Nov 22 2009

Blog - More Server Updates

This weekend I decided it was time to relocate my Mythtv server since we had recently moved some furniture around and it now stood out too much.  I figured that since I had to shut it down anyway, now would be a good time to add in that second 1.5TB hard drive that I mentioned in one of my recent blog posts.  

Well, when I turned the system back on I learned a number of things.  The first was that I had a SATA cable stuck in the fan in the lower chamber of the P180 case and the hard drives were heating up quite a lot.  The second thing that I learned was that the Samsung drive that I mentioned in that same post decided it just didn't want to play nicely anymore.  After a couple hours of coaxing it I finally gave it up as a lost cause.  This lead to the next thing that I found out - if one of the drives in an LVM partition doesn't work the LVM partition doesn't come up.


So after another couple of hours of research I found that you can remove a dead drive from an LVM partition using the 'pvreduce' command.  Then I learned something else.  In order for that to succeed you need to have a filesystem that supports being reduced.  XFS does not support this.  XFS is what I had loaded on that LVM partition.  Don't get me wrong, the dead drive was removed from the LVM group but so was all of the data...  Luckily, after having issues with it the last time I tried to add a drive to the system I had copied everything onto a NAS.  1.55TB of data. 

I'm still copying it all back onto the new drive and it's been 24 hours.  Hopefully by this time tomorrow I will have everything back up and running as though nothing had happened (except the loss of a drive).  And hopefully this is my last major issue with this system!

Nov 18 2009

Blog - Q&A: Developer Andrew Cherry

In case you missed it, yesterday there was an announcement of a new plugin for Media Center called The concept is less than revolutionary--having an online repository where you can download apps for your Media Center as simple as the App Store works on the iPhone, and basically how Meedio had their plugin store--but for one reason or another, Microsoft has never accepted this idea and taken it anywhere. 

This is where the guys behind MadeForMediaCenter have come through! Launched by fellow Media Center MVPs Ian Dixon and Andrew Cherry, this really got my brain churning and wondering! So what better way to get answers to this new product than to ask the creator itself! Andrew took the time out of his busy schedule to answer some Q&A I had for him, and he even promised to check in at our forums if there are more questions!

Good Morning Mr. Cherry (or good evening). Can you tell us a little bit about yourself for starters?

Andrew Cherry: Well, I've been a fan of Media Center since MCE2005 came out, and a developer of Media Center addins almost since then.  I run a company called Digital Living Solutions which develops Media Center add-ins and related apps for OEMs and third parties. I'm also a Microsoft MVP for Media Center, based on my contributions to the Media Center development community.

Who thought of the idea and why?

AC: It's an idea I've been kicking around for quite a while - since the end of 2007 in fact (that's when I registered the domain name), but it's something that I'd not done much about other than talk about it to various people until Ian Dixon contacted me about setting up an "app store" for Media Center.

At the time I was in the middle of a big development project so couldn't do anything with it, and we both kind of let the idea slide for a month or two.

However, that was really the catalyst I needed, so during my "down time" at the end of my project I took a weekend out to put together the basics of the add-in that you can see the screenshots for on the site. I passed this on to Ian and he wrote the website to go with it, and the back end database which drives the add-in and the website.

So how exactly does the project work? Is it a website? A 10 foot application for Media Center?

AC: It's both - there is a "2 foot" website that developers can use to upload their add-ins (and other related apps if they choose), and then the add-ins can be "consumed" by either using the website or using the Media Center add-in "10 foot" interface. Users will be able to browse and install add-ins direct from their TV! keyboard and mouse is required for the installs?

AC: Nope - the only "non Media Center" thing you'll get is a UAC prompt if you have UAC turned on.  This can be dealt with using the remote control too, so the remote control can do it all.   We use the new developer features in Windows 7 Media Center to do the downloads and installs on your behalf.

Is part of the reason this hasn't come out sooner is strictly because it wasn't possible before?

AC: Yes - another project was started under Vista by another developer, but I think they abandoned it as it was too hit-and-miss to do without the direct API support within Media Center.

You asked earlier about the "why?" which I didn't answer before...

One of the things that excites me about Media Center is it's extensibility - there is so much more that can be done with Media Center than just the built-in features, and there are a lot of very clever people out there producing add-ins to extend the functionality in all sorts of different and really inventive ways.

The problem is that most developers are individuals who don't have the resources to advertise and don't have the time or knowledge to get their add-ins noticed.   We hope that with this solution, all Media Center developers will have a voice that can be heard.  Publishing your add-in to will get it direct to every single user of the website, both through the website and direct to their Media Center.

Is there a cost associated to posting one's applications in your market? How do you address developers who fear they will lose traffic to their website/community by posting with you?

AC: There's no cost associated with posting the applications - obviously depending on how big this becomes that may have to change to pay for hosting fees, etc. but at the moment the intention is for it to be our contribution to the community to broaden the visibility of add-ins to those people who want them, so they don't have to hunt them down all over the place.

In terms of the developers losing traffic to their website - I think a lot of developers are put off by the idea that they have to create a website and forums, etc. just to let everyone see their app.  In some ways it takes a load off their mind and allows them to concentrate just on their development, not the peripheral stuff.

Having said that, we're open to suggestions on how to support developers website traffic if that's what they are looking for.

How will you handle the quality of apps? Will there be testing involved or will you rely on the star rating system already implemented and let users decide for themselves?

AC: A lot of that is still up in the air - this is very much "beta" both in terms of the code and the processes.  We're not even sure if anyone actually wants this, so a lot of the processes and further developments will evolve over time should the demand be there.  For the moment, all apps will be manually checked after submission before they are made available to the public through the website and the add-in.

Oh, I think I can vouch for the community that we all want it! Finally we have something like the old MAID for Meedio, which made finding and installing plugins so easy!

AC: I hope so!  A lot of it's success depends on a large number of people installing it, so that the potential audience for a new app is large enough that it's compelling for a developer to launch through it.

It should make life a lot easier for the developers - one submission and your app reaches all the users the next time they check the addin.

Will the app work on Extenders btw (that's for jennyfur)?

AC: You know, I've not checked it.  I'll have to look and let you know!

So how do people get hold of the app?

AC: You can create an account at - this will give you access to the website and to upload apps if you are a developer.  The Media Center add-in will be released shortly.

Curious, why the need for approval to the site?

AC: At the moment we're managing the numbers during the beta phase - once it's live I think you'll be able to browse the site without a login, but will need a login to provide any feedback or rating.  Also, developers will need an account to upload.

Thank you for the time today Andrew, I'm sure it's rather late there. For more information or to sign up for access to the site, visit . And feel free to ask further questions for Andrew in our comments link below.

Nov 02 2009

Blog - $10 Blu-ray's at Best Buy This Week

Normally I avoid Best Buy. But I was sitting at a cafe flipping through the Sunday newpaper and took a glance at the weekly Best Buy circular. They're having a sale with (according to their website) 91 different movies priced between $7.99 and $9.99. Maybe I've been a little disconnected but this seemed pretty cheap to me for Blu-ray discs. There are some pretty good films in there that are probably worth picking up if they're not in your collection.

  • The Terminator
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
  • The Transporter
  • The Usual Suspects
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Napoleon Dynamite
  • Under Seige
  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
  • Robocop
  • The Graduate
  • Requiem for a Dream
  • Carrie
It's always nice when you find one of your favorites in the bargain bin.
Oct 31 2009

Blog - Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween everyone.



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Oct 29 2009

Blog - Windows 7: Get Your New Install Humming

Everytime you reinstall Windows there are always lots of fun configuration tasks that need to be taken care of, and this applies just the same to upgrading to a new version of Windows. I've tried to put together a list of some of the key things you'll need to remember when migrating to Windows 7 and please add your own ideas to the discussion. Soon all our computers will be humming along with hardly any need for intervention.


Setting Up Windows

  • Configure Automatic Defrags - Looks like W7 doesn't have that much flexibility, as all the drives have to run on the same schedule for defragging
  • Consider a Backup Plan and Schedule - I usually do at least a back up of a nice, clean setup with drivers and core applications installed 
  • Setup Auto-login - I password protect the system for the admin account, but on a hard reboot I want to make sure the machine can auto login and continue recording
  • Configure file sharing - I'm sure there are a few other computers around the house that might access the media on your HTPC
  • Choose a Background or Use None At All - This time around I'm going to see how a plain black desktop feels, one with no icons, taskbar, or anything.
  • Set up / disable the screen saver - I don't use one, but maybe you do
  • Configure Power/Sleep Settings - Don't you hate when the screen shuts off because you don't move the mouse enough
  • Remote Desktop - Hit up the Guide to Concurrent Sessions, a great way to use Remote Desktop to administer your PC while the family still gets to use it
HTPC Configuration
  • Configure Audio & Video Drivers - Make sure these are both tweaked for great sound and picture
  • Calibrate Audio Levels - Use a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) Meter to first configure your Pre/Pro or AV Receiver. Then go through your audio control panel and various applications to set everything to consistent volume. This way when you switch between apps you won't blow your eardrums.
  • Install all your favorite apps & tools
Some of My Favorite Apps & Tools
  • AVG Free Anti-Virus - Unobtrusive, seems to do the job
  • AnyDVD HD - Archive your BD discs
  • DVD Profiler 3 - My choice of DVD cataloging software
  • Total Media Theatre 3 - Plays BD folders (PowerDVD does not)
  • DVDShrink - Archive your DVD discs makes isolating main feature and audio tracks easy
  • EventGhost - Automate whatever
  • Exact Audio Copy (EAC) Archive CD; All mine are stored as both FLAC and MP3
  • Hulu Desktop - Watch Hulu without a web browser
  • ImgBurn - For burning the occassional disc
  • Firefox - A web browser
  • Total Game Control - Let's my gamepad do all sorts of cool things
  • SageTV - A PVR and so much more!
What do you guys consider critical for a new build?

Oct 22 2009

Blog - Windows 7 is Here!

On the night before Windows 7, there were screams of rage in the house, as I accidentally deleted all my lossless audio...crap that doesn't rhyme. But now the stockings were hung and a new partition was cleared. Windows 7 started to download and October 22nd wasn't even here.

Windows 7 is Here!!

The student/alumni pricing was a pretty good deal. I might even beat launch day, although I guess it's launch day already in other parts of the world. I even splurged the extra $13 to have a copy of the media mailed to me.

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 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 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.

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