Friday, October 24, 2008

Windows 7 Media Center - First Screenshots Revealed

Since Microsoft doesn't update their Media Center product very often, the anticipation and speculation of the next version is that much greater compared to the other HTPC software products available.  Today I noticed a website showing a ton of Windows Media Center screenshots from theWindows 7 build 6780 M3. 

As I browsed those screen-shots I noticed the music section and photos section look a little different, but I don't see any significant updates or changes in the UI compared to Visa.  Keep in mind that it's early and much can (and should) change between now and the release date sometime next year.  Check them out and let me know in the comments if you see anything significant to speak of.

I think Microsoft needs to bring some major new features such as h.264 support, true server client ability, softsled, better online video streaming etc to make it a must-have upgrade over the current version.  I like these first looks of the Windows 7 UI, but I also like the Vista Media Center UI. (German Website)

via Green Button Forums

Microsoft Media Center Update Breaks CableCard Recording

I’ve received a couple of e-mails from Vista Media Center users complaining that the recent Microsoft Media Center Cumulative update for Media Center (KB955519) caused a significant problem with CableCard recordings.

I’ve been searching for others with the same issue and found several threads on Greenbutton here and here reporting the same thing.  For those who have installed the update, some recordings made on a CableCard tuner have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • No video (audio only)

  • In some cases broken-up audio

  • The evhvid.exe process is maxing out CPU cycles

  • Significant skipped frames (looks like playback of video is skipping)

Note that some users are even reporting some of these issues with liveTV as well as recorded TV.

CableCard users have reported that simply removing the update resolves all of these issues.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Deal of the Day - Slingbox Solo $150

Sling Media SB260-100 Slingbox Solo
Today's deal of the day is from Dell Home (affiliate) who has the Slingbox Solo for $150

With the Slingbox you can placeshift (watch and control) your TV the Slingbox Solo using an Internet connected computer or compatible mobile phone, you can watch and control your home TV, DVR, digital cable box, or satellite receiver anywhere around your home.
The Sling Media SB260-100 Slingbox Solo is priced at $149.99 after $30 instant savings.

Comes bundled with AC Adapter (100 - 240 V 50 - 60 Hz), Ethernet Cable, Composite AV Cable, Remote Control IR Cable.

Netflix Watch Now Arrives for Samsung Blu-Ray Players

Netflix, Inc said in a Press Release Wednesday that the Samsung BD-P2500 and BD-P2550 Blu-ray DVD devices can now play Netflix Watch Now (video streamed over the Web from Netflix.)
This new Samsung/Netflix alliance makes the fourth hardware partnership by Netflix with CE companies.  The first ones included:
Customers who already own Samsung BD-P2550 and BD-P2500 Blu-ray players, can upgrade these devices at no additional cost (Update should be at this link) to enable the Netflix Watch-Now service.
Another interesting note from the press release was this statement:
The companies also said they are collaborating to enable Samsung to integrate instant streaming from Netflix into a range of home entertainment products.
I expect to see the Netflix Watch-Now service integrated into many more hardware devices in the next year as it seems to be the Netflix strategy to make as many devices as possible Netflix-Streaming-Ready.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Review of the Hauppauge HD-PVR at Gear Diary

I'm more than a little late on my full review of the Hauppauge HD-PVR so I thought I'd let the readers know why. 

First, I was waiting for the new beta drivers that gives us 5.1 audio - these were released in the last few weeks, but my experience with them so far has been sketchy.  I've reverted back to the older non-5.1 drivers for the meantime until I have more time to test.  Secondly, I really wanted to set up firewire tuning instead of using a IR blaster to change the channels but haven't had the time to get that set up.

Despite those to issues, I'll go ahead and do the review shortly and point out the good things and bad things about the device.  I really do love it and think the picture quality (SD and HD) is very, very good.  The device isn't perfect though so I'll be sure and share as much about it as I can.
In the meantime, check out the review of the Hauppauge HD-PVR component video recorder done by Gear Diary this week.

If you missed it, you also might want to check out the awesome HD-PVR deal going on right now for these HD-PVR's and read my first thoughts on the HD-PVR I wrote a while back.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Deal of the Day #2 - Hauppauge HD-PVR for $200

Hauppauge HD PVR High Definition Personal Video Recorder 1212

I normally have no more than one deal of the day, but Andrew pointed out a good one that GeekTonic readers certainly might want to check out.

If you want to time-shift or record your HD content to your HTPC without DRM  Or you are in the market for one of those awesome Hauppauge HD-PVR 1212 devices (read my first impressions on the device here) that let you record any content (HD, SD, digital etc) from your cable box, satellite box or any other device with a component cable output - Newegg (affiliate) has the best deal I've seen on these so far with the HD-PVR for $199.17 including shipping! 

Hauppauge HD-PVR HD Personal Video Recorder 1212
$200.17 ($219.99 less $30 coupon plus $10.17 shipping) Enter the $30 promo code EMCBACBCK at checkout – Offer Valid until Monday, 10/27/08

Deal of the Day - Sony Playstation 3 Plus 80GB Drive $340

PlayStation PLAYSTATION 3 Gaming Console with 80 GB Hard Drive

Have you Sony Playstation fans been envious of those awesome, Xbox 360 deals Microsoft has been rolling out lately?  Well it's still not as cheap as the Xbox360, but Dell Home has a nice PS3 deal for us today:

Dell Home has the PLAYSTATION 3 Gaming Console with 80 GB Hard Drive  for $340 after $60 Instant Coupon discount w/ free shipping. 
At Check-Out, apply Apply Coupon Code R$LL47$9ZSQG3S for the 15% off (ends 10/29 or after 1000 uses).  The PS3 still has one of the best Blu-ray players available built-in to the gaming system.

You can pay with a Dell Preferred Account and receive an additional 3% discount - select “Credit Card” as payment option to see the deal.

Recover Gracefully from an HTPC Application Crash

If you use a Home Theater PC to run your living room entertainment you no doubt are focused on keeping the PC-part of the HTPC behind the scenes.  Despite all your efforts to avoid the dreaded computer operating system rearing its ugly head, on occasion you’ll no doubt experience a program crashing now and then.  My goal today is to show you an easy way to gracefully (as gracefully as possible at least) recover from an application crash in XP or Windows Server 2003.

There are two simple steps to the process – each of the steps address the crash itself and automatically restarting the application from that crash.

When an application crashes using Windows XP as your operating system, you usually get the following annoying message:

MS Error Message

This less than useful message causes the following problems for the HTPC user:
  1. First, it tells the user that they are using a crash-prone, buggy HTPC.  WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) and user acceptance immediately goes through the floor.
  2. Worse then the above, this message requires you to pull out either a mouse or keyboard to continue.  To maintain the premise that this is a 10-foot interface, we DO NOT want to use anything other than a remote control unless it’s for a cool, extra feature like web browsing on your TV right?
  3. Finally the error message does absolutely nothing for the user.  It is one of those things people hate about the Microsoft OS and we want to eliminate it.
In Windows XP/2003 do the following:
  • Go to Control Panel.
  • Select Performance and Maintenance
  • Select System
  • Navigate to the Advanced Tab

error reporting

error reporting3

  • Select Error Reporting                  
  • Select the "Disable Error Reporting" radio box (I leave the "But notify me when Critical Errors Occur" message selected.

Some applications may restart on their own after an application crash, but others might not.  If that application happens to be integral to your HTPC experience, it becomes more then an annoyance.  Now that we have the windows error message disabled in step one, we can focus on having the app automatically restart.
I ran across a nice freeware utility app via MyDigitalLife called “Application Monitor” that watches for any programs of your choosing to monitor for a crash and even restarts the application as soon as a system crash is detected.

  • Download and extract application monitor from the website
  • Run ApplicationMonitor.exe
  • Select “Add” to add a program to monitor & browse to the program file (file must have one of the following extensions: *.exe, *.bat, *.scr and must be lower case)appmonitor1
  • Enter the program name and browse to the file location.  You can change the frequency that the program checks for the file to be running in the “check every” box.  The default frequency is 2 minutes with the minimum being 30 seconds.


  • Select the checkbox next to the application to enable monitoring


  • If you want to monitor that program from afar, you can select Tools>Settings and insert your email address and get an auto e-mail notification any time there is an error.  In addition, all events are output to a log file for later review.


The Application Monitor makes a very nice troubleshooting program for programs that are crashing on occasion.  I would also consider using it for any HTPC-related program, web or mail server or other client applications.

Program Requirements:

  • Windows 98, NT4, Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows Vista
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 or higher

Get the latest version of the donationware Application Manager


My final method to handle the restart after crashing is specifically meant for HTPC users.  If you HTPC software crashes and you have remote control in hand, make sure you have a command mapped using girder or eventghost to that HTPC program.  I’ve done this with BeyondTV and SageTV for those moments when I needed to start the HTPC front-end program with a press of the remote.  Works every time.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Game Changer? Lala Opens Music Locker and DRM Free MP3 Store


There’s a new music store in town named site.  TechCrunch and many other popular blogs are calling it a possible game changer or revolution in music sharing/buying.  I was pretty skeptical of the concept at first, but I'm trying it out now and pretty impressed.  I think it has potential to be a very nice service for a HTPC plugin too. 


  • You sign up and get 50 free songs for streaming
  • There are "streaming songs" that you can listen to (most in their entirety) once before buying.  You can then pay 10 cents to purchase (or as they say keep) the right to stream any of these songs for as long as they exist and you maintain your account with them.
  • You can purchase for download any of the songs for an additional 79 cents (89 cents total) - these are DRM-free, MP3s compatible with all MP3 music players.  The vast majority of the MP3 files are encoded using variable bit rates (VBR), aiming at an average of 256 kilobits per second (kbps)
  • You can also "match the songs on your computer (all songs regardless of where you got them) to their catalog and always have free access to those songs via streaming. 

The streaming and “syncing” feature sounds very familiar to me.  You know why?  Because it is almost exactly the type of “music locker” service we once knew as (don’t go there it’s an adult site now :) and which still exists but is being sued by the the record labels.  So here I guess the labels think it’s okay because they’ve put their restrictions on the streaming rules and they are getting paid some for the ability to stream.

The business model is similar to Rhapsody except it’s pay as you go for the streaming.  I think it will appeal to people if they understand it – no subscription cost – only pay for the songs you want to stream.  Plus take it with you for 89 cents total.  A closer competitor in concept might be GrooveShark - another service I really like.


Lala Rock Music Front Page

Lala2 Music Streaming (see web embedded player at top of screen)


For the PC:  IE 6.0, 7.0 and Firefox 2.0, 3.0
For the Mac:  Safari 3.0, Firefox 2.0, 3.0
Adobe Flash, version 9, for music streaming


  • Only gives you access to 3 computers (this is the biggest downer I think)
  • On the cloud - this is their strength and their weakness.  If their service goes down you lose access to the 10 cents streaming files.  If they go out of business you lose access to those streaming files completely.  But your downloaded ones are okay in this situation since they are DRM-Free

Lala signed the big 4 music labels as well as over 175,000 independent artists to its library - I searched for songs and found almost all of the ones I was looking for - pretty impressive.

I'm going to continue playing with this service to see how it does - but I think their business model (with the help of the music labels signing with them) is sound (no pun intended) and if they handle it well might be a very strong force competing with iTunes and Amazon Music.  I buy almost exclusively from Amazon Music now due to their DRM-Free ways and just might be right up there with Amazon for me.

I think an HTPC plugin for would be wildly popular with HTPC users.  Tie in the ability to stream the music collection and add the ability to purchase with your remote control and I can see it being a win-win for as well as the HTPC software user.  If you've tried let me know in the comments what you think.

Check this service out at

discovered via TechCrunch

Holy! Boxee Releases Hulu Streaming and More

Holy Hulu!  Boxee beats the big-time HTPC software companies to the punch with Hulu, CBS, Comedy Central, and MySpaceTV streaming by integrating those companies streaming players into Boxee.  This alone should give Vista Media Center, SageTV and BeyondTV pause as web-based video/television/move content is becoming more-and-more important to the end user.
The New, alpha version of Boxee includes:
  • Streaming TV shows, movies and clips from Hulu, CBS, Comedy Central and MySpaceTV (we integrated their players into boxee)
  • Major changes to the UI
  • Web interface to adding RSS feeds
  • Improved performance
Current Alpha version Supports Linux, AppleTV and Mac with a Windows version scheduled for sometime this Fall.

If you already have an alpha account you can click here to download the new version.
If you want an alpha invite click here to do so.

The boxee team has put together a new intro video for this latest version:

While I don't agree with their marketing comment that "none are as powerful as boxee", it is obvious these guys mean business and are working very diligently to pack in the features their customers want including Hulu support.  SageTV, Microsoft and Snapstream take notice.

Read more at the Boxee Blog

Related Articles:
Transform Your AppleTV with Boxee

Deal of the Day - Free Redbox Rental Today, October 20

Redbox is offering a free DVD Rental at all RedBox locations today only (Monday, October 20th).  Looks like a great way to try out Redbox if you have spare time to watch a movie on a Monday night.  To get your free rental, type in Promotional code PK66H8.

If you're not familar with the Redbox DVD Rental Kiosks, check out my Redbox DVD Kiosk review from last year.  Basically you can rent a DVD (no blu-ray yet) for a buck a day.

Kaleidescape Maker of Movie Servers Sales Gain 747 Percent!

Every since Kaleidescape survived in their DVD Ripping case, this company that sells very-high-end (read expensive) Movie Servers seem to be thriving in a big way.
According to a press release by Kaleidescape, their three-year sales figures reflect a 747% gain!  On top of that, they now ranks No. 415 on the 2008 Inc. 500 List of America's Fastest-Growing Private Companies.  Not to shabby for a company who’s business model and future was in question due to the legal troubles.
Wondering what Kaleidescape is selling?  Here’s an overview from their website:
The Kaleidescape System simplifies the way you collect, manage and enjoy movies and music. Once your personal entertainment collection is stored on the Kaleidescape System's fault-tolerant Servers, you can say goodbye to DVD and CD clutter and the frustration of storing and organizing your movies and music. And, since your Kaleidescape System uses high-speed networking to deliver your favorite movies and music throughout your home, you can instantly access and enjoy them when and where it's convenient for you, your family or your guests.
The Kaleidescape System comprises three primary components: Servers, Movie Players and Music Players. They can be combined in myriad ways to deliver movies and music seamlessly throughout your home.
For those of you who rip your own DVD’s onto your HTPC hard drive, you know how nice it is to have the content on the HTPC instead of piled with the DVD cases.  So you’re probably not surprised that the very wealthy who these machines are marketed to want this product in a big way.

Kaleidescape Full Press Release

via EngadgetHD