Saturday, October 04, 2008

CliqueClack TV - What TV Squad Used to Be

Interested in Television?  Like to read opinions, summaries and anything and everything about television?  Check out the new CliqueClack TV blog created in the vein of AOL's TV Squad.

AOL has cut TV Squad and many of their other blogs down to a fraction of what they once were.  The TV Squad crew is still writing for TV Squad for now, but are doing a little less and a little different approach than in the past there.  Interestingly, almost the entire crew from TV Squad is now writing those same familiar stories about all of our favorite shows at the new CliqueClack TV blog.  Here's a little more about CliqueClack TV in their own words:
A new website has entered the
television blogging arena. CliqueClack TV (
has officially opened its virtual doors, providing a new face on some
familiar people, with commentary and content without boundaries.

Along with fellow TV Squad writers, former editor of TV Squad, Keith McDuffee, has built CliqueClack TV as a means of providing more opinionated television episode reviews, dedicated columns and overall edgy commentary that's free of corporate influence.

CliqueClack TV is a clique of TV fanatics, here to clack to you about what moves us and what moves you in the world of television, whether it's via lustful-like passion, mouth-frothing hatred or something in-between. The authors and contributors of CliqueClack TV are the
ceiling and the floor of this establishment. We are our own boundaries.

All of this is a result of the major budget cuts at AOL.  Many bloggers have left the AOL fold, but the TV Squad crew took a different approach.  They're still there at TV Squad doing the lighter blog that AOL has redirected, but many of the same writers are now writing those always interesting stories about television that we've come to love at TV Squad.  Read more about the turmoil of the TV Squad Crew at TechCrunch

I still have TV Squad in my list of RSS feeds, but I can tell you that thus far CliqueClack TV is where its at.  TV Squad has been severely neutered to the point of unhappinness.  I'll be supporting the writers at the new site going forward.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

WHS Custom vs Frankenstein vs HP MediaSmart Server

Mike Garcen at the excellent Home Theater PC News Site, has a great comparison of Windows Home Server systems.   He compares a home brew "frankenstein" build with a Antec P180B chassis vs. a custom built Windows Home Server housed in a Chenbro ES34069 and finally a HP MediaSmart Server EX475.  A great five-page write-up worth a read for anyone considering Windows Home Server. 

Many SageTV users are using Windows Home Server as their operating system since SageTV is the only HTPC software to support it.  You read right, Microsoft still doesn't support WHS in Vista Media Center - it doesn't make sense, but it's true.

Check out the Battle of the Windows Home Server Systems at

Deals of the Day: Antec Twelve Hundred Case $140 and Linksys Extenders $99

Today I have two deals for you.

First up is the Antec Twelve Hundred Computer Case.  This is a step up from the Antec 900 case I'm now using for my HTPC server and the 1200 would make a very nice HTPC server case as well.  Lots of room for expansion, plenty of airflow and a nice look. is running a special on the Antec Twelve Hundred Black Steel ATX Full Tower Computer Case for $140 after $40 instant discount and 20% off coupon code SAVE20CASE (expires 10/15/08). All with free shipping
Antec Twelve Hundred Black Computer Case With Side Panel Window

Antec Twelve Hundred Black Computer Case With Side Panel Window

Next up we have two Vista Media Center Extenders on sale at Amazon:

Lots of deals have been running for the Vista Media Center's Linksys DMA2100 Extender this past month. has the Linksys DMA2100 extender for $99.99 ($119.99 less $20 instant rebate that shows once you begin check-out). 

The Linksys DMA2200 extender which is like the above extender but also has a DVD drive (also for Vista Media Center) is on sale at Amazon as well.  Get the Linksys DMA2200 extender for $129.99 ($149.99 less $20 instant rebate that shows once you begin check-out)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Vista Media Center gets MSNBC Video On Demand App

Brad Linder at Download Squad has the scoop on a new MSN News Beta application for Windows Vista Media Center (available today in Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate).
MSNBC VMC App The application lets users browse, search and watch videos from MSNBC News on their Microsoft Media Center Devices.   Some MSNBC content has been accessible in the Internet TV Menus, but this new application provides a new user interface that makes it easier to browse stories, weather forecasts and search for videos by topic and related videos.  No need to download anything – it’s already there in your VMC TV + Movies menu.

For Media Centers (HTPCs and other Media Devices like Extenders) to continue to compete for space by the television, they will need to continue down this road of online video.  Network & Cable TV content, Hulu, Netflix Watch Now and others need to be brought into the fold like this MSN News application to compete with the TiVo and other CE devices of the world.

Read more about the MSNBC News Beta Application at Microsoft’s Media Center Website

via DownloadSquad

Netflix Watch Now Support for Mac – Here by End Of Year

Seems like it’s Netflix day around here as I’m on my third story about Netflix, but I picked up a newsworthy tidbit from the Netflix Blog post about their agreement with the Starz channel.

The Netflix Blog stated that they will have the long-awaited Apple Mac support for Netflix Watch-Now by the end of this year.  That should make many Mac users very happy.

More news about Netflix

New Netflix Watch Now Titles from STARZ

After complaining about the lack of good Netflix Watch Now content available, Netflix seems to be really working on adding newer titles to their collection.

Today, Netflix announced an agreement with Starz Play that adds another 1,000 or so titles to their collection today, with another 1,500 titles by the end of the year.  On the Netflix Blog they highlighted included movies such as “No Country for Old Men”, “Ratatouille,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” “Superbad,” and “Spider-Man 3.”

I took a screen-shot from the newly added titles to give you an example, but you can see all the newly available choices here.
New Netflix Titles
They'll also have available a sneak preview of "Crash" the new Starz series plus new episodes available on the same day and date of release.  Netflix is also offer a Starz Play-only subscription for $7.99 per month - sort of a "premium" subscription level for watch-now only users.

While these are obviously not brand-new releases, they definitely raise the bar on quality and freshness.  There were certainly some good titles in their collection before, but not much in the way of newer movies so this addition will go a long way in terms of making the service more attractive.

A few weeks ago, Netflix also several new CBS, Disney and NBC TV episodes as well.  I think Netflix gets it and will continue to work on improving their watch-now collection while maintaining the service as a subscription-based model instead of a pay-per-title model.
Read more at the Netflix Blog

More news about Netflix 

Deal of the Day - Logitech Harmony One for $180

Logitech 915-000035 Infrared Universal Harmony One Advanced Remote

Today's deal of the day is the popular Logitech Harmony One Remote Control.  This remote is a little nicer than the Harmony 880 (and more expensive too) and typically runs $250 - $220.  Today through October 6th you can get it for $179.99 with free shipping which is a pretty good deal if you're in the market for a higher end remote.

The Harmony One replaces up to 15 remotes and can be used in most home theater environments including with HTPCs.

Logitech 915-000035 Infrared Universal Harmony One Advanced Remote
$179.99 ($250 - $50 instant rebate - 20 instant coupon) with free shipping use Coupon Code EMCAKDACC at checkout.  Expires 10/06.

EDIT:  Had to update the links - had it linked to the wrong remote control originally.  Thanks Andy!

Netflix API Has Arrived – Netflix Users Rejoice!

Netflix API is Here!
Netflix just announced that their Netflix API is ready.  You can sign up for a developer account  and apply for an API today.  This is great news for applications that could use a hook into the Netflix data such as the SageTV Netflix Plugin and the Microsoft Media Center Netflix Plugins available today.

The Netflix API includes a JavaScript API, REST API and ATOM feeds and allows access to the movie and TV episode data as well as Netflix account access on a member’s behalf.  This opens up possibilities such as queue management tools (add, move or rearrange movie queue from outside the Netflix website), start a watch-now title from outside of the Netflix website, social network applications, movie search & suggestion tools, mobile phone applications among other things.  What this probably does not include is the way to embed the Netflix Watch-Now capability in a non-PC device such as an extender.  Looks like Netflix plans to keep that ability for their hardware vendor partners such as Roku for obvious reasons.

The API is free for commercial uses as well as free applications.  For example, developers could sell an application for the Google Phone or iPhone app store using the Netflix API.  Another example would be the use of the API in a built-in feature in a media extender for example.  Many APIs available today restrict the commercial use so this is a big plus for Netflix.

There is an API Gallery which is currently blank, but will eventually be populated with the many applications that use the Netflix API.  I’ve been amazed at what some developers have already done using the Netflix RSS feeds and screen-scraping the Netflix Website so with the API available, look for lots of nice Netflix-centric applications soon.

Netflix Blog Announcement
Netflix Developer Blog Announcement with further Details
Netflix API Website
Netflix API Forums

More news about Netflix 

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Deal of the Day - SiliconDust HDHR Dual Qam Tuner $144

HDHomeRun Dual QAM Tuner
If you've been pondering the best way to get unencrypted QAM into your Home Theater PC, I highly recommend the SiliconDust HDHomeRun tuner.  It connects via the ethernet so it won't take up any space inside your computer or USB ports, can tune unencrypted QAM (digital/SD & HD) channels as well as OTA HD channels and it's a dual tuner to boot.  Although Amazon had a better deal a month ago ($130) it's still pretty cheap at $144.16 now since it normally sells for $170:

Amazon (affiliate) has the HDHomeRun tuner for $144.16 with free shipping

The HDHomeRun works with the following Software:
  • Windows Media Center:

    • MCE 2005 32-bit
    • MCE 2005 64-bit
    • Vista MCE 32-bit
    • Vista MCE 64-bit
  • SageTV - HTPC software for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows Home Server, Mac & Linux
  • SnapStream BeyondTV - DVR for Windows
  • Elgato EyeTV - DVR for Mac
  • MythTV - DVR for Linux
  • MediaPortal - DVR for Windows
  • GB-PVR - DVR for Windows
  • VLC - Multi-platform media viewer
  • TSReader - MPEG-2 transport stream analysis
To check which channels are available to you through clear QAM, check out SiliconDusts Clear QAM database by inputing your zipcode and selecting your cable provider.

If you want to research the HDHR a little more before buying check out my review of the device from last year

HDMI Not Always Compatible With Closed Captioning

Closed Captioning

I’m not a big user of closed captioning (subtitles), but I know many use the captions due to hearing problems or even to use in a noisy atmosphere in the home.  Word is out that HDMI may not always work with captioning and since HDMI is becoming more and more common on newer HDTV’s this could become a bigger problem – especially when analog television goes away for everyone in February 2009. 
So when you go to purchase a television, check to be sure the captioning is working while hooked up via the HDMI ports.  Better yet, make sure you have component connectors on that TV as well since HDMI is pretty finicky and often causes other problems.

Closed Captioning in Media Center

For those of you with High Definition TV's, let me know in the comments if your TV gets close captioning and how your TV is connected.  I know that in Vista Media Center, CC is supported (in the U.S., not Teletext as is used in Europe), but there is no official support for CC with BeyondTV or SageTV.
Read more at Banjo's World.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Hauppauge HD-PVR – Now with Surround Sound AC3 and AAC

If you’ve been patiently waiting for the surround sound capability on your Hauppauge HD-PVR, your day has arrived.  The new driver (in public beta) was officially released today and includes AAC and AC3 surround sound audio. 
The HD-PVR is a HD video recorded that uses output from your analog, component output and converts the video to a H.264, compressed recording at resolutions up to 1080i.  It allows you to record HD right from any video device with a component out port.  Combine it with SageTV, BeyondTV (beta) or GB-PVR and MythTV you can time-shift all of that content on your Home Theater PC.

What's included in the HD-PVR Driver Update?
  • SPDIF Bitstream: DD 2.0 & 5.1 Capture 
  • The default audio stream is AC3 2.0, you have a selection option for AAC or AC3.  It will default with 5.1 audio if it is available or 2.0 if not available.
  • You can encode DD/AC3 2.0 from SPDIF PCM & RCA analog sources
  • When you take h.264 and add AC3 you have a AVCHD file which is supported (Note that I haven’t tried this yet) by several video-editing apps including:

    • Ulead Video Studio
    • Ulead DVD MovieFactory
    • CyberLink’s PowerDirector
    • Sony Vegas Platinum
    • Vegas Pro
    • Pinnacle Studio 12
    • Nero 7 Ultra edition Enhanced
    • Apple Final Cut Express
    • Apple Final Cut Studio
    • Apple iMovie ‘08
  • The AVCHD files are natively compliant with PS3 for playback from USB-HDD or UPnP streaming
  •  Dynamic audio/video format switching on the fly ( channel surfing  /  PCM to DD audio switching when going from DVD/BD menu and playing the movie )
  • Fixes the audio sync problem some SageTV users were experiencing on 1080i recordings on the SageTV HD100 extender.
  • Several stability improvements
Installation Instructions:
  1. Download the new driver from the Hauppauge Support Page (navigate to the beta tab for download and instructions) or from  SHSPVR
  2. Unzip the driver update
  3. Run "hcwdriverinstall.exe"
Head over to Hauppauge or SHSPVR now to download the driver update which includes a driver installation program.  I'm guessing we'll see it on the Hauppauge Support Page shortly.

TIVO makes a move into HTPC software


A Tivo Home Theater PC software called LiquidTV is coming in October thanks to the partnership with consumer electronics maker Tivo and software maker Nero.  The software application will provide the TiVo experience on personal computers allowing users to record shows onto a computer hard drive, move content between their TiVos and computers and record and format videos so that they can be synced to their iPods and Playstation mobile devices or archived onto DVDs.

There will be 2 versions of the product, both including a 1-year TiVo guide service:
First a software-only version for those that already have a tuner and IR blaster/receiver runs $99.99
Next a retail box version with the TiVo Peanut remote control, IR blaster/receiver, and a Hauppauge HVR-950Q USB TV tuner card will cost $199.99.

The service will then costs $99.99 per year after the first year.  The software will be available for a free, 30-day trial before purchasing.

Nero/TiVo’s LiquidPC Features & Capabilities:
  • Tuner Support:  Officially supported tuners are listed on the TiVo LiquidTV website, but they are saying that any tuner with a BDA driver should work fine with the software.
  • # of Tuners: The software will support up to four tuners but only one of those tuners can be a set-top box.
  • Operating System:  Windows XP or Vista only
  • System Requirements:  The LiquidTV PC requirements are a bit higher than with Snapstream’s BeyondTV or SageTV.  Requirements include 3.0GHz Pentium IV or AMD Athlon 3200+, 256 MB Ram (512MB for Vista).  All in all the requirements are in line with what I would recommend for a HTPC these days anyway, but it does leave out those with older PCs.  You can view the entire list of system requirements on the LiquidTV website.
  • Remote Control & Mouse Control?  Can be controlled with a remote control if you have an IR receiver or using the computer mouse.
  • DRM and content protection?  It hasn’t been confirmed, but you can bet that TiVo will use content protection “flags” on this software that prevents the recording, copying and manipulation of “flagged” programs – just as they do with their other TiVo products.
  • TiVo Extras?  LiquidTV does support wishlists and KidZone, but no support for other TiVo extras like Amazon Video-on-Demand, TiVoCasts, podcast support, Internet radio etc.
  • Can the TiVo view recorded content streamed from LiquidTV & vice versa?  Yes, as long as they’re both connected to your home network.
  • Can the TiVo view liveTV streamed from LiquidTV & vice versa?  No, it will work just as the current TiVo devices today where the tuners and settings are independent of each other.  No server/client architecture is built-in as is available on SageTV and BeyondTV.
  • Placeshifting outside of the network like Sling, Orb or SageTV Placeshifter? Not supported with LiquidTV
  • CableCard Support?  Initially at least there will be no cablecard support.  It is possible, although unlikely that users might be able to purchase preconfigured CableCard PC’s just as Vista Media Center PC users can today.
  • Hauppauge HD-PVR Support?  It is very unlikely that the new software will support the Hauppauge HD-PVR component capture device (allows you to record all channels including those that are encrypted) as the support for H.264 files is not there for the new TiVo software.  Add to that the fact that TiVo doesn’t want to upset the content providers by offering “unprotected” media to the user.
  • Launch Date in US: LiquidTV is set to launch in the US, Canada, and Mexico on October 15, 2008.
  • Launch Date in Europe:  LiquidTV is set to launch in Europe in 2009

A video-demo of the interface in action can be viewed at Nero's website

Screen-shots of the interface:

LiquidTV With Mouse Capability
LiquidTV Menu
LiquidTV iPod Conversion

TiVo’s Liquid TV & the Effect on the HTPC Market:

The Home Theater PC software companies such as Microsoft, Snapstream, SageTV and Apple will likely be watching this product closely as it is a direct move into their turf.  In the LiquidTV’s Press Presentation, they made the specific point that
“It is a way to expand the user base, and an alternative solution to MCE, SageTV, BeyondTV and Replay.”
So it’s obvious that TiVo is attempting to wean those who use or might choose one of the leading software-based PVR programs away from those competing programs and onto the TiVo pay-for-the-guide service.

That being said, I expect this software to be a small-time player in the HTPC world.  While I imagine there are several current TiVo owners who want to extend their TiVo interface to the PC, I don’t see this product appealing in the niche market of Home Theater PC software. 

Having the TiVo interface likely sounds pretty good to many people, but I’m betting we’ll see lots of complaints from early users as Nero works to make the software stable. I’ve been involved with HTPC software for many years and I can tell you it is a very difficult thing to support. You’re dealing with multiple PC configurations, multiple levels of tech understanding in your users and the sometimes finicky PC.
Most HTPC software companies have spent years getting their software to the point that it is stable and solid enough to gain the trust of the common TV viewer.  
It will have the TiVo name and very similar interface, but it can’t have the same reliability and support being a software product.
To me it seems like TiVo is going backwards on the HTPC concept where a PC makes a great HTPC/PVR server (expandable, upgradable, hideable) and the low-configuration hardware device (aka extender or tivo box) makes a great device to extend to the Television. 
Instead, TiVo is moving the opposite direction with LiquidTV.  Obviously this isn’t a move to make all TiVo users HTPC users, but more a move to hook some of those HTPC users into their simple, well-designed TiVo UI.

Another major point against this software is the cost.  Why would someone pay $99 a year for the software TiVo when they could get the hardware TiVo that probably works better, tunes more channels and will undoubtedly get better support for not much more initial cost?

My Thoughts on the New, More Social Flickr Home Page

If you’re a user of the popular photo sharing site Flickr, you may have noticed a fairly significant redesign to your Flickr homepage.  The changes almost double the number of photos you see on your home page and give greater weight to the Recent Activity news feed. 
In a few words the redesign makes Flickr a bit more social.

Starting September 10th, Flickr began rolling out the new design and even if you don’t have it as your default home page yet, you can switch to the new interface by navigating to the bottom of your Flickr home page and selecting this hyperlink:
Switch to New Design Link
You’ll then see this message which gives you a chance to switch now or wait until later.
New Flickr Design Popup

Here’s a screen-shot from my new Flickr home page.  I’ve cropped out much of the white space you would see on the left and right of the page (expect to see advertisements here eventually):

New Flickr Home Page

You’ll notice that the new, more prominent recent activity section now takes up the majority of the top of the page when it’s expanded.  You can customize the look of your home page by “muting” comments of specific threads or from specific users.  You can also toggle notes, tags and favorites on or off.  It’s obviously a move to make the already social photo sharing site more social.  I like the new groups section on the home page that shows recent uploads from any of your groups.

The one thing users have complained about on the new design is the fact that comments aren’t on the page by default.  You can still see those by clicking on the “recent activity” toggle which if you leave it will be the default view until switching back to “recent uploads.”  This isn’t a big deal to me, but could be corrected if Flickr made it an option to show both.

Another update is a new Explore section at the bottom of the home page.  A great way to check out some of the more interesting and quality photos on Flickr.  There’s a “refresh” button to update the photos in the explore section – I like that and wish they’d add it to the groups section as well. 
If you’re one of the Flickr members who track your stats on Flickr, you’ll also see the tiny “sparkline” graph just above your photostream slot like this one:

Flickr Sparkline for Stats

Doing that brings up the statistics page added this past July that you might have forgotten you had (only available to premium members).  All-in-all, I really like the new design – a great update for an already great photo sharing site.