Archive for the ‘Media Center’ Category

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.

A cheap and easy fix to HDHomeRun network issues

Monday, March 30th, 2009

I’ve loved my HDHomeRun for as long as the product has been on the market, but never really used it heavily until I switched to Media Center about a year ago. Well ever since, from time to time I’ve experienced network issues that have caused less than perfect picture quality — drop outs, blocking, breakups etc. I’ve spent countless hours troubleshooting this and most of the time it ended up being the driver for my Intel 82566DC-2 network adapter. At one point I even spent some money to replace my switch since the NIC refused to auto-negotiate to 100/full with the 16 port Netgear switch I was using. Well for whatever reason the issues came back over the weekend and I finally threw in the towel and did what I should’ve done a long time a go.

The simple solution
I went down to CompUSA — yes they still have them in Tampa — and picked up a $14 NIC. I threw it into a spare PCI slot (you can use a USB NIC if you want) and plugged the HDHR directly into it. The cool thing is that I didn’t even need a crossover cable, in fact all I had to do was rerun the HDHR setup utility to rediscover the location of the device. And thanks to the beauty of APIPA — you know that 169.254.x.x address — I didn’t even have to set an IP on the NIC or configure an IP for the HDHR. 

Now my picture quality is back to the perfect and my only regret is that I didn’t just break down and do this earlier. So if you are having problems with your HDHomeRun, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw an extra NIC in your PC and at the very least isolate the problem.

Plagiarism or coincidence? You decide

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Just ran across this post today at one of my favorite sites, The Digital Lifesyle, and at first I was thrilled to see somoene appreciate the hard work Warren, Andy, and I put into automatically converting mkv files to dvr-ms. But then after reading through the entire post I noticed that nor my name or Engadget’s was anywhere to be found. Now maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but it seems like too much of a coincidence for this not to be a derivative work. Now I’m accustomed to being ripped off online, but usually it is some hack site and not a reputable place like Ian’s site.


Ian was very responsive to my concerns and has pulled the post — but yet the link still works. Never the less,  the original author has added credit to his post on his blog, but in a way that seems half-hearted to me. But perhaps that is because the intent of his comment was lost in the British to American translation.

The Whisper fan for the Xbox 360 is not silent

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Not sure what Extremetech was thinking after they installed their Whisper fan for the Xbox 360 when they asked if the fan was even on? Who knows maybe they are deaf, all I can tell you is that for me it was a waste of time. The 360 might be a little quieter, but lets face it, for $25 I expected it to be silent from across the room. Luckily it was easy to install and kind of fun — the Extremetech instructions were good, but I’d add to use a hair dryer to heat up the tamper sticker so you don’t have to cut it. I hope that the new fan at least moves more air like it is supposed to so maybe it’ll run cooler, that way it’ll do something other than light up blue.

Either way because this didn’t fix the problem I’m going to have to move the 360 into my closet. This isn’t a big deal since I don’t change games much anyways and have a Blu-ray player for movies, but it is disappointing.

How I use Windows Media Center

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

After about 10 months of using Windows Media Center I decided to look back at how I use it. I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the feature I actually use is the very same feature that motivated me to start using it in the first place. That’s right, out of everything it’ll do, for the most part I just use it as a DVR. The problem is that although it has a nice enough interface for listening to music, watching misc vidoes and looking at pictures, these features aren’t useful to me.

Music and Photos
These Media Center components actually work pretty nice, the problem is that my content lives in an Apple ecosystem. Sure you can just copy over your pictures and music, but you lose all your playlists, metadata, etc. There are some 3rd party applications to help integrate iTunes with Media Center, but to someone who also ownes an Apple TV, it just doesn’t make sense. So whenever I want to look at pictures or listen to music I switch inputs to the Apple TV — to my wife this means hitting the blue button on the remote.

This is the most useless of all Media Center features. Luckily most of the reasons why it is useless are resolved in Windows 7, but just to cover the highlights. The fact that you can’t resume videos, and even worse you can’t fast forward or rewind — only skip — makes it completely unusalbe. And then there is the folder fiasco. I mean why is it so hard to limit the folders that show up here. Do people really what to see the sample folders etc? I know I don’t.

I really only have one add-in that I use on a regular basis and that is mControl. And even with it, I have like 20 things I don’t like about it. Overall the worst thing about add-ins is how difficult it is to add the shortcuts to the main menu. But even once you get in, most of the add-ins feel very tacked on, and I find that programmers don’t seem to like Media Center’s UI as they try their best to not look like it. The most popular add-in for most is My Movies and although I could see it being useful if I still watched DVDs, the cover-art is way too small. And where are the good (free) weather apps? I just don’t understand why there aren’t more great add-ins.

The DVR rocks!
I can’t say enough great things about the way the DVR works though. I have a few complaints, but overall it is very enjoyable and so much better than TiVo. One thing is for sure, the thing is rock solid — when I haven’t broken something. I don’t think I’ve missed one recording because of a malfunction in the past 10 months.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. In my household you don’t watch TV without watching it on Media Center. I have my home automation system setup so that when someone hits the power button on my Media Center remote the TV turns on to the correct input, the AVR turns on to the correct input and the Media Center goes to the Recorded TV screen. So it is a true one button, on one remote setup. I use the same remote in every room of the house and it functions the exact same way. From a user’s perspective the only difference is that Blu-ray and Apple TV re limited to the main room. Provided I don’t mess with it — a big if — it is very dependable. 

I look forward to the features in Windows 7 and hope to see other competitors give Media Center a run for its money, but as it stands now when it comes to the ultimate DVR experience for the home, it is Media Center and by a long shot.

How to reliably control the Xbox 360 with discrete IR codes

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Anyone who’s tried to control an Xbox 360 with a programmable remote or home automation system probably know how hard it is. I mean, I’ve been playing with this stuff for about six years and never in my life have I seen a device act so odd. The two main things I noticed was that sometimes it won’t respond to any codes at all until some obscure button is pressed. But the worst is that Microsoft doesn’t provide discrete IR codes and the ones that can be found online aren’t really discrete. What I mean to say is that the discrete ‘on’ works to turn the system on until you either turn the 360 off with the remote or the button on the front, and then from that point forward it is a discrete ‘off’ code. Which really defeats the entire point of having discrete IR codes. 

Well luckily, I was persistent and after lots of reading online I found the solution. I found this post on Remote Central and to my surprise it actually works. What you do is create two macros, one for on and another of off, using two separate commands each. Here are pronto hex codes. 

Power On Macro
0000 0072 0000 0021 0062 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 0020 002F 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 0020 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 000F 000F 0981
(Power On)
0000 0073 0000 0020 0060 0020 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0020 0010 0020 0031 0020 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0020 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0020 0020 0020 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0020 0020 0020 0020 0020 0020 0010 09C1

Here are the two commands to issue for off.

Power Off Macro
0000 0072 0022 0022 0062 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 0020 002F 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 0020 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 000F 000F 0981 0062 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 0020 002F 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0012 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 0020 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 000F 000F 000F 0020 000F 000F 000F 0981
(Power Off)
0000 0073 0000 001F 0060 0020 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0020 0010 0020 0031 0020 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0020 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0020 0020 0010 0010 0010 0010 0020 0020 0020 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0010 0020 0020 0020 0020 0010 0010 0020 09D1

Now to my surprise these not only turn the 360 on and off reliably, but to top it off, it responds correctly to the other IR commands without any other funny business.

I don’t know how estech from the Remote Central forums figured this out, but I’d really like to thank him for saving me some hair — now if only my new fans from would get here.

Xbox 360 arrived, got bit by the Seagate 1TB bug

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

I was very happy to finally get my Xbox 360 so I could move my Media Center PC into the office. My UPS guy comes really late so by the time I got it and had a chance to set everything up, it was after 8 o’clock. Tuesday is a big recording night for us — my wife mostly — so I had to put off moving the XPS until after 11 when all the recordings were done. So I shut it down and moved it to the already prepared location, hooked it up to my Apple Cinema display — which just seems wrong — and turned it on. And would’nt you know it, it wouldn’t boot. Long story short, I got bit by the Seagate 1TB 7200.11 bug. To make matters worse I couldn’t even detect the drive to do the firmware update. So who knows how long it will take to RMA it and there goes all my recordings. For now I can record on my other drive, but with only 200GB of free space, it isn’t going to get me very far. I should’ve known better than to mess with computers when it was time to bed because everything was all said and done I got to sleep after 1am.

As for using the 360 as an extender, so far so good. I was able to find some discrete IR codes for on and off. Unfortunately as I suspected the fans are too loud, even when in the furniture, so I went ahead and ordered these replacements. I’ll let you know how that swap goes when I get it in. I find it hilarious that the fans were only $25, but the tools to replace them were $12. Oh well, $50 is a small price to pay for some peace and quiet while I watch TV. I also hook the 360 up to my kill-a-watt and was surprised to see that it draws over 100 watts while watching TV, which just seems crazy.

Overall I’m happy, I can finally easily turn off the overscan, I get my closet back, I can now tweak my Media Center from the comfort of my office chair and there isn’t a keyboard or mouse anywhere near my living room.

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.

For Sale: two ATI Digital Cable Tuners (CableCARD)

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

When I realized how much money I was wasting on pay TV, I decided to cancel FiOS after football season and go all OTA and Blu-ray via Netflix. And although I plan to add it back when football season comes around again, because technology changes so fast I’m going to go ahead and sell the tuners now and just buy ’em again when needed — assuming something better doesn’t come out by then.

So I have two like-new ATI Digital Cable Tuners that I’d like $200 for, each. I was just going to put them on eBay but figured someone I know might want them and prefer to buy them from someone they know. I have all the original accessories and box which I will of course include. It goes without saying that these will only work with an OEM Digital Cable Ready PC, but if you want to figure out how to hack the firmware, I’ll let you try the product key that came with my XPS 420 (not for sale).

UPDATE, I sold both of these already.

I don’t believe a word that DirecTV says

Friday, December 12th, 2008

If there is one thing I’ve learned about DirecTV over the past three years of blogging is that the PR department has no problem “stretching” the truth in an attempt to improve the image of its company — big surprise, I know. This was never more true then during the DirecTV press conference at CES 2007 where the “100 HD channel” announcement was born. We all know now that this promise was never realized during 2007 and that in some ways it can be argued that it isn’t even true today.

Then there was the entire “HD Lite” fiasco where we at Engdaget got our friend Rômulo Pontual on the record as saying DirecTV had the best quality HD — this was pre-MPEG4 mind you — and that anyone who said different wasn’t actually judging the quality with their own eyes, ha!

So with this in mind it should be no surprise that I don’t believe the recent official suspension announcement about the unofficial HDPC-20 project (also attributed to Romulu). I’m not saying that DirecTV never suspended the project, I’m just saying that it was probably suspended for a half a day while the developers went home early for Thanksgiving. I mean if it was really canceled then why not say canceled? Why say it was suspended with no window of how long. This really just continues the trend of the lack of communication between DirecTV and its customers when it comes to this project.

I predict that there is no real suspension at all, and that in fact the HDPC-20 will be released right along side Windows 7 during 2009, an that the only reason for this “official” communication is to reduce the expectations of the community after the recent eHome labs tour debacle. I believe this is nothing more than damage control from that incident, and a very poor attempt at that.