Archive for April, 2009

How to control Windows 7 via TCP with vmcController

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

The Windows 7 release candidate (rc) hit the torrents this week and after it was confirmed authenticate by someone via an MD5 hash, I decided to go ahead and try and make the switch full time from Vista.

One of the key add-ins in my household is one that adds the ability to control Media Center and extenders via my Home Automation controller since even the basic operations in my home are dependent on it. I can’t even watch Live TV in my house if this doesn’t work, so I needed a solution. Autonomic homes has supported Windows 7 since beta, but I’m not willing to pay $800 just for this one feature, so I needed the open source project that was free to work, the same one that I was using with Vista.

The now poorly named VMCController is a background MC add-in that features a few control ports so I can fully control any extender in my house via TCP. To get it working on Windows 7, I had to download and install the latest version as normal, but when I launched MC, I got an error about the add-in failing to load. So with some help from Olddog at the projects codeplex discussion page, I was able to get it working. You’ll need to download Olddog’s updated DLLs. But in order to replace the DLLs, first thing you need to do is to delete the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Classes\Installer\Assemblies\Global\Default registry key as per this MS KB article — always backup the registry before editing by righting clicking on the parent object and choosing export. Now reboot and open Windows Explorer to C:\Windows\Assembly. Find VmcController.Add-In, then right click on it and select uninstall. Now copy the new VmcController.Add-In.dll from the OldDog’s zip file to C:\Windows\eHome and all the DLLs to C:\program files\Media Center Network Controller\ and finally start Media Center and test by telneting to localhost port 40500.

The only problem I’m having is that a few of the buttons don’t work, but I found work arounds. So instead of using button-skipfwd I used the command playrate skipforward, which does the same thing.

Hopefully the main contributer to the project will update the source with OldDog’s changes so that we can just run the installer like the old days, but at least it is working.

90 days (and counting) without cable TV

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Back in December when I wrote about how I canceled cable, I received some greate encouragement and was solicited for updates. Well obviously I haven’t done so since, but after over three months my family doesn’t miss cable at all. Well, that isn’t completely true as there have been a few times when I thought about how I’d like to have cable, but then I remember that I’m saving $60 a month and I forget about whatever it was I wanted to watch. 

Over-the-air and Blu-ray Discs via Netflix.
I get almost all of my content from two places. Over-the-air provides most of our content and my kids are actually very pleased with the cartoons on PBS and hardly miss the Disney Channel — although I do bring up YouTube on occasion so my daughter can watch The Wiggles. We watch the nightly news and network TV shows like Lost and for the most part get to see everything we want. We watch about two or three Blu-ray Discs from Netflix each week, and have not once used the Watch Now feature on the BD300 or purchased a single show on the Apple TV or Xbox 360.

The missing piece.
The one missing piece is some premium TV shows on HBO and SciFi HD that have yet to be released on Blu-ray. I don’t mind waiting an extra 6 months for a series to be released on Blu-ray, but when the show is only released on DVD, it really drives me nuts. Luckily this scenario seems to be going away as more and more TV shows are coming to Blu-ray, but until then, we’ll have to find other ways to watch our shows.

Various sources
Most know my friends Warren and Andy helped me create a process to automatically download and convert shows for Media Center and while I had tons of fun working on the project — and continue to work on a version for movies — I have to admit I stopped using it because I felt guilty about watching the one or two shows I don’t have access to just to save some money. So from now on, I’ll just wait until the shows are released on Blu-ray to watch them.

With about five months to go until the FSU Seminoles open up the college football season against the Miami Hurricanes on ESPN HD, I’ll end up not having cable for 8 months which is about $500. This still seems like a good idea, but at the same time I dread adding the service back and dealing with an installer, etc. So while it makes sense this year, I’m still not 100% sure I’ll do it all again next year. I suppose it depends on what happens with DirecTV and Media Center, because with DirecTV canceling and adding service is super easy. But if the DirecTV Media Center tuner isn’t ready by September, then I’ll have to go back to FiOS. And although FiOS has fantastic quality and selection of HD, their service dispatch system is quite possibly the worst in the industry.

My electronics in pictures

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

One of the commenters on the Engadget HD Podcast recently asked me to do this so here goes. It’s been over two years since I did a post like this and I have to say I’m amazed at how much of my equipment is the same and at the same time, how much is different.

My equipment list

  • Pioneer PDP-6010FD (Kuro)
  • Saphire towers and center
  • Speakercraft surrounds
  • XPS 420 running Vista Media Center
  • LG BD300 Blu-ray player
  • HDHomeRun
  • Xbox 360
  • Pioneer Elite VSX-91TX AV receiver
  • 32″ Sharp Aquas — Linksys DMA2100
  • 19″ Sharp Aquas — Linksys DMA2100
  • OrigenAE rc197 Remotes in each room
  • Elk M1-Gold alarm
  • Global Cache GC-100
  • MSI Wind PC running WHS
  • Insteon Dimmers (about 14)
  • ISY-99 Insteon Controller
  • HAI thermostat
  • MacBook Air
  • Latitude D430
  • 20″ cinema Display
  • Actiontec MI424-WR FiOS WiFi router

How to automatically convert VOB to MPG and DTS to AC3

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

I’m working on a newer version of my automatic MKV to DVR-MS process and found myself needing to do these conversions automatically. So I figured I’d share them so people could use them until my entire process is done.

The main uses from my perspective is to make various video files Media Center compatible, but since MPG and AC3 are pretty much the most standard codecs in the industry, there are plenty of other uses. Both of them require the latest version of DVRMSToolBox, written by my good from Andy. In fact it is what makes the entire process automatic. For both profiles, the DTB temp directory is used to create the files and then the final file is moved back to the location of the original file (in the case of the MKV AC3 files, the name is changed for obvious reasons). Until I release the rest of my process, you can create a simple “process conditioner” to automatically convert these files, or you can run them on demand with DVRMStoMPEGGUI (or queue them up manually).

The first is a very simple VOB to MPG converter. All it does is use ffmpeg to repackage the MPG and AC3 streams into an MPG container. The best way to create a vob to convert is to use something like DVDShrink to rip only the main feature and the main AC3 audio to a single vob. You can use DTS, but as you might know, in the case of Media Center DTS is not supported nativly and thus doesn’t work on extenders. To use this drop “Convert vob into mpg – ffmpeg.dpc” into “C:\Program Files\DVRMSToolbox\Profiles” and put ffmpeg.conf into “C:\Program Files\DVRMSToolbox\Applications\ConvertFfmpeg”

The second one was actually very difficult to get right and I’d still like to do some more testing. What it does is extract a DTS stream from an MKV file, then convert it to AC3 with eac3to, then finally remuxes it back to an MKV with AC3. It only retains the original video and audio streams and in fact doesn’t touch the video stream. To use it you’ll need to download eac3to and MKVtoolnix (both free). First extract the eac3to archive to “C:\Program Files\DVRMSToolbox\Applications\eac3to” and install MKVtoolnix with the isntall path of “C:\Program Files\DVRMSToolbox\Applications\MKVtoolnix\” And of course you’ll have to copy the “Convert MKV with DTS to MKV with AC3.dpc” to “C:\Program Files\DVRMSToolbox\Profiles”

Please let me know if these work for you or not, I’m really hoping to get these throughly tested before my final project is complete.

**Update** Already had to update the DTS to AC3 profile, this one should work better. Thanks Rich. 

**UPdate2** Had to update it once again because the AC3 bit rate was too high for dvr-ms files, it is now set to 448 instead of 640.