Archive for the ‘Media Center’ Category

Where are the TV apps for Windows 8 and the Xbox?

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Windows 8 and the new Xbox Dashboard are officially available and Microsoft is giving Windows Media Center to Windows 8 Pro customers for the next few months. But the more I think of it, the more I wonder if Microsoft could really be willing to let all the work it put into Media Center go to waste. I say this because I’m reminded of all the Windows 7 commercials that mentioned its ability to watch TV — was there even one that didn’t. Windows 8 and Xbox apps from Netflix, Hulu and others add obvious value to the new Windows ecosystem, but so does real TV. It seems to me — famous last words from a non-developer — that it would be trivial for Microsoft to develop and release Modern UI apps for TV. Recorded TV, Guide and Live TV tiles could be pulled over from the deprecated Media Center experience. Ported to feel right at home in the new Windows world.

These simple apps would put a new face on the years of work and that so many love. The apps would run on Windows PCs, the Xbox, Windows Phones and maybe even 3rd party devices like Roku. They would rely on the core of Media Center to schedule, record and playback premium HD obtained from your cable TV subscription via great CableCARD hardware. What they wouldn’t be is the answer for pure HTPC fans as the Modern UI is not a 10-foot interface, it’s a touchscreen interface, but that’s fine. I said it some time ago, and I still believe it, the HTPC is dead. But just because the age of connecting your PC to your TV is a dead-end, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for tuners in Microsoft’s ecosystem.

What I don’t understand is, if Microsoft was going to do this, why not do it at launch? Assuming this is all a pipe dream, I wonder if it would be possible for 3rd parties to do it? Are there documented API’s for Media Center that would enable enough access to the tuners? Can 3rd party apps leverage the Windows 8 PlayReady components that unlock protected CableCARD content?

I realize some believe that Microsoft will not invest another nickel into anything that involves broadcast TV, but I just can’t believe they are that hubris. Sure, the future is on-demand IP delivered content, but the reality today is that the majority of content is still delivered via RF broadcast. And even when the day does come where more content is on-demand than linear, it still won’t make sense to ditch broadcast completely as there is no more efficient way to deliver events like the Super Bowl to 30 million people, at the same time, than to broadcast it — do you really believe that enabling multicast throughout the internet is more plausible than just continuing to use RF broadcasts?

VLC 2.0 brings WTV support to Macs

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

Use a Windows 7 Media Center to record TV, but you also own a Mac? Then go ahead and download VLC 2.0 as soon as you can. As far as I know, VLC 2.0 is the only Mac app that supports Media Center’s WTV file format. The pervious version definitely supported dvr-ms, but when Microsoft upgraded the default recorded TV format to WTV with Windows 7, it left Mac users with no choice but to convert recordings in order to play them back. VLC 2.0 easily played back my recordings perfectly, but one thing that was missing is the metadata (show name is displayed as ‘en-us’) and the closed captions didn’t seem to work either. Regardless, this is a great way to catch up on your favorite shows while you travel, if you happen to travel with a Mac.

My days with Windows Media Center are numbered

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

With Microsoft shifting Media Center to a legacy product, I too will be moving on soon. Looking back, Windows Media Center has had a good run in my house. It served my input-one well on every TV in my house for almost four years, something no other DVR has ever managed to do — I had the original HD DirecTiVo for just over two years and a couple of Series3 TiVos for about a year and a half. What’s sad is that even after four years, no other DVR manufacturer has surpassed it in my eyes, yet. I do suspect that is about to change, hence this post, but I’m not sure if it’ll be DirecTV’s new HR34 or a TiVo Elite and a couple of TiVo Previews.

What’s motivating me to change:

  • A supported two-way IP control interface with documented API
  • A great iPad app for DVR management and content discovery
  • Remote scheduling
  • Reliability
Media Center features that I can’t live without:
  • An enjoyable and attractive user experience
  • True whole home DVR functionality
  • At least 4 tuners
  • At least 1TB of disk space
  • Access to premium HD content
Honestly, I’m leaning towards TiVo because although the HD UI might not ever be completed, the focus on the discovery of new content appeals to me. In addition, it means I can keep FiOS TV which I’m a fan of its package prices and superior picture quality (when compared to DirecTV). On the other hand, DirecTV works with RVU TVs, integrates DirecTV VOD and is already shipping (no Preview, no dice). At the same time I don’t care for DirecTV’s “lease” model and would prefer to just buy the hardware — at least I know what I’m getting.
It really is sad because I do think the user interface experience is superior on Media Center, but in the end dependability and new features trump it.

Broadcast TV will never die, ever

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

While there’s certainly no doubt that the future of TV is about to change more drastically then it ever has in the past 80 or so years, one thing that won’t change is the need to broadcast programming to millions of viewers at the same time. Lets stop there for a second though and clarify exactly what the word broadcast really means in the context of this post; to send media to many people at the exact same time. Think; major sporting events, breaking world impacting news or even the latest episode of the hottest reality TV show. Sure some would rather watch everything on their schedule, but most seem to prefer to watch certain events “as they happen.” So as long as millions prefer to watch some programming at the same time, there will be a need for broadcast TV, because even if the technology to send millions of individual streams existed, it wouldn’t make economical sense.

So when Microsoft shares its vision of the future of TV on its official blog and completely neglects to mention the most popular way to enjoy content today, it just really makes me wonder what they are smoking. Sure “All the entertainment you want, with the people you care about, made easy” sounds great, but without the Superbowl and other live events, it won’t ever be “all the entertainment” anyone wants.

I do believe that the Xbox Dashboard is closer to the future of TV than anything Comcast, Verizon or DirecTV is showing, but have to question any solution that doesn’t include broadcast TV. And I’m not saying that Media Center is the solution either, because as much as I love it, I know it isn’t for everyone. And of course it doesn’t deliver all the content I want either, but at least it includes the most important content.

How to reset Windows 7 Media Center

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

This is the darker side of Windows Media Center, the side that exposes you’re using a PC for a DVR. But it’s also the type of thing you can fix yourself pretty easily if you know how.

You know how it goes though, everything starts snappy and responsive and then months later you’re wondering exactly what plug-in you installed that made everything seemingly slow down. So you check your overall system health and then disable or uninstall all the plug-ins that might be to blame. But then what? If none of that works, how do you restore your system to its original glory without punting on 1st down (re-installing Windows)?

Luckily Windows 7 Media Center is pretty easy to reset and get back to where you were — sans the bad parts. This won’t take you an hour and the hardest part is setting up your custom guide settings. The best part is your scheduled recordings can be restored easily.

One last thing before we get started. Use at your own risk! This worked for me, but might not for you.

Start by stopping all the Media Center services like
Media Extender Service and Windows Media Center Receiver Service.

Then open task manager and kill all the processes that start with eh.

Now you should be able to move all the content of the hidden folder C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\eHome\ to a safe place. (you’ll need the contents later to restore your scheduled recordings. You can use mcBackup to ensure you have the files you need, but the eHome directory still needs to be empty to reset Media Center.)

Reboot (you might be able to start the services here, didn’t try).

Launch Media Center and re-run live tv setup. After all your tuners are configured, setup your custom channel lineup manually.

After you have the guide the way you like it, dig into the eHome files you moved and sort by date finding the newest mcepg*-* folder. Inside there you’ll find a backup folder and in there a recordings directory. Sorting that folder by date will reveal the newest backup. (If the time stamp got reset you can look at the name which is year,month,day_hour,seconds).

Now open a cmd prompt and run this command replacing the location of your backup file. Or restore your recordings with mcBackup.

“C:\Windows\ehome\loadmxf.exe –i C:\Users\MC\Documents\eHome\mcepg2-3\backup\recordings\20100529_091633”

Finally launch Media Center and go to Settings>TV>Guide>Get Latest Guide Listings
A dialog will let you know they’re downloading and later another when the download is complete. Now go to Scheduled Recordings all your shows should be listed.

This worked perfectly for me and documenting the process took longer than the process itself. Best of all most of my Media Center settings were intact as well as all my plugins I wanted to keep. And my guide loads quickly, an undeleteable Recordings is gone and Media Center doesn’t take forever to launch anymore.

On a personal note, sorry for such long periods between posts. It isn’t that I’ve been really busy as much as that I’ve been preoccupied with personal things that I haven’t shared — like the fact that I’m trying to become debt free which means I don’t have any new gadgets to write about and the fact that I’m four months through six months of physical therapy after having knee surgery.

Canceling cable: the failed experiment

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Last April I told you about how I canceled cable and was living on over-the-air HD and Blu-ray Discs for my families HD needs. At the time my plan was to add cable in time for football season. It was a great plan and it kind of worked, but I did fail to consider one thing; at Engadget I write about cable related technologies. My first clue was actually not long after my post here about my first 90 days of success when Digeo sent me a Moxi HD DVR for review. At that point my plan was to add the service back in order to do the review and then to cancel it again, but that turned out to be too much of a pain since Verizon requires I send the CableCARD back when I cancel, which of course means another truck roll the next time I need service. But despite this I was still prepared to call and cancel right after CES, but by the time I got back I realized that in the next six months there would be at least three or four new CableCARD devices I’d like to review, so I decided to give up on the idea.

The bottom line is that I love me some football in HD, so I can’t ever see myself going without cable year round, and with the hassle involved in canceling and signing back up, the $327 a year ($62 for 7 months minus $110 savings for signing a contract) I’d save just isn’t worth it — not to mention I plan to expense the majority of the cost to offset my blogging income. I suspect for many it just isn’t worth it either. Sure there is lots of content out there available via other legal means, but the bottom line is that when it comes down to it, cable really isn’t that bad of a deal considering all the HD viewing options you get for the price.

How to tell an Xbox 360 is a Jasper

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Although the 360 has pretty much looked the same since its launch, Microsoft has actually changed the core a few times and the latest chipset is code named Jasper. To you and me what this really means is that it works just like the older 360 but with less power, noise and fewer incidents of RRoD — in theory.

Since the Jasper model looks identical to the older 360 you have to know what to look for to tell you have/are buying one. There are a few ways to identify it, but the most dependable is to look at the power requirements, which are printed on the serial number sticker on the back. While the older models required 14.2 amps, the Jasper only draws 12.1 amps. Now the great news is that you can actually see this sticker without opening the box by looking through the hole for the barcode sticker.

First look through this hole.


This is a falcon, notice it is labeled 14.2 amps.


This is the Jasper, it is labeled 12.1 amps.


These pictures were from an older Engadget post.

According to my kill-a-watt, the Jasper 360 only uses 90 watts while in Media Center mode, while the Falcon uses about 108. It is noticeably quieter than the Falcon as well, but still not silent enough to be in my home theater. The PSU makes some of the noise and the Jasper will work with the older PSU or a newer one (the newer one won’t work on the Falcon). Not sure if there is any way to tell which PSU is included when you buy it, but the one I bought had the older style PSU.

I’ll be honest. Part of the reason I wrote this was because I went looking for this information today and couldn’t easily find it via Google. So I figured I’d Google juice the title and drive traffic while at the same time help those in need find this information. And besides, it’s been way to long since I wrote anything here.

How to make sure you have a ligit copy of Windows 7

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

With all the news today about the Windows 7 botnet, it’s a good idea to know how to verify you got a legit iso. No matter where you downloaded the iso, it is a good idea to verify the file has not been tampered with and is is reallly easy to check verify with the MD5  hash.

First download md5sum.exe and grab the MD5 hash from Microsoft’s site. To save you the trouble I’ll post the x86 hash here, but you should always get it when you are downloading a file. 8867C13330F56A93944BCD46DCD73590

Now simply call md5sum from the command line using just the iso as an argument, and after a few minutes it should spit out the same hash. 


Pretty easy huh?

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.

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