Blogs

Jun 17 2010

Blog - What Do You Want to See Turned Into a Movie?

As a consequence of George’s [Skirge] well deserved ridicule in this week’s Blu-ray Releases thread, I realized I was a sucker for epics and I am guessing George is as well (*cough* Waterworld *cough*).  You may further mock me for leaping from Waterworld and Dances with Wolves to timeless classics such as The Battle of Algiers, Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, Ben-Hur and Braveheart but I did just that.  While reminiscing, my mind wandered to thoughts of what other epic films I would like to see made.

I realize everyone’s definition of what entails an “epic” film will vary but here is my list.

  • Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
  • Imajica, by Clive Barker
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein
  • God of War, video game series
  • The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester (no Jumper was not good enough)
  • Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
  • The Dark Tower Saga, by Stephen King (broken into at least 3-4 movies)

What book, video game, comic book, graphic novel, cartoon, etc do you want to see turned into a movie?

Jun 17 2010

Blog - Comcast Flubs ESPN3D Rollout

I love soccer – watching, playing even coaching is fun most of the time :).  So when Comcast announced that they would be carrying ESPN 3D in time for the World Cup I was very excited.  But even though ESPN 3D went live on Friday June 11th for South Africa v. Mexico I still haven’t watched a game.
May 07 2010

Blog - HTPC Client Woes

Recently, my normally rock-solid HTPC client has been locking up and turning off every so often.  I had been thinking it was a memory issue and swapping some of the chips out and/or putting them in different slots seemed to make it work again.  This, in spite of the fact that memtest showed no issues at all.  I was beginning to think the slots themselves might be bad in the motherobard.  However, it's still happening.  Now, I'm beginning to suspect a failing PSU, so I'm looking for some options.  That Enermax reviewed earlier this week by SPCR sounded ideal, but it's simply not available here in the states.

I'm currently thinking about the Seasonic X-650 due to the modular cables and SPCR's glowing review .  I definitely want quiet, efficient, and modular.  650W sounds like overkill, but it's my understanding that you generally want to run a PSU at about 50-60% of its capacity.  A 450-500W unit would be ideal for my HTPC, it would seem that, based on the chart on this page , the Seasonic is my best bet.  Any other suggestions?  I'm also trying to find a decent price ($160 seems the going rate at reputable stores).  Newegg isn't usually an option for me because of shipping and sales tax.

Apr 08 2010

Blog - Heatwave HTPC fun!

I've been happily chugging along with my SageTV server /client setup for some time now.  After 2 major snowstorms here in the northeast, accumulating a very unusual 48+ inches, only to be followed shortly thereafter by 2 rainstorms, which wound up with FEMA assistance coming in to some areas, we are now coming to the end of our first--quite early in the season--heatwave this week.  Monday started off in the low to mid 70's, ramping all the way up to nearly 90 yesterday.

Normally, this heat would be very welcome at this point, but it managed to bring about an issue in my SageTV setup.  It would seem that one of my HD-PVRs is having heat-related issues.  I have two of them side-by-side and only one was acting up around 10pm last night.  I had to reboot every time because it was a hard lock.  SageTV threw up a recording error in the middle of the show we were watching, so I immediately knew something was up.  The other HD-PVR was recording fine through all of this.

Luckily, I purchased a spare HD-PVR when I was initially having issues getting them working and was able to swap them out quite easily.  I set the backup HD-PVR to record something for the next hour and it did so without any issue whatsoever.  Given the heat we're due to have again today, I'll be watching this very closely to see if the backup has any issues.  If not, it's RMA time!

Apr 07 2010

Blog - Vacation Update

Hey guys.  Here's a little tidbit that I thought I should share.  I was at Sea World yesterday with the family and while we were waiting to get on one of the rides in the kids play area the ride attendant directed that we "secure all cameras, video cameras, cell phones and Ipads."  I don't think that this is part of the official script yet but still...  It's been what, four days since they were made available?

Apr 04 2010

Blog - Vacation time

Hello to everyone from California.  This week my family is on vacation in California.  Yesterday we thought it would be fun to take the little tyke to Disneyland.  She loved it.  So did I.  But the reason that I'm writing this post is because while we were there we went to the Innoventions exhibit in the Tomorrowland section.  It looks like they recently updated the facility because they had Media Center systems all over the place.  Everywhere you looked was another Media Center PC or a Control4 wall panel or a digital photo frame in one size or another.  It was all based on HP equipment - touch screens, monitors, printers, etc, etc.  There were a bunch of Xbox360s and lots of other displays like that. 

The other thing that caught my attention there was the Microsoft Surface.  If you aren't aware of what it is, it's a multitouch input/display device.  It is able to track as many fingers as you want to use.  This is the first time that I've seen one of these in person although I've been following the technology for a number of years.  In fact, it has interested my so much in recent weeks that I've started collecting pieces to build my own over the last two months.  So although it will probably take a few months to build it up, keep your eyes on the website here because I plan to blog about my build process.  When it's all done I intend to do a guide that you guys can all follow if you find yourself interested and want to build one for yourself.

That's all I've got for now folks.  Back to the warm sun.
Tim (Lothar)

Mar 31 2010

Blog - Kudos to Monoprice

I've been a huge fan of Monoprice.com as a company, due to their fantastic products and prices, for a long time now.  I now have another reason to love this company.  Recently, Monoprice was notified of a potential security breach when a few of their customers notified them "that information from credit cards they used on the Monoprice website had been misused".  While they had no indication that a breach had happened, nor any proof from customers that something was awry, they chose to stop taking orders entirely, notify all their customers of the situation via their website, and contacted numerous 3rd parties to conduct an investigation on their system.

According to Monoprice, as of 3/25, no security breach has yet been found, however, they have made numerous changes to their systems:

We rebuilt our network using new hardware and software. We reviewed all web application source code and all databases to ensure there are no security holes. Our network security is professionally managed. We have deployed an improved firewall. We're performing vulnerability scans using service provided by two vendors, Trustwave and McAfee Secure.

...

Additionally, we've contracted with a Qualified Security Assessor, Accudata, which is assisting us complete the formal steps to become a certified Level 1 PCI DSS merchant. Accudata staff told us the certification process may take several weeks.

Click through to read the rest of my blog entry.

Mar 30 2010

Blog - Another Nail in the Coffin for Media Center?

Over the last year we Media Center enthusiasts have slowly seen Media Center, piece by piece, slip away. Last year at CES we saw the rise and fall of the Dish Network Media Center tuners. We saw Linksys discontinue their V2 Extenders , with the likes of Dlink and HP following suite right after. Last week at the Electronic House Expo (EHX) it was announced that the Media Center Integrator Alliance was abandoned. The Media Center Integrator Alliance website no longer exists, while Microsoft's own custom installer landing page is re-directing the custom installers to enthusiasts forums like The Green Button.

{joomsay link=http://mynetworkproject.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/back-from-ehx/ [My Network Project]}The other bit of interesting news is that the Media Center Integrator Alliance has been dissolved. This group was formed about a year and half ago I think to really push Media Center in the custom integrator channel and provide custom integrators with exclusive training, tools and educational resources. The website is already down and custom integrators are being pushed over to the Green Button. Microsoft is still hosting a Custom Integrator landing page for Media Center but it links out to other sites such as the Green Button.{/joomsay}

I've come to realize one thing in the world of HTPCs, Media Center, and the likes will always be a niche product and will never become main stream. This news is just one more proverbial nail in the coffin when it comes to making Media Center main stream. If custom integrators can not get behind it then how can the average Joe get behind a product that custom high end installers are not even using?

While I do not see Media Center going anywhere any time soon, with the advent of the Ceton cable card tuner and the plethora of innovative third party plugins being developed by the community, and innovative new hardware solutions , I just don't see it being enough to sustain the future development of Media Center.

Have any thoughts? Leave a comment and discuss.

Mar 17 2010

Blog - ATI Digital CableCard Tuners End of Life?

ati-tv-wonder.jpgIf you have been following the CableCard tuner for Windows Media Center PC's news recently, you have seen announcements from two vendors--SiliconDust and Ceton--who are developing their own M-cards (multi-stream) CableCard tuners which will enable access to premium content on multiple tuners with only a single CableCard.

What has been missing from news for quite some time, is where ATI is in all this buzz. For history, ATI produced the first (and still only) Digital CableCard Tuner (DCT) back in early 2007. For quite some time, those tuners were only able to be used via a few select OEMs which went through the process of being authorized to do so, as ordered by Cable Labs. That first generation product suffered from a plethora of bugs and instabilities which eventually led the larger OEMs like Dell to stop selling them altogether.

After many requests--and even a hack to bypass the OEM restriction--Microsoft was finally able to remove the OEM restriction and open up the CableCard tuners to all users with the release of Windows 7 (Vista users are still SOL). Great news, but then it became clear that ATI’s DCT were becoming increasingly harder to find. News of the Ceton and SiliconDust tuners is great, but still those are not expected until late May at the EARLIEST. So this would seem like the perfect opportunity for ATI to capitalize on, right?

Well, the reason they haven't is probably one you have suspected (I sure have) by now--ATI is getting out of the game, and maybe tuners in general. A source inside AMD/ATI has revealed to me that the CableCard tuner (and possibly all other tuners) is EOL, meaning End of Life. When a product hits EOL status, that means no more are being produced, and they will be available only until current inventory sells through.

I was unable to discover just how long the tuners have been EOL. Are the available tuners ones that have been floating around the distribution channels for years now? It also isn't even clear when the most recent shipment was. Either way, once they're gone--which they are already hard to find--they will be gone for good. And along with this, don't expect another firmware update (although in fairness the recent one fixed a ton).

I think what saddens me about this is the way ATI was treated. They suffered through all the early growing pains and were rewarded with ridiculously low sales for their tuners, which I'm sure cost a fortune to develop since they were the first. The restrictions to who could use their products, combined with the awful reputation they garnered I'm sure made the EOL decision that much easier. While everyone involved should shoulder some blame, no doubt it was ATI who took the biggest hit with inventory which probably took them years to run through. Given the news, you have to wonder if they even sold through their original stock.

Mar 14 2010

Blog - Fry's Electronics - Admits to Lying, Still Won't Provide Customer Service

I don't normally post these types of blogs, but I experienced some of the most outrageous customer service at Fry's Electronics today, I had to share with everyone since a lot of you shop there. Click read more to continue.
Mar 01 2010

Blog - A look at Solid State Drives (SSD) v. Hard Drives (HD)

Like rocket cars, moon vacations and watchable online video we all know that solid-state drives (SSD) are the future.  Of course it will be a long time before any of us can afford to replace that 2TB drive with one, but with prices for smaller SSD finally approaching a reasonable level it makes sense to start thinking about how to fit one into the HTPC (especially a client).
Feb 21 2010

Blog - Upgrading to the Harmony 890

As my wife and I planned the new layout of our TV room (which I know I still need to post about), I quickly realized that I would need to replace my Harmony 880 with an RF remote.  Due to cost constraints, I couldn't go with my Christmas wish of the Universal Remote MX-880 and settled for the Harmony 890, which is simply an RF version of the 880.  This upgrade was fairly painless, except for the screwups I brought upon myself.  What I can tell you right away is that the 890 is just as good as the 880 and the RF aspect works fantastic!  The rest of this update is posted with my HTPC Client Blog, so head on over to read and see the rest of this upgrade.

880 vs 890

Read more...

Feb 16 2010

Blog - Simple Blu-ray Playback with SageTV, SageMC and Total Media Theatre 3

Sometimes I forget how much I love SageTV, SageMC, and TMT 3. This forgetfulness usually occurs when I have started tweaking things but not found enough time to set things up properly. I had experimented with various methods to launch Blu-ray playback on an old SageTV install before I moved to Windows 7. I had gotten ripped BR folders to play on my HD200, and discs to playback on my full client. However my method of setting this up wasn't the most straight forward. Sometimes things are easier than we make them.

Tonight everything changed. I took a look at SageMC's External Player capabiliites. Suddenly eveything fell into place. In less then ten minutes I had my SageTV launching TMT 3 for playing back both ripped Blu-ray folders and discs. If you have SageTV, SageMC, and TMT just follow these simple steps.

Edit the following file in C:\Program Files\SageTV\SageTV\STVs\SageTV3\SageMC\

- dvd_player.cmd : Replace existing text with this (including quotes, alter drive letter as necessary): "C:\Program Files\ArcSoft\TotalMedia Theatre 3\uMCEDVDPlayer.exe" %1

Save and Close the file. Then launch SageTV, goto SageMC Setup->External Programs, and then enable External DVD Player.

Ta da! Full support for Blu-ray folders and discs from SageTV on your HTPC. Only issue I seem to have is that when SageTV wakes back up the W7 menubar is on top of it. I'm pretty sure I can resolve that.

EDIT: Solved the problem with focus, used EventGhost to do a Bring to Front on SageTV.exe.

Jan 11 2010

Blog - Is Bit streaming more efficient than LPCM?

The recent update to the Haali Media Splitter (enabling Dolby TrueHD in DTS-MA MKV) got me thinking about revisiting our guide to getting lossless audio off the PC.  When an interesting discussion got started about the benefits of bit streaming v. LPCM over at AVS Forum it was time to do some testing.

To setup the test I muxed TrueHD, DTS-MA and FLAC (converted from the TrueHD track using eac3to) tracks into separate mka files and played them back in GraphStudio using ffdshow for bit streaming TrueHD/DTS-MA and decoding TrueHD/FLAC and the ArcSoft Audio Decoder to decode the DTS-MA track (ffdshow can't decode DTS-MA yet) while tracking power usage and CPU utilization.  Check out the results below.

bitstreamvlpcm.jpg

To be honest the results were somewhat surprising.  I had expected bit streaming to always be the most efficient way to push audio off the PC.  While we can see that it is marginally more efficient than real-time decoding TrueHD and DTS-MA during playback, at least when it comes to ffdshow and TrueHD converting to FLAC before muxing the MKV is the better option for CPU performance.

Given the numbers achieved bit streaming BD using PowerDVD and Total Media Theater on the platform (0-5%) and what ffdshow is capable of with DTS-MA I expect that there is some room for improvement, so we will have to revisit this topic again.

Jan 11 2010

Blog - Is Bit streaming more efficient than LPCM?

The recent update to the Haali Media Splitter (enabling Dolby TrueHD in DTS-MA MKV) got me thinking about revisiting our guide to getting lossless audio off the PC.  When an interesting discussion got started about the benefits of bit streaming v. LPCM over at AVS Forum it was time to do some testing.

To setup the test I muxed TrueHD, DTS-MA and FLAC (converted from the TrueHD track using eac3to) tracks into separate mka files and played them back in GraphStudio using ffdshow for bit streaming TrueHD/DTS-MA and decoding TrueHD/FLAC and the ArcSoft Audio Decoder to decode the DTS-MA track (ffdshow can't decode DTS-MA yet) while tracking power usage and CPU utilization.  Check out the results below.

bitstreamvlpcm.jpg

To be honest the results were somewhat surprising.  I had expected bit streaming to always be the most efficient way to push audio off the PC.  While we can see that it is marginally more efficient than real-time decoding TrueHD and DTS-MA during playback, at least when it comes to ffdshow and TrueHD converting to FLAC before muxing the MKV is the better option for CPU performance.

Given the numbers achieved bit streaming BD using PowerDVD and Total Media Theater on the platform (0-5%) and what ffdshow is capable of with DTS-MA I expect that there is some room for improvement, so we will have to revisit this topic again.

Jan 11 2010

Blog - Is Bit streaming more efficient than LPCM?

The recent update to the Haali Media Splitter (enabling Dolby TrueHD in DTS-MA MKV) got me thinking about revisiting our guide to getting lossless audio off the PC.  When an interesting discussion got started about the benefits of bit streaming v. LPCM over at AVS Forum it was time to do some testing.

To setup the test I muxed TrueHD, DTS-MA and FLAC (converted from the TrueHD track using eac3to) tracks into separate mka files and played them back in GraphStudio using ffdshow for bit streaming TrueHD/DTS-MA and decoding TrueHD/FLAC and the ArcSoft Audio Decoder to decode the DTS-MA track (ffdshow can't decode DTS-MA yet) while tracking power usage and CPU utilization.  Check out the results below.

bitstreamvlpcm.jpg

To be honest the results were somewhat surprising.  I had expected bit streaming to always be the most efficient way to push audio off the PC.  While we can see that it is marginally more efficient than real-time decoding TrueHD and DTS-MA during playback, at least when it comes to ffdshow and TrueHD converting to FLAC before muxing the MKV is the better option for CPU performance.

Given the numbers achieved bit streaming BD using PowerDVD and Total Media Theater on the platform (0-5%) and what ffdshow is capable of with DTS-MA I expect that there is some room for improvement, so we will have to revisit this topic again.

Jan 09 2010

Blog - Video: MissingRemote's Boxee Beta Walkthrough!

I had some time and was playing around with the fantastic new Boxee Beta and thought you all might enjoy a quick video walk through of all the different aspects it has to offer. The video is about 9 minutes long, but if you want to skip through I start with Photos, then music, movies, app store and finally the file browser. And just a reminder, the beta is now publically available at http://www.boxee.tv and is of course, free!

 

Jan 06 2010

Blog - Well How About That, Steve Talks about Media Center and Cable Card

Sometimes you have to wonder what's going on at Microsoft. I just got finished watching the CES keynote from head Microsoft honcho Steve Balmer, and I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did he mention Media Center but they even mentioned Ceton and cable card. Of course using their "TV on your PC" motto, but in an odd fashion--the presenter mentioned it and then followed it up with saying he has his PC connected to his TV. Somewhat conflicting given what we've been hearing but pleasant nonetheless. Of course going through the rest of Media Center like Videos and the TV Guide....but did anyone else catch the "Silverlight Movies" row? I'm very curious as to what that is. Either way, hopefully the fact that so much time was invested by the head of Microsoft will calm some down from calling for the death of Media Center.

ADDED: Here's a link from Microsoft with more details on what was mentioned. Enjoy!

Dec 21 2009

Blog - All I Want For Christmas, by the MissingRemote Staff

With all the holiday gift purchase guides out there we felt we would do something a tad different. We have gone through all our MissingRemote staffers and have asked them each for what is tops on their holiday wish list. The results were interesting...hope you enjoy! Feel free to add your own items to the list and don't forget to tell us if Santa brought what you asked for!

For: Babgvant (Andrew)

Item: Panasonic TC-P65V10 Plasma Television

Why:  When Panasonic announced the V10 series at last year's CES we all knew it was something special.  Of course we didn't know the whole story until the HDGuru® gave it the once over; sporting better contrast and black detail than the Kuro (only losing out when representing the deepest of blacks), a 96Hz 24p mode, and all of it at 1/2 the price of the old King.  I hope to find a 54" or 58" under next to the tree this holiday, but if I were a dreamer it would be the 65".

The King is dead. Long live the King!

tc-p65v10.jpg

harmony_1100_advanceduniversalremote.jpg

For: CrAzY

What: Logitech Harmony 1100 Advanced Universal Remote

Why: I’m sure you could program this thing to make you popcorn! With a 3.5” full color touch screen that is fully customizable to control all of your devices! Add a RF Extender (sold separately), you can stash all of your other remotes and reduce the clutter on your coffee table, plus it looks pretty sweet!

 

For: David Norman

What:  All-in-One PC Wind Top AE222

Why: I want to use the AE222  in my kitchen to schedual 7MC recordings via a HDhomerun, play music with out turning on the projector in the livingroom and in the future use either homeseer or mControl's Media Center plugins for home automation.  I would also use it to watch recorded TV stored on my WHS, specifically FoodTV channels via ATI Digital Tuner.  This All-in-One has a discrete GPU, C2D CPU and capacative touch screen, all which combine to equal a nice HD capable machine.

multitouch.jpg

 

image_mx_880.jpg

 

For: Skirge01

What: Universal Remote MX-880

Why:  My dream gift from Santa would be a Universal Remote, model MX-880.  This is one of those high-end remotes the pros use.  While I love my Logitech 880 and my recently purchased 890, they're scum compared to this baby.  The layout is fantastic and the buttons are unique, so you can do everything by touch.  The Pièce de résistance is the MSC-400, though.  This brings it all home via RS-232 control of your devices.  No more IR blasters to stick on and hope they stay; this is a simple serial connection to ensure things happen as expected.  Whereas a Harmony remote tries to keep things in sync and will guess what might be wrong, the MSC-400 actually verifies each piece of equipment's state first and reacts accordingly.  Santa?  You're listening, right?  Don't mess this up!  It's an MX-880 plus MSC-400.  I need them both or they're useless.  A compass in the stock would be great, but not required.

 


For: Mike Garcen

What: Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray Player

Why:  At exactly $500, the Oppo Blu-ray Player is arguably the highest quality and performance for Blu-ray playback on the market, and is also one of the more affordable. You can keep your Denon's and other reference players, just hand me one of these that can play not only Blu-rays but everything under the sun as well, and I'll be a happy camper.

oppo_bdp_83_player.jpg


sim2_lumishostc3x-projector-reviewed.gif

For: Tim

What: SIM2 C3X Lumis Host Projector

Why: Ah, if money was no object...  The SIM2 C3X LUMIS HOST projector is alittle something that I would like to have in my basement-made-home theater.  With a sleek design and great performance, I think that I can
give this little projector a good home.  With its 1080p goodness, high
brightness, and quiet operation offer a very pleasurable viewing experience on the huge screen.  This little baby would be on all day, everyday for all of my multimedia viewing (TV, movies, video games).  A 2000 hour bulb replacement would be worth it here.  Now if only it only cost about 10% of what it does...

For: Dan

What: Paradigm Signature Series Speakers - 7.1

Why: Santa would definitely have to bring this one. Looking great and sounding great is no problem for the Paradigm Signature series of speakers. I'm pretty sure there's no room in my apartment for a 7.1 set of these speakers, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't try. But with no kids yet I could run them with their speaker grilles off :) I would definitely have to ask Santa for a darker colored wood finish than seen in the picture to the right though, maybe cherry, or mahogany.....

Speakers
Dec 16 2009

Blog - Did you know you may be missing out with the Rental?

61li5qy9hll._sl500_aa240_.jpgI experienced something this week which I felt I had to share with the community to see if it was a widely known fact or not. I joined the many of you anxious to see "The Hangover" finally be released on Blu-ray disc and quickly headed to my local Hollywood Video to rent a copy on Tuesday while I waited for my Amazon copy to arrive in the mail. I opened the disc and saw printed on it "RENTAL" and did not think much of it. When I played the disc however, I was greeted to a terrible experience--the movie would not let me skip past the movie previews and then went directly into playing the movie. No title menu. No bonus features. No behind the scenes. Nothing except for pause and language selection.

So how common practice is this? I received the Blu-ray and of course the actual retail copy of "The Hangover" has a wealth of bonus features and extras included with it. From a customer perspective, this is pretty ridiculous. I usually use my rental experience to guage whether I plan to purchase the disc or not. I can somewhat understand the perspective of studios--prevent rent and copiers from being able to obtain the full movie and extras....but at the same point I wonder if there is truly anyone out there who will purchase a movie that they normally would just have ripped via the rental. Extras are a nice to have but there are just some movies I will only want to watch once and never again. Why cripple the rental experience even further than it already is? What are your thoughts?

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: MadeForMediaCenter.com Developer Andrew Cherry

In case you missed it, yesterday there was an announcement of a new plugin for Media Center called MadeForMediaCenter.com. 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!

So...no 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 madeformediacenter.com 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 madeformediacenter.com - 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 http://www.madeformediacenter.com . 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 MissingRemote.com 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?


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