Archive for January, 2009

There is no place for a computer in my home theater

Monday, January 26th, 2009

It’s been about 10 months since I switched from TiVo to Vista Media Center and I’m happy to say I don’t regret my decision, but have learned alot and the biggest lesson is that there is no place in my home theater for a computer. So after all this time, I’ve ordered an Xbox 360 with the intent to use it as an extender in my main home theater — I’d go with another DMA2100, but I really like the animated transitions.

It’s really funny that I recently came to this conclusion as today my friend Brent Evans basically posted about the same thing today on Geek Tonic. I couldn’t agree more with his points and will be moving my XPS 420 into my office — it’s in a closet near my HT now. But in addition to Brent’s, here are a few of my personal pain points about having a computer in my living room.

  • Turing off overscan in Vista Media Center is a PITA and borderline impossible.
  • The screensaver situation. I’d love to go into this, but my trials and tribulations would take up another post all alone, so lets just say it doesn’t work.
  • Judder, jitter messy video. I’ve tried many things and still have issues.
  • Having a mouse or keyboard near the couch is a bag of hurt.

I think the HTPC as we know it is dead and instead the computer will be the central storage and collection device. The best thing already headed in this direction is Sage TV’s Windows Home Server version. I think that what every PC DVR software out there needs to do is move to the extender model with a headless server hidden away.

I that that Microsoft should do at this point is to build the backend DVR functionality into Windows Home Server. This would be the perfect compliment to the already great media collection features. In order for it to work though, it’d have to support every Media Center tuner, including CableCARD tuners and the upcoming satellite tuners. In theory it’d be more stable and easier to support because it would be relatively free of 3rd party applications. Of course to make this really useful, we’d need to be able to watch live TV on any Media Center computer in the house.

I could’ve fixed Circuit City

Friday, January 16th, 2009

I know it sounds conceded to think I could’ve fixed Circuit City, but I really believe it. Not sure how many know that installing and selling car stereos was my first job out of high school and that I worked there for about three years. I knew the company had problems was back then when we’d have sales training like “how not to bait and switch” which basically amounted to “how to bait and switch without breaking any state laws.” I remember being asked to do things in regards to customers that conflicted with my personal ethics and I’d nod and say okay, then turn around and do the right thing for the customer anyways. After all the customer was the real reason I was there — and I was too cocky to believe I’d ever be fired and evidently I was right.

Overall it was a good college job; I made some great friends, and a good living — sure beat the hell out of delivering pizza — but I always thought that eventually the problems would be addressed. I knew I was wrong when almost everyone I knew at the big red plug was fired in 2003 and for the dumbest reason in the world; they were the best employees. So instead of training — or reversing the previous bad training — some of the most knowledgeable people in retail how to treat customers fairly, no matter what the commission, they were old laid off. Nice.

It isn’t hard to connect the dots on what will happen after you kill the only good thing you had going. I have to say I’m a little sad though, but at the same time take a little solace in the fact that I recognized the problems way back then. If I ever start my own business, you can bet I won’t make the same mistake though.

Windows Home Server Rocks!

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

It’s no secret that I’m a Mac lovin’ Windows hater, but man things are really turning around at Redmond as earlier this year I switched from TiVo to Vista Media Center and now this week I deployed my first Windows Home Server.

As a computer network profesional the idea of having a server at home has always apeal to me, but for many reasons I never persued it. But when I started to receive memory errors on the last XP box in my house that I use as a Home Automation controller, I once again considered running a server. I was delighted to learn that Windows Home Server is really just Windows Server 2003 with a few really cool utilities for the home and a resonable price. So not only could I run Mainlobby on the box, but I could also use it to backup and remotely access my Media Center and my wife’s Vaio laptop — no I still haven’t converted her.

For hardware I went with a MSI Wind PC from Newegg — thanks Warren, for the suggestion — which sells for an unbelievably low $139. To this I added a $21 2GB stick of ram and the original 250GB SATA HDD from the Series3 I sold to Tyler that was lying around. Add in another $94 for an OEM copy of WHS and I got myself a whole lot of utility for $254. To top it off, the small box will fit in my structured wiring cabinet which fits nicely into my plans to reclaim my closet from my electronics — more about that to come.

I was able to install WHS and all the agents on my two Windows computers in no time, and already feel better that the machines are being backed up. The only problem I have is that I can’t use the remote desktop application at work because port 4125 is blocked — man do I wish I could tunnel this over ssl — and I haven’t quite figured out how to get Time Machine to backup to a network drive — yes I tried iTimemachine. The most impressive thing so far though is the included dynamic DNS feature and the free trusted SSL certificate.

I’m not 100 percent migrated over from my old XP box yet, but I’m getting there. Hopefully this weekend I’ll have a chance to decommishion the old box once I get ML tested. Stay tunned.