VLC 2.0 brings WTV support to Macs

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.

HBO is not worth $17 a month

January 29th, 2012

I canceled HBO today, again. I decided HBO wasn’t worth it to me after upgrading to HD back in ’04 and they continued to crop movies and normalize sound today. Despite HBO continuing this practice, HBO Go and three months free pulled me back in last year. The thing is the free months are over and while $17 a month isn’t going to make a significant impact to my budget, I just don’t use it. The movies are still unwatchable and the original programming is still too few and far between. Even with HBO promising to add 5.1 to HBO Go, I doubt I’ll ever choose to watch it over waiting and renting the Blu-rays. Ultimately it just comes down to me not seeing the value and part of that is because of the competing services from Netflix — I’m not talking about Netflix streaming wither which as far as I’m concerned is “just for he kids.” I’m talking about the Netflix tried and true disc business. For $1 more a  month than HBO charges, I get to watch 1+ new release movie a week in the greatest sound and picture quality available today, and my kids get to watch all the Hello Kitty and Thomas Trains episodes I’ll allow; on the big screen, my cell phone or our tablet. With all that, who has time to watch HBO?

My days with Windows Media Center are numbered

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.

Why Apple isn’t releasing a TV

November 13th, 2011

This was originally posted on Engadget but it was deemed  to be more appropriate here as it is more in line with my personal voice than with Engadget’s.

The internet was ablaze upon the release of the Steve Jobs’ biography about a particularly interesting quote that seemed to reveal that Apple would release a TV. This is just as exciting a proposition as it was over four years ago to smartphone users who dreamed that Apple would fix the mobile phone. But the fact is that Apple, and many others, have been trying to “fix” TV for years, and to date we are still stuck with hundreds of channels that have nothing on, a dozen remotes and a textbook example of how not to make a user interface. It seems, though, that people are ignoring another Jobs quote, from just over a year ago at All Things D, that seems to explain very plainly why Apple has yet to release anything more than a hobby.

When asked about Apple and the TV market, Jobs’ reply showed how well-versed he was in the TV industry, but the choice quote was “it’s not a problem with technology, it’s not a problem with vision, it’s a fundamental go-to-market problem.” Jobs also explains that Apple made an iPhone and the iPad instead of a TV because there wasn’t a choice, “there was no way to get it to market.” So as much as we’d like to shed the chains that are channels and grid guides, as long as the monopolies that own the wires that run into our homes control the bits that travel over them, there just isn’t a way to change TV.

Broadcast TV will never die, ever

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.

The smaller the iPad, the bigger the dock

April 14th, 2011

The Apple store didn’t have any docks when I bought my iPad 2 and a few weeks later no dice either. So I broke down and ordered it online and waited over a week. I opened the box and about fell over, I mean the thing is twice the size of the old one. It’s rock steady in it though, but man I hate to think about the size of the dock for the iPad 3.

How to reset Windows 7 Media Center

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.

Oh how people can change: Me and 3D

January 22nd, 2010

There is a lot of negativity around 3D and I feel like I’m defending it at every corner. Well my friend Mari won’t let me forget about this snarky email I sent her on March 25th of 2009 in response to a pitch for a 3D story she did on MediaExperiencestogo.com — this was after I saw the 3D presentation of the National Championship game, but before I saw Avatar and other 3D demos from Panasonic, etc.

The day they launch Engadget3D is the day I quit. Honestly there aren’t any Engadget HD editors who like 3D and it shows in our content. If you go through all our 3D related posts, you’d be hard pressed to find one that wasn’t negative. I think the most positive one was at CES when I said it wasn’t nearly as lame as I thought it would be.

As you can see, the perspective on 3D of the other Engadget HD editors and I has changed quite a bit in the past 9 months. And if we can change you can change. We can all change. It really does grow on you, I’m telling you, this 3D thing is going to be big.

Canceling cable: the failed experiment

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.

Introducing Home Automation Roundup

October 6th, 2009

Have you ever thought about getting into Home Automation, but you just aren’t sure where to start? Well you can start where I did with the great advice and knowledge of my friend Dave “Utah” Evans because he’s brought all he has to offer to the web in the way of a new blog called HARoundup.com. One of the best things about Home Automation Roundup is all the news and tips are from Utah’s perspective which is just like most of us; a computer nerd that likes gadgets and isn’t a part of the elitist Home Automation industry. So in other words he’s on a similar budget with similar expectations. I’ve waited to post this until he had a full month of blogging under his belt, so do me a favor and help me welcome him to the blogosphere my adding his RSS feed to your reader and leaving a comment on the site.