website hit counter June 2006 - Posts - Chris Lanier

June 2006 - Posts

Simplifi Digital AV Expander Review

Simplifi Digital recently released their line of AV Expander Cards that will allow Media Center users to do basic input switching without worrying about the 2-second delay that is common with TV Tuners and Media Center.  Media Center requires TV Tuners that do hardware MPEG-2 encoding, which introduces a 2-second delay.  This is a deal breaker if you want to connect something like a video game console or other analog devices.

Product Background
AV Expander Cards fix all problems associated with Media Center and display of legacy devices such as game consoles, VCRs, and camcorders. Simplifi Digital was nice enough to send me a unit to review, and I’ve been playing around with connecting several devices over the past few days.  Among my test devices are a Playstation 2, Xbox v1, VCR, and analog camcorder.  Simplifi Digital has two versions of the AV Expander, the AVEX-4W and AVEX-2B.  The AVEX-4W allows for up to four devices to be hooked up all at the same time, and the AVEX-2B allows for two devices.  Two free PCI slots will be needed to use the four inputs, as a daughter board (AV header) is used.



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Setup and Installation
Setup and installation is quite simple, and I was very impressed with the included instruction manual.  Unlike other expansion cards that you buy now-a-days, Simplifi Digital has included a great instruction manual that explains everything in very simple English.  While I’m making a big deal about the manual, don’t think for a second that this card is difficult to install and setup.  I had the card installed and devices hooked up in under five minutes, then I was ready to launch Media Center and try it out.

Program and Settings
Open Media Center and under More Programs there was a new entry “SimplifiDigital AV Expander”.  The AV Expander program was nicely laid out and simple to use and understand.  It includes pre-named inputs such as S-Video, VCR 1-4, Game Console 1-4, Composite Video 1-4, and Camera 1-4 which I selected to match the devices connected.  Quality or Speed can be selected to optimize the interlaced to progressive conversion, Speed is used for fast moving video (Ex. game consoles) and Speed can be used for something like a security camera.  Dialog Alert was an unexpected feature to me, if checked it will alert you when Media Center wants to display a dialog (Guide download, CD finished burning, etc).  Setup was simple and quick overall.



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Video Quality
I tested video quality on several displays including a 27” Toshiba SDTV, 37” Westinghouse LCD HDTV, and a 19” PC Monitor.  I found the best video quality experience on the SDTV, which fit my expectations.  Both on the PC Monitor and HDTV the output was jaggy when playing console games.  In my option it was still very watchable/playable, and didn’t cause too much of a distraction.  Using on a SDTV was preferred though, with the video nearly identical to the output from the console hooked directly up to the SDTV.  Running a VCR through the AV Expander was no problem, and the VHS video looked as good as it can be for being a VHS tape.  The same holds true for an analog camcorder.  The only problem in terms of video quality was the jaggies when playing a console game.



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Wants
Something I would like to see is the ability to manual change the input naming.  Instead of “Game Console, I would rather type in “Xbox” or “Playstation”.  Other than that, I didn’t run into too much that I would change.

Future Outlook
I would like to see an AV Expander Card that supports Component Input.  The 32-bit PCI bus can’t handle uncompressed HD video through component, and I know if Simplifi Digital would be able to develop at card that could do accept component input while keeping costs down.  I think this is defiantly something Simplifi Digital should look into, but there are technical impactions in developing such a card.

Conclusion
The AV Expander Card from Simplifi Digital works great and does exactly what they advertise.  In my opinion, every Media Center PC should include one of Simplifi Digital’s AV Expander cards.  Input switching has been one of the most requested features for Windows XP Media Center Editions for years, and this product delivers!  If I was an OEM/System Build, I would include the AV Expander Card as a standard feature on every PC shipped.  Please see AV Expander Card Homepage for ordering details.   The AVEX-4W 4-input AV Expander retails for $99.99.  View my full AV Expander Image Gallery.

Pros
It just works!
2-4 Inputs (1 S-Video, 1-3 Composite)
Allows for input switching, a commonly requested feature

Cons
So-so quality for console gaming
Only supports analog devices (S-Video/Composite)

The Media Center Show #63

The Media Center Show #63 | 22nd June 2006 (47min 4secs) MP3 - 14.1MB (Download Here)

This week Ian Dixon talked with Niall Ginsbourg about his Big Screen Photos application. A Flickr application for Windows Media Center, developed using the latest .NET 3.0 technologies (with a great Vista Media Center style UI).  Also talk about the application and how using XAML has made for a rich application UI.  You can download a beta from here!

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Microsoft Planning an Embedded Media Center Solution?

In one of Microsoft’s WinHEC 2006 PowerPoints (MED004_WH06.ppt) they had this to say about an XPe/Vista Embedded version of Media Center.

Need To Offer Two Software Options

  • Windows Vista Premium – for those who want to load their own applications, games, etc.
  • Embedded XP/Windows Vista – for those who want a more stable/externally supported solution
    • Device updated by CE manufacturer or service operator (cable, sat, or telco) only
    • Still leverage PC applications base, commodity HW, and infrastructure

Calls to Action

  • Microsoft
    • Investigate Embedded OS with 10’ MCE/Diamond features

I'm not sure if I should be excited about Microsoft thinking about an embedded version of Media Center or very disappointed that they can't get Windows Vista to the point where Media Center and it's related technologies (DirectShow, WMDRM, Windows Media Player, etc) to the point where it’s "reliable" in comparison to CE Devices.

I don't have any issues with Media Center being reliable myself, it does exactly what I want it to when I want to (MCE 2005).  I also don't have any issues with my parents machine, and it gets used as an actual PC daily.  Having an embedded solution that could be deployed by third parties might be useful, but who exactly would they target with this?  Cable, Telco, Sat already have their own solutions, and Microsoft TV (not eHome) also has an solution that is currently used by Comcast in Washington State.  Maybe Microsoft has too many solutions targeting the same market? Maybe the CE Pro/Media Center Pro market is the key.  Would any integrators think about installing these type systems?  Time will tell.

Thoughts?

Sony XL1 DVD Changer Drops To $399

Matt Goyer pointed to the Sony VGP-XL1B2 DVD Changer @ Amazon for just $399.99!  Great price, and as Matt points out it just keep climbing in Amazon’s Top Seller for Computers (Currently 13th).

I would have purchased one of these for my parents, but since I can’t stream to an Extender I don’t see any point in spending the cash to be limited to a single-room solution.

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What’s In-Store For Codename Pika?

Microsoft launched there new MCX Partner Site for Pika the other day.  Pika is the codename for Media Center Extenders (MCX) v2.  According to Microsoft, Media Center Extender Technology Features are as follows…

  • Hardware, operating system, and middleware independence and adaptability
  • OEM-local user interface flexibility and extensibility
  • Based on DLNA 1.0 framework and protocols (including an optional DLNA stack implementation)
  • Reliable wired and wireless network AV streaming
  • Standard and high-definition graphics and video
  • Support for Windows Vista-compatible premium digital TV, including U.S. Digital Cable (Open Cable)
  • Simple, inexpensive OEM licensing

Microsoft has finally partnered with Sigma Designs for the MCX design.  I’ve said that Sigma was the perfect partner for Extenders for awhile now.  In fact, over a year ago I said “I am a tremendous fan of Sigma Designs and their EM8620L series processors. Building an Extender around this processor enables endless options for audio and video decoding” in my Site Feed of the Day feature for Tim Coyle.  Now Sigma Designs has their EM8622L processor which is a step above the EM8620L from last year.

Sigma Designs has a Dev Kit for enabling OEM’s to quickly build Extenders for those who are a part of Microsoft’s MCX Partner Program.  OEM’s should be aware that consumers are looking for Extenders that take full advantage of the EM8622L processor. 

The EM8622L supports the following formats…

  • MPEG-4 Part 10 (H.264)
  • VC-1 (WMV9)
  • MPEG-2
  • MPEG-4 Part 2 (DivX/XviD)
  • Dolby Digital
  • WMA/WMA Pro
  • MPEG-1/2 Audio
  • AAC
  • MP3
  • And more!

If you are an OEM thinking of joining the MCX Partner Program please enable decode of non-Microsoft formats.  You have the ability to do so, don’t let the your consumers down!

The Media Center Show #62

The Media Center Show #62 | 15th June 2006 (47min 4secs) MP3 - 16.4MB (Download Here)

This week Ian Dixon talked with Eric Voetberg, Program Manager from the eHome Team at Microsoft about the development process for Vista and Eric’s area of expertise in Media Center Online Spotlight and More Programs.

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Update: TGB Down

Being worked on right now.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

Update: Back up and running smooth.  Smile
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New Xploder Media Center Challenges Transcode 360

Xploder Media Center for Xbox 360 Set for International Release | Xploder is set to release their transcoding utility to be used with the Xbox 360 Media Center Extender functionality.  Not really sure how successful this software will be, going up against Transcode 360 which is free, but see the full press release here.

As a side note, My Movies and Transcode 360 will soon work together to create an all-in-one solution.

Okoro Media Systems Launches High Performance Digital Entertainment Systems

Okoro Media Systems, manufacturer of digital entertainment systems for the high end audio video market, is pleased to announce the availability of the high performance GX Series. The OMS GX series is based on the AMD FX and Intel Duo 2 Technologies and comes with 1 Terabyte of storage. The GX Series will feature uncompromising gaming performance and will allow the use of up to five media center extenders for high definition video and audio distribution. This series also features a seven inch touch screen display with HD transcoder for 720p resolutions.

"Our customers enjoy playing the latest video games on their HDTV and have requested that we provide a higher end media center pc. We feel the GX Series digital entertainment system will allow them play these games at HDTV resolutions and allow them to easily manage their media with the built-in touch screen LCD." said Christopher Curry, VP of Sales & Operations.

The GX series will launch with the GX300 model. This model is based on the dual-core AMD FX-60 processor with 1 GB of Crucial Ballistix RAM, NVidia 7950 GX2 video card and 1 TB of storage. All GX models feature the following:

  • 7.1 HD audio with Dolby Digital Live technology
  • Dual ATI 550 PVR Tuner Card
  • HDTV Tuner Card
  • 1GB of Crucial Ballistix Memory
  • Upgradeable to 3.0 Terabytes of media storage
  • Dual Layer DVD Burner
  • 7” LCD Touchscreen with 720p Transcoder
  • My Movies plugin for DVD archival Storage

For more information about the GX series, please visit www.okoromedia.com.
For more information about the My Movies plugin, please visit www.mymovies.name.

The Media Center Show #61

The Media Center Show #61 | 8th June 2006 (46mins 12secs) MP3 - 15.8MB (Download Here)

This week Ian Dixon talked with Teresa de Onis, AMD brand Manager and Orb’s Ian McCarthy about AMD Live! and what it means for Media Center users.

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Blueado Announces the Very First HDTV Mini Media Center

Blueado, a leading designer of Media Centers specially designed for the living room, today announced the commercial availability of the new Blueado HDTV Mini Media Center, a complete home theater media center solution. Blueado redefines what a mini media center should by introducing the worlds first mini media center with TV tuners, a 400 GB Hard Drive, and 2 gigabytes of memory standard. The Blueado HDTV Mini Media Center is the ideal home theater Media Center for anyone looking to add a sense of style and sophistication to their home theater.

"When we at Blueado decided to make the first Mini Media Center we made a commitment to to include a TV tuner inside it. Since late 2005 we've been working on a multi-TV tuner card solution that will fit inside our Mini Series. Today we are very excited to introduce the worlds first Blueado HDTV Mini Media Center." Says Greg Snyder, Vice President of Product Development. "One of our goals is to provide a media center that works in any living room, that is why today we are also excited to introduce another industry first, Total TV Compatibility. This means that every Blueado Mini Media Center we make will be compatible with every single TV sold in America, today or seven years ago."

The Blueado HDTV Mini Media Center can consolidate all your digital photos, organize your music and DVD collection, and replace your DVD player, DVD Recorder, and with the included programmable universal remote it can also replace all your remote controls. Every Blueado HDTV Mini Media Center includes My Blueado, the revolutionary online setup configuration tool that allows. customers to set up their TV signal, Speaker Configuration, and TV guide all from Blueado.com when they purchase the Blueado Mini. The Blueado Mini reduces the time required to set up the Blueado at home from hours to minutes. The Blueado HDTV Mini includes an impressive 54 Mbps 802.11g fast secure wireless networking adapter, that comes with a 3 feet cable to allow you to place it away from any home theater equipment. The included brand new Microsoft Media Center keyboard is a must have for enjoying online content from your living room. The new Blueado Mini includes two front USB ports for easy plug-n-play connections to popular peripherals such as Play For Sure MP3 players.

The new Blueado Mini offers a DVI, HDTV Component interface that supports out put to High Definition Televisions, and includes video output, S-Video out, and VGA. The 400 GB hard drive will provide over 100 hours of recorded Television and Pentium M along with the 2 Gigabytes of Memory provide enough power to record HDTV programming while enjoying the many other features.

The Blueado HDTV Mini m5e Sport Edition is available directly from http://www.blueado.com for US customers. The Blueado HDTV Mini m5e Sport Edition includes:

  • Built in Standard ATSC TV Tuner
  • Built in Over the air HDTV Tuner.
  • 400 Gigabyte hard drive.
  • 2 Gigabytes of Memory.
  • 4.2" tall, under 8" wide, and just over 12" long
  • Built in DVD Burner.
  • Pentium M 2.0GHZ
  • Dolby Digital Audio In
  • 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio Out
  • 5.and 6.1 DTS Digital Audio Out
  • DVI, S-Video, VGA, Standard Video Out, Component Video Out
  • My Blueado Software
  • My DVD Software
  • MCE Weather Software
  • MCE Auction Software
  • Front USB 2.0 and Fire Wire Connections
  • 7 Input Card Reader
  • S-Video, DVI, VGA and Standard Video Out
  • Front Audio Out and In

Flickr Plug-in for Media Center (and Vista Media Center!)

Big Screen Photos - Yahoo! Flickr Plug-in| Big Screen Photos is an XBAP (XAML Browser Application) for Windows XP and Windows Vista Media Center (Beta 2) which allows you to explore Yahoo flickr from your living room couch - and via your Xbox 360 Extender.

flickr Functionality

  • Browse and View Photo’s directly from flickr online in the thumbnail viewer (no need to download any pictures) – and view them full screen or as a slideshow.
  • Access your own flickr account – and browse and view public/private photos from you and your contacts. (Multiple accounts are supported).
  • Browse and Search Groups, Photosets, “Interestingness”, Recent Photos, Taglists, Contacts and more. (Virtual Onscreen Keyboard provided).
  • Access Detailed User and Photo Information and drill down on metadata.
  • User Consent Tool - provides an easy to use tool for adding and granting 'Consent' for accessing your flickr user accounts.

Windows, Media Center and Xbox360 Support

  • Runs as a Media Center Addin* - currently supports Windows® Vista® Media Center.
  • Runs as a "standalone" program on Windows XP* and Windows® Vista® Beta 2*- works on non Media Center machines when launched in Internet Explorer. (and can be operated via mouse/keyboard without a remote control).
  • Works via Xbox360 Extender - when used in conjunction with Windows® Media Center.
  • Enhanced Support for Xbox360 Media Center Remote Control and Joypad. (Provides additional buttons that can be used as shortcuts within Big Screen Photos)

Enhanced User Experience with Microsoft WinFX

  • Developed using Microsoft WinFX technologies (which will be launched for Windows Vista - and will also run on Windows XP).
  • Attractive and Intuitive User Interface provides a fast/responsive look and feel - featuring Animated Menu's and Buttons with realtime special effects such as fades, zooming and shadowing coupled with Multithreaded Design.
  • Scalable User Interface - via use of Vector Graphics, and on the fly graphics rendering (provided by WinFX) - ensures Big Screen Photo looks great at any resolution or screen size. (optimized for Letterbox and Widescreen aspect ratio displays).

Configuration and Themes

  • UI Theme Support - allows you to customize the user interface with over 5 inbuilt color themes.
  • Inbuilt Configuration – which allows you to change and Optimize your Experience for your machine/extender type

For detailed information and lots of screenshots please visit www.mobilewares.net/mce/bphtm.htm.

A trial/beta release of this product will be made available very soon (stay tuned)....

Posted by chrisl | 1 comment(s)

Autonomic, Inc Announces Media Center Edition Control Server

Autonomic, Inc Announces Media Center Edition Control Server | Autonomic Systems, Inc. has announced a release date of June 19th for a two way control protocol server for Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition PCs. (MCE Server). MCE server is intended for professional A/V integrators who desire to utilize an MCE computer as a facility wide media server with two way control via remote touch panels.

Overview

The Autonomic Home MCE Server is a software application, which, when installed on a computer running Microsoft Windows XP with Media Center 2005™ or any version Microsoft Windows Vista™, will provide real-time, remote, two way communications with the Media Center interface.

This product is intended for use by professional audio/video installers and integrators using a third party control system or software capable of two way TCP / IP communications with remote devices. The software provides feedback and control of audio, video, live and recorded television, internet and FM radio, photos (slideshows), and more.

Two way control of Media Center functionality can be achieved via wireless or in-wall touch panels, web pages, or other interface options depending on the control system or software used.

Residential installers can utilize MCE Server on a Windows Media Center PC to provide a cost effective yet hyper-functional whole house Media Server for use in multi-zone audio applications with a robust interface for browsing and managing MCE’s media library. The photo slideshow capabilities can be used to provide virtual art-work functionality for plasma and LCD displays.

System feedback can be provided or solicited by the control system through the Media Center interface by using the messaging capabilities of Autonomic MCE Server to post messages to the Media Center “10’ interface” such as caller ID, alarm zone status changes, or other events, and ask the user simple, multiple choice questions which are presented using standard Media Center dialog boxes.

Commercial applications include jukebox functionality for bars / restaurants, theme park or museum audio/video playback control, public space dynamic video loops, kiosk control, or photo / video display ad-servers.

Features

Two way TCP-IP control
The MCE Server provides real-time feedback and media control for almost all functions of an MCE Computer using a robust, two way TCP-IP communications protocol. A control system client can manipulate the transport, navigation, and media library features of MCE through a local area network, or remotely through the internet.

Multiple Instances and Media Center Extenders
Multiple instances (user sessions) can be browsed and controlled including those sessions belonging to Media Center Extenders. A network consisting of a Media Center Computer and multiple extender devices can all be controlled through the same server instance residing on the host MCE computer. This is extremely valuable for multi-zone, multi-room applications. Since each user instance on an MCE computer can maintain an individual media library, personalized media collections can be maintained and accessed by end users.

Rich Media Library Browsing and Queue Management
MCE Server provides a rich interface for browsing and searching the MCE computer’s media library by genre, album, artist, play list, or title. Media can be randomly accessed for instant playback or added to the play-queue at any level. (i.e., the command ‘PlayGenre “Jazz” Queue=True’ will add all jazz titles in the media library to the queue without interrupting the currently played media)

Media Information Feedback
MCE Server can provide a control system with meta-data for music, video, DVD, and television media such as album, artist, title, duration, genre, release date, composer, chapter, director, rating, channel, station id, program guide title, and more.

Transport Control
Command and receive feedback for play, pause, stop, skip next, skip previous, random (shuffle), and repeat transport controls.

IR-Remote Control Emulation
Command the server to issue any IR command available on the MCE Remote Control.

MCE Interface Navigation
Control systems can command MCE Server to randomly access most areas of the MCE Interface. Commands are available for direct navigation to Start, MyMusic, Music Albums, Music Artists, My Pictures, My TV, Recorded TV, start a Slideshow, and many more. Refer to the MCE Server TCP-IP Protocol document for a complete list.

Real-Time Events
MCE Clients can issue a command to the server to subscribe to real-time events within the MCE interface. These events can be used for real time touch-screen feedback, even when the user is interfacing directly with the MCE box. Events are sent for transport controls, navigation, start-up and shutdown, and more.

MCE Server Beta Program
The MCE Server will be released in July, 2006. Autonomic Home, Inc. is currently seeking qualified integrators and hobbyists to participate in our beta testing program. If you would like to be included, please complete the MCE Server Beta-Tester Application.

If you would like to receive more information about the MCE server product and receive notification upon it’s release, visit www.autonomichome.com or e-mail information@autonomichome.com.

Company Information

Autonomic Systems, Inc. creates technology for the today and tomorrow’s digital home and business. The company is focused on extending the functionality of Microsoft Media Center hardware and software to provide real time control and automation of connected audio/video, security, environmental, and lighting devices. Products under development include the Autonomic MCE Server, the Autonomic Control System, and other technologies. Autonomic, Inc. is based in North Salem, NY. For more information on MCE Server, the Autonomic Control System or other inquiries, please send e-mail to information@autonomic.com.

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The Media Center Show #60

The Media Center Show #60 | 1st June 2006 (1hour 2mins 10secs) MP3 - 21.3MB (Download Here)

This week Ian Dixon talked with Julie Jacobson from CE Pro about the impact Windows Media Center has had on the pro AV installer industry and the new Media Center Pro magazine.

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