Oct 20 2009

Blog - A Few Of My Favorite Things

A recent Engadget HD podcast got me thinking about the new and returning shows I like, and don't like.  To not be totally derivative a middle category has been added; so glad storage is cheap.  My list is below, share yours in the comments.
Oct 15 2009

Blog - Server upgrade

Well, I'm afraid to say that this blog entry isn't directly about Mythtv.  This one is about the new hardware I just added into my server.  So here's the baseline, pre-upgrade:

  • Biostar 6100-based motherboard,
  • AMD 3800+ X2 CPU
  • 1 or 2 GB of RAM (I forget how much)
  • 1x 8GB Western Digital IDE hard drive
  • 4x 400GB Samsung SATA hard drives
  • Seasonic 430W PSU
  • Antec P180 case

The reason for the upgrade?  I ran out of hard drive space of course.  1.6TB just doesn't cut it anymore! Tongue out  So, by way of a recent shellshocker at Newegg, I purchased a 1.5TB Western Digital Green Power hard drive.  However, because I had already fully populated the available SATA ports on the motherboard I was forced to add a SATA controller.  On a whim I purchased a Vantec 4+1 SATA II 300 & PATA controller.  It includes 2x internal SATA ports, 2x eSATA ports and one IDE port but theoretically only Windows support.  Well, after a few minutes of fiddling I am happy to say that the new controller and hard drive started right up with no fiddling on my part (other than formatting the new hard drive).

The problem that I ran into was that one of my Samsung hard drives didn't want to start back up after I added the new hard drive.

Oct 06 2009

Blog - Building Mythtv

Hey guys.  I'm still trying to decide what to do with my development system that crashed a few months ago.  Until I figure that out I thought I would test out a couple of Mythtv based Linux distributions.  So over the next few weeks I hope to do some installs of Mythdora, Mythbuntu and LinHES/Knoppmyth and report back on how the installations went.  If all goes well I intend to do a writeup of the installs.  Hopefully that will help others out there to see how easy or difficult it is to install Mythtv these days.  I know that I'm going to enjoy doing this and I hope that others will to.

Oct 01 2009

Blog - ATi CableCard 1.19 Copy Freely Works W/ Vista

Remember how everyone said that the new ATI firmware would only work work with a Windows 7 network? Would Microsoft stoop to pushing Windows 7 upgrades. Personally, I think that would be unpossible myself. Kidding aside, we have a reliable source that indicates the new firmware and the copy freely feature will WORK with Vista machines as the client and the "server". If you recall, Vista was supposed to continue to copy protect all content and eliminate playback on other machines. The new firmware appears to remove this "feature" and allow for copy freely to work with Windows 7 and Vista.

We are not sure if this is something that slipped through the firmware build and maybe rectified later by ATI or Microsoft? Hopefully this will help our readers by saving a few upgrade dollars later down the road. This has not been tested by the folks at, so please take it as a rumor for now and hope it turns out that way. 

The CableCard sure has gotten a nice boost in the last few weeks :). Glad to see Microsoft and its partners taking it in the right direction. 

Sep 09 2009

Blog - Microsoft CEDIA News - CableCard to be available to everyone

Tonight at the CEDIA show Microsoft held a press function announcing several very important announcements for Windows Media Center and cablecard usage. For those unaware, Cable card is the method by which you are able to receive high definition programming directly into your Media Center PC without any set top box or other device besides the Cable Card (OCUR) tuner itself. Here's the highlights from their announcements:

  • Switched Digital Video to be supported via the Tuning Adapter
  • No More OEM BIOS Restrictions
  • Appropriate DRM Flagging for content

These are some huge announcements and will all be included in the upcoming firmware for the tuners which should be launched in conjunction with Windows 7 on October 22nd--and yes, you will need Windows 7 for all of this goodness.

While many people might see this and believe the most significant news here is the lack of BIOS restriction, I think it's going to be the relaxed DRM restrictions. Up until this announcement, anyone who was "lucky" enough to own a cable card system was under a LOT of restrictions since Windows copy-protected every show, whether the station provider flagged it or not. What that meant was that you could only view that show on that single system--no copying to laptop for travel, no compressing, no commercial removal! It's such a restrictive process and was more ridiculous when you factor in that a lot of content available is not flagged as copy-protected. It's unknown exactly to what extent the amount of shows without the restriction are, but it's better than before which had none.

I do think that the BIOS restriction removal will be significant as well, but given the hacks around online it was not really a hinderence anymore. Any HTPC geeks who really wanted cablecard could do so easily. It's still unknown how the distribution plan for the ATI OCUR tuners will change, but I would anticipate seeing these available in Newegg and similar OEMs very shortly. 

In the end I think this is fantastic news for both Media Center users and in general, as it can only help to increase the popularity of cable card users and hopefully encourage ATI to continue innovating their tuner for future developments. Once Dell and the other major OEMs left the cable card market it really suffered. Hopefully this announcement will breathe some life into it. I've been a cable card user for quite some time now and it's about time for some great news like this!

Click Read More to read the full Press Release from Microsoft.

Sep 09 2009

Blog - Poll - Do you Solid State?

SSDs seem like a great way to reduce energy consumption, heat, and noise in a HTPC.  While it will be years before they can affordably replace the media/recording drive, swapping one in for the OS drive should be right around the corner.  80GB is about what I'd need to make the switch, but I'm still waiting for the price to come down a little before making the plunge, what about you?

We've added a quick little poll to the right side menu here on the frontpage. You may need to scroll down a bit to view. Let us know your answer and feel free to discuss in our forums!

Sep 09 2009

Blog - Poll - Do you Solid State?

SSDs seem like a great way to reduce energy consumption, heat, and noise in a HTPC.  While it will be years before they can affordably replace the media/recording drive, swapping one in for the OS drive should be right around the corner.  80GB is about what I'd need to make the switch, but I'm still waiting for the price to come down a little before making the plunge, what about you?

We've added a quick little poll to the right side menu here on the frontpage. You may need to scroll down a bit to view. Let us know your answer and feel free to discuss in our forums!

Sep 09 2009

Blog - Poll - Do you Solid State?

SSDs seem like a great way to reduce energy consumption, heat, and noise in a HTPC.  While it will be years before they can affordably replace the media/recording drive, swapping one in for the OS drive should be right around the corner.  80GB is about what I'd need to make the switch, but I'm still waiting for the price to come down a little before making the plunge, what about you?

We've added a quick little poll to the right side menu here on the frontpage. You may need to scroll down a bit to view. Let us know your answer and feel free to discuss in our forums!

Sep 09 2009

Blog - Meet David Norman - New Guy on

So some of you reading this are thinking to yourself…….. “self, who is this new guy, why should I read his blog posts and what does he know?” Well I am here to briefly answer some of those questions and then I will be posting things that are actually interesting…. I hope Smile

I have been an active member of many of the online HTPC and AV forums for around 5-6 years. Posting worklogs, asking questions, lurking in areas that cost WAY to much for me really even be looking at and trying to help others who have found problems that I have been fortunate enough to find prior.

By day I am a high school science teacher, a husband and a church goer. By night I am a hardware junky, software novice, case-modding enthusiast and a network beginner. Like many of you I have always loved to tinker with things; whenever I buy something new and nice for myself I HAVE to be able to take it apart, see how it works and then try and put it back together again. In college I had 2 roommates, one was a graphic design major (website ) and the other was a CS major, and we had an apartment at Azusa Pacific University and in that apartment we had between 8-12 PCs, most of which were used for playing Counter-Strike. Ever since then I have been overclocking, case modding, playing PC video games and recently been using HTPCs to archive DVDs, Blu-rays, music and family photos. My wife and I recently purchased a new home and I knew I had to have a unique home theater setup, so we built it (mini-work log to follow). With the new house I have many projects and ideas, of which I plan to post them here for you guys/gals to see and watch me make all my mistakes and hopefully get some ideas of your own.

My goal for this blog is for me to be able to bridge the gap between the “High End (30K) Home Theater” crowd and the “Best-Bang-For-Your-Buck” enthusiast and provide information, pictures, ideas and commentary on items that you guys (the 2 people who might actually read this, thanks Mom and Dad :D) will find useful. Hopefully I can provide some insight into the Home Theater and PC world from the perspective of a Middle-Class, mid-income perspective…….

Please provide some feedback in the form of ideas, questions and comments for my upcoming post…

Here is what you can look forward to in the near future:

  • Mini-Work Log on my Dual Purpose Living Room / Home Theater, with a high WAF
  • Intro into Home Automation, A/V distribution, and Whole House Audio
  • Reviews and Guides on new hardware:
  • IR on/off Switch from SIMEREC
  • Running W7 RTM with HDhomeruns, ATI Cable Card Tuners and a Hauppauge HVR-1600
  • ASUS AT3N7A-I Intel Atom 330 NVIDIA ION motherboard as a W7 HTPC
  • Ebay special $50 ELO Kiosk 15” Touchscreen LCD w/ mControl, W7 RTM


Sep 04 2009

Blog - MPAA still pushing to close the "Analog Hole"

The MPAA is once again trying to push forth "Selectable Output Control" which would give the MPAA and movie studios the ability to disable the analog output of set-top boxes at will.  This would leave anyone not using a digital connection such as HDMI to have to replace their televison and/or other hardware such as set-top boxes.  This would also render such devices as the Hauppauge HD-PVR useless.

{joomsay link= [Ars Technica]}But critics of the proposed deal want to know why the FCC should let the studios on whose behalf MPAA is petitioning—Paramount, Sony, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Disney, and Warner Brothers—limit the capabilities of home TV systems that consumers have already bought and installed. "The side effect," warns the consumer group Public Knowledge in an educational video it has put out on this question, "is that SOC would break all eleven million HDTVs in the US that don't have digital input. In essence, all the MPAA wants is to control when and how you watch the stuff you've already paid for."{/joomsay}
Aug 28 2009

Blog - Enjoy ClearQAM while you can

While this wont have an affect on myself as I don't subscribe to cable, I was really hoping the FCC was going to stick it to the cable companies and not allow them to enable "Privacy Mode".  Now the cable companies will be forcing DTAs on customers when the could have easily used the integrated QAM tuner integrated into newer TVs.  This is also a blow to a lot of DIY HTPC users with QAM tuners as now they will be limited only to channels that are "Must-Carry" from their cable provider.  All of this smacks of when AT&T used to force you to purchase your telephone handset directly from them and forbid the use of third-party hardware.  Maybe one day we will be free to use the services we pay for with the hardware we choose.  Unfortunately that will not be a day any time soon.

{joomsay link= [Anandtech]}The ramifications are two-fold. For the cable companies, once they implement this Privacy Mode across the board they will no longer have to install and maintain expensive signal traps to keep customers on lower tiers such as Limited Basic from accessing additional channels. For computer/HTPC users, this is an end to being able to directly receive EB tier channels with any kind of commonly available digital tuner. Privacy Mode is not open for licensing, and CableLabs will not license CableCARD for any kind of open (read: not locked down to hell and back) tuner. This means ClearQAM tuners made by ATI, Hauppauge, SiliconDust, and others would no longer be useful for receiving EB tier channels.{/joomsay}

Aug 17 2009

Blog - Mythtv for Windows Port



I recently wrote an article about the various methods to get Mythtv on a Windows based system.  Today I'm writing a little bit more about my attempts at the Windows port of the actual Mythtv application.

 I have been working at getting the Mythtv for Windows port working on my system for about a year now, ever since I had heard about it.  It  has been a work in progress by numerous developers for quite a while now.  Here's the wiki page on the Mythtv website dedicated to it.

The problem that I have been having with it is that the first time I heard about it I ran the scripts and everything just worked.  Wonderful.  I was happy.  The problem is that I tried to reproduce the results on another system about a week or two later so that I could document the procedure and make a little post here, and then the whole thing was broken again (probably because one of the tools was upgraded, but I don't recall anymore).

Ever since that day, I have been trying off and on every couple of months to get it to build again.  I have been primarily working with getting the 0.21 fixes branch of code running because my server is running Mythtv 0.21 and it doesn't work with a 0.22 frontend system.  Even as of a few days ago, I still run into issues in the build script and I haven't been able to figure out where the issue is yet.  The build breaks for me before I even get as far as compiling the Mythtv code itself.

On the other hand, I decided to give the 0.22 code branch a shot to see how well it was working.  Sure enough, after launching the script I had a working 0.22 based Mythtv system on my laptop.  I can't really say exactly how well it is working though because I can't connect it to my server.

So the good news is that if you don't have a Mythtv system setup, or if you have a system that is running 0.22, then you can easily (as of my last attempt) build a functional Windows-based frontend for it.  However, if you are like me and have a system running 0.21 and you don't wish to upgrade it at the moment, there may still be bumps in the road ahead for you.  That is not to say that you will have trouble though.  It sounds like most users are not experiencing the problems that I am facing.  Most of the time it's as simple as updating the build script to point to the current version of the applications.

I urge you all to take a shot at it.  If the script works for you, great!  If not, there are mailing lists that tend to be helpful for most people.  As for me, I will keep trying until I get it working and then let you guys know!

Aug 03 2009

Blog - Mythtv for Windows options

As most of you probably know, I've been using Mythtv for my HTPC software of choice for quite some time now.  It has been very stable for me to use and I've had it running in my house (barring system hardware destruction) for about 4 years now. 

Since we found out that my daughter was on her way about two and a half years ago, I have been working off and on trying to get a way to access my Mythtv stuff from my Windows based systems; originally just my wife's laptop, but since then I've added my own Windows based laptop as well as made some other systems dual-boot (Linux and Windows).  Since I've been working on this off and on for a while now, I figured it was time to share some of what I've learned so far.

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)

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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.


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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.


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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!

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