website hit counter June 2008 - Posts - Chris Lanier

June 2008 - Posts

HP MediaSmart Connect Review Part 1: Overview

The HP MediaSmart Connect x280n (formerly MediaSmart Receiver) is HPs latest entry into the Media Center Extender/Adaptor market.  Building on the success of their MediaSmart HDTV lineup, the MediaSmart Connect brings the same experience you get on the MediaSmart HDTV to any display via an elegant set-top box. Last week I got a review model to put through some rigorous testing to see how it stacks up against Linksys, D-Link, and the Xbox 360 Extender.

The first thing you will notice about the MediaSmart Connect is the focus of the device is not necessarily the Media Center Extender functions.  Much like the Xbox 360 and D-Link DSM-750, the MediaSmart Connect features two distinctively different media experiences.  The MediaSmart UI operates as a standard UPnP/DLNA media device, and the Media Center Extender function connects to Vista Home Premium and Ultimate PCs running Windows Media Center.  This was done for several reasons, but on the top of the list seems to be support of additional OS’s and additional features/functionality not supported by Media Center.

Warning: MediaSmart Connect is HDTV Only!

Before we get any further in this review I want to note that the MediaSmart Connect is meant to be connected to a widescreen HDTV capable of 720p or 1080i input (a la Apple TV).  There are no SD analog outputs (eg.S-Video, Composite) and the Component output is meant to be 720p at least.

MeidaSmart Connect Specs

  • MediaSmart UI and Media Center Extender functionality
  • USB 2.0 port (one front, one back)*
  • HP Pocket Media Driver Bay*
  • SPDIF (optical) output, RCA 2-channel audio output
  • HDMI, Component outputs (HDMI cable included)
  • Wireless-N (802.11 a/b/g/n, dual band N, internal antennas)
  • 720p and 1080i output options
  • 10/100 Ethernet
  • 5-device universal backlit remote

*Functionality only applies to HP MediaSmart UI, not available via Media Center Extender

Included Accessories

The MediaSmart Connect retails for the relatively high price of $350, however HP has attempted to make the price worth it by including a few generally absent accessories.  Included in the very well designed package are a 6-foot HDMI cable, a fully backlit universal remote, and a $20 CinemaNow coupon.  Do the accessories make it worth the extra cost?  That’s up to you to decide, but the fact that they are included is a nice touch.  (Keep reading and find out why that HDMI cable might have been a worthless expensive)

PC Setup for MediaSmart

You can tell that HP focused heavily on their MediaSmart UI over that of the Media Center Extender which is pretty much a Microsoft endeavor that is just licensed by OEMs.  Because of the clear focus on MediaSmart I wanted to cover this end of the product as well as the Media Center Extender functions.

HP ships the MediaSmart Connect with a pretty bulky software load to facilitate the MediaSmart features of the Connect (software not needed for use as a Media Center Extender).  This includes a large install of various programs and frameworks such as AJAX Extensions, SQL Server 2005 CE, HP Services Gateway, CinemaNow, HP Update, HP Sharing Wizard, and more.  This is a bit larger than I would have liked to see, but considering the resource impact of Media Center and Extenders the difference evens out if you are worried about the resource load on your PC.  It is worth noting that the Connect is an UPnP/DLNA device, so you can load up your own media server application to serve the device.  On the device itself you can switch between UPnP servers on-the-fly, and depending on the server you use (eg. Windows Media Player) the MediaSmart UI will aggregate all media shares in your home into one display on the MediaSmart itself.

Moving back to the HP software install, despite the load of software and install time (15+ min), everything is integrated nicely including a one click (more or less) signup process for the online services (SnapFish, CinemaNow, Live365) that the MediaSmart UI gives you access to.  Considering the horrible experience that Windows Media Center provides for signing up for services like this I praise HP for a simple setup process.

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HP MediaSmart Connect Review Part 2: MediaSmart UI

HP MediaSmart Connect Review Part 3: Extender

Community Server 2008 SP1 Upgrade

This site now runs on Community Server 2008 SP1!

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Any HP MediaSmart Connect Questions?

Yesterday I received my HP MediaSmart Connect x280n review unit and will be taking a look at it this weekend.  I will likely mirror my review of the Linksys DMA series Extender minus all of the general Media Center setup content.

If anyone has questions about the unit please let me know so I can either cover them in the review or reply directly in this post.

mControl 2.1 Goes Final

Embedded Automation has released the final build of mControl 2.1 for download.  The build is actually the same as the previous RCGOLD2 release, and as there were no significant issues reported Embedded Automation has now shifted their focus to the next mControl release.

You can download mControl 2.1 here, and of course you get a 30 day trial if you don’t already use mControl.  All current mControl users can upgrade to 2.1 for free.  See the User Manual for more (PDF).

Interested to know what other features mControl has?  Check out the updated mControl Feature Summery (PDF).

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Microsoft Updates Extenders, Set-top Box Support in Media Center

Microsoft has just released two updates for Vista Media Center, fixing up STBs and Extenders.  KB950124 adds and fixes support for newer STBs connected to Media Center, and KB950125 which adds a few Extender issues including 50Hz output fixes for those of you outside the US (no additional codec support).  Grab the updates on Windows Update or download the standalone packages below.

Description of an update that provides broader support in Media Center Extenders for Windows Vista for newer TV set-top boxes (KB950124)

This update provides broader Media Center support for newer TV set-top boxes.

Download: Windows Update | 32-bit | 64-bit

Description of the Media Center Extenders for Windows Vista update that was released on June 24, 2008 (KB950125)

This update addresses the following issues. These issues occur when you use Media Center on an Xbox 360 console.

  • This update addresses a picture quality issue that occurs when you use Media Center Extender on an Xbox 360 console that has a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connector to the TV for video and a Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format (S/PDIF) connection to the audio device for audio.
  • This update addresses an issue in which the Media Center Extender stops responding (hangs) when you play a large non-WMV video over an HTTP session.
  • This update provides support for 50Hz output together with better quality for HD models. This feature applies primarily to regions that use the PAL video standard.

Download: Windows Update | 32-bit | 64-bit

Has Media Center Been a “Miss” for Microsoft?

Dennis Morgan pointed to a recent MSNBC article on Bill Gates hits and misses during his time at Microsoft.  One of the first products in the miss category is Media Center, what do you think? 

Based on the author’s semi-outdated understanding of Media Center, I’d agree with them 100%.  Media Center has been a miss when you consider their concept of Media Center being a product “aimed to move into the living room, tying the PC and the TV together for recording television shows on the computer…”  I think it would be hard to argue that Microsoft’s first plan for Media Center was a failure.  Gateway, ViewSonic, HP, and other top tier OEMs have tried to move into the living room with HTPC form factor PCs, and that failed big time.  The initial concept of Media Center is still is a miss (unless you’re taking about the custom market).

That brings us to Media Center today where the PC in the living room is much less of the target.  That idea has been replaced by using your main Desktop PC as a host and Extenders, mainly the Xbox 360, to drive content into the living room.

Defining Media Center as a miss might be a bit much; however it is still a product with so much potential that has yet to be capitalized on.  As I’ve said many times before, Media Center will never be a replacement for the standard cable/satellite STB.  It will always be for those who want more than what those STBs can offer.  The only problem is what that market wants, Media Center fails to do correctly.

So my question is does Media Center, with all of its unreleased potential belong in the same category as Microsoft BOB and Clippy?

Posted by chrisl | 53 comment(s)

Media Center Nabs More Online Content: Olympics & Fight Network

NBC has teamed up with TVTonic to provide online coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics via Media Center.  Be sure to watch the ‘Explore’ section of Media Center for more, as well as TVTonic (requires install).  More information at TVTonic.

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In addition the Queensberry Fight Network has launched an online application available now in Media Center to get your fighting/boxing fix 24/7.  Considering the downfall that has been network TV, Microsoft needs to make sure they are making every effort to get more online content up and accessible via Media Center.  I’m dying for a Hulu plug-in.

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More on Cannon PCs Six CableCARD PC

On Friday Cannon PC demoed a system recording from six CableCARDs all at once, while playing back a recording and the system didn’t skip a beat.  This was demoed in the YouTube video, but I got some higher resolution screenshots of Media Center showing the six streams at once.

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Given the system resources that they had to spare, what do people think the max number of tuners would be?  Considering local playback most likely added from 5-10% on ~35% of the CPU being used, I think this shows that processing speed is no longer a bottle neck for Media Center PCs.  So the question is which dies first, USB throughput or the hard drive(s)?

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mControl Adds Support for CentraLite JetStream

Embedded Automation has just added CentraLite JetStream to their growing list of supported home control systems.  CentraLite JetStream is a new standard for home control based on Zigbee, and as you will learn in the embedded video it was actually the first standard that Embedded Automation supported in mControl but delayed the launch due to a lack of devices on the market.

Cannon PC Demos Media Center with 6 CableCARDs

June 18, 2008 - Cannon PC, LP demonstrated a capability of their Media Centers to accommodate 6 Digital Cable Cards and simultaneously record 6 different HD Digital Cable Channels.

Cannon PC, the award winning Media Center specialty company, demonstrated to a select group of people the capability of their Media Centers to manage 6 Digital Card Cards. They have also posted a video on YouTube and on their web site demonstrating this capability. The video shows the actual ATI Digital tuners, the Recorded TV section showing the 6 current recordings, the Performance Monitor showing how little impact the process has on performance and resources and the smooth video playback while all this is taking place.

"We believe we are the first company to demonstrate such capabilities. Since Windows Vista for Media Center natively only supports 2 Cable Cards, we had to figure out how to modify the system in order to have it properly recognize more than 2 cards in the system" said Gregg Cannon of Cannon PC. "We have exceptional people on staff that are very knowledgeable of the Media Center product and spent many hours of research to make this happen. We feel confident that we can add even more digital Cable Cards to our systems based on the process and knowledge we have learned."

For those not familiar with Digital CableCARDs, they allow customers to watch and record their cable TV channels, including premium HDTV channels like HBO-HD and ESPNHD directly on their media center without the need for a set top box. With more Cables Cards in the system it allows the HD experience to be shared more with the extenders in the home. What happens many times in a family environment with a Media Center and several extenders is that there are not enough TV tuners installed the Media Center to share the Live TV experience with more than 2 other rooms. Breakthroughs like this make that a thing of the past.

As the winner of over nine national and international awards, Cannon PC has been designing Microsoft Windows based Media Centers for over four years. Their business model is specifically targeted to Media Centers and Media Center technology. "We pride ourselves on bringing leading edge technology and ground breaking ideas to our customers. A system with 6 Cables Cards is just one of those ideas." said Cannon.

Cannon PC offers a of line of Media Centers for the tech savvy consumer as well as a high end line of Media Centers tailored for the custom integration market. Cannon PC has a unique dealer program for qualified A/V installers and integrators that are looking to offer their clients reliable feature rich Media Centers at a competitive price. Unlike other Media Center manufactures, each system can be completely customizable to fits the customers need or the A/V project.

Their Home Series line of Media Centers consist of the AMD based ultra small form factor FX Series Media Center as well as the Intel based MX Series house in an A/V style case. Either system can be purchased through their online site.

The Cannon PC Pro A/V Series consists of three models; the LX, EX and RX. The LX has been redesigned to include a stylish new case that integrates gold plated front audio connectors, quick access USB and Fire Wire connections as well as a 28 in 1 media card reader. The EX features a 12" HD touch screen and room for over 6 TB of disk storage. The RX unit is a sleek rack mount system that will fit nicely into any standard A/V rack and each system comes standard with a blu-ray DVD drive.

All Cannon PC Media Center comes standard with features such as a 52-in-1 media card reader, front IO, USB and fire wire connections, dual NTSC and HDTV tuners with the option to upgrade to Cable Cards, 8 channel HD audio, P35 Express chipset, Quad Core and Dual Core Processor, high end ATI or NVIDIA graphics cards, up to 8 GB or RAM and up to 6 terabytes of internal SATA hard disk storage. Each system uses state of the art motherboards and components that utilize cool and quiet technology to ensure that their systems are whisper quiet and low on heat. All systems are backed by a 1 year factory warranty.

Cannon PC has been designing high end Media Center since its founding in 2004. To learn more about Cannon PC Media Centers, visit them online at http://www.cannonpc.com.

For information contact:

sales@cannonpc.com
832-364-6608

Short Bits: Extenders, Dream Home

The Windows Experience Blog took a look at the HP MediaSmart Connect.  At some point I’ll also have a review of the unit and compare it directly to the Linksys Extenders (and D-Link which is pretty much the same).

Speaking of Extenders, Ben at Engadget HD did a great shootout of the Linksys, D-Link, and Xbox 360 Extenders head-to-head.

eHomeUpgrade has had several posts about the Disney Innovations Dream Home.  Alexander took a look at Life|ware, Surface, HP's TouchSmart PC, and much more.

HP MediaSmart Connect Makes It Easy to Enjoy Digital Media from Any HDTV‏

PALO ALTO, Calif., June 17, 2008 – HP today announced that HP MediaSmart Connect, a sleek digital media receiver that brings digital media from around the home or Internet to any HDTV, is now available for pre-order.

First announced as part of the HP product launch at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show, HP MediaSmart Connect features a sleek design with a piano-black finish as well as HP's exclusive "Zen" Imprint pattern and ambient blue lighting, making it a stylish addition to any room in the home.

  • Play your music, photos, and video from any Windows-based PC in your house on your HDTV
  • Direct access to OnLine Media Services
  • Integrated Windows Media Center Extender functionality
  • HP Pocket Media Drive bay
  • Built-in wired and wireless networking - IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n
  • HDMI, Component video, and digital audio outputs
  • Media playback from USB-based portable storage media

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Blog Downtime

 Some security issues have kept the blog down the past few days, but fear not I'm back!

Posted by chrisl | 1 comment(s)

Making Dreams a Reality: The Innoventions Dream Home

The latest attraction at Disneyland takes visitors through a home of the future featuring technologies of tomorrow inspired by some of today’s cutting-edge consumer offerings from Microsoft and other technology industry leaders.

ANAHEIM, Calif., June 16, 2008 - Today, the Innoventions Dream Home became latest attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Located in Tomorrowland, the Dream Home delivers on Walt Disney’s vision for showcasing cutting-edge technologies that make life better and easier and was created in close collaboration between Disneyland, Microsoft, HP, Life|ware and home-builder Taylor Morrison. The Dream Home demonstrates how technology can be integrated into our lives in a fun, interactive environment.

More than one billion people use Microsoft products around the world, which provides a unique insight into what people are doing and what they want to do — now and in the future. In fact, Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash. headquarters features an ever-evolving “Home of the Future” which is a real-life demonstration of the innovations dreamed up in their research and development laboratories. Disney executives have visited the home many times, so it was natural for the company to partner with Microsoft when Disneyland officials decided to create the Innoventions Dream Home.

“We’re constantly visualizing how tomorrow’s software will transform how we’ll work, play and communicate,” says Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft.  “By partnering with Disneyland, we can show people how technology can enrich our lives today, and offer a glimpse of the technologies that will revolutionize homes in the future.”

The dream home also features futuristic technologies inspired by innovations from the Microsoft prototyping lab:

  • Magic Mirror: A mirror projects different clothes, accessories and hairstyles onto each family member’s image when they stand before it. The clothes not only morph to the contours of the body, but also sway as the person in front of the mirror moves.
  • Kitchen of Your Dreams: The kitchen recognizes ingredients as a family member sets them on the counter, suggesting recipes for those items and providing instructions once a recipe is selected.
  • Story Time: Visit the child’s room to be transported to Neverland. Read “Peter Pan” aloud to absorb a full multimedia experience, as cues in the story set off lights, sounds, colors and video.

Read Full Press Release

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Short Bits: HP, TouchSmart, Webinar, Live for TV

Ian Dixon had a ton of good stuff this past week at HP’s Connecting your World event in Germany.  Among the top announcements was HPs new TouchSmart PC which features a 22-inch display.  Best of all, this thing is cheap!  It starts at only $1,300, nearly half of their pervious TouchSmart PCs (and much more attractive).  Ian also did a special edition of The Media Center Show for the event.

Saying with HP for a minute, they will be holding a series of webinar’s from June 24-July 10.  Guests include Ian Dixon, Patrick Norton, Mike Garcen, and Ed Bott.  Be sure to register for one of them.

Ian also confirmed that Windows Live for TV is indeed dead and will be shutting down on the 24th of this month.

mPanel Preview Videos, Price Point, and More

No doubt Embedded Automation's mPanel has been high on my list, and over the past week Ted has posted up some great videos on the company’s website and YouTube page.  Check out the mPanel overview, mPanel installation, mPanel Media Center control, and mPanel music control/playback.


In addition to seeing the functionality, Ted confirmed the target price is in the $1,500 range and for those who already own touchscreens you will most likely be able to purchase the mPanel software at a later date for WinCE and other platforms.

Lastly, Embedded Automation now has a forum for users to post pictures of their setups.  Of course, it might be hard to beat one of the first entries posted.  Great work.

Posted by chrisl | with no comments

Microsoft Quietly Plans “Windows Media Center TV Pack”

Microsoft made plans public on Friday in Japan (late Thursday in US) for the release of a product called “Windows Media Center TV Pack” as a part of their increased TV signal support in the country.

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What is the Windows Media Center TV Pack?  Well, that’s up to the translated press release to tell us (Original press release).

  • Google Translation: TV Pack….“Provide PC manufacturers, PC manufacturers from terrestrial digital broadcasting is PC compatible with Windows Vista(1)”

    (1) Note: and provide the package, Windows Update, and by extension will not only provide.

  • Yahoo Babelfish Translation: TV Pack…“PC manufacturer, from the PC manufacturer Windows Vista loading PC which corresponds to terrestrial digital broadcast, it is the schedule which in the future is shipped(1)”

    (1) Note: offer in package edition and offer etc only of the extended function with Windows Update there is no.

Any Japanese speaking readers who can translate would be much appreciated (especially the text in the image).  Seeing as Fiji would be the next logical release for Media Center the question is how does this “TV Pack” relate to Fiji?  Does it apply only to Japan?  Does it provide support for other TV signals?

Microsoft Expands TV Signal Support in Japan

A few months ago I said that Microsoft was planning on finally taking TV signal support in Media Center global, but little did I know that Japan would be the first to see the improved support.  This past Friday Microsoft announced several new broadcast and hardware partners for Media Center in Japan that will be coming later this year.

New content providers including TV Asahi, NHK, NTV, TBS and Fuji TV will provide interactive features new to Media Center, and Fujitsu will bring new hardware to the market as well.  Future support for ISDB-T, improved playback options for PCs connected to TVs, and support for multi-language closed-captioning was also announced.

Related:
Microsoft Quietly Plans “Windows Media Center TV Pack”

June 2008 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista

Microsoft has released the June 2008 Cumulative Update for Windows Media Center for Windows Vista. This update rollup is intended for computers that are running Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate.

Issues that are resolved by this update

In addition to the fixes that are contained in the updates that are listed in the "Hotfix replacement information" section, the June 2008 Cumulative Update for Windows Media Center for Windows Vista resolves the following issues:

  • For Windows Media Center configurations that use an analog TV broadcast without a set-top box, this update improves the experience of recording television shows. Previously, shows were blocked with "protected content" messages. (More Info)
  • Note This issue does not apply to configurations with set top boxes or configurations that use analog TV together with digital cable tuners.
  • This update addresses a blank screen issue that occurs when you switch between full-screen mode and windowed mode while you play videos.
  • On extender sessions that use Internet TV or Online Spotlight, this update increases a maximum path limit from 260 characters to 2048 characters.
  • This update resolves an issue that was introduced in Vista Service Pack 1 in which empty removable media devices were displayed in galleries.
  • This update addresses an issue in which channel names in Simplified Chinese were shown as unrecognizable characters.
  • This update provides an updated frequency table for China.
  • This update addresses an issue in which a Client ID was not set correctly if you use the Express setup option.
  • This update fixes a memory leak issue in extender sessions.

Download via Windows Update (or 32-bit standalone,  64-bit standalone)

Posted by chrisl | 12 comment(s)

Microsoft Patches “Broadcast Flag”/CGMS-A Issues

Today Microsoft is will a patch to correct the issues seen in last month’s reported “Broadcast Flag” issues.  In reality, the fix is for CGMS-A and the official word is still that Media Center doesn’t support the Broadcast Flag.  Last month’s issue propagated from CGMS-A being on the analog source data that was broadcast by NBC.

The patch changes functionality in Media Center for CGMS-A on antenna and non-STB configurations where CGMS-A CopyNever (1:1) will be recorded as CopyOnce (1:0) effectively ending the “Recording Prohibited” messages seen last month.  This means if CGMS-A finds its way onto an OTA broadcast it will always be recorded, but if CGMS-A is set it will be protected once recorded.  If you are using analog cable (no STB) the same takes places.

For configurations using STBs, this patch doesn’t fix any of the existing CGMS-A issues which include incorrect and otherwise excessive CopyNever flags (Sorry Canadians).  I’ve made sure this issue is still on the table at Microsoft, but currently there is no official fix (other than unplugging your STB).  Personally I’d like to see the issue fixed in the same manor, but that does present issues with content that is supposed to be CopyNever on an STB.  The other option would be to just disable CGMS-A when Media Center is setup using a Canadian postal code.

The patch should be up on Windows Update now (KB950126 - June Cumulative Update) and related download link is posted below.

Related: June 2008 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista (KB950126)

Update: As noted on the CE Installer blog this doesn’t cover CableCARD which comes with CableLabs regulations.  With that said, the majority of the issues with CableCARD could be software conflicts rather than content flags.  If you are having major issues with CableCARD and Restricted Content messages, please leave a comment here and/or post it to this thread on The Green Button.

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