  • Add support to add your own podcasts and radio stations
  • Integrate the Zune Marketplace, it is coming 
I hope you enjoyed the second Windows 7 video music and all. Stay tuned for future videos.


Jan 12 2009

Blog - Windows 7 Media Center TV Strip


The TV strip in Windows 7, while similar to Vista, did receive several tweaks that alter the appearance and functionality of viewing and recording TV. The major changes to your TV viewing experience will be the revamped details screen. This concept is applied throughout the program and allows for content specific interaction such as program info, actions and other showings type of information.

The guide has been revamped in a couple of different ways. The obvious one is the inclusion of InternetTV channels that allow for easier access to the InternetTV content. This is a great idea IF they open it up to 3rd party developers. As well, you can edit the channel directly from the guide.

The mini-guide and program information, both accessed from LiveTV has received similar UI changes as seen in the video. One less button press to get to the synopsis is a good thing in my opinion. Of course, the inclusion of a "full" mini-guide is another improvement over the one show mini-guide of vista.




Jan 10 2009

Blog - Hauppauge 1600 & QAM With Windows 7

I was hoping to see QAM enabled by default when using a Hauppauge 1600 and W7MC, however this is not the case. The good news is that a couple of quick fixes will have you on your way.

First up, apply this registry key that is linked here.

After that, install the latest drivers from Hauppauge's website and you are good to go :).

As always, you will have to do the guide data shuffle to get the correct guide data to show up. As you can see from the shot below not all is right with that guide. On a seperate note, the integrated services is a huge win now that I have had a chance to use it.

To add any missing channels, head on over to the setup portion of W7MC and have your way with the data. Add missing channels is a good place to start if you think you are missing QAM channels. You can review all of the channels that the QAM scan picked up. 

Jan 10 2009

Blog - Plugin Status For WIndows 7

While setting up Windows 7, I am testing a few plugins that I have in my Vista production machine. Some are working out of the box and others are taking tweaks to function correctly and some are just downright refusing to work.

Here is what I have tested so far:

If you have updates to any VIsta Media Center plugins working for W7MC, let me know in the comments and I will update this post :).


Jan 06 2009

Blog - The HTPC Software Start Page

There has been lots of talk in the Sage world about UI's and what folks like to see in order to gain mass adoption. While not specifically related to the entire UI, my thoughts driffted to what I would like to see for the intitial screen when I sit down to use my HTPC.

The menu structure has long since been the start screen of choice for all HTPC programs. This somewhat makes sense as it should offer the fewest amount of clicks between the start screen and your desired HTPC function. RecordedTV->show-->Play or Music->Artist->Album->Play All. Something along those lines :). This approach while comforating like an old shoe really does not do much to ease access to the media you want to interact with.

What's New?

In my case, I assume this to be true in most house holds including mine, I want to interact with shows I record the most, shows I recorded recently, videos and music I added recently. I am not sure of the exact ratio but I would guess that I use my HTPC to interact with newly added media 80 percent of the time as compared to the stale rip of Vertical Limit that I watch every few years.

So let's make that feature #1 on our start page and make the newly added media available. This could be a "New Media Menu" item with sub-menus for different types of added media. With all the fancy networking gizmos W7 is to offer, you should have a solid catalog of what media has been added to your network. Just don't dig to deep into the dusty confines of others personal folders. You might not want to find "everything". This would tie into new media from various marketplaces that exist and in general make it easier to discover new content.


I assume since we are adding, recording and editing media, we like to see what is out there in terms of new media. Both Apple and Microsoft have fairly good recommendation engines in their respective marketplace software. It would not be a stretch to include this for all types of media. 

This is feature #2. Right beside the New Media button, lets put a Recommendation menu item with recommendation sub items based on different types of media. This could included recommended shows to watch & record, recommended audio to buy from a marketplace or listen to a Internet radio station, recommended movies to buy or watch. The important aspect in this feature is to have the API open so all plugins can take advantage of this feature. My movies, Netflix or even a Hulu plugin should be able to send the proper metadata to the software to organize what is new based on your viewing habits or some predefined genre preferences.

The Social

The social is coming, at that is what everyone tells me. I am generally writing to busy writing articles to notice if people are social or not. What would be interesting is to see what my friends are watching. If nothing else, it would be interesting to see what the community has a whole is watching. Various Top 10 lists and other social aspects would be a pretty good idea. Alright, let's make menu item #3, The Social. Sub menus could include friends, community and expert recommendations & critics.

This strategy heavily relies on having the proper data from your added media and having thirdy party plugins provide proper data to the HTPC software. Since this is no longer a controlled environment it maybe difficult to implement with third parties.

Ultimately, I would like to see a move away from the start page and move towards interacting with the media AND making it easier to discover soemthing a little different. It is getting a little hectic to browse Hulu, the EPG, Netflix, Movie Collectorz to find stuff to entertain :).


What do you guys think? Stick with the menu system? My vote is for this type of start page just because most remotes in use offer one click access as opposed to navigating a menu system. If you need to navigate the menu system, the start button is just a click away.
Jan 01 2009

Blog - Hulu and XBMC

Hulu has been a very elusive creature on our beloved HTPCs. Sure we can hop on PCs to get slightly outdated shows but we are a picky bunch on want to do everything with a remote :). Sure there is Boxee, the social crotch fruit of XBMC, but that isn't available to everyone and has a ways to go. XBMC, the open source whore that has spawned a few projects itslef, has come through with in spades thanks to contributions from a couple of kick ass users in the community.

Enabling Hulu on XBMC requires a special build that can be found here.

The feature required for Hulu to work can also be found in the latest SVN's. This option would probably get you improved stability, though I can't say for sure until I test it.

There are multiple scripts in the above thread. The one I used with success on the above build can be found here.

 Various ways to browse Hulu
 Top movies by the week

You will want to copy the script to the  plugins->video directory to install the script :). Yes, its that simple.

 xbhu3_thumb.jpg  xbhu4_thumb.jpg
 Phsych by season  Popular shows, view by icons

In order to access Hulu from the XBMC menu click on videos->video plugins and then Hulu :). As you can see from the screen cap above, browsing with your remote is actually very similar to using the webpage. You are typically 3 to 5 clicks away from selecting the media you want to view. Endless drill-downs are a no-no in plugin navigation land, and this plugin avoids it for the most part.

 Select quality based on your bandwidth

Good luck with Hulu on your big screen :). Here is to hoping 2009 brings Hulu to all of the major HTPC platforms. 

Dec 30 2008

Blog -

First off, why didn't I get the memo that scrubs was moving to ABC? Seriously? I guess I should have been more loyal over the past couple of years. Yah, you guessed right, I am typing this while watching an episode of Scrubs with's built in web player.


The selection seems pretty resonable but like most websites. is acting as a limited archive for their current shows. It is a mixed bag on what episodes are out there. As an example, LOST has the entire current season on it while Grey's only has episodes 2,3 and 9 from this season.

Hit the read more button for the full rundown.

Dec 05 2008

Blog - Lothar's transition to digital tv

By now you have more than likely heard that February 17, 2009 all analog OTA tv transmissions in the US will cease and become digital transmissions.  In order to use them with your older analog TVs (or analog TV tuners as the case may be) a new converter box is needed.  In order to help out, the US government is subsidising purchase of these units by $40.  Today I am blogging about my experience in acquiring the rebate card, soon to be followed by acquiring, setting up and using the DTV converter bot itself.

As I mentioned already, the government is subsidizing the purchase of up to two digital converter boxes.  Here is an excerpt from

Between Jan. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, all U.S. households will be eligible to request up to two coupons, worth $40 each, to be used toward the purchase of up to two, digital-to-analog converter boxes. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has responsibility for administering the coupon program. (Please note that these coupons will expire 90 days after mailing). More information can be found at

So, I decided that since the changeover is only a little over two months away it was time that I get up off my rear end and order a couple of rebate cards.  In order to do that, you need to head over to and fill out the application.  The application is very simple to complete; on the right side of the main page, click on the section that says (1) Apply for a coupon then fill out the four sections.  You need to give them a name and address, whether or not you get all of your tv OTA (this does not affect your eligibility as far as I can tell), how many coupons you are requesting (one or two), and check the box verifying that everything is correct.  Then just enter in the anti-spam text and click submit.  A few weeks later you will receive a card in the mail.  I applied for mine on 11/12/08 which fell into the batch mailed on 11/28/08 and received it on 12/05/08.  It was all very easy to do.  There is no reason why you can't order your own as well.

The next step is to choose a converter box and order that.  If you have any input or recommendations of what works and what doesn't please leave word in the comments section.  There are a number of options to choose from spread over a wide price range so I could use your help in narrowing it down.  The coupon is good for 90 days but I'd like to already have a couple months use of it by then.

Thanks for reading this and please share your experiences with this as well!

Nov 12 2008

Blog - My Favorite Bond Films

007_gun_barrel.jpgWith the release of the next chapter in the Daniel Craig reboot of James Bond coming to theatres this Friday (Nov. 14th), I thought I'd put up a list of my favorite Bond movies. It gets pretty hard to pick, and I've actually made two lists one of my top picks as an adult, and one with an eye to nostalgia, as I've been watching James Bond since I was about 8 years old. My my second list is made with an eye to my love of action and adventure. Lastly, I'll mention a few total turkeys in the franchise as a "bonus" third list.


The Serious List

Goldfinger -- Goldfinger is widely regarded as the most popular Bond film. 'nuff said.

Thunderball -- Thunderball is a close second ;-) The underwater battle was a huge undertaking that is still considered a benchmark in underwater stunt planning and execution.

GoldenEye -- GoldenEye took Bond into to the 1990's: the mess that Russia had become just after the fall of Communism, the pathos of the Bond character as his macho attitudes no longer "just worked". 
Also while watching it in the movie theater in middle school my friend and I, being huge computer dorks, caught an OS/2 boot screen logo during flash on one of the workstations in the end sequence when the pen grenade goes off.

From Russia With Love -- Early Connery, but fairly true to the literary Bond, and pretty darn good suspense moments on the famous Orient Express. The gagdets aren't really gadgets, rather they are fairly realistic and practical spy gear that would have been used in the era.

Doctor No -- Connery is a bit rough around the edges in his first outing but is a pretty hardcore realistic secret agent, no fancy gadgets yet.

Casino Royale -- A much needed reboot of the series made Bond relevent to the 21st century and gave him the chance to let audiences see him in a raw, less worldly, state. The only gripe is that the gambling game was changed to poker to pander to the craze that was sweeping the USA circa 2005/2006.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service -- A pretty darn good film, which follows the novel fairly closely. It looks at a different side of Bond, he gets married! Also kudos to Australian model George Lazenby who was given a crash course in Bond style and then told to fill Sean Connery's shoes.

Nov 07 2008

Blog - Lothar's Build Log R0.2.5

Welcome to another addition of "Let's see how long it takes Lothar to put together a working Mythtv box".  In today's episode we will be focusing on a few of the leftover cleanup tasks.

Since I finally got the video drivers working pretty smoothly under Linux a few weeks ago, I decided that it was finally time to move my development computer out of the livingroom and back onto my desk.  I had left it out there, ready to use at a moments notice, in case we ran into any show-stopping challenges while trying to watch a show.  Word of advice, WAF falls off quickly if the system stops working in the middle of a TV show...  Cry  But after a few weeks of using the system, it feels very stable overall.  I haven't had Mythtv crash on me at all yet.  The only video related issue I see is a little tearing every now and then while watching HD shows.  I think that there are still a few more configuration options that can be tweaked to fix this.

So, now that this new system has gone mainstream, I found a couple minor things that still needed to be worked out.  All of them were related to my remote.  When I did the initial LIRC configuration I did it as my everyday user, not the mythtv user that automatically logs in.  What that means is that my everyday user had all of the necessary configuration files to use the remote but my mythtv user did not.  The result was that the remote didn't work when the mythtv user automatically logged in and started Mythtv when I turn on the system.  This ended up being fairly simple to fix.  First, I had to copy over the config files that were generated when LIRC was installed:

sudo -u mythtv mkdir /home/mythtv/.lirc
sudo -u mythtv cp /home/<everyday user>/.lirc/* /home/mythtv/.lirc/*
sudo -u mythtv cp /home/<everyday user>/.lircrc /home/mythtv/.lircrc
sudo -u mythtv ln -s /home/mythtv/.lircrc /home/mythtv/.mythtv/lircrc 

So here's what those commands do.  The first line creates a new directory for my mythtv user to store the LIRC configuration files in.  The second line copies those configuration files from the everyday user to the mythtv user.  These configuration files map remote button presses with Mythtv actions.  The third line copies the overall LIRC configuration file from the everyday user to the mythtv user directory.  The last line creates a link between the configuration file and the .mythtv directory so that Mythtv can use the files.  Depending on how you have LIRC set up, you may only need to issue the last two commands if you were in need of doing something similar yourself.

The next thing I had to do was make irexec automatically start so that I could use the remote control to launch mythtv when logged in as my everyday user.  irexec is an application that allows you to run scripts from the remote.  In order to make it auto-launch I did the following:   Under Gnome I selected the System menu -> Administration -> Session.  Then I added irexec to the list of applications that are automatically started.  The command line that I used was /usr/bin/irexec.  It was that easy.  Now when I login as my everyday user irexec is already running and I no longer need a keyboard to launch Mythtv.  It's all very nice.

The final thing I did today was completely unrelated to my new frontend configuration.  I had to reconfigure my remote a bit.  Somewhere along the line my configuration got messed up so that when I select a device, the LCD screen lists all of the buttons in alphabetical order.  I had had it setup so that, for example when I selected the TV device, the screen displayed useful buttons like Power Toggle and Next Input.  I also tried to setup the Watch Mythtv activity to one of the discrete activity buttons at the top of the remote but for whatever reason it won't stick.  I can only find that activity under More Activities and select it via the LCD screen.  I had this setup as a discrete button at one point.  I'm not sure what happened.  Oh well.  I guess I can live with it.

So I think that at this point the only feature that my frontend is really missing that I would like to get working sooner rather than later is the suspend feature.  Right now I have the system set up to shutdown completely.   It's a nicety more than anything I guess but I had the feature working on the old system and I'd like to get it working again.

That's it for now.  Feel free to drop me a line.

Oct 28 2008

Blog - Myths and legends of the OCUR and SDV

ati_dct.jpgI got inspired the other day to delve into one of the pervasive questions in Windows Media Center lore: the question of switched digital video (SDV) for CableCARD equipped Media Center PCs.
The solution that is being put forth is the Tuning Adapter. The Tuning Adapter mediates between a unidirectional CableCARD device and an SDV enabled cable system. I'll describe how the Tuning Adapter works with the TiVo HD -- the T.A. was designed with it in mind. But then I'll describe how the Tuning Adapter should work with a PC solution. This is mostly an academic discussion, but one that hopefully sheds some more light on this rather confusing subject.

Oct 25 2008

Blog - Lothar's Build Log R0.2.4

Ok, I finally did it.  I found out where my video issue was while running Mythtv under Linux.  The symptom that I saw was that when using xv-blit as the rendering setting under the Playback setup menu, Mythtv would show the first three or so seconds of the video and then appear to hang.  When I look at the terminal that launched the frontend, I saw a lot of audio buffer underrun messages.  Once I saw this I changed the audio playback device to NULL. When I did this the video played back properly, leading me to believe that it was an audio driver issue.  After a couple weeks of web searching I realized that the problem was not with the audio subsystem at all.  In fact, that problem was usually seen on systems that couldn't keep up with the video demands.  After reading this, I quickly ran top and found that Mythtv was using nearly all of my CPU resources.  In my case, it turned out to be caused by the video driver not running correctly.  As it turns out, I ran across this page , and at the very bottom someone mentioned the same problem.  What ended up fixing it? Well, it was actually very simple.  All I needed to do was open up my /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, which enables and disables various features of the video driver and X server, and add the line

Option "TexturedVideo" "true"

to my device section (where fglrx is called out as the driver).  After a quick reboot (actually I used Ctrl+Alt+Backspace to restart the X server) I was up and running using the proper video renderer.  Once that was done everything was working as well as I had expected from the start of the build.

So now I'm finally becoming happy with my frontend rebuild.  All that I need to do still is finish getting my remote to work again.  I've already got it programmed and configured I just need to make it start correctly at powerup.  After that I am pretty much sitting where I was before my last frontend died a horrible and painful death.  Then I will finally be able to move on to bigger and better things!  So let's see...  I started this in June and it's now almost Halloween...  4 months to build a system.  Not exactly what I would call a performance record.  Oh well.  Persistence has paid off.  Hopefully now I'll have more time to go back and explore virtualization and DVD ripping a little more closely.

Now if only my server wasn't about to reach capacity...  Might be time for expansion...  Will it ever end?!? 

Oct 24 2008

Blog - I'm Annoyed - FUD in Review Articles - Companies That Can't Do HW and SW

I'm annoyed right now. Intel apparently can't deliver a motherboard that has working hardware acceleration of their new X4500HD graphics chip. It works on all the third party motherboards just fine. They updated the bios and broke hardware acceleration of all the blu-ray formats. Classic case of hardware company that can't write software. They need to fix whatever it is that is wrong with the bios and let people know that it is fixed. Articles are popping around the internet now comparing HW acceleration of the X4500HD to discrete graphics cards. Conclusion, while integrated graphics isn't bad, the CPU usage is absolutely horrible and discrete 4830 is a much better investment for Blu-ray playback. The article notes that HW acceleration could not be enabled, and they link to a video that discusses the issue if you watch a lengthy movie about the issue, but they don't state the problem up front in the article. HW acceleration is broken in BIOS's numbered higher than 0075 on the Intel DG45ID. Intel is aware of this and trying to fix it. So let's take this time to rake an integrated chip over the coals and laud the value of high end discrete cards.

Two things about this piss me off:

1) Reviewers not putting all the information in their article (even though they are aware of it as shown by their link to the video Kyle at HardOCP made.) Summarize the information from the video in the article, that gives readers all the information in an easy to digest manner. 

2) Hardware companies that write such buggy driver/bios/software code that their hardware with all of it's careful thought and design fails to work.

Out of this:

Thumbs Up: Kyle at HardOCP for running this issue to ground with Intel. If you have the DG45ID, use BIOS 0075 (not 0079 or 0081).

Thumbs Down: Legit Reviews - Despite the website name, the review is less than legit. Apples to Oranges comparison -> Conclusion go buy this other hardware we just reviewed.

/End Rant

PS - I'll go back to writing my build log now.

Oct 21 2008

Blog - Build Log - A journey towards all HD all the time (Part I - Tear Down)

Hooray! The last of the parts for my new build arrived last week. I have spent the last several months planning this build. The goal was to upgrade to a machine that ran Blu-ray and recorded in HD with ease, while also building an HTPC that was even quieter than my prior build. Music playback is also imporatant, but that is something that I was already satisfied with in my older HTPC and wouldn't be much of a change in the new build. I had been waiting on the arrival of my Intel E8500 and it showed up on the doorstep on Thursday night courtesy of UPS. Looked like I wouldn't be going to work on Friday. My fiancee flew in Friday night, and the goal was to have everything up and running (and the apartment cleaned) prior to her flight arriving. Theoretically we would be enjoying plenty of HD all weekend long.

Yeah! Toys!

I took advantage of my planned day off to get a little extra sleep and rolled out of bed around 9:30. I was meeting a buddy who is a stay-at-home dad at 10 for some breakfast before we both got rolling on projects for the day. My buddy was going to attempt to repair his broken XBox 360, while I stripped down and rebuilt my Home Theater PC. Breakfast was excellent. I really have become quite the fan of avocado in my omelettes. Mmm.....tasty green fatty berry. Bet you didn't know that avocado is technically a large berry. At least you learned something from my blog today. Then it was time to get rolling on the build. I'd start by stripping out all of the old components, cleaning the inside of the case, and installing Acoustipak insulation.   


Oct 19 2008

Blog - Introducing Andres

Hello MissingRemote readers.  I just recently answered the call to help out the team here and as a new contributor to the site I wanted to introduce myself before I started posting.

My name is Andres and I am an HTPC addict.  I have been playing with HTPC's for a few years and finally took the plunge at the beginning of this year.  I now have a Dell XPS 420 running as my Vista Media Center with three extenders around my house.

The past seven months have been an adventure and real life classroom in networking, codecs, plugins, utilities, registries, drm, cable card and of course WAF.  I have been posting about everything that I have been through over on my blog at My Network Project and now I hope to bring some of that information and experience to  MissingRemote.

I am a huge fan of Media Center and I like to evangalize what I see as the benefits of this setup.  But I am also a realist and I know that this is not for everyone.  In all my posts I try to get down and present the real world of having media center in your life so that those that are thinking about making the switch know what they are getting into.

I look forward to contributing to the MissingRemote and starting a great dialog with all readers of all experience levels so that we can all learn from each other.

Oct 14 2008

Blog - After all these years, how do we still not have PIP?!?

As I sit and am battling with my remote control switching between the Dodger baseball game and the Monday Night Football game, I can't help but be frustrated that my thousand dollar Windows Vista Media Center cannot do what my father's television set from 1990 could do--PIP, Picture-in-Picture . You know that feature, where you can watch something on the big screen and then another different channel on a small picture in the lower left?

In this day with widescreen TV's being so prevalent, there is so much real estate on-screen that you could easily have two channels on screen both of an acceptable and viewable size. Technology should not be an issue either since the majority of MCE systems today have at least two tuners. So I ask myself--as I do every year around this time where I am forced to choose between my sports--how is this still not in Media Center 6 years later?

For those of you saying this feature is only for sports fans, I beg to differ. I can't imagine I'm the only one that would not mind watching the Presidential Debate on a small screen with audio, but then watch something else. Think of how much faster you could just switch the audio between the shows during commercials, and then go back to it as soon as the show is back from commercials.


I think what's more suprising to me, is that more PVR software companies have not taken advantage of Microsoft's efforts here--to date, the only software I've heard of that offers PIP is CtPVR . So what's your take everyone, am I alone on this need? What do you think? Either way, fear not sports fans, I'll continue bringing this up at every MCE MVP meeting until they kick me out, or implement it Cool


Oct 13 2008

Blog - Tips of the Day

Did you know Samsung 2008 model TVs have a special “blue only” mode? This lets you use the THX Optimizer or color test patterns from discs like DVE without the need for special color filter glasses.

When shopping for an HDMI receiver watch for the key words like: "HDMI repeater", "HD Audio LPCM 7.1-channel reception","HDMI processing". Also if the specs mention Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master audio decoding, then you know my definition the receiver supports HDMI audio.
You do not want on that only specifies "HDMI Pass Through" or "HDMI switching". The most basic of receivers simply pass video along and do not process the audio, which sort of defeats the purpose.

Nearly all Blu-ray players now decode TrueHD, and the few that don’t can bit stream them over HDMI 1.3 to a receiver.

Considering a new HDTV? Think about a big brand name (Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, Toshiba, etc.) and not a budget one. The big brands tend to have better features even in their budget lines, and come with better warranty service then the "value" brands.

Costco extends the manufacturer's warranty automatically to 2 years, while Sam's Club offers very inexpensive extended warranties to its customers. Both Costco and Sam's Club have more liberal return policies then normal electronics stores. Both also offer complementary help lines for HDTV installation questions. So if you already have a membership to either warehouse store you might want to check out their HDTV selection before buying from a big box electronics chain.

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