website hit counter May 2007 - Posts - Chris Lanier

May 2007 - Posts

Reminder: Upload Your Media Center Components To The Database

Please remember to take a few minutes out and upload your system specs at Media Center Components.  It will only take you a few minutes and should not only help when you are ready to build yourself a new Media Center PC, but will also help others who are looking to get started both with older hardware and with new hardware.  Once the database gets large enough, you will be able to use it to find the best hardware that has worked for others.

Only takes a few minutes, check it out here.

Posted by chrisl | 3 comment(s)

Apple TV Gets Upgrades; Still Not For Me

Apple has just released a new revision of their Apple TV.  The main upgrade comes with the $100 160GB hard drive upgrade over the past 40GB.  You can still purchase both, 40GB for $299 and 160GB for $399.  I still say the product sucks, unless you are a big iTunes user.

The other upgrade comes with YouTube support.  A nice edition to show off that 720p iTunes downloads are clearly not ready.  YouTube is a nice addition, Media Center Extender users have been able to do this for a while now and to me it’s clearly a cover feature until Apple can get 720p iTunes content.  I mean really, what better way to show off a device built for “widescreen” TV’s other than low bitrate 4x3 Flash-encoded content (Edit: "YouTube will be encoding its entire back-catalog in H.264 format").  My question about YouTube support is if you can actually search for content?

On the subject of HD downloads, Jobs said "We're not selling HD yet, because of the tradeoffs between download time and quality. But that might change in the future…" [Via Macworld].  Understandable reason, but somehow I think there is more to it.  H.264 is the best they are going to get in terms of compression, and the pipe to your house isn’t going to change all that much in the next year.  Other services have been providing 720p downloads for years now.  Sure, it takes a while to download but that is part of the game.

Lastly, Jobs doesn’t seem to sure that the living room is the place for Apple, calling it a “hobby.”  He says “The reason I call it a hobby is, a lot of people have tried and failed to make it a business. And it’s a hard problem. So we’re trying. I think if we work on it and improve things over the next year, 18 months, we can crack that.” [Via Macworld]

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Microsoft Launches New Product Category: Surface Computing Comes to Life

First commercially available surface computer from Microsoft breaks down barriers and provides effortless interaction with information using touch, natural gestures and physical objects.

CARLSBAD, Calif. — May 29, 2007 — Picture a surface that can recognize physical objects from a paintbrush to a cell phone and allows hands-on, direct control of content such as photos, music and maps. Today at the Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer will unveil Microsoft Surface™, the first in a new category of surface computing products from Microsoft that breaks down traditional barriers between people and technology. Surface turns an ordinary tabletop into a vibrant, dynamic surface that provides effortless interaction with all forms of digital content through natural gestures, touch and physical objects. Beginning at the end of this year, consumers will be able to interact with Surface in hotels, retail establishments, restaurants and public entertainment venues.

The intuitive user interface works without a traditional mouse or keyboard, allowing people to interact with content and information on their own or collaboratively with their friends and families, just like in the real world. Surface is a 30-inch display in a table-like form factor that small groups can use at the same time. From digital finger painting to a virtual concierge, Surface brings natural interaction to the digital world in a new and exciting way.

“With Surface, we are creating more intuitive ways for people to interact with technology,” Ballmer said. “We see this as a multibillion dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror. Surface is the first step in realizing that vision.”

The Human Touch

Microsoft Surface puts people in control of their experiences with technology, making everyday tasks entertaining, enjoyable and efficient. Imagine ordering a beverage during a meal with just the tap of a finger. Imagine quickly browsing through music and dragging favorite songs onto a personal playlist by moving a finger across the screen. Imagine creating and sending a personal postcard of vacation pictures instantly to friends and family, while still wearing flip-flops.

Surface also features the ability to recognize physical objects that have identification tags similar to bar codes. This means that when a customer simply sets a wine glass on the surface of a table, a restaurant could provide them with information about the wine they’re ordering, pictures of the vineyard it came from and suggested food pairings tailored to that evening’s menu. The experience could become completely immersive, letting users access information on the wine-growing region and even look at recommended hotels and plan a trip without leaving the table.

Surface computing at Microsoft is an outgrowth of a collaborative effort between the Microsoft Hardware and Microsoft Research teams, which were struck by the opportunity to create technology that would bridge the physical and virtual worlds. What started as a high-level concept grew into a prototype and evolved to today’s market-ready product that will transform the way people shop, dine, entertain and live. It’s a major advancement that moves beyond the traditional user interface to a more natural way of interacting with information. Surface computing, which Microsoft has been working on for a number of years, features four key attributes:

Read Full Press Release

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CableCARD PCs Back At HP Today

Thanks to Dan who posted in my comments of the HP Dropping CableCARD post that he was able to configure a machine again with a Digital Cable Tuner.

Same price as when they were first announced, $1,500.   I guess they ran out of stock or something.

Also, the Digital Cable Tuner is Part #: GL282-69001.  It is listed as not for sale via HP Parts. 

The Media Center Show #109

The Media Center Show #109 | 24th May 2007 (56mins 07sec) MP3 - 19.7MB (Download Here)

This week Ian Dixon talked with MCE Integration's  Jason Alinen about Media Center integration and his companies Ice House Media Center Jukebox.  Also an update on Ian’s prize package that includes his book "Using Microsoft Windows Vista Media Center".

Posted by chrisl | with no comments

Picture-in-Picture: Would You Use It?

Picture-in-Picture is one of the most requested features that I see.  I personally don’t get PiP, never have and never will.  I’ve had PiP on various TVs in the past, but really never found a good reason to use it.  I can understand why people would, I’m just not one of them.

So I have to ask, if PiP was a feature of Media Center would you use it?

Part of my problem with PiP is the fact that it is going to get really difficult to manage if you have Extender’s in your home.  Say you have two Digital Cable Tuners, one is being used on the local PC and another member of your family is using the second one via an Extender.  If either person wants to start a PiP session, you basically have to prompt both users that one person has requested to steal your tuner.  I have huge doubts that this would work nicely in a home.  I’m sure this would be a nightmare for several users, especially those with kids who could likely care less if they cut of your TV session.

Another problem I can see is basic conflict management with regular everyday recording.  Starting a PiP session means selecting if you wish to continue recording or if you really want to start that PiP session.  Sure, it’s possible to manage both of these issues but I guess I don’t see the reason to even bother.  Do you?

Posted by chrisl | 24 comment(s)

Is This Microsoft's Future Media Platform/Service?

Dave Zatz wants to know what this odd trademark application is about filed by Microsoft in Australia, and frankly so do I.  Long Zheng first pointed it, and I have to say that nothing here really makes sense without stretching the imagination pretty far.

First of all, Microsoft is trying to trademark an image, the “arrowheads diverging from disc” as they put it.  This is followed by the most obscure classification of what it might relate to.  Among them, “Computer software for delivery of broadcast-quality video and television programming over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks; computer software for providing video-on-demand services; downloadable films and TV programs provided via video-on-demand” and much more.  It basically includes a summery of everything involved in delivery of content and then playback and personal distribution of that content.

Here’s the full list of the various “Good and Services” that it would/could provide.

  • Computer software for delivery of broadcast-quality video and television programming over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks
  • Computer software for providing video-on-demand services
  • Downloadable films and TV programs provided via video-on-demand
  • Computer software for transmitting personal photos, video and music over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks
  • Computer software for digital video recording
  • Computer software for providing a programming guide to display available video and television broadcasts and downloads
  • Broadcasting services, providing video and television programming over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks
  • Video-on-demand services via broadband networks
  • Entertainment services
  • Providing information concerning television and video programming
  • Providing online user guides featuring information on television and video programs available over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks and available via video-on-demand services
  • Provision of non-downloadable films and TV programs via a video-on-demand service
  • Distribution of television shows, movies and videos for others

First of all, I’m not a big trademark know-it-all, but why did Microsoft apply for this in Australia?

Many have suggested this might be Microsoft’s counter to Joost, or some type of addition to their IPTV platform.  I really have no idea, so here are some random ramblings about it.  It seems to early to go after Joost, so I'm ruling out a direct product to compete with Joost.

Whatever all of this is will likely revolve around VC-1 to deliver this “broadcast-quality video.”  Using VC-1 opens up this service or product up to various Microsoft devices including Vista PCs, Zune and Xbox 360.  I feel like whatever it is will have the word “Anywhere” in the name.  “Windows Live _______ Anywhere” seems like it would work nicely (maybe even a part of the Xbox LIVE Anywhere?)

So, my best guess for what this could be is some sort of whole home and/or whole life entertainment solution.  It’s everything, anywhere, anytime.  It’s a Slingbox-Media Center-Live Marketplace-“Social” experience.  It works on your Vista PC, Zune, Xbox 360, Windows Mobile phone, etc.

 It would be truly “Connected Entertainment.”  Now, what are the chances of the above?  I have no idea.  It seems like Microsoft would need to partner with a few people to make this work, mainly for a way to provide all that content “over broadband, cable, satellite and wireless networks.”

To me that doesn’t seem like a simple addition to their IPTV platform, it sounds like a whole different concept based on being able to provide your media anywhere you are and at the same time opening the door for content providers to get their media out the door in new ways.  Maybe it mixes in Windows Home Server to be the center of distribution from inside the home.  Maybe it also would give Media Center users that SoftSled by any other name that we have been looking for.  Maybe this is the key to connecting all of Microsoft’s half-baked products into a single unified product offering.

Only time will tell.  What does it sound like to you?

What Should The TV Team at Microsoft Change In Media Center?

Jessica Zahn, everyone’s best friend and Program Manager on the TV Team at Microsoft is going to be doing a presentation about issues in the Media Center community relating to TV in the next day or so.  Go ahead and hop on over to The Green Button and voice your concerns about current issues, problems, or future requests and Jessica and is going pass on the issues to the rest of the TV Team.

Remember, Jessica is part of the TV Team.  So your requests for non-TV items, while I’m sure they are welcome, don’t really apply to her task.

I came up with a sort list yesterday.  It’s far from complete, but here are some of the things that I’d like to see looked into.  Note that I wouldn't expect a lot of these to be in the product, but I think it would be great for someone else to pick up the TweakMCE ball and run with it.  Matt Goyer did a great job on the version for Media Center 2005, but he's now left Microsoft to work at Redfin doing real estate (Redfin was on 60 Minutes a few weeks ago, so good job to Matt and the rest of the guys at Redfin!).

I don't think things like adding online content streams to the EPG should be included in the shipping product, but instead should be hackable using a tool like TweakMCE.  Same goes for things like having WMV show in Recorded TV.  I think the market for features like that is small enough, yet doesn't seem like it would require a lot of development work that it could be done via a TweakMCE like application.

  • CableCARD w/o new OEM PC.
  • DIRECTV w/o new OEM PC and fast!
  • Better DVB support outside the US (including MHEG-5, etc).
  • Workout a transcoding solution for CableCARD/DIRECTV so it could be put on a Zune and still protected
  • Better sort options for Recorded TV (Air date, etc)
  • Allow WMV content to be shown in Recorded TV.  The metadata is kept in the process, but only DVR-MS file are currently allowed to be display.
  • Ability to add online TV streams to the EPG
  • Some type of "Follow me" feature for moving from Extender to Extender, where it can automagically pick up where you left off.
  • Out of the box support for 4 NTSC/CableCARD/DIRECTV tuners+2 OTA.  Two is great, but limiting for larger households.
  • Whatever everyone else says.

I should also note that Jessica and the rest of the Microsoft employees that have followed her to The Green Button to help support and answer questions is very appreciated.  For a product with a growing community behind it, it’s nice to see more and more direct communication between Microsoft and the community.

Give your feedback here

Issues with ContentLink

I’m having some issues with my ContentLink code, so it’s currently being displayed on the frontpage.  I’m trying to figure out exactly what the problem is but so far I’m not having much luck.

For frequent visitors who don’t wish to view them, please hoover over one of the links and then click on the question mark (“?”) in the top right.  Scroll to the bottom of that page, and it says “…if for any reason you would like to disable ContentLink.”

I’ve been playing with various things to tweak them on the site, and for whatever reason they basically broke two days ago.  I then changed the way the code is applied to the site and added the correct tags so that it shouldn’t be displayed on any of the frontpage content.  However, as you might be able to tell it’s not working right.

I’m trying my best to get it fixed, sorry for it being displayed I'm hoping I can figure out what's wrong.

Update: I've e-mail Kontera's support to see if they can help me figure some things out.

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Help Build a Media Center Components Database

A new website just launched that I want everyone here to check out.  Media Center Components is a site that aims to make building Media Center PCs easier for everyone.  To do this, a database of systems and hardware is being compiled, but Paul needs your help to get it going.

Please take a few minutes to submit your system specs at Media Center Components.  Categories include just about everything from Motherboards to TV tuners, and driver versions.  Once submitted, here is an example of what a file report looks like.

Go ahead and take a few minutes to submit what you have going in your system, and then rate how well it works on the same page.

Posted by chrisl | 2 comment(s)

Engadget Does Vista Media Center and CableCARD

Engadget got a change to play with and have setup for them a few Dell XPS 410’s with Digital Cable Tuners (at least we know Dell is still planning PC’s with CableCARD).  The first install was crap, and they still don’t know what the issue is.  The second install went without any issues and done in under 45 minutes.  They need to take the first PC to another building to rule out issues with the cable in the building, I can bet that's what the issue is based on reading the report.

Installing a Vista CableCARD Media Center PC (part 1): Fiasco!

Installing a Vista CableCARD Media Center PC (part 2): Perfecto!

Vista CableCARD Media Center PCs - what do you want to know?

Exceptional Innovation Launches Life|media, Custom Media Center PCs

Exclusive: Exceptional Innovation to Ship 5 Media Center PCs (CE Pro) | Julie has the scoop on Exceptional Innovations new Media Center PC line that will replace the HP Digital Entertainment Center PC line that HP recently dropped as a standard Life|ware solution.

Dubbed Life|media, it fits perfectly with the rest of Exceptional Innovations great product line.  PCs start at $4,500 and will have five different versions, CableCARD options all around.  An interesting addition is also built in serial ports for controlling other non-WSD subsystems, 12-volt triggers, and discrete IR ports built-in.  Of course, they come preloaded with Life|ware and without extra software generally included by large OEM’s.

Other great additions include MediaPlate, an interchangable back-panel so you can upgrade hardware and still have the same A/V-style back-panel.

Basic specs include “Intel motherboard with 965 chipset and Intel 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo Processor, 2GB DDRAM, DVD-RW drive, a built-in 28-in-1 Flash Reader. Performance specifications increase for each model, culminating with the flagship Life|media Ultra, which features the Intel D975XBX2 chip set, Intel 2.4 GHz Quad Core Processor, 4 GB DDRAM and 4.5 TB hard drive in RAID 5 Array”

Read the full article here

Read Full Press Release


(Photo via CE Pro)

HP Already Dropping CableCARD?

No word yet on why, but you can no longer configure any HP PCs with CableCARD.

Hopefully they are just out of stock. 

Update: CableCARD PCs Back At HP Today (5/26)

New York Times Covers PCs In The Living Room

The New York Times has a piece on the various struggles to bring the Internet and the PC into the living room.  From using an HTPC in the basement, a Mac mini in the living room, to an Xbox in the living room, The New York Times goes mainstream with PC convergence in the home.

I’m featured in the article using an Xbox to drive my content into the living room.  It’s very nice to see mainstream media cover the subject, as the two major players involved haven’t given it a big push.

I talked about Apple getting advertising right with their first TV spot for Apple TV, however I haven’t seen the ad in quite a while so I’m not sure what is up with that.  Not really the marketing push I was expecting Apple to give it.  Microsoft has done zero marketing that is worth while on the Media Center platform, leaving the mass of the market to question what they can do with the technology they already have.

Posted by chrisl | 1 comment(s)

The Media Center Show #108

The Media Center Show #108 | 18th May 2007 (60mins 42sec)) MP3 - 29.9MB (Download Here)

This week Ian Dixon talked with Andrew Van Til about his Windows Media Center utilities, one of them DVRMSToolbox is a Media Center Award Show winner, and a great tool for processing Recorded TV files.  Talk about ad skipping, tuner sharing and his other Media Center applications.  Also, email, news items and a chance to win a prize bundle including "Using Microsoft Windows Vista Media Center”

Posted by chrisl | with no comments

Embedded Automation Announces mControl’s Support for Windows Home Server

Surrey, BC – May 15, 2007
Today, in conjunction Mircosoft’s announcement of Windows Home Server hardware and software partners at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Embedded Automation announced it’s popular mControl Digital Home Software will be available as a Windows Home Server Add-in.

Embedded Automation’s support of the Windows Home Server platform will allow users of mControl to:

  • Easily install mControl using the native Windows Home Server Add-in functionality
  • Conveniently administer the mControl system using the Windows Home Server console
  • Serve mControl user-interface clients – including via Media Center clients (Windows Vista and Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005) and Windows Mobile clients
  • Allow authenticated user access of mControl remotely using the native IIS web server functionality of Windows Home Server

“Applications like mControl extend the possibilities and customer benefits of the Windows Home Server platform,” said Steven VanRoekel, director of Windows Server Solutions at Microsoft. “Working together, Windows Home Server and mControl will make home automation and management more accessible and cost effective for customers.”
“We've have evaluated Windows Home Server beta technology and look forward to the product’s final release. We believe it will be a great platform for the ‘Digital Home’ because, first and foremost, it provides a convenient and easy way to centralize, share and protect personal digital media and data. But secondly, and importantly to Embedded Automation, it provides a great platform for mControl”, said Ted Singh, Business Development Manager of Embedded Automation. “With Windows Home Server, mControl can be ‘always on’ and can be conveniently located to Ethernet and other interfaces. The combination of mControl and Windows Home Server is just another piece of the digital home puzzle falling into place.”
mControl will be available as a Windows Home Server Add-in after the release of Windows Home Server later this year.
For the corresponding press release from Microsoft:
For the Bill Gates webcast and transcript from WinHEC:
For information on Windows Home Server from Microsoft:
For Embedded Automation's analysis of the Windows Home Server beta:
About mControl
Thousands of customers worldwide use mControl software to view, manage and secure their “digital homes”. mControl integrates lighting systems, security panels, cameras, climate control and audio/visual components into a unified interface which is accessible through televisions using a remote control, via an Internet browser, through touch screens and even by voice. mControl meshes seamlessly within a Media Center environment to provide an integrated home control and media management solution.
About Embedded Automation
Founded in 1998, Embedded Automation designs, manufactures, and markets solutions for “Digital Home” under the mHome product family. mHome products allow consumers to easily and affordably add control and media management capabilities to their homes. mHome products are available from Embedded Automation and through the mHome Authorized Dealer Network.
Contact Information
Embedded Automation Inc.
(604) 596-4999

“Halo 3” to Make Entertainment History on Sept. 25

Countdown begins for what promises to be bigger than any movie launch in history; beta preview and collectible Zune-Halo 3 edition digital media player add to early excitement.

LOS ANGELES — May 15, 2007 — In a year when Hollywood is launching its biggest blockbusters ever, a video game is set to conquer them all. “Halo® 3,” the final chapter in the groundbreaking “Halo” trilogy, is set to shatter day-one entertainment sales records when it is released worldwide beginning Tuesday, Sept. 25. Created by legendary developer Bungie Studios and exclusive to the Xbox 360™ video game and entertainment system, “Halo 3” will set a new standard for interactive storytelling and social gaming by engaging consumers worldwide in Master Chief’s epic battle to save humankind. “Halo 3” will be available to audiences around the world starting Sept. 25 and will release in Europe on Sept. 26.

“‘Halo 3’ is much more than a video game release; it’s the biggest entertainment event of the year,” said Peter Moore, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business. “On Sept. 25, we intend to deliver a finale that will go down in entertainment history and leave people around the world with an experience that will be shared and enjoyed for years to come.”

Fueling the early buzz around “Halo 3”, Microsoft unveiled the multiplayer beta on the eve of its release at a star-studded event in Hollywood. Beginning tomorrow, May 16, Microsoft Game Studios will kick off the “Halo 3” multiplayer beta, which provides audiences worldwide with an exclusive, early look at some of the multiplayer elements of “Halo 3” on Xbox LIVE®. Adding to the excitement, Microsoft is also announcing a special edition Zune™ digital media player inspired by the hugely successful “Halo” franchise. On shelves next month, the Zune-Halo 3 edition comes loaded with a collection of “Halo” content, including videos, soundtracks, trailers, ads and artwork.

In November 2004, the world’s view of video games changed forever with the release of “Halo 2,” which generated a record-setting $125 million in sales within the first 24 hours and changed the way people think about interactive entertainment. Three years later, it remains the most-played game on Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE online gaming and entertainment network, with nearly 1 billion hours of online gaming logged to date.

The unveiling of the “Halo 3” launch date comes on the eve of the release of the “Halo 3” multiplayer beta, which will debut to audiences worldwide via Xbox LIVE on May 16 at 5 a.m. PDT and run through June 6 at 11:59 p.m. PDT.* The “Halo 3” multiplayer beta will provide audiences worldwide with an exclusive early look at some of the multiplayer elements of “Halo 3” on Xbox LIVE. Gamers who are interested in experiencing the multiplayer beta of “Halo 3” can still participate through the purchase of the critically acclaimed, Xbox 360-exclusive title “Crackdown™,” which was launched in February. Starting May 16, the specially marked copies of “Crackdown” will act as a key for gamers to participate in the “Halo 3” multiplayer beta. In addition to giving gamers their first opportunity to get their hands on the new levels, weapons, vehicles and game types, the multiplayer beta will also provide valuable data that Bungie will use in continued development.

The “Halo” franchise has expanded beyond video games into The New York Times’ best-selling books, graphic novels, collectible merchandise and now a new, special edition Zune digital media player. Encased in collectible packaging, the Zune-Halo 3 edition digital media player comes pre-loaded with artwork, trailers and music from all three “Halo” games, as well as an exclusive new episode of “Red vs. Blue” from the fan-adored machinima creator Rooster Teeth Productions LLC. The Zune-Halo 3 edition (estimated retail price $249) will be available exclusively at GameStop starting June 15.

Read Full Press Release

Posted by chrisl | 3 comment(s)
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A SoftSled By Any Other Name

Peter Near just commented “Personally, I don't care about a software extender any more.  In the day of "MCE on every vista machine" why would anyone invest in creating a remote interface when there will be a native interface pretty much universally available?....” Instead I would very much hope that they are working on networking multiple vista machines to operate as a pool.”

This is very true.  Bryan has been pushing this too for the past year or so.  “SoftSled” as a "Software Extender" is not really what people need anymore, but I think it is the best name for it.  What we need is a way to share/pool tuners, share a common EPG, and share media (eg. resources and media) among all Vista PC’s accessible though Media Center.

Having a true “Software Extender” to connect to the main Vista Media Center PC isn’t needed when the PC’s in question already have Vista Media Center loaded on them.  Now here is where it gets tricky.  Microsoft has pushed the client/server method of things in Media Center for a while (also the concept behind Windows Home Server).  Where you have a main Media Center PC and other devices connect to this PC.  All media is basically concentrated on the main PC or server.  The other way to do things is to not care where the media is, and just have the software be smart enough to find everything on the network and group it together within the single Media Center UI or library.

What people want in a “Software Extender” is a way to do these.  We want a simple and easy solution to point other Vista PC’s to the main Vista Media Center PC (client/sever) and/or to scan the network for all media files/resoruces, and automatically add them to Media Center.  This would includ setup of tuner pooling/sharing. If a Vista PC has tuners, any other Vista PC should be allowed to make use of them.  You should also be able to share a single common EPG to accomplish this.

So, “SoftSled” as a true Software Extender is not what we want.  Is there is a better name for it though?  I personally think it shouldn’t need a name.  The product should already exist with a name that is already there; Media Center.  Until we see that, I think the term "SoftSled" should be known by the community and Microsoft to mean the above.

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