Blogs

Feb 16 2009

Blog - Jeff Dunham

JeffDunham has been around for quite a few years and I have really enjoyed his shows in the past. What got me thinking of his stand up shows was his recent Blu-ray release of his great ventroliquist act. I haven't been able to find a full length show online but Comedy Central has several 2 minutes clips that are worth a look.

The embed code Comedy Central wreaks havoc with the website, so I modified the Hulu embed code with what appears to be good results. I can tell John is cringing already. Let me know if there are any problems. Note to Comedy Central, ads are good, embedding text ads around the video is not. Seriously? ring tones?

Click here for all the Jeff Dunham videos on Comedy Central.

 

Feb 12 2009

Blog - Build Log - A journey towards all HD all the time (Part II - Build Up)

After tearing down the HTPC, I started putting things back together with my brand new parts. This is actually going to be retrospective look at building my HTPC since it's been up and running with minimum required functionality for the last couple months or so.

This build was designed to be the main HTPC in the family room. I planned to leverage my existing HTPC case, the Accent HT-400. The HTPC is used for tv recording, archiving and playing back DVDs, Blu-ray playback from disc, photos, and music playback. I've stopped gaming on the pc and instead am using the XBox 360 for that. In the future, I plan on turning this HTPC into a thick client and moving the hard drives and tuners to a PC based on WHS. This thick client HTPC will then continue to serve as the main box in the family room/home theater. To this extenders will be added in other rooms for music, tv, and video distribution. Home Automation will be added eventually to the WHS box after it is up and running next year. 

For the core of my new HTPC I selected the Asus P5Q-EM based on the Intel G45 chipset running a Intel E8500.

 

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Let's take a closer look at how things worked out.

Feb 11 2009

Blog - The Phoenix Arises

If you've been following my blog for any length of time, you will remember when I posted that my old frontend died on me.  A little more recently, I shared the death of my HD server/development system

Today, thanks to Autoboy, I am pleased to announce that I once again have my old frontend system running again.  He was able to provide me with a motherboard that is identical to the one that was originally in there, except that his powers up!  However, this time around, after the death of my HD server I have decided to re-purpose this system into my new HD server.

With this re-purpose comes some changes.  Firstly, I decided to go with this change because my original system was still using IDE drives and I have a stack of SATA drives looking for a home.  Currently, in the rebuild I am using 1x250GB IDE drive that is holding all of my legacy recordings (stuff from the old system), 2x250GB SATA drives, 1x160GB SATA and 1x120GB SATA.  So in total, I now have just over 1TB of storage in this system, which is a nice upgrade from the 250GB that was in the old build.  I am actually pondering leaving off the two smaller SATA drives for now since they don't add that much space to the total and I'm not in immediate need.  This would allow me to add larger drives later on as needed (maybe a couple of 2TB WD drives?).

The problem that I'm currently having with this rebuild is that the frontend was originally built in an NSK2400, which is the older brother to the Antec Fusion series.  If you take a look at this case, you will notice that it is built for 2 internal hard drives.  I could add another into the DVD bay with adapters that I have from long ago, but that still leaves me with 3 drives.  I intend to have 5 in this system.  I hate to do it but I may have to get a new case.  I really like the NSK2400 though.  It was a great, quiet system.  I was amazed when I put this in place of my old setup exactly how much quieter it is (or how much louder my old system was).  My main server is built in an Antec P180 and it's worked great for me.  Maybe I'll look into something similar.  We'll see.  Feel free to leave a recommendation in the forums.  For now I'll leave it in the current case with the top off and the drives hanging out.

So the new build is as follows:

  • CPU: AMD 3800 X2
  • Mobo: MSI K8NGM2-FID
  • RAM: 2x512MB
  • Hard Drives: see above
  • Video: onboard
  • Audio: onboard
  • Case: Antec NSK-2400
  • PSU: 380W - came with case

Thanks for taking the time to read through this.  As mentioned above, if you have any suggestions for a decent but inexpensive case for this system, please drop me a line in the forums.  Other comments are also welcome!

Feb 10 2009

Blog - Server Storage - RAID, WHS, and Throughput

The discussion, here, about larger storage setups caught my attention this week. Large storage setups for many simultaneous users have considerations beyond your standard small home server. Some of the major considerations are hard drive choice, disk configuration, sufficient throughput for your application, backup, fault tolerance.

- Hard Drives: If you are planning a large 10TB+ array of discs, you may want to consider enterprise class drives from leading hard drive manufacturers. These drives are certified for 24/7 operation, and warrantied for 5 years. However, there is a price for the higher reliability drives. Western Digital Enterprise Class Green Power drives cost about 80% more than their equivalent consumer version.

- Disk Configurations (from Wikipedia):

RAID

  • RAID 0 (striped disks) distributes data across several disks in a way that gives improved speed and full capacity, but all data on all disks will be lost if any one disk fails.
  • RAID 1 (mirrored settings/disks) could be described as a real-time backup solution. Two (or more) disks each store exactly the same data, at the same time, and at all times. Data is not lost as long as one disk survives. Total capacity of the array is simply the capacity of one disk. At any given instant, each disk in the array is simply identical to every other disk in the array. - IS BACKUP
  • RAID 5 (striped disks with parity) combines three or more disks in a way that protects data against loss of any one disk; the storage capacity of the array is reduced by one disk. - NOT BACKUP
  • RAID 6 (striped disks with dual parity) (less common) can recover from the loss of two disks. - NOT BACKUP
Windows Home Server Drive Extender - a file-based replication system that provides three key capabilities:
  • Multi-disk redundancy so that if any given disk fails, data is not lost - NOT BACKUP
  • Folder Duplication - allowing the selective backup of any of your shared folders, keeps duplicate copies of specified folders on seperate drives, must manually enable - IS BACKUP
  • Arbitrary storage expansion by supporting any type of hard disk drive (Serial ATA, USB, FireWire etc.) in any mixture and capacity — similar in concept to JBOD
  • A single folder namespace (no drive letters)

- Transfer Rates

The throughput of the system may or may not be important to you. You'll want to check on the specific card you plan on purchasing. Real world transfer rates can be very different from what is advertised on the box. The hardware raid cards will be faster and are capable of supporting many users. The hardware solutions can easily handle throughput from many drives simultaneously without degradation of performance. If the files accessed are on different drives, the total throughput can be quite high. WHS Drive Extender is a software solution and much more appropriate for a small number of users/simultaneous file transfers.

- Backup / Fault Tolerance

All of the above mentioned solutions for creating large storage arrays are really not good backup solution for critical data (except RAID 1). Many of them do have fault tolerance, allowing them to rebuild the array by replacing a broken drive. In the case of hardware RAID, the RAID card is also a fault point and would likely need to be replaced with the same model card to get the array back up and running. For critical backup you will need a separate solution. I have been considering this for my family photos. Movies and music are replaceable, while family photos aren't.

Feb 09 2009

Blog - Home Automation Resources

Not too many years ago, getting into the home automation game was a cost prohibitive and something best left to the professional installers. I am not here to say you are going to duplicate a $10,000 custom install job. Well, let me say that I may not duplicate a custom $10,000 job, but based on some of the DIY jobs I have seen out there it is a real possibility.

Here are a few resources I found along the way that should help you get started.

 

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Feb 08 2009

Blog - The Story of My Life Continues

Recently I posted a blog about how my development/HD server system died on my after my UPS beeped briefly.  Well, I decided that it was worth a quick look to see if it was the power supply or not.  I knew it would be a quick test, so I came up with the following test rig.

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PSU Test Rig

Believe it or not, it did actually work (the test that is).  I plugged in the main motherboard power and the CPU AUX power connectors and flipped the switch.  Sure enough, the system started to work again.  All in all I think this took me about 10 minutes to test out.  After hooking up a couple of molex connectors for the hard drives and the graphics card, I was able to get the system up and running again.  Now I just need to dig through my closet and see if any of my old power supplies are powerful enough (and new enough) to run in this system.  I don't want to strip the one that I used for the test.  I have other plans for that...

And so the saga continues.  Now I know what the problem is.  What, if anything, do I want to do about it?  Hmm..  As always, feel free to share your opinions in the forums!

Feb 04 2009

Blog - Boxee for Windows - Music and More

Music is one of the features which Windows Media Center does really quite well--the layout is fun, easy to follow, useful and attractive. That being said, the features are quite minimal. You see the information which you provide via tags and little extra. Boxee adds a splash of innovation into their Music abilities, as you can see from the video below.

While the main music library is fairly basic and not as attractive as Media Center's (in my opinion), Boxee does a great job of integrating available internet sources to expand your music listening abilities. From the integration of Last.FM into your actual music you have, to being able to directly go to MTV's collection of music videos for artists, it's all integrated quite seamlessly. You can even view a review of the album, which is pulled automatically.

 

Feb 03 2009

Blog - Boxee for Windows - Photos

Most people that are aware of Boxee think it's primarily used for television watching--mainly all the internet TV portals for watching full episodes on demand, which I covered a bit during my first impressions look. The Photos area of Boxee however is equally powerful.

Again, if you have seen Boxee on AppleTV or other previous device, you will notice very little difference between the experience--which is a good thing. The interface is similar to the Videos section in that you configure your local and network libraries, but then also have the power of internet picture portals--FlickR, Picasa and The Big Picture.

The interface is easy to follow and the experience is nice. It's still a bit odd adjusting to the limited button support (which I've heard will be changed to better support the Microsoft remotes) but if you are familiar with the AppleTV it's an easy adjustment to make.

Feb 02 2009

Blog - Boxee for Windows - Introduction and 1st Impressions

Boxee has been out and available for Apple, AppleTV and Linux for quite a while now, and it has gained a lot of buzz. While those versions recently entered out of private alpha and into public alpha, an equally impressive announcement was made with a private alpha release of BoxeeTV for Windows!

The interface is almost identical from what I can tell between the AppleTV version, but given the extra raw horsepower my full blown Media Center PC provides everything was much peppier. I will post a full review once it's fully released, but for now here's a video of the Main interface and the Videos interface so you can get an idea of the experience:
 


You can see how quick and responsive the application is and it has been suprisingly stable given how early in its alpha life it is.
Jan 30 2009

Blog - Windows7: Video Resume finally a reality--Thank you Microsoft!

The story of my mission for getting video resume in Media Center is a long one, but I will condense it for your sanity. Ever since the original Portable Media Centers were released--remember, those brick sized devices before IPods ever existed--the one and only feature I clammored for and missed from those devices were Video Resume. By video resume, I mean the ability to play a video file (non-DVR-MS or WTV), press stop, and then be able to come back to the video file the next night and be able to pick up right where you left off.

This simple and often overlooked feature (found in every portable video player in recent memory and some software as well) has been painfully missing from Media Center for all these years. Every MVP Summit I have reminded the eHome team of this ommission, and every year I've seen no change--always "good suggestion, just didn't make the cut."

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So it's with great pride I can report that my prayers (and clearly not just my own) have been answered, as I can report that as of the public beta of Windows7, VIDEO RESUME EXISTS! Add some videos (divx, avi, wmv, whatever!) into your Video Library, click on a file and it will begin playing automatically. Click Stop, do anything else, play another track, heck even close Media Center, and when you go back to play that same video, you will be greeted with a screen like the above. 

Again, probably a feature some of you could care less, but I can't imagine I'm alone in my excitement--not just that this feature has finally made it's way into Media Center, but that it shows that Microsoft has been listening (albeit slow to implement). No complaints though...thank you Microsoft! No more will I have to stay up late to finish watching a movie for fear of having to skip 5000 times to get back to that point! No more will I have to convert my movies just to have this!

Jan 29 2009

Blog - Life With A Plugin Episode 16: Movie Collectorz 6.0

My previous tango with Movie Collectorz was only a few short months ago. It won my heart with a dual purposed approach that includes a MCML based Vista Media Center plugin (that works in Windows 7) and an excellent cataloging program. Since then, Movie Collectorz has grown into an integeral part of my Media Center setup. The combination of the two products work extremely well for my needs. With Version 6 out of the hopper, I hope to see some improvements that I outlined in my first review along with anything else they might throw in to continually imrpove the product.

Prior to releasing, much to their credit, the president of Collectorz released a series of emails outlined a few of the improvements they were going to make. Below is a quick summary of the improvements and my thoughts.

Overview of Cataloging Program


Perhaps the biggest change for V6 was the removal of all external data sources such as IMDB and Amazon. Now if you search you will only be using the Collectorz.com database. For the average user, this should simplify the process off adding a movie with only 1 source of information. V5 was a bit of cluster when using all the data sources. With that said, if you have a niche collection you will run into problems with the program supplying enough information. I had a pretty good success rate except when it came to kids movies I was adding. Below is a pic of a Max & Ruby cartoon search by barcode but came up with no plot information. If you don't deviate from the main stream movies to much, you should be good to go.

I am sure there are many good reasons to move to their own data-source but I really would have liked them to save the IMDB database

 

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Jan 29 2009

Blog - Movies, Music and TV in the Air

 I find myself spending much too much time on airplanes. This past year I earned status on one airline, and almost on a second. My fiancee is travelling so much that she is going platinum on multiple airlines. With all this time spent in the air and on the road we've gone through quite a few of the many options for taking media in the air. Technology continues to evolve and provide a never ending supply of ways to entertain yourself on the plane. I find myself carrying far too many of them, with a laptop (or 2), an iPod Video, a Nintendo DS, and my phone. Today, I thought I'd just try and capture a few of the many options out there for consumption while flying the friendly skies. 

Laptop - Something almost every business traveler drags along, as do many others. Good screen size. Plenty of storage space for media. Plays DVDs/Blu-ray. Heavy option, if media playback on the plane is the only point in bringing it. Crappy battery life for long trips. I feel like if I get to watch the whole movie than it's a good day.

Portable DVD Player - Take your DVD collection with you...literally. This option offers a nice screen size depending on model you choose, and potentially decent battery life. Smaller than a laptop. But you have to actually bring physical discs with you, so decide what you want to watch before you leave the house. There are a few ways to work around bringing your own.

Buy DVDs / CDs at the airport - Seems every airport now has a stand or store where you can select from a horrible selection of overpriced DVDs and CDs. Personally, I'm not a big fan of this option.

Rent DVD & return at destination - Never actually participated in this. I am always slightly concerned there won't be an easy place to drop the disc off on the other end, and/or I won't have time to go hunt it down.

The new disposable rental - I've noticed this popping up all over the last few months. The disposable DVD rental. For something like $5.99 you can rent the movie, and watch it as much as you want inside a 24-hour period. Then throw the disc out. The green side of me thinks this is wasteful. However, for busy travellers definitely more convienent than the rent and return option.

Watch whatever Netflix just showed up - Often times this is the route I go. It just doesn't require any thinking, planning, or cash.

 

The Portable MP3 Player - Pretty good choice for music consumption. Battery life should be plenty for any day of travel. Most players today have enough storage for huge music collections, so you never have to worry about leaving your ABBA Gold behind. 

The iPhone/iTouch - Music, Movies & Games all in one. There is certainly something to be said for that. Most people can handle adding movies/music via iTunes. You can add your own with just a little bit of effort. I've heard that by reducing brightness and disabling the phone portion 6+ hours of video can be enjoyed. That's not too shabby. Should do for most flights, especially since you can't watch during takeoff and landing. Gaming leaves a little to be desired. iGames tend to be OK, but lack in depth what you might get for a real portable gaming system.

The Blackberry - I have one. I put a couple songs on it. For some reason I haven't really done any more than that. I love my phone, but I've never really had the urge to load it full of stuff. Maybe I'll try that for my next flight. The phone's battery life is exceptional, so I guess I'll give this a go next time and load up my microSD card. There's an issue...limited by microSD for storage.

 

The Nintendo DS - Great selection of games. Can buy game cartridges that allow microSD cards for video/audio playback extending the capabilities of console. Smaller screen than most phones for video viewing. Battery life is amazing. I can charge the DS, game a little every day and not have battery issues for a week. Not sure about battery life during video, have not personally tried it.

The Sony PSP - Bigger screen than the DS. Easier to load media on than the DS. UMD is stupid. IMO, gaming not as good as DS. (Worldwide sales numbers would probably support that conclusion)

 

DirectTV - This is nice, a full lineup of 40 or 50 stations that you can tune in anytime during your flight. The only thing is, when you're on those mid-day flights you are reminded of how bad daytime television is and find yourself praying you'll stumble upon a rerun of any of the crime dramas. Or maybe just indulge that guilty pleasure reality show you can't even set to record on your DVR, but hey, if it's the only thing on... Free on JetBlue, $5 on Frontier.

On Demand Movies - I had this once, flying first class. A large selection of recent releases, hot food, silverware and free cocktails. I strongly recommend this avenue.

 

Don't forget the headphones!!!

Noise Cancelling Headphones - These can make flying much more pleasant by filtering/drowning out ambient sounds. There are tradeoffs in size and quality of noise cancelling between the two pairs we own.

Sennheiser PXC250 - Smaller, foldable, easy to travel with. Smaller ear pieces and less effective noise cancelling. Enabling it does seem to bump audio volume a couple db. $100ish.

Bose QuietComfort 3 On Ear - Good noise cancelling, I prefer over ear but my fiancee likes the on ear fit of these. Larger, and when packed in travel case occupy a bit of space in the bag. $300ish.

I'd really love to find a great pair of tiny buds with noise cancelling. Or maybe try the custom fit buds.

 

So what do you bring on the road when you travel?

Jan 28 2009

Blog - Transition Trip-ups

digitaltv.jpgThe digital TV transition is a rather interesting problem for America.  People want their TV, but the digital transition is going to confuse many people when it takes effect.

Let's discuss the foremost issues: funding and timing.

As of this morning, January 28th, unlike the Senate, the House of Representatives voted 'No' on the extension of the DTV transition to June. This means that time is of the essence when it comes to replenishing the DTV coupon funds and making sure the right citizens get their coupons.

 

Problem #1: Coupon expiration

The vast majority of coupons that have been given out are now expired. Coupons issued from February 2008 through October 2008 are now all expired. These funds need to be recycled ASAP. There is a rather steady trend of approximately 55% redemption rate for every wave of coupons.

 

Problem #2: Who are redeeming the coupons?

The data gets more interesting when it is filtered by households that are using OTA only (what the NTIA calls "OTA Reliant"). Here the redemption rate is closer to 60% and went as high as 65% in the last few weeks of 2008. So that means that quite a few people who claimed to be using OTA only on their request form are indeed getting the coupons, but not enough, it would be nice to see the numbers higher -- into the 70% range.

There is a second group: those that are redeeming coupons when they are not OTA reliant. Their requests make up 40% to 50% of the overall coupons requests. According to the data these people are redeeming coupons at about 55%, the same as the overall rate.

Jan 27 2009

Blog - Will green push people to home automation

I admit it, when I first started thinking about home automation I did not have the environment in mind. Instead I was focused on convenience, wife acceptance factor and of course another fun geeky pursuit. The more I am drawn into the home automation world, it isn't hard to see that convenience and being green are often intertwined. As I documented my plans, I began to realize each HA task I planed on implementing had a positive effect on my utility bills and ultimately the environment.

Where I live, I know the capital cost to implement a home automation system will never be paid out by lowering my bills, however it is satisfying to know that part of my project will be and I will be a little more green in the process. A good example of this is simply having remote access, that most home automation systems have, and being able to shut off a light I inadvertently left on. 

Beyond simple remote access, you can expand a home automation system to respond according to external simuli. An irrigation system can respond to a rain sensor or lights will turn on and off according to a level of activity in the room. Ultimately, you can connect every object that may have an impact on your utility bills such as blinds, lights and your HVAC system

Here is a summary of a few home automation scenarios that I had in mind.

  • Lights - Remote access to shut off a light I inadvertently left on or turn on a light before I get home
    • Motion sensor - Lights will shut-off after a set period of time with no inactivity
    • Dimming - Dimming lights will save on electrical and increase bulb life
  • Irrigation - No plans here. I manually water my lawn but if I change my mind (get off my lawn you whipper snappers), I would implement a time control and a rain sensor
  • Security - No green plans here
  • HVAC - Remote access to turn control the temperature when I get closer to home
    • Programmed based on times
  • Demand logging - I am not sure of the practacility of this, but I would like to see an instantaneous review of my power use to get a better handle on where it goes.
I am certainly aware that there are methods to control all of the above scenarios but home automation will certainly make this a lot easier and smarter to implement.

What other energy saving ideas do you guys have?
Jan 27 2009

Blog - Why I love SageTV

I know everyone here probably already knows I'm a SageTV user, and I have been for the past many years. But today I had one of those moments that reminds me why I love SageTV, and in particular it's developers. The development team's dedication to providing timely, friendly responses to inquiries is probably one of my favorite things about this company.

Now that I actually have modern tuners, extenders, and other equipment (instead of the stuff from circa 2003), I have been updating my version of SageTV frequently throughout the current 6.5 Beta. At some point, a bug was introduced that broke the way the system read the tags from my flac files. Yesterday after trying a suggestion from tech support first, and then doing a complete rebuild on my own which I had been planning (new apt = new build :) ), I followed up to tech support by sending them a sample file to try and debug from. This was probably about 10pm EST last night.

Here's the email I received early this afternoon:

OK, this is fixed for the next build now. :)  (the one we're putting out today)

Cheers,
SageTV Support Team

 

Does it really get any better than that? File bug report, wake up around 11, eat breakfast, get email that devs have already figured out problem, and included it in latest build which happens to be going out today. I don't really think it does. So thanks to the Sage dev team for being absolutely great!!!

 

P.S. If you're a Sage user and paying attention, this probably means a 6.5 RC2 or 6.5 Final to be out today Cool

Jan 23 2009

Blog - jinni Review

A few of you may seen my "HTPC - Start page" blog a little while ago. In that post I was trying to decribe a move away from the traditional menu based system for your "start page" and move towards a system of recommendations, social aspects and interacting with newly added media such as music, movies and TV. Boxee has made some moves in that direction which I certainly appreciate and I will be following development closely. However, my primary HTPC platform will remain Windows Media Center, at least until a replacement for OEM-only CableCards come out.

In the mean time, I am on the look out for different recommendation engines to help me get the most out of my Netflix subscription :). I just haven't had the time to follow the movie scene as closely as I would have liked and so I am not really in tune with what movie is a stinker or not these past few years. Enter jinni, a website that aims to take what has been perfected from the music world and apply it to movie and TV recommendations. 

I can forgive their obvious borrowing from Pandora's Genome project if they can apply the basic building blocks of a movie to the same level of success Pandora, Zune, and other music recommendation services have had. As with most preference services, you have to apply a bit of training before the service will begin to act like a mind reader.

<Insert movie>

Jan 22 2009

Blog - Test

Jan 20 2009

Blog - A Few Weeks With Windows 7 Media Center

Everyone and their dog has had a chance to donwload Windows 7 beta. For various reasons including promises of fame, fortune, performance and a few crazy folks like us are trying out the Media Center portion of W7MC. I have had a few weeks to play with Media Center with most of my use focusing around Music, Movies & TV's. Here is the good and bad of Microsoft's Vista Redu. Enjoy the pictorial and video fun of W7.

Digg It

The Good


Improved mini-guide - I absolutely love it. This is how all mini-guides should be, one show at a time is near useless.

 

Hit the read more button to continue this fine saga.


Jan 20 2009

Blog - The story of my life

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

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

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

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

Jan 18 2009

Blog - 3DTV updates

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

 

Jan 18 2009

Blog - Transition Time

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

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

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

Jan 17 2009

Blog - Home Automation Shopping List

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 15 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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