Saturday, September 01, 2007

Control Your HTPC with your iPhone or Smartphone

Snapstream's latest beta release of Beyond TV (version 4.7) was officially announced last night. One unique feature included in this version is a cool new feature they call the Firefly Nano (named after their Firefly Remote for HTPC's) for those of you who have an iPhone or SmartPhone. For no additional cost over the standard BTV license fee you can control your Beyond TV with your iPhone or SmartPhone just as you can with your remote control. It connects over the internet the same way BeyondTV's WebAdmin does (read more about BTV webadmin here). Note this is to remote control your Beyond TV only - no playback actually happens on your phone.
This is a screen-shot of the actual screen on your SmartPhone/iPhone

This is a screen-shot of the remote library screen. Here you will see the listings of all the shows you have recorded on Beyond Tv. You can select a show here to start playback of the selected show.

For more on the new 4.7 public beta version of BeyondTV, read this article.

Subscribe to this blogs RSS feed here

BeyondTV 4.7 Public Beta Released

Snapstream officially announced the latest public beta of Beyond TV 4.7.1 last night.

There are several improvements and some very nice new features for this latest version of BeyondTV including:

  1. Faster HDHomeRun Tuner - QAM tuning with Beyond TV and the HDHomeRun is now much faster. Before there was a delay when you first started a QAM channel. Now with a setting change in the BTV webadmin, starting liveTV and changing channels for QAM channels are significantly improved.

  2. Auto Load Shows to iTunes - As Snapstream mentioned on their blog, this might help out those people who were relying on iTunes to get their NBC programming (no longer available on iTunes) You can now showSqueeze to h.264 (this is for all of those Apple iPods and other Apple devices) including a podcast rss feed for iTunes. From the release notes "For you non-apple fanbois, we've also included a 1280x720p h.264 profile that you can send your hd content to and save a ton of space whilst still looking good." Note this is a paid plugin packaged with the DVD Burning plugin (if you already have the DVD burning plugin, you'll get this feature also).

  3. Pool multiple Hard Drives as one - Snapstream calls this feature "drive pooling: Pool several hard drives as one so Say Beyond TV can manage and distribute recordings between each of the drives. It's simple and you can set it and forget it.

  4. Beyond TV Link DVD Burning - you can now burn DVD's right from the 10-foot BTV interface on your extender (Link) manchine. This feature has been available for the BTV server machine but until now you couldn't add this plugin on the BTV/extender machine. Note: This will be a fee-based plugin)

  5. iPhone or Smartphone Remote Control your BeyondTV - Snapstream is calling this feature the firefly nano (named after their firefly HTPC remote). I have more detail on the Firefly nano feature in this post.

  6. Automatic Community Recordings. In other words, it will take the top shows from other Beyond TV users (Beyond TV Buzz) and will then schedule them at the lowest priority on your BTV machine.

  7. Multiple usb-uirt support - use and manage multiple USB-UIRT's with one Beyond TV machine.

  8. Xbox 360 Streaming fix: Showsqueezed wmv files can now be set as type "video" for your 360 to be able to stream them. This setting is in the Web Admin under advanced settings -> Miscellaneous Settings.

  9. You can now set "record at this timeslot" to set up a show to record only at a certain time slot.

There are more improvements included as well, but those are the bigger ones. This is a fairly significant release so anyone with Beyond TV will want to upgrade when it goes public. If you can't wait and would like to help do the final beta testing, you can join the beta testing group here.

No integration of Beyond Media features with this one, but here's hoping it is released with the 5.0 version that must be coming before to awful long.

Subscribe to the RSS feed of this blog here

Friday, August 31, 2007

Last Day for free TV Guide for MythTV GBPVR and MediaPortal

As I've mentioned before, tomorrow is D-Day for those of you who use MythTV, Media Portal and GBPVR along with Zap2It Labs free TV guide data. Beginning September 1st (TOMORROW), Zap2it Labs will cease offering the free TV guide data those HTPC programs have been relying on (Note: this doesn't affect Snapstream BTV, Sage TV or MCE users as those software companies already pay for their guide service).

Here are your options as of today:

Option 1: Schedules Direct is a newly formed, non-profit organization that provides raw U.S./Canadian tv listing data to Free and Open Source Applications. Those applications then use the data to provide things like PVR functionality, search tools, and private channel grids.
The cost of the service is currently US$15/3 months with a 7 day trial payable via paypal. Thier plans are to lower the price by the end of the term, so recurring subscriptions are not yet offered.
The data is provided under license by Tribune Media Services.

Option 2: CTPVR is a maker of a lesser-known pvr software that is now offering a TV Listings xml feed for Free and Open Source Applications. Their pricing is $3.50 for monthly plan or $30.00 for a one year prepaid plan that comes to $2.50 per month. I hadn't heard of this one until Brad Linder at TVSquad mentioned it last week.

Option 3: Screen Scrape - There are some who are trying to screen-scrape from one of the following services websites: Zap2It, TitanTV, Yahoo, TVGuide. There are a few problems with this, first you're likely violating the Terms of Service for the website that you're scraping. Secondly, any change in formating on the site you are screen-scraping from will break the feed which is annoying to say the least. Another problem is that once many users start scraping a web page every day it can put a drain on the website and likely will cause that website administrator to fight the scrapers.

Option 4: Use the EIT. In the USA, EIT data is supposed to contain at least 12 hours of accurate data for the digital stations. Only a few broadcasters provide anything more than that, and some broadcasters don't even provide the legally required EIT data.

If you don't like paying for the guide by-the-month, you could always give one of the commercial Home Theater PC software makers a try. I use Snapstream's Beyond TV myself, but there is also SageTV or if you're a glutton for Vista punishment, you could use MCE.

MySpace Music Still Being Downloaded

Here we go again. Last week I posted about a website that offered a way to find and download songs from Myspace for free - you know the music that was meant to be streamed (not downloaded) on MySpace pages. Well after posting about that site, that site was taken down before the day was over.

I had a comment to that post mention that there was another site that was up that allowed you to do the same thing. This one is called MySpaceGrab and to use it you fill in the MySpace URL for a particular artist, click the "grab" button and it lists all of the songs available by name.

To download a song, you then right-click on the song name and select save link as.

Here's a screenshot of the website after searching for Fergie.

The site is up right now, but lets see how long it lasts. Honestly, sites like these really make artists less likely to use the web to promote their music for fear of their music being stolen. For me most songs on MySpace are small, 96KBPS files so not good enough quality for me.
The site can be found at

Flickr Hack - Post an Image in the Comments

Here's a quick and easy flickr tip. If you use flickr like I do, you likely comment on others photos from time to time. If you want to add an image along with your comments here is how to do it:
  1. Find the photo in your flickr stream that you want to post in the comments
  2. Select the "all sizes" button
  3. Select one of the smaller sizes, I use thumbnail or small so it fits in the comments nicely
  4. Go to the lower half of the photo page where it says "copy & paste this HTML into your webpage:"
  5. Now select the code that shows below the "copy & paste" note.
  6. Simply past the code into the comment. You can also add text in the comment of course.
Thats it. You can use this method to add a photo from flickr to a blog or website that accepts html code also.

Here are some other Flickr-related Hacks Highlighted on this Blog:
Show All of your Flickr Contacts on one Page

Custom Flickr Search for your site

Roll Your Own Flickr

Flexible Flickr Search Engine PiciShare

Four Ways to Track Statistics on Flickr

So you don't miss any future tips, subscribe to this Blog's RSS Feed by Clicking HERE

Monitor Your Network through-put for Free

If you are running Windows XP and need to know how much throughput (speed and amount of data moving through the network) your network is experiencing, you can use the performance monitor that comes will all Windows XP installs.

Here's how:
  1. Select Start>Run
  2. Type in perfmon and Performance Monitor will start up
  3. Select System Monitor From the menu on the left of the screen
  4. With your mouse, right-click on the graph and select "add counters"
  5. In the "add counters" dialog box, from the Performance Object dropdown menu select "network interface"
  6. Then select the "select counters from list" dialog button and then select
  7. Now select the Network Interface Card you want to monitor (the one hooked up to your network of course)
  8. Select the counters ( bytes/sec etc) you want and select the "add" button.

That's it. You can use this same Performance Monitor to monitor many other things on your PC. Play around with it and make it graph what you want it to. It makes a great troubleshooting tool without the need to install anything additional.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tetris for Geography: United States, Europe and Africa Versions of Statetris

Here's another teacher tech article for you. If you are teaching or learning geography and want a fun, easy way to learn there is a web game called Statetris that is a simple cross between Tetris and name-that-state (or country for the Europe and Africa versions). Here's a screenshot of the U.S. version:
And a shot of the Africa Version:
This won't surprise my non-U.S. friends - we Americans stink at geography - especially beyond the U.S. I for one need some practice on the Africa and even the Europe versions. Matter of fact, I would guess many of my American readers would even have some trouble with the Canadian and Mexico versions (if there were these versions) of this type of game.

DIY Underwater Camera Housing for Under $50

Here's a how-to on making your own underwater housing for your digital camera or camcorder - all for under fifty dollars!

He used an igloo insulated water jug, a sheet of plexiglass, PVC fitting, metal door handles and some other misc. parts to make a very impressive container that allows you to use your camera or camcorder underwater. I'm so impressed, I might just have to try this myself.

His instructable is very detailed with a ton of photos and a description of each step. He even made a few videos using the housing for demonstration such as this one:

A very nice job indeed.

Integrate Your Netflix Queue with your HTPC

At home I run all of my TV, DVD, Music etc all through my Home Theater PC (HTPC). One of the latest tricks I've been doing with my HTPC setup is to integrate Netflix into the setup. In particular, I use a Beyond TV add-on that monitors my Netflix Queue (my list of movies to be rented) for movies and TV shows on DVD that are also available through cable TV. This allows me to record a movie instead of using my netflix to rent that movie. This way I only rent those dvd movies that I can't get through tv.
First a little background on the plugin. The plugin that enables this Netflix Integration is called BTV Negociator and was developed by Chez Foncuer on the snapstream forums. Back in 2005, Fonceur developed this powerful plugin to provide a more advanced conflict resolution for upcoming recordings. The original goal of the add-on was to help prevent missing recordings due to conflicts, but it has morphed into something more then that. This plugin has so many different features it will take several posts here to review them all. I'll start with one of my favorite features - Netflix Queue integration.

What do I mean by Netflix integration? Lets say you want to review the current Top 100 or Top 25 lists at NetFlix for some suggestions of movies to record? If you have an Netflix account you can also enter your Netflix ID and review your queue and review for any of those movies/shows that are coming up on your tv/cable network.

Here's how to get started:

First, Log into Netflix. At the bottom of the page, you'll see several hyperlinks like the ones below. Select RSS
This will open up the Personalized Feeds Page on Netflix. Here cut and past your Netflix ID#. This number will begin with P and then have a sequence of numbers behind the P. For instance, the ID# below is P161635. Copy this number - next we'll use it in the plugin.
For example purposes I have a screenshot of my queue with the movie Jaws in the Queue. I selected this movie for demonstration purposes knowing it is showing on my cable network within the next week.

Now download BTV Negociator from the Snapstream Forums. Here you will find more information on installing and it's additional features. There are also some help documents on Fonceur's website here.

Now that you have BTV Negociator (BTVN) installed, select the browser tab at the top of BTVN and then Netflix tab on the middle left of BTVN.

First Past your Netflix ID# (the one we cut from the Netflix page above) and select search. By default it searches for movies in your netflix queue and lists them on the page. Even if you aren't a netflix subscriber you can search for the top 100 or any of the other RSS lists using this BTVN page.
Once you search for your Queue, Top 100 list etc., BTVN will check to see if any of the listed movies are upcoming movies on your Beyond TV guide. If it finds any possible matches, it highlights them in green like Jaws is below.
If you would like to record that movie, you select Jaws with your mouse and then right click to get another menu that allows you to record the movie
Once you select record, it will set up Beyond TV to record that movie. One possible improvement planned is for the recording part of this process to be automatic. You would just set it up once and it works, but for now it is a great additional feature for me to get the most out of both Netflix as well as my HTPC.

The add-on is freeware, but the author, Fonceur does accept donations. If you use the software, I encourage you to send him beer money for his continued work on this great add-on. For the BeyondTV readers of this blog, I'll highlight a few other features of this great add-on in the near future.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Visualize iTunes Top 100 with iTunes TreeMap

Today I was searching for a website with information about the iTunes Top100 by genre. I could have just opened up iTunes to see this, but I was looking for something more. What I found was a Treemap that tracks the iTunes Top 100 songs as they move up and down the charts - updated daily.

On the treemap, each square represents a song. You can view song details by moving your mouse over each square on the map. Clicking on a song allows you listen to the track, purchase the track or view other information in iTunes.

The map default setting organizes by Genre, but you can switch it to organize by chart position as well. The size of each song's square represents either the songs chart position or the # of days in the top 100. The color of the song's square represents the 24 Hr Change in Chart Position. Songs moving up the charts appear Dark Orange and songs moving down the charts appear Dark Blue. There are further customizations you can make such as focusing on songs moving up (or down) in the charts, but I think you get the general idea of this tool. Its a pretty cool way of checking out the top 100 iTunes music.

This Treemap was built by the Hive Group as a demo of their companies mapping information capabilities. Check out the iTunes TreeMap at the Hive Group.

Camera Hack: Disposable Camera Fisheye Creation

Loren Lloyd has created a fisheye lens hack with a cheap, disposable camera and a not-so-cheap fisheye lens. Quite ingenious.
Found on Flickr

Here's a photo he took with a fisheye lens:

Funny Story From the Past: Self Driving Car Next Year?

Just two years ago, Engadget had a big story about the GM Self Driving Car that would be launched in 2008. The story hit the front page of and created a bunch of buzz. Problem is, it isn't going to happen in 2008 at least. I'm guessing its probably because of incompatabilities between the Vista Operating System and the drivers..... Okay that was uncalled for, but it's just funny to see how crazy press releases like this make such big news and then are never discussed again.

Now it looks like VW has some sort of self-driving car that is actually being tested. If you're interested, check out this video (Note: You'll have to put up with some cheezy video hosts, but they actually are demonstrating a working self-driving car):

Either way, I'm not too excited about anyone letting a computer do the driving for you. I love computers and all, but still don't trust them in a real-life situation unless its a really expensive computer running the show and even still...

Build Your Own Arcade Game Seat

I know many of my readers enjoy home gaming including Xbox, Playstation, Wii etc. There are many others who share my love of the old arcade games and have built MAME machines to emulate those old arcade games. I'm still in the research phase of my MAME arcade project, but in the meantime, I've stumbled upon several really nice do-it-yourself gaming seats. What do I mean by gaming seats? Well you've probably seen some of those sit-on-the-floor seats sold for use with home game machines like the Xbox360 etc. Here is a collection of really cool airplane and racing cockpits and just plain old gaming-specific seats.

For starters you could build a Logitech Driving Force PRO Steering Wheel Mount like this one

There is a great website on how this racing wheel mount was made HERE

Here's a Racing Cockpit Built to use with games on the Playstation such as Gran Turismo 3. He used the Logitech Driving Force steering wheel and built his own racing cockpit. Read more about how this Racking Cockpit was built - lots of photos and information.

Here's another Racing Game Chair built by the guys at Toolmonger with a $380 welder. It turned out pretty nice

For something a little different, we have a Force Feedback Simulator
This one is complete with a tilting platform and even a cupholder! It's a pretty cool project so check it out at InventGeek

A True Racing Simulator
This one seems to be a bit more then just a game, but it's really cool .

Joyrider - made for flight simulations it enables you to feel the responsiveness and balance with full motion range, has a progressive stick resistance and has lots of controller options. This is a popular ones among the flight simulator fans.

If you just want to buy a gaming chair, you might want to check out this one. It's a simulator as much as a gaming chair.

If you're really serious about making your own arcade game seat. Check out RaceSimCentral. They have some great ideas and examples of projects that have been done by others.
If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to this blogs feed

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Netflix Hack - Find Watch Now Movies You Were Going To Rent Anyway

This one isn't as much of a hack as it is a feature of the Netflix Watch-Now (now called watch-instantly) website. Netflix will monitor for movies you have in your queue to see if any of them are currently available with the free streaming, Netflix Watch-Now selection.

For instance, I had the movie, "The Good German" in my Queue for movies I wanted to rent from Netflix. When I went to the Watch-Now page on Netflix, It showed me that "The Good German" movie was available on watch-now as you can see from the screen-shot below.
If you're like me and have a Home Theater PC hooked up to your television, this is a great way to get more out of your Netflix subscription.

More Netflix-Related Articles:
Netflix Watch Now Hacked - Rip Movies from Watch Now
Why Netflix has already won the DVD Rental War
Complete list of all Netflix Watch-Now Movies
Renting Movies from a Vending Machine
Beat Netflix Throttle
Netflix Watch-Now Mini-Review

Also be sure to check out the excellent Hacking Netflix Blog to keep up with news and tips regarding Netflix

How To Embed YouTube and Google Video into Powerpoint

Today I have two different methods to embed a YouTube or Google Video into your PowerPoint presentation.

The first one uses Keepvid to obtain the video and then converts the video into a compatible video format for use in PowerPoint.
Read How to use this method to embed YouTube or Google Video HERE

Another way to do this is to just change the URL that Google gives you a little and then import it right into PowerPoint. Here's a video that shows you how to do it.

Read More on How To Edit and Add Video Clips to PowerPoint HERE

CableCard Rules relaxed: Big News for Home Theaters?

I bring what I think is huge news for Home Theater PC (HTPC) owners everywhere. As reported by Ars Technica, there is now an approved DRM method that allows encrypted cable TV to be recorded and streamed in the house. I know news with the acronym DRM isn't typically received as good news in any case, but bear with me here. From the Ars Technica article:
"Here's what consumers will get: they will be able to move content across
their home networks for viewing on devices that aren't attached to a set-top
box. That will include PCs as well as portable devices, and high-definition and
video-on-demand programming will be covered by DTCP-IP."
Why does this matter? Right now, encrypted TV shows can only be played on the same VISTA, CableCard PC that makes the recording. It can't be streamed to an extender, it can't be moved in any way to another device in the home. Because of this restriction, CableCard has been so restricted and locked down that it has been a major failure. This new cablelabs approved method opens the door for extenders and network media players to receive streamed encrypted cable channels. Almost all cable systems are encrypting (clear QAM) all but the local channels so that QAM tuners such as the HDHomeRun tuner can't get to many of those cable channels.
Does this mean that HTPC's with Beyond TV, SageTV, MythTV, Media Portal or GBPVR could access the encrypted cable channels in the near future? Only time will tell, but I sure hope so. There is no good reason to give the monopoly of CableCard to Microsoft alone. At the very minimum, this ruling likely means that in the future you will be able to buy a CableCard tuner as a separate device instead of the way it is today where you have to buy a complete computer system with the CableCard already installed by an OEM PC maker.
What do you think? Is this a positive change by CableLabs or just another way to get DRM in the home?

Monday, August 27, 2007

BusinessCard iPod Stand

Want a quick, very cheap and easy stand for your iPod, iPhone, PMP etc? Just use a standard business card. I know, it sounds kind of cheesy, but it really works to hold your iPod at the right angle for video viewing. Plus it folds flat to carry in your wallet.

Here's the business card with the lines drawn for the cuts
And here's the business card folded and ready to hold your video device.
Read the entire how-to over at instructables

Analyze and Clean Up Your Hard Drives

If you're like me, you have a ton of music, video and other files on your hard drives. I have multiple drives with files spanned across all of them on my network. So how to you manage and keep track of all of those drives? I have for you a collection of drive managers that can help you out.

First on the list is JDiskReport. This ad-free freeware program helps you keep track of the amount of space consumed on your drives by your files and . It also can help you find unused folders and files so you can get rid of them. Find out what files are hogging space on those drives. JDiskReport will analize your drives and give you stats, charts and tables that help you track what is on your hard drives. The app allows you to save scans and review those scans at a later time. Each of the charts allow you to click on them to view further information. You will still have to open up Windows Explorer to do the deleting and moving of files, but the free JDiskReport will give you the tools and information to find out the info you need on your drives. All charts include a pie chart, a bar chart, and a details table with information about your drives. One thing to note is JDiskReport requires Java.

Here are a few screen-shots of the resulting output from JDiskReport:
Read more on JDiskReport and download the application at JGoodies

Another Choice for Disk Information Software is Windirstat. WindirStat is another free, open-source application that will display your drive usage on a map that tells you what file types and folders are using the most space on your drive.
The free, open-source utility WinDirStat displays your disk usage in a color-coded map that shows what file types and folders take up the most space on your hard drive. If you don't like Java apps, then WinDirStat will be your favorite.

Read more on WinDirStat at their site

For the Linux Users, there is an excellent program called Firelight. This application displays data as hierarchical pie charts. Filelight displays files and folders as you hover your mouse over it showing information like # of files, size and percentage of the entire file size. You can mouse-click on the pie to zooms in and display a portion of the entire pie. For Linux only, firelight is fast and easy to use.

Check out Firelight at

Finally we have EasyDuplicateFinder that will scan your hard drive for identical duplicates by analyzing file size and attributes (regardless of filename) and notify you of any possible duplicates. I found this app via DownloadSquad. Read more and download the freeware app EasyDuplicateFinder HERE

Now you can make the most of your hard drive space by choosing one of these apps, taking inventory of your hard drives and cleaning out the stuff you don't need.

Subscribe to this blogs feed by clicking HERE