website hit counter January 2008 - Posts - Chris Lanier

January 2008 - Posts

Short Bits: HDMI Switch, Plug-ins, More

I just finished hooking up an HDMI switch because of a growing number of HDMI devices.  If anyone is looking for an inexpensive HDMI switch the place to look is at Monoprice.com (also for inexpensive cables).  I got the 4x1 HDMI Switch (1.3b Certified HDMI, Equalizer and IR Remote, REV.3.0) for just $40 and it works great.

It also works perfectly with a Toshiba HD-A3 HD DVD player (with latest firmware).  This was a problem as there are reports all over the web of the Monoprice switches not working with the A3.  This switch works perfectly for all you Googlers, as do Harmony remotes which has the IR commands already in the database.

On the Media Center side, Missing Remote has some great articles including tips on playing game ROMS in Media Center/SageTV and a review of MiraWorldTV for Vista Media Center.

Ian Dixon has The Media Center Show #142 featuring his final CES interviews and his first impressions of the Linksys DMA2100/DMA2200 Extenders.

Niall launched bigscreenglobal.com, the homepage for his Big Screen products like Big Screen Photos v2 and Big Screen Weather v2.  You can also now download 30 day trials of the products!  Of course these are MCML plug-ins that look incredible in Vista Media Center.

Posted by chrisl | 1 comment(s)

New TV Toolbox Beta Released; Somehow Edits CableCARD Content

Two part post here, first of all Olcay has released a new version (beta 4) of his 10-foot MCML DVR-MS editor.  The release is mainly because of a timebomb in the last release, so if you currently have it installed you should grab the new release if you wish to continue using it.

On a related topic, it appears that TV Toolbox is able to edit content recorded from CableCARDs.  This according to a user at The Green Button who says it works for all his recorded CableCARD content including HBO HD.

I’m personally shocked at this, but don’t have a CableCARD PC to test it with.  It doesn’t output the content in an un-protected format, but if true this means you could cut commercials out and if not patched gives hope for an automated commercial skip solution (though my guess is that would still be a huge undertaking).

I'm not sure why TV Toolbox is able to edit this content, but I don't think there is anything specific in the application that would allow it to work.  The developer, Olcay doesn't even live in the US where the content originates, so I’m a little confused here.

CyberLink Patent Included in HD DVD Essential Patent Portfolio

Taipei, Taiwan----Jan. 31st, 2008----CyberLink Corp. (5203.TW), today announced it is participating in the formation of a joint HD DVD patent license based on its ownership of a patent determined to be essential to the HD DVD standard.

CyberLink’s patent relates to the specifications for interactive content over a network for prerecorded HD-DVD Discs, for playback according to the DVD Specifications for High Definition VIDEO (HD DVD-Video).

“Innovation is the key to CyberLink delivering leading products to our customers as well as sustaining long-term business success,” said Alice H. Chang, CEO of CyberLink. “We're extremely proud be a part of a group of essential HD DVD patent owners who have come together voluntarily for the purpose of forming a joint license, as this is testament to the strength of our core technology.”

Essential HD DVD patent owners that include CyberLink participate in an effort to form a joint patent license facilitated by MPEG LA LLC.

More information about CyberLink’s support for the HD DVD format, and the complete range of CyberLink software, is available at http://www.cyberlink.com/.

About CyberLink

CyberLink Corp is the leader and pioneer in enabling digital multimedia on PCs and CEs. Backed by a group of high-caliber software engineers, CyberLink owns its core codec and a number of patented technologies. Today, CyberLink has built a solid reputation for delivering high-quality, interoperable, and fast time-to-market solutions that keep our OEM partners on the leading edge. Our business partners include leaders in the PC industry: drive manufacturers, graphics-card makers, and top-5 desktop and notebook brands. Today, CyberLink Software Solutions include: complete applications for Blu-ray Discs and HD DVDs, Digital Home entertainment, Mobile TV and eHRD solutions. With customers spanning from multi-national corporations to small/medium-sized businesses, and from power users to home users, CyberLink has enjoyed rapid and consistent growth leading to a record breaking IPO in 2000 on the Taiwan Over The Counter Exchange (OTC: 5203). Currently, CyberLink is listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange (ticker symbol: 5203.TW). CyberLink's worldwide headquarters is in Taipei. To keep up with market demands, CyberLink has operations in North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region, including Japan. For more information, please visit CyberLink's website at http://www.cyberlink.com/

Posted by chrisl | 2 comment(s)
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Short Bits: CableCARD, Beta Testing

Missing Remote has published a few great CableCARD articles, including some steps to take if your cable company doesn’t want to install a CableCARD in your PC.  A Vista PC with Digital Cable Tuners are CableLabs certified, so all US cable companies must provide CableCARDs to go with it.  A question has come up about the difference of your cable company installing vs. providing CableCARDs.  I’m not sure what the official wording is, but I’ll try and do a post later on exactly what the FCC statements say.

Missing Remote also published a CableCARD Resources article, of course I’d also suggest one of their first links on the list, that being my CableCARD FAQ.

Mary Jo says that Microsoft is seeking testers for something Media Center related, though the product is just listed as “Windows Media Center Tester Application.”  I have no idea if it’s something different then the next Media Center release; Mary Jo’s source says that hardware specs were a popular question in the survey, and while the sources thoughts of why those questions where asked are partly right, there is another reason they are usually asked.  I’ll leave that to others to speculate, but it's not too hard to get.

Short Bits: Plug-ins, Media Center Show, Linksys Video

Important: For anyone commenting, Community Server seems to randomly be moderating every single comment!  Comment moderation is not turned on on my end, so I’ll have to see what is up.  If you don’t see your comment it’s ok.  It just needs to be approved by me.

Via Missing Remote a few new plug-ins that I haven’t covered, but a third party Netflix Watch Now Plug-in might be coming to Media Center.  I’ve talked about this in the past, but Netflix hasn’t done anything officially yet.

In addition a plug-in called MCE Organizer interfaces with Movie Collector (I think it’s here) and even works with Ziotek Media Carousel’s.  It’s an MCML plug-in and looks very cool.

Danny Mavromatis got himself a Linksys DMA2100 and will be posting a video review of it.

Ian Dixon has the NetGen Home (Life|ware) at CES and Extenders as the subject of The Media Center Show #141.  Ian also had a post about the i-Mate Sideshow Photo Frame.

More Thoughts on Native Blu-ray/HD DVD

Ben at Engadget HD picked up my post about the lack of native HD DVD/Blu-ray in Media Center today.  I’ve been reading some of the comments the post is getting and wanted to add a few thoughts.

First, I’m talking about native support.  This means that it works without launching an external application, just like playing a DVD or any other video within Media Center.  PowerDVD and ArcSoft TotalMedia currently launch external applications for playback, so you don’t have native support for either HD DVD or Blu-ray at this point.  Media Foundation would be used to do this, much like DirectShow has been used for native DVD playback in Media Center since the start.

Microsoft had planned for native HD DVD support in Windows Vista, but they dropped that and left it to third parties.  It was my guess that native HD DVD support would finally ship in Fiji, but given the downfall of HD DVD since you can see why I’d question that.  Even if native HD DVD playback shipped in Fiji, it could very well be pointless if HD DVD continues its demise.

For native Blu-ray playback within Media Center, a Java based interactivity layer (called BD-J) would have to be added.  Microsoft hates Java with a passion as many of us know, so it is unlikely that they would spend time developing native Blu-ray playback when Java is a requirement.  I’m not saying it can’t be done from a technical standpoint.  Instead, I’m saying that it is unlikely that Microsoft will be the one to do it.

There is also additional DRM that would need to be present in BD+.  HD DVD only needs AACS, which can technically be supported using Protected Media Path (PMP) that is already present in Vista.  Yet another thing Microsoft would have to add that they didn’t plan for and that they don't agree with in the first place.

Lastly, I think Microsoft had put a ton of thought into HD DVD remoting to Extenders.  HD DVD uses HDi (iHD) for interactivity, which Microsoft co-developed with things like Extenders in mind.  With Blu-ray you would need Java running remotely in an Extender session is much different from HDi which they had already planned for.

When Microsoft decided to support HD DVD, they did so because of what it offers the consumer as well as their existing technologies.  The industry move to Blu-ray changes all of that.

I think we will be more dependent of third parties doing the work, and even then I’m not sure they could get native Blu-ray within Media Center because of BD+ and BD-J.  PMP doesn't do BD+, this is key as PMP basically has to be used to provide native playback.  There is much more to native playback support then being able to decode certain video codecs, the content protection and interactvity aspects are huge with both of these formats.

Related:

More Ramblings About Blu-ray & Xbox 360

In-Depth Zune Review

I’ve been fairly critical of Microsoft’s Zune since it was released, so I decided that I should get a Zune and give it a try.  Over the past two weeks I’ve been playing with it giving my plenty of time to sum up all of the features.

User Interface (UI)

Say what you like about Microsoft and user unfriendly of their applications and features, but they almost always get digital media UIs right.  From the first version of Media Center to the first Zune, the UI has always been amazing.  Anyone can pick up a Zune and figure out how to use it within a matter of seconds.

This UI is somewhat customizable, easy to navigate, and includes small little visual effects just like Media Center.  I have nothing to complain about around the UI of the Zune.

Navigation

Overall the navigation around the UI is very simple, but it includes one huge downfall.  Unless I’ve missed something, the only way to get back to the now playing section is to manually keep going back and back until you get back to where you started (Thanks to Jaxim in the comments, you hold down Back in order to get to the Main Menu, then Back again to get to Now Playing).  Assuming you are building a playlist and you have gone into and out of a dozen artists/albums menus this is crazy.  I have found no easy way to return to now playing.  The Zune badly needs a Green Button on it.  If I missed something here and another Zune users knows what to do please let me know.

Other navigation downfalls include the autorotation to landscape when in picture/video mode.  The first video I fired up had a portrait/vertical view and thus changing the landscape of the Zune was needed to figure out how to change the volume.  The Zune Pad rotates with the Zune in picture/video mode, so volume up and down is actually side-to-side in portrait/vertical.  More consistent navigation and volume changing would be nice in future releases.

Zune Pad

Charlie said that I’d love once I got to use it, and he is partly right.  I love the concept of touch much like Apple has been doing in various ways on the iPods, that said the Zune Pad takes some getting used to and well over two weeks after I still can’t say I’ve mastered it at all.  For long distance scrolling the Zune Pad is perfect, however for selecting a track that is just below the current selection it is nearly impossible to do.  You’re supposed to touch the Zune Pad to stop the scrolling, easier said than done when you are trying to select a single item.  In this case I found myself leaving the touch features behind and using the sides of the Zune Pad to do all the work (D-pad).

Wireless

No doubt one of the selling points and major features of the Zune is supposed to be integrated wireless.  However in my practice, it feels much more like a gimmick then a useful feature.  With the exception of being slow, it works great (technically) whenI could find a reason to use it.

If you have something like a Zune 80 that plenty of hard drive space it is easy to use the "Sync all my music" option, then you can have it sync new content added on the PC wirelessly.  However, on a smaller Zune 4GB/8GB (or even 30GB) this really isn't an option that I'm aware of.  In this case you still have to build a playlist of some sort on the PC before you can remotely or locally initiate the wireless sync, thus it becomes kind of pointless.  If I’m already sitting at the PC I might as well plug-in the Zune via USB and sync it in 1/10 the time.

If the Zune supported syncing from a Media Center and Media Center Extenders (10-foot with remote), my feelings would be completely different.  I’d love to be able to create or select a playlist from one of my Extenders and then remotely sync it wirelessly with the Zune.

I did get a small amount of use out of the wireless by RDP’ing into my desktop, creating a playlist, and then syncing wirelessly in my home.  I can’t imagine that’s the scenario Microsoft is going for, but it is the only time I found it useful.

I didn’t test Zune to Zune sync as I don’t know or was unable to find anyone that actually has a Zune locally.

Zune Software

The Zune Software is of course independent from Windows Media Player which presents problems for Media Center users.  Media Center is locked to Windows Media Player, so the addition of a Zune that doesn’t sync with Windows Media Player leads to multiple applications managing your music.  No matter how good or bad the Zune Software is, I can’t get over it.  Either give me a way to sync the Zune using Windows Media Player/Media Center or give the Zune Software the hooks to work with Media Center as its backend player.

Now that I’m off that I can say the Zune Software isn’t half bad.  Navigation though the UI is relatively simple and performance with my music library is a bit better then with Windows Media Player.

Again there are a few things I dislike when making the needed comparison to Windows Media Player.  There is no taskbar controls for the Zune Software so attempting to use it as your main music playback and management software leads to it being open on the desktop all the time.

In addition I feel that Microsoft tried too hard with parts of the UI.  This eye for design leads to text and scroll bars being too small.  A perfect example is the text is the Settings menu which is actually an 8 point font!  I’m all for streamlining the UI, but there was so much unused space that there is no need for a font that small to be used.

Recorded TV Sync

As I’ve talked about in the past, the Zune Software doesn’t support syncing of ATSC content (or rather, content with AC3 audio).  Because of this oversight, you either have to use SD recordings or use a separate program to content the HD content (DVRMSToolbox, MCEBuddy).

I successfully had the Zune Software transcode and sync SD recordings without any issues.  On my Core 2 Duo E6750 it took just under 20 minutes to convert a 30 minute show.  If you are going to do a lot of video conversation and syncing, a fast processor is your friend.

The quality of recorded TV on the Zune itself was fantastic expect for a bit of motion blur.  The screen on the 4GB/8GB Zune is very small, so if video is your primary use then you should skip the 4GB/8GB Zune and go with the 80.

Addition: All CableCARD content (including SD and HD) is protected and thus can't be put on a Zune or any other portable device.

Social

I’m not really into the social aspect of the Zune, I’m getting tired of every product and company thinking it needs a social network behind it.  I’ve used a few social music services in the past for random listening on the go (Last.fm, Imeem, etc) but I’m not really interested in spending time with the social aspect of the Zune.

ZunePass/Marketplace

I also didn’t test the Zune Marketplace, but I wanted to correct something I had said in the comments of another post.  Thanks to everyone at The Green Button, I now know that ZunePass music can play in Windows Media Player (and thus Media Center), but the experience is broken due to the need to have the Zune Software get the license for tracks before Windows Media Player can play them.  Since this process happens monthly and on a per song basis, there is no way to logically integrate ZunePass and Media Center at this time.

Update: Some are saying that ZunePass works as above, others are saying it works without any license issues at all.  Again, I didn't test it just reporting what I have seen from others.  For anyone who uses ZunePass with Media Center/Media Player, please comment and let everyone know what your experience has been,

v3 Wishlist

As many others have noted the addition of other Microsoft technologies into the Zune would give it a larger advantage over other players.  An SDK would be my first suggestion, let developers add new functionality and value.

On top of that, Zune really needs to integrate things like Windows Sideshow.  This seems like it could be done in a small amount of time and would add amazing value to the Zune.  A built-in Media Center Extender type function would also be nice, but battery life would be an issue.

Of course, better integration with Media Center and other Microsoft products is on the top of my list.  No reason for two music libraries in two applications, no reason for not being able to sync with Media Center wirelessly.

Overall/Conclusion

I still stick to my comments that the Zune is still not an iPod competitor, but I have to admit awareness is growing, albeit slowly.  I was in a Best Buy in West Texas a few weeks ago and two teenage girls were around the iPod/Zune display.  One of them said “Hey, that’s a Zune.”  The other said “What the f#&k is a Zune?”  That’s kind of my impression of any product against the iPod, the marketing has already imprinted the iPod name in everyone’s head.

Zune v2 is what Zune v1 should have been, but the features that are supposed to make the Zune standout have not really impressed me.  Wireless in its current state is still nearly useless, the Zune Pad doesn’t match the Click Wheel or iPod touch, I don’t see the Social as a big selling point, and from a Media Center user’s perspective I’m tired of broken functionality and a lack of integration between products.

The Zune is a fine portable media player, but it is far from the revolution Microsoft needs in order to take away from Apple’s iPod.

If Microsoft would add some additional functionality and integration with their existing products I’d have no problems recommending it to others.  As it stands now there isn’t much to set it apart from an iPod, other than a name that doesn’t automatically sell.  If you are interested in subscription music, the Zune is a must have.  If you want high storage for video playback, the Zune 80 is for you.  If you’re buying for music and occasional video playback I’d probably get an iPod because it truly has better navigation with the Click Wheel then the Zune does with its Zune Pad.

The last thing I’d consider is the possibility of Microsoft continuing to release firmware upgrades (ex. v3 firmware) that add new useful features to existing players.  This is something that Apple doesn’t really do with the iPod line, but it isn’t something Microsoft has committed to either (and new features often need new hardware to start with).  Addition: v1 Zunes were upgraded for free with the v2 firmware, but Microsoft has not said if this trend will continue.

I’d give the Zune a 7.5/10.

Ricavision Sideshow Remote Slips Again; Now Summer 2008

I’m sorry for those of you who have pre-ordered Ricavision’s VAVE100, but after delay after delay, price raise after price raise, the VAVE100 Sideshow remote is now said to have a ship timeframe of “Summer 2008.”

If you have pre-ordered the remote, I’d highly suggested cancelling your order at this point.  It is sad that one of the best features of Vista has yet to really take shape in third party devices.

I’ll now be turning my attention to DnC Multimedia’s Sideshow-enabled portable media player as well as Ikanos Consulting Sideshow software for Windows Mobile devices and iPod/iPhones (in private beta).

Short Bits: mControl Extension, Inteset Monitoring, More

Trying to catch up on some interesting stuff that I have missed over the past week.

Vidabox created an extension for mControl that allows you to control other Media Center PC’s via mControl.  It uses MCE Controller to do the work on the backend, and I’m waiting to find time to try it out myself.

Inteset is now offering a 24hr/7day/365yr server monitoring service called “Inteset Heartbeat Monitoring Service” that can remotely monitor all hardware and software of their media servers/extenders.  Very neat for the high end install.

Missing Remote has a review of MCE Weather and the news of ATI/AMDs new video cards, the HD 3400 and HD 3600 series.

More information on Windows 7 seems to keep creeping out, along the same lines some are putting Vista SP1 for release mid next month.

Got a v2 Extender? Share Your Experience

Have you picked up a Linksys v2 Extender yet?  If so, how do you like?  At The Green Button we have two threads where several people have shared their experience, one for the Linksys DMA2100 and another for the recently released DMA2200.  Let everyone know what you think either on the comments here or at The Green Button.

Sideshow Comes Back Into the Spotlight

Windows Sideshow is back in the spotlight today at CE Pro with the news that Sideshow remotes and devices will officially support control of Media Center Extenders.  I’ve briefly talked about that before, but it’s good to hear it again.  Sadly, the most visible (yet still not shipping) Sideshow remote from Ricavision now costs $350 which puts it way out of my range.

DnC Multimedia is also out with news today that they have an upcoming portable media player that will include Sideshow support.  No price or release date yet, but I’m now more interested in devices like this.  What if instead of using a more standard remote with Sideshow integrated we could use a portable media player instead.  I’d love to see a remote gadget which would allow such a device to still control Media Center using a slightly different form factor.  The fact that this is a portable media player also gives hope for multi-zone audio.

Short Bits: Softsled, Windows 7, Native HD DVD/Blu-ray

Mike at Missing Remote wrote a great article on why Softsled, as a software Extender will never happen.  Foucsing on Mike’s last point in the article, the reason Softsled will never exist is because it doesn’t need to.  Instead, since every copy of Vista Home Premium and Ulitmate includes Media Center the real future is in media/resource sharing as I’ve talked about before.  So, a separate Software Extender will never be released.  However, Microsoft needs to focus on making Media Center work together on different machines.  Automatic media discovery for music, photos, and recorded TV, sharing of a central EPG, and even streaming of live content.

Everyone has been talking about Windows 7 coming in the second half of 2009. Call me crazy, but why does anyone care at this point?  Yeah, I know people want to ditch Vista ASAP and I think Microsoft wants to make the transition to, but Windows 7 doesn’t need to be rushed and frankly if Microsoft can ship any Windows release on schedule I’d be shocked.  How many times did Vista get pushed back and/or features cut?

I’ve been trying to find time to write a post about the downfall of HD DVD, but until I can get there here is some food for thought.  The day of native HD DVD support in Media Center is gone, even if released it would likely be useless in the long run.  Native Blu-ray support in Media Center will never come from Microsoft, never.  They will never build anything around Java, which Blu-ray requires.  The wait for native HD media playback within Media Center just grew amazingly long.

Linksys DMA2200 Now Shipping

Users are reporting that Dell is now shipping the Linksys DMA2200 for $300, despite their website still saying 3-5 weeks.

The DMA2200 should support the exact same formats as the DMA2100, including MPEG-2, MPEG-4 ASP (officially Xivd only), MPEG-4 AVC (H.264), and VC-1/WMV9 but adds an integrated DVD player to the mix.  The one key difference other than the integrated DVD player is the addition of optical SPDIF.

Unless Linksys fixed the issue, be ready to change the FourCCs of your DivX files if you want them to play on this Extender.

Update: Fry’s has them too.

Getting DivX Working on Linksys Extenders

When the Linksys DMA2100 first starting shipping I said that it would decode DivX (in addition to the listed Xvid support), just to have to put my foot in my mouth because no one could get it work.  As I’ve said time and time again, DivX and Xvid are just MPEG-4 ASP.  DivX is a brand, Xvid is a brand.  The video still complies with a standard and can thus be decoded by any MPEG-4 ASP decoder.

Sadly, Linksys screwed this up by blocking playback of DivX files.  They are doing this blocking certain FourCC’s (an identifier) in AVI files.  AVI’s that report a FourCC of xvid work fine.  AVI’s that report a FourCC of DIVX or DX50 don’t work.

The fix was brought up at The Green Button and just involves changing that FourCC.  This process is very simple using a program like AVI FourCC Changer.  Open your AVI files and just change the FourCC to “xvid.”  Simple as that, the files will now playback just fine.

Thanks ilyo and everyone with Linksys Extenders!

Apple TV Gets Upgraded

Apple finally upgraded their Apple TV yesterday at MacWorld making it worthy of a look.  Overall, I’m impressed with the upgrade, but still not touching it.  I’m sure a lot of people out there are not impressed, but I’m trying to see it from Apple’s angle.  No PVR and no DVD player is exactly what they want in this product.  As soon as they give you the ability to playback “legacy” formats you have no reason to buy/rent the same content from them.

The big draw of the new Apple TV is being able to make purchases/rentals directly from the unit, taking the PC out of the picture.  I’ve said that would add significant value before and I think it succeed in that.  What they haven’t succeeded in is killing Netflix.  With HD movie rentals for $3.99 ($4.99 for new releases), I’d much rather pickup an $8.99 Netflix account.  New releases will be delayed 30 days from the DVD release on iTunes, so Netflix is still the top choice here.  Plus, at $3.99/$4.99 you are talking about Blockbuster rental prices, which have been too high for a while and caused the switch to Netflix.  I’ve completely skipped the technical stuff like lackluster bitrate and resolution when compared to HD DVD/Blu-ray.

Apple did drop the price to $229 for a 40GB model, which does beat out the price of any current Media Center Extender.  The problem is, the two products are competing against each other while offering completely different feature sets.  If Microsoft would bring the Xbox Live Marketplace rentals to Media Center and Extenders the products would match up a bit more and I think give Media Center a big push.   Doing this doesn’t fix the price issue from above, but it does give you choice as DVD playback is part of several Extenders.  If Microsoft can actually combine them all (you know, like a Connected Home) then Apple could have a fight on their hand to upgrade Apple TV to support other formats and features.

Apple TV no longer sucks, it is just not for me.  What about you?

Apple TV (Take 2) Details (Engadget), More on Apple's iTunes rentals (Engadget), Apple TV Take 2 Hands-on (Engadget)

Posted by chrisl | 18 comment(s)

Red Zune 80GB and New Collection of Artwork Debut on Zune Originals

Customizable gift options and themed playlists from Zune Marketplace help consumers share the love this Valentine’s Day.

REDMOND, Wash. — Jan. 15, 2008 — Responding to consumer excitement for the Zune 80GB, Microsoft Corp. is making the popular wireless digital media player available in red with Zune Originals, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Inspired by the themes of love and sharing, an exclusive collection of 20 new laser-engraved designs will be available to consumers for a limited time at http://www.zuneoriginals.net; in addition, Zune Marketplace will feature Valentine’s Day playlists that can be shared with friends or loved ones Zune to Zune or via the Zune Social online music community.

“Zune gives consumers a dynamic canvas that is brought to life by the music, pictures, videos and podcasts they fill it with,” said Scott Erickson, senior director of product management for Zune at Microsoft. “Zune Originals makes it easy to design a customized player, while wireless sharing and the Zune Social online music community give people new ways to connect.”

Zune Originals gives customers more options to personalize their player with 20 new designs celebrating love and sharing that can be laser-engraved on the back of their Zune. The new Valentine’s Day series features artwork from four new artist collectives — Colorblok, Friends With You, PSYOP and Studio Play Pretend — and is available exclusively at http://www.zuneoriginals.net through Feb. 14. Each new graphic can be paired with up to three lines of text, letting consumers add a personal message; if no graphic is chosen, up to five lines of text are available. For a limited time, Zune Originals also offers a gift-wrap option and shipping at no additional charge.* With the addition of the Valentine’s Day series, customers can now choose from more than 65 designs, to create a custom wireless player in the size and color they want.

The Zune Marketplace online store makes it easy to load the Zune player with favorite love songs that can be shared wirelessly Zune to Zune or with friends via Zune Social. To find their perfect Valentine’s Day soundtrack, consumers can browse playlists such as “Hip Hop Valentine,” “80s Love,” “Broken Love,” and “Talk to Me, Barry,” love jams from the legendary Barry White featuring spoken introductions. Zune software also makes it easy for people to create their own playlists in seconds by simply dragging and dropping songs to the playlist icon.

With a bright 3.2-inch screen and premium in-ear noise-isolating headphones, the red Zune 80GB is the latest addition to the new line of Zune wireless players, which also includes the slim, ultra-portable Zune 4GB and Zune 8GB, available in pink, green, black and red. All three models offer wireless sync and sharing, a built-in FM tuner, and the new Zune Pad, a touch-sensitive navigation button that lets people fly through menus or lists with the flick of the thumb, or click to easily change songs or adjust the volume. The Zune 80GB (estimated retail price $249), Zune 8GB (ERP $199) and Zune 4GB (ERP $149) are available at retailers nationwide and at http://www.zuneoriginals.net.

More information on great Zune Valentine’s Day offers from Zune Originals and retailers nationwide is available at http://www.zune.net/valentines.

Posted by chrisl | with no comments

Short Bits: Extender Ads, Broswers, Netflix, More

Microsoft has launched their v2 Extender ad campaign on several websites include The New York Times, Gizmodo (I think CNET and so others are in there too).  Assuming you don’t block ads in your web browser, check them out.

Not too much Media Center related in the past few days, but the few things out there seem to be web browser related.  Missing Remote has a post about a new 10-foot browser for Media Center, VMCBrowser as well as a review of MCE Browser.

Ian Dixon continues his adventures from CES from FUZE Media Systems, Surface, and a CES photo gallery.

Netflix is said to be eliminating viewing hours from their streaming feature, so it will be unlimited now.

I did get a Zune last week and have been playing with it since.  I’ll have a review in the future, I want to be able to review it on more than six hours of use.

Media Center Finally Gets Live Messenger Plug-in

It isn’t coming from Microsoft, but Vista Media Center is finally going to get a Windows Live Messenger plug-in.  Damien Bain-Thouverez, developer of the Media Control Plug-in (ffdshow) has added functionality in the same plug-in to act as a Windows Live Messenger frontend.

This is the first attempt for a Messenger plug-in in Vista Media Center.  Media Center 2005 had a built-in Windows Messenger plug-in, but with the release of Windows Vista this was kicked to the side as was Windows Messenger all together.  Last year Microsoft announced a beta of Windows Live for TV which promised Live Spaces and Live Messenger integration, the product appears to be dead without a release.

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Setup instructions can be found in the User Manual, and while the integration is not complete it does work pretty well.  Maybe the new load of downloads mixed with a few donations will get full functionality and bugs fixed.

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Posted by chrisl | 5 comment(s)

CES Wrap-up Part 2

So it looks like CES provided us with a little bit more excitement in the form of Extenders and DIRECTV.

Starting with Extenders, Niveus Media made their EDGE official at the price of $1,500.  I know a lot of people will complain about that, but when you look at Niveus’ market it is really a steal.  Instead of purchasing a number of $3000 Rainer PC’s, you now just need one and then stock up on the EDGE to cover your home.  The Niveus EDGE is basically supposed to be an Xbox 360 that has been repacked, gaming disabled, and made quiet.  Very nice.

The Samsung Extender has been confirmed by many, including Ian Dixon to only work directly with compatible Samsung displays.  I do kind of feel like they are limiting the market, but in a way it is also good.  The big problem with v1 Extenders was that there were so few options and so few interested.  If Samsung wants to take this route, I say good for them.  This might make me look at a Samsung display whereas before the announcement I can’t say their displays were on my radar.

Ian Dixon also had a ton of great video and audio content including The Media Center Show #138 CES Day 1, and The Media Center Show #139 - Live from CES.  He has got a video of the NextGen Home up (Life|ware), and an interview with Kevin Tofel and James Kendrick (jkOnTheRun).

Best of all at CES was news of the DIRECTV tuner that we have been waiting for.  Just a few questions left to answer.  Price?  Availability?  OEM PC or not?  Now it is a waiting game.  The tuner exists, the software is being worked on, what else can you say?

On10 also has some good content including Show Us Your Home: Hakan Olsson Edition, Robbie Bach @ CES 2008, and TV Tonic at CES 2008.

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