Blogs

Jul 31 2007

Blog - Mike's Vista Server Box

So in my ideal world, I would have a massive Vista box setup as a server in my closet or basement, somewhere I wouldn't have to see or hear it, nor would I have to worry about anyone messing with it. Then in each bedroom or living room, I would set up Media Center Extender devices, or even small clients if need be. I know, the only current MCE Extender is the Xbox360, but this will be changing soon. So, I'm not going to go obscene here on specs, but just want a solid PC I can run as my server/MCE system.

 

Case: Coolermaster CM Stacker 810

Since noise wasn't going to be an issue, I basically wanted to use a simple case which could house basically as many hard drives as humanly possible. The Stacker can certainly fit the bill there, with a ton of space inside. 

Price: $160

Power Supply: PC Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool 510 XE

I know they got bought out by OCZ, but they still (for now) make the same quality power supplies which are known for being ridiculously reliable.  This 510 watt power supply has a 650 peak, meaning it's got plenty of headroom for whatever you need. Besides, we're simply using on-board video, so most of the PSU's drain will be from the hard drives.

Price: $199

Motherboard: Intel DG33FB ATX Motherboard

For a server system, Intel boards with Intel processors just scream stability. And besides that, this board has everything we need, from 3 x PCI-express x1 slots, to on-board video, and the price is reasonable as well. 

Price: $110 

CPU/Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (2.40 Ghz)

Handling 8 TV streams is not going to be the easiest thing in the world, and since we're building for the future anyways, no reason to not spoil myself and take one of the fastest chips out there, with 4 CPU cores in it. Should be a breeze streaming anything from this machine. Heck, you could even transcode several movies if you had to, and this wouldn't hiccup. 

 Price: $320 

RAM/Memory: 2 x Corsair Value Select PC2-5300 2GB (VS2GBKIT667D2)

Corsair has long been known for quality brand of memory, and 4gb is the Max we're going to be able to utilize with the 32-bit version of Vista, so there you have it. 

Price: $77 ea, $154 total 

Video/Sound: Going to stick with on-board. Since we're using this as a server, no video or sound will be directly output from this system.

Price: Free as in beer 

Hard Drives: 6 x Samsung or Hitachi , 500gb SATA 7200 Hard Drives

Yep. 3 terabytes! Yummy! Well, truth be told, these would be setup in a RAID 5 configuration, so it would be less than 3 terabytes, but then at least I'd have some sort of failsafe in the event a drive dies. I chose 500gb's instead of 750 or 1tb, for the simple fact that it's the sweet spot right now. You can find 500gb drives for under $150, where as 750 & 1000 are easily much much higher, for not that much storage. I chose Samsung or Hitachi because they have simply ruled the quiet hard drive market for some time, and continue on. Hopefully Seagate can come back strong with some quiet drives, but for now, I'm sticking to tried & true.

Price: ~$120 each, ~$720 total

RAID Card: HighPoint RocketRAID 2322 PCI-Express 8-port SATA II

Even had the motherboard had on-board RAID, I probably still would have opted for this card, as going the dedicated RAID card allows for a much safer experience in case anything happens. I've heard too many horror stories with on-board RAID controllers...and besides that, having a dedicated card in the PCI-Express slot should make for some nice performance boosts. 

Price: $250 

TV Tuners:  2 x HDHomeRun ATSC Tuners, 2 x VistaView Saber 2020 NTSC Tuners

The HD HomeRun's are far from the cheapest option for ATSC/HD signals, but for now, they remain the only way to get QAM within Windows Media Center. And besides that, they're quality devices that justify it. Two tuners in each means I can have up to 4 streaming HD shows at the same time!

This will be the first time I recommend something other than the Hauppauge PVR-500 dual tuner (which I use currently), but with the release of VistaView's 2020, this offers you a newer quality product, with the convenience of finally being able to utilize those PCI-Express slots on your motherboard. The low-profile design should also keep airflow moving nice & smooth (something the gigantour PVR-500 could not brag about).

Having two of each type, means a total of 8 tuners available! Perfect for any sports season. :-)

Price: $170 for each HDHomerun, $160 for each VistaView...$660 total

Keyboard/Mouse: No need for anything fancy here, it's in a closet. Ask your neighborhood geek, or craigslist, I bet you could find one for practically nothing.

 Price: Free (or $10 if you're lazy)

Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate, x86 32-bit Version OEM

I know this is technically called a server build, and for that I might have wanted to go 64-bit, but if you've read my blog, you know that's not going to happen (at least right now). Performance with what we have, as an extender machine, should be great with 32-bit Vista.

Price: $200

 

Grand total....$2773...JUST squeaking in under $3k. Not too shabby, and definitely future proof for at least a little while. Should take most of you a while to fill up those hard drives, and when you do, the case & RAID card can easily handle more. My hope, of course, is that in time Windows Home Server edition will fill this need, and include some definitely needed Media Center-integration. I definitely prefer their simple drive striping method to that of the hassle of RAID, but alas, not quite yet an option.

If you're looking to save a few bucks, it's pretty simple. You could opt for a regular dual-core instead of the quad, that should save about $150-200 at least. You could get a generic case and save around $100 as well. And the list goes on, but you get the idea, $3k is really a max, and I'm sure with some deal searching, you could do better. 

 

 

Jul 30 2007

Blog - A Home Theater PC I Would Love To Build

My current HTPC has begun to stagnate a little. While it still runs great, I haven't made any significant advances with it in the last year. Forever on my mind is a HTPC build that I would put together if I weren't living off of student loans. In my current situation, I have only the one large tv that has access to the HTPC so I'm not worrying about server/client setups yet. So, below is something I'd like to give a go in the near future should I happen to fall into some parts.

 

- Case: OrigenAE X11 HTPC Case with VFD/IR Module and MCE Remote

- Power Supply: Seasonic M12 500W Modular Power Supply

- Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-965G-DS3 LGA 775 Intel G965 Express

- CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 Conroe 2.4GHz LGA 775 Processor

- Heatsink: Thermalright SI-128 CPU Cooling Heatsink

- RAM: Kingston 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) KVR800D2N5/1G (x2)

- Hard Disk: Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS (x3)

- Blu-ray/HD DVD Drive: LG Super Multi Blue BD Drive/HD DVD reader - SATA GGW-H10NI

- Video Card: Gigabyte GV-NX85T512HP GeForce 8500GT 512MB 128-bit GDDR2 PCI Express x16 w/ HDCP

- Sound Card: Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1
- Accessories: National LM4562NA Operational Amplifiers

- HD/SD Tuner: HDHomeRun Networked Digital TV Tuner (x2)

- Keyboard/Mouse: Gyration Universal Remote Control and Compact Keyboard Suite for Media Center

- Case Fans: Nexus Real Silent Case Fan SP802512L-03 (x2)
- Accessories: Zalman Fan Mate 2 Fan Controller 

 

Reasoning: I'd consider going with a case with a touch screen in an instance where I put the HTPC in a server rack, or in a home theater with only a projector display device. Currently in my family room I don't see the need for a touch screen LCD on the case. I currently have a Seasonic M12 500W and I love it. Modular cables are great and it's quiet and efficient. The Auzentech X-Meridian is to use with analog out audio. In a situation where I'd use SPDIF, I'd look for something else. I receive all basic cable as unencrypted QAM, so I would use the HDHomeRun for both HD and SD recording, hence the need for 2 of them for a total of 4 tuners. Don’t forget a Gigabit Router either if you try to run multiple units simultaneously. The HDHomerun is something I'll probably purchase soon and use with my existing setup since I know the QAM channels are there and viewable, I just can't record them with my existing HTPC. Hope this gives some ideas to those of you looking to build your own HTPCs for the first time!

Jul 23 2007

Blog - 6 Month Vista MCE Report Card

vista_logo_320x200.pngWe are almost 6 months into Vista being released to the public, and if you look around forums across the web, users are still not exactly sold on upgrading. There are many reasons that could be attributed to this: cost of Vista, not supported hardware, etc. But, I think the #1 reason is that people just don't see the worth to spend the time and money associated with upgrading. A while back, Matt Goyer (when he worked for Microsoft) posted a blog about all the new features that were in Vista, in response to critics who said nothing new was added.

I'd like to take a bit to go over that fairly in-depth list and address it piece by piece with a concentration on how it relates to the world of Home Theater PC Enthusiasts such as myself.  To do so in the easiest way, I will sort each section by Hype and Reality which will help determine a final score.  By "Hype" I am referring to what the buzz was about this feature before launch, and "Reality" will mean how it was implemented / accepted after launch.

Digg It!

Jun 24 2007

Blog - On Demand? Amazon Unbox

Welcome to last year folks! While I debate my HTPC build, I thought I would take a look at the various online content delivery services available to see if they have progressed at all over the last year or so. Even though online delivery of video is relatively new, I had hoped it would as simple as walking into a store and renting a video from Blockbuster or even using Netflix. Before I delve into it, my first attempt at renting a movie online was made with the services through Vista MCE (that is a whole other RANT for later, what a huge disappointment!!!)

Resisting all urges to rant, lets continue on to Amazon Unbox. My goal was to rent the X-men series so I could watch them over the weekend. Is that too much to ask for a fledgling video service? I wouldn't think so, after all it was a pretty popular trio of movies. Armed with this task in mind I headed on over to Unbox to get started. Click the readmore button to read more on my Online Video Rental Saga. 

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Jun 12 2007

Blog - MissingRemote.com - Community Edition

If you check out the upper right hand corner of this page, you will notice there is now a Submit News button. This marks the beginning of MissingRemote.com Community Edition. Starting today, all news, well at least most news, will be coming from MissingRemote.com users. YAY! This will allow Mike and myself to focus on providing original content for the site and hopefully allow for a greater range of news! We will be kicking this off with a contest announcement tomorrow but in the mean time feel free to start submitting news. The staff will be moderating and formatting the news for now so a link is fine. However, feel free to talk about the news story, we will be sure to include it.

What other "Community Features" will we be adding? Well, its pretty early in the ball game for this round of upgrades so I don't want to spill the beans and the changes will come gradually in the following months :). Thanks again for coming to MissingRemote.com :).

-Alan

Jun 07 2007

Blog - Getting Started

As MissingRemote.com switches gears to more of a community orientated site, I will be spending more of my time writing articles, reviews, guides, and of course blog posts. No time like the present to start :).

I recently picked up and moved from the sunny desert of California to the great state of Montana. Besides the job opportunity that took me north, it was a good chance to move to a place with a lower crime rate and much cleaner air. As well, this will afford my family the opportunity to get out camping and enjoy the great outdoors. 

My first project moving into the new was to get phone and internet active. This is what is known as low hanging fruit in persuit of the ultimate WAF. I am just about finished up with this first portion of the project and will follow up with a writeup this weekend.

Sure, the first part of this project is a bit of a snore. However, the first writeup will be a part of a very lengthy series that details transforming my house into a digital center. I expect this project to last three plus years (think saving for a nice front projector and speakers :).

Of course along the way, I will be doing plugin reviews, software reviews, hardware reviews and a bunch of other stuff to keep MissingRemote.com chuggin along. :). Thank you for visiting MissingRemote.com and enjoy the ride :). (Below is To-Do list that I have planned in no particular order)

  1. Finish home networking and phones
  2. Configure test bench
  3. Configure production/gaming machine (upgrade planned)
  4. Build new CableCard HTPC
  5. Install new HTPC in family room
  6. Install/build client HTPCs/TVs (3)
  7. Install and configure basic HA
  8. Configure WHS server for PC backup
  9. Configure WHS for DVD/Music streaming
  10. Bunch of other little things :). Like out door speakers, fold down LCD in kitchen, roof speakers upstairs.
May 25 2007

Blog - Is DVR/PVR Worth the Risk?

We here at MissingRemote often talk about all the benefits that come with a DVR/PVR, but rarely do we get a chance to clearly show there are some cons to it. Well, this past week I was given a clear reminder as to the danger that will always exist when you rely 98% of the time on your DVR (in my case, a Media Center Computer).

A little about my usage history. I don't know when anything is on live except for basketball games, and that's only because ESPN will show the time on their homepage. Other than that, I couldn't tell you the different time/day of Lost compared to The Ultimate Fighter...and those are some of my FAVORITE shows. Ask me about a show I care less about and as they say in Micky Blue Eyes, "Foggettaboutit!"

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Remember this? I don't :-(

 

For the most part, my Vista Media Center has worked near flawlessly. I can't remember missing a show due to a crash or any other problem...until this week. The Event: The biggest soccer match of the year (that's actually televised in the US), the UEFA Cup Finals Championship. Of course it is on mid-day, but no problem, I set my Media Center a week in advance. The day came, I know the game happened and I spent the remainder of the day avoiding any sports website and ignoring anyone who might have mentioned the game.

Now, the joy of having a PVR/DVR, is that you just go about your daily business without worry because, all your shows are being recorded. So I worked all day, worked out afterwards, then got home and settled around 9pm, ready and excited to watch the game I had been pining for all day. So I start Media Center, and look in Recorded TV, and sure enough, there's my UEFA Cup Soccer Game. All is well in the world I thought...that is, until I pressed play.

Instead of seeing two of the world's greatest (arguably) club soccer teams, I was greeted with a Baseball show?!?! No worries, I set it to record an hour extra of the game, so this must just be running late. But then it kept going. And going. And then when that ended, Boxing began. I'm an avid Boxing fan, so I knew this would be long, and then it finally set in my head--I'M NOT GOING TO GET TO WATCH THE GAME. That didn't stop me from fast forwarding through 3 hours of boxing, just to be sure.

To this day I have no idea whose fault it was--was it Media Center's Guide? ESPN's original time frame? Me for not quadruple checking? Who knows. All I know is I missed a great (arguable) game, one which would never have happened if DVR/PVR didn't exist. Sure this is a rare incident, and maybe only the 2nd or 3rd time this has ever happened (and I've been using Media Center since the original), but the fact remains it happened, and by the time I realized it, it was too late.

I guess my moral of this story, is definitely enjoy your PVR/DVR, but understand the risk involved...because you just may miss that once a year event you've been waiting for!

May 01 2007

Blog - Top 10 Steps to HTPC Evolution

I was feeling rather nostalgic today, so I decided to take some time to reminisce on the life of HTPCs and Media Centers. I've been around this since the inception, and it's always fun to take a step back and see where we've come from to get an idea of what the future holds.

I have comprised my very own Top 10 list in reference to most significant events that have occurred in the field of Home Theater PC's. I'm sure I missed some, so feel free to discuss. So let's get on with it....

Apr 30 2007

Blog - More Mythtv!

mythtv

This weekend my wife hosted a baby shower at our house, so we had a bunch of people over. I soon found myself removed from the family room and the computer room 'cause guys weren't allowed... Undecided So what's a guy to do with no HTPC?

Luckily for me, my brother was over and brought along his Mac Surprised. With time on my hands, and nothing better to do, we set out to get this on my Mythtv network. The most difficult part here was actually getting his laptop on my wireless network (128bit WEP, supressed SSID, MAC filtering). Once that was done, it was a simple matter of finding the correct binary for the Mac frontend (from here). With a quick config, which involved specifying the Master Backend IP Address, and username and password for the MYSQL database, we were up and running in litterally 5-10 minutes (from download to watching tv). It took us two tries to find a current binary to load - the first that we found didn't use the most up to date protocol that was being used on my server. Once that was all resolved, we had a full frontend on his Mac laptop. This included everything that you'd find on a Linux frontend such as LiveTV, Recordings, Videos, DVDs, Music, Images, etc etc. I wish there was an equivalent for Windows (right now, the best that I've found is an app that will connect to the server so that I can watch recordings with all the propper commercials flagged).

So now, any time that my brother comes to visit, he can bring his Mac over and watch tv with the rest of us if he wants (assuming I don't boot him from my network that is Innocent).

As a side note, I will confirm my earlier notions that a Wireless G network can stream SDTV easily, but is not nearly fast enough for HDTV. When we tried that, we had major stuttering. Nothing new here (hopefully), just one more data point.

Hopefully someone found this interesting or worth reading. It's just amazing how expandable Mythtv is and how easy it really is to setup. What are you waiting for? Try it out!

Apr 26 2007

Blog - The New & Improved Remote Record

I just happened to be in need of scheduling some recordings at work, so was forced to use MSN's Remote Record (since I can't forward ports on the router to be able to use Webguide). But, I was so surprised & impressed with my experience I thought I would share. It seems the MSN TV guys have been working hard behind the scenes and have made quite a few improvements to the process of scheduling recordings to your Media Center from any computer.

I was a little surprised I did not see any notice, or e-mail, or anything when it was updated. Since they did such a great job in my opinion, I feel they finally deserve some praise. This is just a quick blog with some screenshots to showoff the new features and improvements.

msntv-001.jpg

As you can see, the homepage is more efficient and I also prefer the new color scheme than the previous light blue. This is hardly the only thing that changed, so let's go over some of the rest and you can decide for yourself.

 digg!

Apr 24 2007

Blog - Analog TV Tuners -- How We Test

tuner_lab.jpgAs a compliment to our upcoming ATSC/NTSC combo round up I wanted to share how I test the TV tuners. Read on for the nitty gritty.
Apr 03 2007

Blog - I Didn't Touch the Commercial Skip button all night

Here's the scenario: NCAA Finals start at 6pm, but I have to workout first. So I go to the gym, come home around 6pm, shower, cook dinner, relax on the sofa & turn on the game. At the end of the game, I'm done watching at the exact same time as the Live feed, but I didn't have to watch a single commercial, nor did I have to press a single skip button.

You DVRMS Toolbox fans probably already know the fantastic plugin of it called ShowAnalyzer, which makes DVRMS Toolbox even THAT much more powerful. For those not familiar with it, with the default Commercial Skip application (which is free), you record a show and then DVRMS analyzes the file and 15 minutes later you're able to watch your recorded show and it will automatically automatically skip through the commercials.

But what if you're a sports fan like me? Or what if those wonderful TV Executives decide to change Lost from 9pm, to 10pm. With the default/free DVRMS Toolbox I'd have to wait until 11:15pm to begin enjoying an automatically commercial-skipped show. Since I have to wake up early the next day, that is just unacceptable. That is where the commercial application ShowAnalyzer comes to play.

Although it's not free, you'll find the $10 purchase fee infinitely pays itself off in no time. I'm sure there's other features involved with it, but the main reason I bought it was this: Using the ShowAnalyzer program instead of the default commercial detection app within DVRMS Toolbox, after 15minutes of recording, you can begin to watch your show and it automatically detects and marks the commercials as you watch the program live. No need to wait until the recording is complete!

Not a huge factor for those 30 minute shows, but definitely is useful for sporting events and other hour or longer programs which you don't want to wait until it completes recording either because of time or just pure excitement.

I had been using DVRMS Toolbox quite happily now for around 6 months, and after testing ShowAnalyzer, I just had to report to you all to give it a try. It works on most Media Center applications, and is a godsend!

If you're interested, check out the DVRMS Toolbox program for you Windows Media Center fans, and here's the ShowAnalyzer site. Note that ShowAnalyzer is included in the installer with DVRMS, but you'll need to request a key.

If you liked this blog, please digg or reddit it! Thanks! All comments appreciated! 

digg!   |  reddit  

Mar 19 2007

Blog - Media Center Setup Quick Tip

I was recently at Microsoft's campus for their annual MVP Summit, and got to spend some time with Jessica Zahn, of the eHome group there. Besides being very nice, she was showing myself & fellow MVP Bryan Socha (aka Accident) some Vista TV features. While that was good and fine, what blew us away, was this very little known trick.

If you have ever installed Windows Media Center, any version, surely you hate the EULA screen (shown below from 2005) as much as I do, since it required you to scroll 68 pages with a remote. Well, did you know that you can press UP ARROW TWICE, and it will take you to the buttons that say you accept? Neither did I!! But trust me, this has been around a while and WORKS!

So remember this tip the next time you install MCE & save some time!

EDIT 3/20: One of our Members, G White, pointed out that you can do the same with even LESS WORK: Just hit the right arrow button on your remote once and it jumps down to the "I agree" button.  Thanks G!!

 

mceeula.jpg

 

Mar 15 2007

Blog - The Perfect Media Center Software

Does the perfect Media Center software exist? I think I can safely speak for the entire HTPC community when I say NO! Over the past several years we have had to put up with instabilities, tweaking, building, resintalling, and worst of all, complaints from the significant other. If it wasn't for the almighty WAF, I think a lot of us would still be using the software that came with our very first software based capture cards so many years ago. I'll share my thoughts with what we have seen in the past and what I expect from the perfect Media Center software

Mar 13 2007

Blog - Why you want a 120Hz LCD TV

In talking with Alan the other day it became obvious that we should have a write up about why 120Hz LCD HDTVs are a big deal and why they should be your TVs of choice.

sharp_lcd.jpg

Read on for the details

Mar 07 2007

Blog - Couchville Beta

A few days ago Snapstream released Couchville.com, a sleek and simple TV Listing site open to anyone on the net. The current version of the site is in beta, so it will no doubt have tweaks and changes in the future. Surfing on over to the Couchville main-page, I was greated by a page that reminded me a lot of the Google approach to doing business: very simple, yet it gets the job done. Snapstream's simple approach has garnered a lot of praise around the net and rightly so.

Couchville.com is not cluttered with ads and stories about our favorite celebs going into rehab. This made it easy to find out where to add my zip code and get my listings in a quick three step process. I would also note that the AJAX coding is done VERY well here. The loads are very quick.

After that, you are free to browse your listings. Similar to Google Maps, you are able to drag the listings to get the channel and time you so desire. Again, very simple and effective.

Above the Guide there are three buttons used for navigation. Obviously one for the guide, and the other two are for BTV Buzz and Guide Settings. BTV Buzz is information taken, anonymously of course, from thousands of BTV users that ranks top recorded TV shows, and top upcoming recordings. The settings page allows you to customize your channel lineup to better match your subscription.

Currently, the site uses a browser cookie to save the preferences. In this stage of the beta there isn't an ability to create a login and thus keep your settings regardless of the computer you are at. To follow the look and feel of the website, I would keep registration strictly optional and low key. People who want it can register, if not, cookies should be enough :).

I am not sure what else Snapstream has planned for Couchville.com but they have the start of a great TV based community :).

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Couchville Home
Guide BTV Buzz Listings Setup

 

 

Mar 07 2007

Blog - I joined the MP3 revolution with a 30GB iPod video

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Digg this story! 

Not to get all gadgety on you but I finally got myself into the 21st century for mobile/personal audio. I thought I would share my first impressions, and general usage experiences as well as comments on moving video to the iPod from various sources including downloads and converted TV recordings.

 

Mar 02 2007

Blog - Analog TV and 2009 : let's clear something up shall we?

digitaltv.jpgNVIDIA's DualTV MCE end of life announcement made earlier today is the first of what I'm sure are many other similar product discontinuations and/or end of life announcements. Looking around various forums that have picked up on this I see some incorrect information being spread around.


To be clear: the mandate is only about over the air analog signals. It has no effect whatsoever on cable TV.

Cable companies are very likely to keep offering analog cable packages for some time, because in 2009 that analog cable service will still be quite useful to all those people who have 'cable ready' analog tuners (like nearly all VCRs and TVs have had since the 1990s).

The impact of the analog cutoff to anyone who is a cable or satellite TV subscriber is essentially no impact at all. It will only impact the severely poor who cannot afford cable or people who just don't care to watch TV much and thus still use the ol' rabbit ears on a 13" set from 1986. For these people a voucher system will be setup to help them obtain digital TV set-top boxes that are simple ATSC tuners with analog video outputs for legacy TV users, prototypes of set-top boxes like this cost under $150, so by 2009 these should be quite cheap, especially with a voucher subsidizing the cost.

The impact to the consumer electronics market is simply that any TVs, DVRs, etc. made from this point forward must also include an ATSC tuner, the cost of adding an ATSC tuner isn't very much these days. For the HTPC world this means that any PC TV tuner made from this point forward must have an ATSC tuner in addition to the NTSC one. You'll notice ATI, AVerMedia, Hauppauge, and Vbox all had combo or hybrid NTSC/ATSC cards out in time for March 1st.

Feb 28 2007

Blog - ReplayTV, quit Replaying!!!

hdrrtvlogoI was just greeted with a lovely SPAM e-mail from ReplayTV, promoting their PVR software and offering me a whopping 20% discount on it. What's the problem with this? Where to begin. I know how Replay got my e-mail address, I gave it to them when I signed up for their beta program for their software before it was launched. Let me count how many times the fellas at Replay contacted me to offer my advice: 0. Did I even get a courtesy "Sorry, you don't qualify." Nope. Zilch.

 

The first time I heard from them was after the product launched, and then only to spam me. Did I forward the e-mail to get off their list, Yes. Did I continue to receive e-mails? Sure did.

 

I'm blogging about this because I'm just baffled at Replay's plan. I can't be the only person that is extremely irritated by Replay & their guerrilla marketing tactics. It doesn't bother me that I wasn't selected to beta test (how I would not qualify is beyond me, but that's besides the point). What does bother me, is not doing a proper beta test, putting out a less-than-stellar first version, and then only having PC Magazine review it.

 

The funny thing, is if Replay contacted me today, and asked me to review their software, I still would. And I'd remain unbiased. I really do care for the Media Center market, and want the best products out there, and if there are flaws that can be improved upon, I'd love to be able to help & suggest. I just wish I could figure out some marketing schemes these companies have at times. 

Feb 20 2007

Blog - HDRadio

hd_radioFor the last couple weeks, I've been hearing about "the stations between the stations" and "hidden stations on the radio dial".  In fact, the radio commercials are talking about HDRadio.  This got me curious.  What is HDRadio?  How is it different from what I've already got?

 

So I did a little digging this afternoon.  As it turns out, HDRadio is the radio equivalent to HDTV.  To start out, radio broadcasting stations add a digital stream along with their analog stream.  The HD stations are on subchannels of the analog stations.  For example, in my area, a local classic rock station broadcasts in analog on 92.5MHz FM.  They also broadcast in HD on 92.5-1.  To draw an analogy, my local NBC affiliate broadcasts on channel 11 in analog and on channel 11-1 in HD.

 

So what is the benefit you ask?  Well, they say that it's cd quality audio.  All the time.  No static, no pops, no fading in and out.  It's a digital signal, so it's either there or it's not.  On top of receiving the audio, HDRadio also has the ability to send text to a display as well.  This can be the station identifier, song artist, stock quotes, weather forecasts, and pretty much anything else they want.  And to top it off...  it's still FREE! 

 

Now what do you need to get HDRadio?  Well, it looks like there are about a dozen different companies offering HDRadios at anywhere from  $200 to $1500 depending on the features you want.  Standard features seem to be the ability to pick up both analog and HD radio and display screen, as well as features you'd find on a normal radio like presets and alarm clocks (for home radios).  Some have hookups for an external antenna, RCA and/or optical audio outputs, even RS232 and ethernet for controlling via a PC.  Is it worth the price?  That's for you to decide.  I'm sure that with time, once this becomes mainstream, prices will fall.  Until then, I'll have to be happy with the concept. Smile

 

For more information you can visit http://www.hdradio.com/.

Feb 16 2007

Blog - High definition optical discs and their associated copy protection acronyms

hd_br_disc_logos_smlThe next generation optical disc formats, like standard DVD, are encrypted on disc, but unlike standard DVD, also require protected paths from the player to the display. With this comes a confusing new group of terms, many of which betray the idiosyncrasies of the next generation content protection requirements.

The confusion has become obvious, especially when otherwise very technically literate websites start producing Blu-ray and HD DVD articles but confuse the various copy protection mechanisms. I've seen the confusion become quite widespread among users and now tech journalists. Let's go over how this all works...

Feb 16 2007

Blog - Will my WHS Dream Ever Come True?

By now I'm sure you all have heard about Windows Home Server (or, WHS for short), Microsoft's latest OS idea about bringing a server into your home to provide a central system to store & backup all your files spanning from multiple systems. When I first heard about WHS, I got excited. You see, several years ago, there were some leaked photos on TGB of a Windows Media Server, that had an interface where it would show you what movie or TV was being shown to which system on the network. The possibilities were endless and it seemed that it would come out shortly.

Here are some of the screenshots I STILL HAVE to this day (3 years later...impressed? :-P) Now let me be clear: I did NOT take these screenshots. These were leaked & placed publicly on TheGreenButton forums 3 years ago:

mediaserver1 mediaserver3
 mediaserver5  mediaserver6

 

Fast forward 3/4 years, and WHS is announced shortly before the Vista launch, and is basically Windows 2003 Server edition with a very nice automated backup & sharing feature. So what's my gripe? 

 

With Media Center supposedly being such a growing interest & product within Microsoft, how is it's integration in a product such as this not realized? Microsoft has tried repeatedly to convey the idea of Extenders, where you can have these lower cost, quiet solutions by your TV, and then your computer in a closet streaming the content to it. So then...why isn't there any MCE integration?

 

I understand that they had to limit the number of features, but an MCE integration seems almost too simple to not do. Imagine if WHS could be your central Media Server Solution, where you could install 6 tuners, and have it stream to all your Extenders & Computers in your house. You could remote into it (since it's a secure server) and check up on what people are watching, or what's recording....record new stuff, etc.

 

The potential is definitely there, but as it stands right now, I just don't see much importance of this product for the Media Center market. Vista (and XP MCE for that matter) are solid enough products to use as a server, and you get the ability of having MCE. Don't get me wrong, I installed Beta 1, and absolutely love the features that ARE in WHS, including the Backup feature. But that being said, there's no way I can afford to have another system in my small house, which doesn't incorporate MCE.

 

Hopefully in the future, I'll finally see the Media Server product I was teased & tormented by so long ago. Wink

Feb 15 2007

Blog - Concurrent sessions & those who love them

I was asked recently by some friends, "Why is concurrent sessions so important that you cry about it every time we talk about Vista?" (you can imagine, the friends I speak of are MVPs or MVP-related. For those unaware of the issue I'm referring to, there was a hack for Windows XP that allowed you to have a feature that was only found in Server-based Windows products: the ability to have multiple connections into a system without logging the others off. 

 

Those of you who use Media Center I'm sure can see the usefulness behind this. If you have your system in your living room & just want to do updates to it, rather than interrupt those watching, with Concurrent Sessions, you could remotely log into another user account on the system, download any & all updates...all while still watching MCE on the big screen.

 

screenshot_tvmovies_mediacenter

 

In my situation, things are a little different. I used to have 5 systems, but after moving up north, I had to consolidate my systems. No longer did I have space to have a dedicated MCE machine as well as my server. What concurrent sessions allowed me to do was be able to have MCE on my monitor, and then be able to remotely log in via my work laptop. This allowed me to manage everything on my home server, web browse from my favorites, download, whatever, all while being able to watch TV through MCE on my monitor. It was a nice luxury I got spoiled with. 

 

Since upgrading to Vista, I've had to live without concurrent sessions, and it's been quite difficult. I do fortunately now have a separate TV, so I have a spanning desktop (desktop on my LCD, MCE on my TV), but the losing focus problem is quite annoying. And I lose speed too--now if I want to access my system, I have to use VNC, which is great, but just not as fast or effective as remote desktop.

 

There's a thread over at TheGreenButton about a gentleman working on getting this fixed, but my gripe to Microsoft is this: If you have this feature, albeit required a hacked .dll, but nonetheless, a feature MANY people loved & used, why not just include it? Obviously the capability is there. Am I the only person that thinks one more feature wouldn't have hurt Vista launch sales?

 

Let me know what you think, maybe together we can change this for future updates. 

Feb 14 2007

Blog - MythTV vs TiVo3 Redux

OK OK....   I got the not so subtle hint to crank up the MythTV bandwagon. Wink The comparison isn't exactly fair as MythTV is a complete media convergence device and a TiVo3 only handles PVR duties.  Here's my non-complete list of features MythTV has that I doubt the TiVo3 has.  Of course, since I don't have a TiVo3 in the house, this is somewhat of a guess on my part.

1. Web based interface that can be used over the internet or cell phone to review or schedule new programs, stream all content (recorded programs, music, or ripped DVDs), view local weather, and check the overall status of the server.  It is also possible via phpMyAdmin to modify anything in the database.  I would only recommend making this functionality available via an encrypted SSH tunnel.

2. Literally every gaming system is supported via an emulator plugin.

3. Ability to move the recorded content to any other device.  DRM is non-existent.

4. Local weather radar and forecast.

5. Built in web browser.

6. Up converted and de-interlaced DVD player/ripper.

7. Photo gallery with various transition effects.

8. Music player with playlist and multiple visualization effects.

9. RSS news feed reader.

10. Interface to manage your NetFlix account.

11. Interface for audio and video phone calls using standard VOIP protocols.

12. Caller ID on screen pop up.

13. A large selection of themes to choose from.  If you don't like what you see, creating your own or modifying an existing theme is fairly easy.

14. Did I mention that the system is DRM free?

15. A huge community available to help if something goes *boink* in the night.

16. Short of the hardware investment, it is free and open source.  If you don't like certain functionality and you happen to know C++ you can twiddle to your heart's content.  If not, check the feature request list and see if it is already in the works.

Of course, the biggest hurdle to overcome in the MythTV arena is the "fear" of Linux.  I can say up front that although some of the traditional users of Linux can be downright scary looking, in the past few years the OS itself has blossomed nicely.  If anyone is hesitant to take the leap, find a spare hard drive on which to install Linux, or try one of the many "Live" distributions which don't install anything to the hard drive.

Feb 14 2007

Blog - To 64...or not to 64

vistaSo you just took advantage of some of the great deals out there for some dual core (or heck, quad core) cpus & motherboards. You took the time, carefully planned, and then assembled your full system. Then you go to make your purchase of Windows Vista, only to be faced with the decision: Should I buy the x86 (32-bit version) or the x64 (64-bit) version of the operating system. Depending on who you ask, you'll get as wide a number of responses as asking blonde or brunette. So the question is, which is the right answer?

  

Well, I'm writing this to try to talk you all out of going 64-bit. No real reason, other than to try to save people some grief & time. Here's what you get WITH installing x64:

  • Some theoretical dream that apps & programs *SHOULD* run faster
  • Can handle larger amounts of RAM more efficiently

And here's what could happen for you:64_bit

  • Drivers not compatible or not written for x64
  • Applications/programs will not run or install at all
  • Even programs that will install, if not designed for 64-bit will run as a normal 32-bit, which is probably slower
  • Future compatibility - 64-bit operating systems are not new. WindowsXP had a 64 bit version which was greeted with very little attention, and the same problems that IT had remain prevalent in Vista.

So in the end, it really comes down to faith. Do you have faith that the developers will increase their attention to 64-bit? Just ask yourself, why would they? If everyone else is perfectly fine with the performance of 32-bit Vista, which I'm sure dominates the number of x64 installs...and time & time again companies are ignoring 64-bit drivers/programs, with little or no uproar...why would they invest the time & money into developing for it?

Don't get me wrong, I think 64-bit technology in theory is great & eventually as more & more people own the x64 CPU's, maybe it'll happen. But if OEMs/Computer Companies aren't pre-installing it on systems, that surely is not a good sign for convincing anybody else.

Don't take this article as a be-all-end-all to the debate, and by all means I hope this sparks some comments from our forum members about their preference. Maybe 64-bit IS for you? Maybe not. But either way, it's something that needs to be considered.

Remember, once you install the 32-bit or 64-bit version, the only way to switch is to do a full reinstall...and oh yeah, you'll probably have to call Microsoft to re-validate your key like I did. 

 

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