Saturday, December 13, 2008

DirecTV and Microsoft Media Center - What Went Wrong?

Since the unwelcome announcement from DirecTV that they were "suspending" work on the DirecTV HDPC-20 tuner for Microsoft Media Center, there has been a firestorm of discussion on the web (read this thread on the GreenButton Forms for an example) about what went wrong with something seemingly positive for DirecTV, Microsoft and all Media Center users.

Ben Drawbaugh of EngadgetHD fame thinks this was a blatant effort by DirecTV to reduce expectations on the tuner and they will continue to work on it and possibly even release the HDPC-20 tuner when Windows 7 is released.  Ben says:
"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."
 I personally think that is wishful thinking.  My guess is they said "suspended" because they want to leave the door open to take up the project at some point in the future, but I really doubt they are still working on it at the moment at least.

Now we have Chris Lanier's take is that DirecTV has lost faith in Microsoft and the Media Center platform and considers it a unproven, niche market.  Add to that the slow release cycle and the fact that Microsoft didn't include h.264 support in the TV Pack as had been planned.  But, Chris also says DirecTV easily could have had plenty of fault here as well and could just be doing damage control when they were the ones that couldn't get a stable product to market within the time constraints required for the TV Pack.  Chris goes on to say:
"I firmly believe both companies at a fault, but Microsoft will always take the most abuse because they can’t seem to conjure up a good Media Center release.  This is not DIRECTVs platform falling apart before our eyes, it is Microsoft’s."

While none of us know for certain except for a few at DirecTV and Microsoft, I mostly agree with Chris on this.  But I also think it has as much to do with the world-wide economic conditions and DirecTV's cutting of any non-proven (read currently unprofitable) capital expenditure projects so they can "hunker down" during the downturn of this economic cycle.  Here's what the LA Times had to say about DirecTV's Current Plans given the economy:
"DirecTV Group Inc. said Tuesday that although it remained bullish about 2009, hiring would be frozen and all but the most crucial capital projects would be suspended as visibility on the economy stayed poor."
There is still hope out there that the rumored Dish Network HTPC tuner will come through for Media Center users, but so far we have now official confirmation of that from anyone.

Expect to see more of this sort of thing in the coming year - especially from tech companies who we're used to providing the "next cool gadget" each January.  For now, if you want to use a Home Theater PC setup with satellite TV AND get true HD, you'll need to use a Haupauge HD-PVR.  While it may not be the perfect setup for someone who wants a native tuner to use in their HTPC's, it is currently the only device to deliver that content to your PC.

HDHomeRun Dual DVB-T Tuners Shipping Soon!

SiliconDust, the makers of the awesome HDHomeRun Dual-QAM/OTA HD tuner have been working on a  DVB version of the very popular HDHomeRun tuner for quite a long time now, but are reporting that the DVB-T units should be ready to ship before December 24th.

The company had previously projected that the DVB version of the HDHR would be ready for mass delivery by September 2008, but announced a delay for that release in mid-September.  Fast forward to December 2008 and we see that as of December 9th the DVB-T HDHomeRun tuners were in production, the firmware with DVB-T support has been made available and the estimated factory ship date is December 23rd.  SiliconDust hopes to begin pre-orders sometime in advance of that date.

Compatible HTPC Programs:
The product page for the DVB-T HDHomeRun is up on SilconDust's website now.  They are projecting that this device will work with Windows Media Center (VMC and MCE), MythTV,SnapStream BeyondTV, SageTV, MediaPortal, GB-PVR, VLC and TSReader.

  • QPSK/QAM16/QAM64 (DVB-T over-the-air digital TV)
  • ITU-A QAM64/QAM256 (unencrypted digital cable TV)
  • 8/7/6 MHz channel bandwidth (multi-country operation).
  • IR Receiver (signal PC with a standard remote control)
  • 100baseTX high speed network
  • 1 year warranty
This is especially important to the non-US TV viewers as Europe and many other non-US countries use DVB as their digital television standard.  Included in the SiliconDust tuner will be support for DVB-C (digital cable) and DVB-T (Terrestrial broadcast).  Without a DVB tuner, many in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa cannot tune to the majority of television channels.
via SilconDust Forums

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Write an Article for GeekTonic! Looking for Guest-Submitted Articles at GeekTonic

Something I've been wanting to do for a while now is begin accepting articles from others here at GeekTonic.

I'd love to feature new voices with something relevant to GeekTonic Readers to share with everyone.

I've not had any takers since first introducing the idea earlier this year so I thought I'd mention it again and describe what I'm looking for in a little more detail and provide some guidelines as well.

I'm looking forward to hearing from anyone out there who wants to share their story, review or anything related on GeekTonic.

To get started with this, I thought I'd talk about what I'm looking for and some basic guidelines for guest posts:

Make it Relevant and Useful to GeekTonic Readers

Knowing what GeekTonic strives to focus on is important.  GeekTonic focuses on HTPCs, Media Centers, Media Gadgets such as MP3 Players, DVD Players, Blu-Ray, Online Streaming and Sharing such as music videos and/or photos, video gadgets or pretty much any related device or application in this category.  Regarding HTPC articles - I know SageTV and BeyondTV pretty well, but would love to see guest articles about those two HTPC applications or really any others as well - bring on some Vista Media Center, XBMC, GBPVR, Media Portal, Meedio/s, or any other HTPC applicatoins.  If you're not sure don't hesitate to ask me.

Going farther on the "useful" point:  Do you have something related that’s difficult for most people but comes fairly easily to you?  Is there something you've spent a lot of time mastering?  Again this would typically be beneficial to GeekTonic readers and probably something they care about.

Make it relatively Well-Written

I definitely do not have a great mastery of the English Language - especially when it comes to writing.  Just ask my wife who often points out gramatical or worse errors (did I just make another one) when writing posts for GeekTonic.  I'm not asking for much here, but make it understandable and as good as possible.  I'll sometimes edit it when I see a spelling or obvious gramatical error and let the writer know before posting, but otherwise it should be fine.

If you have a useful, relevant and well-written post, what’s the next step?

Email me via the contact form and let me know what you’d like to write about and why you think it’s a good fit. If you already have a draft you could send that to me as well (I'll send you an e-mail once I've heard from you via the contact form.)  If you blog on another blog let me know that -

I'd love to have guest bloggers whether they already write for another blog or not, but if you do, I'll link to that blog when I post your blog post.

What is in it for Me?

Well, honestly I don't make anything from this blog - I pretty much burn any ad revenue right back into giveaways, shipping, overhead costs etc. so the pay is really bad (read no $ benefit).  But, it does get you exposure if you're a blogger, it does get you started if you're interested in this sort of thing and it allows you to share with others what you know without much time invested.  To me the biggest benefit of sharing on GeekTonic is being able to share with others what I know and love.  It's a great experience and has helped me develop some very good online friends with similar interests.

If you're interested let me know by sending me an e-mail via the comment form.  I'm looking forward to hearing from you soon. 

Brent of GeekTonic

Note:  Thanks to CopyBlogger for the ideas on the guest-writer guidelines

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

DirecTV on Media Center Suspended

Those Media Center users anticipating the DirecTV HDPC-20 tuner for Media Center are going to be VERY dissapointed.  DirecTV sent out an email stating
"DirecTV has suspended the development of the HDPC-20 tuner project that was designed to integrate DirecTV service into Windows Media Center after assessing the impact of missing the August 2008 release of Windows Media Center update and considering timing of the next release."
Further into the e-mail they state that both companies are "continuing to explore ways to integrate DirecTV service with Windows-based PCs in the future."   Just amazing to me that something that was so anticipated by Media Center users is so difficult to bring to market.

So I wonder if there's still a chance of the Dish Network PC tuner in Windows 7???

via EngadgetHD and Gearlog

SageTV HD200 Media Player Unboxed

The SageTV HD200 Arrives at GeekTonic!
HD200 FrontTop
 SageTV, one of the leaders in the Home Theater PC market has always been extender-friendly startomg with the first officially supported extender (Hauppauge MediaMVP) and then arguably the most capable HD Extender on the market in 2008, the HD100.  Now SageTV is bringing us the HD200 HD Media Player (See photo above - the HD200 is the box on the top), the successor to the HD100 (on the bottom of the photo above.)

I've seen speculation that the HD200 is just a repackaged HD100 that does standalone mode as well as acting as an extender.  After several hours with the HD200 I can tell you the HD200 is a significant step up from the HD100 in the performance department - that's saying a lot considering the fact that I am very fond of my SageTV HD100 extender.

I have a few more photos below including the Sigma Chip and Board inside the box, but I'll save most of the photos for the full review coming soon.

Unboxing Videos
For now, I have a few short unboxing videos for you (watch all three):

HD200 Unboxing Part 1:

HD200 Unboxing Part 2:

HD200 Unboxing Part 3:

After using the SageTV HD200 HD Media Player, I came away with a few, key points:
  • This thing is small and lightweight.  It is much closer to the size of of a Hauppauge HD-PVR (but not as "tall") than it is to the SageTV HD100 Extender.  It won't work under a Blu-Ray player, but it is small enough to put next to one or on top of one in your Entertainment System.
  • It's fast.  Navigating the User Interface on the HD200 is close to the speed on my Quad-core PC for animations and rendering.  Obviously the processor on the HD200 isn't my quad-core, but it's definitely faster than my HD100 extender.  Some of that may have to do with the additional memory as well.
  • It has front and back USB 2.0 ports that are active.  Plug in many different USB drives, and card readers and the SageTV HD200 detects them. 
  • The HD200 HDMI port is 1.2 (not 1.3) which basically means we won't see bitstream output of Dolby Digital TrueHD or DTS MA.  SageTV reps have said they are working on 7.1 channel PCM audio via  firmware updates but that isn't a sure thing at this point.
  • The SageTV HD Theater's standalone is a secret weapon of SageTV's.  It detects media from shared network drives as well as connected USB drives.  Think this isn't a big deal?  Just check back in a year and we'll talk.  I contend that this is an early entry by SageTV to sneak into the  will be able to play content via the USB ports as a standalone device.  It includes SageTVs entry into UPnP since it can act as a UPnP client for purposes such as PlayOn for Hulu playback etc, the ability to act alone from the server and likely many unique applications that your average SageTV user hasn't yet thought of.  I'll touch on this more in the full review coming soon. 
  • The HD200 has a 300MHz processor and 2 channels of memory (256MBs total) which compares very favorably to the HD100's 200Mhz processor and single channel of memory
  • The HD200 can act as a Placeshifter client and therefore you can take it with you and you can plug it in to an outside ethernet cable in a hotel or other home and placeshift your content from your home to that TV wherever you are.
If your HD200 was just delivered and you're wanting to update the firmware to the latest beta version
Use the remote's number pad to enter the code 2382 ('beta') on the HD200's firmware update menu in order to tell it to look for the beta version. For help about how to update the firmware, see the HD200's manual or this FAQ.

To satisfy the GeekTonic readers need to see the insides, I popped off the top and checked out the board and Sigma chip to see what's inside of the HD200 beast.

In this second photo, we see the Sigma 8635LF (LF means low frequency?) which is the same chip used in the recently released WD HD Player.  Extremely similar to the Sigma 8635 but without the ability to decode DRM (no macrovision support).

More First Looks of the HD200 Across the Web:
  • Missing Remote has another unboxing and even more "naked" shots of the insides, check out the Unboxing by John Clabaugh
  • A SageTV Forum Member has posted photos and some videos showing start-up time, standalone mode and more at this SageTV Forum Thread

Pre-Order on December 12th
If you want to pick up a HD200 you'll have to wait a few days since they already sold out of their inital batch of them.  SageTV is projecting to have more in stock by 12/15 and will be taking preorders beginning 12/12.  So if you want one before Christmas you better plan to stop by the SageTV store on December 12th - the HD100s and now HD200s seem to sell like hotcakes and its obvious SageTV orders in relatively small batches so you've been warned.

Stay tuned to GeekTonic for a complete review of the new SageTV HD Theater (HD200) coming soon - and a chance to win the review HD200 also!

Want to learn more about the many add-ons and inner workings of SageTV?  Check out the GeekTonic Ultimate Guide to SageTV which is updated continually.

Tivo Gets Netflix HD Watch Now Streaming

Tivo users get one more online video source with the addition of Netflix Watch Now streaming with HD.  ZatzNotFunny! has all of the details and a nice video to show how it works in TiVo.

Check it out at ZatzNotFunny!

Snapstream Mini - Professional Grade TV Search for the Masses

Snapstream, the makers of BeyondTV and Snapstream Enterprise have a new Enterprise PVR that is designed more for the masses.  The new product is called the Snapstream Mini and offers the powerful TV search capabilities that their main Enterprise product has for a much lower price.  This is not your typical consumer HTPC but a way for an individual, business or organization to monitor and manage television media.

Over the past few years, Snapstream has transformed from a consumer-based Home Theater PC software company into a two-pronged focus that offered the consumer-focused BeyondTV PVR software and the Enterprise-based Snapstream Enterprise product.  The Snapstream Mini is definitely a part of the enterprise product, but a somewhat scaled-down and less expensive one.

Snapstream Introduces the Snapstream Mini

Let's say you're interested in a Computer PVR to do powerful TV search functions - searching the actual closed captions for something specific.  You don't have the resources for the full-blown Snapstream Enterprise product or you don't need all of the features it includes, but you might be interested in something less expensive with the search capability still built in (Note: you can't just purchase this search capability and build it yourself - it must be purchased as part of one of the Enterprise Packages.)  Well Snapstream Mini is the device for you.

How is the Enterprise product used?
Lets say you work for a political campaign and you want to monitor certain words, names or phrases said on one or more television channels.  With the Enterprise product you record those channels and the Enterprise system will note any of those instances and notify you by e-mail.  There are many different uses for a product like this.  Snapstream reports that TV stations, radio stations, education, government and political groups among others
  • Record traditional TV from regular cable, digital cable, or satellite (SnapStream Mini includes a learning IR blaster) into MPEG-2 format.  This can be done 24-7 or you can selectively schedule recordings across selected channels with any two being recorded simultaneously.
  • Search by keyword within recordings
  • Get e-mail alerts notifying you of mentions of keywords on TV as it happens (while it's recording).
  • Easily create TV clips and then download them or e-mail them
  • Burn DVDs of full recordings or clips
Real-Time Search Results via E-Mail Alerts
Rakesh Agrawal of Snapstream forwarded me several e-mail alerts from Enterprise to show me examples of how it can be used.  Below is an example of one in particular for a financial company use.  This is just a very small excerpt of the e-mail alert which is monitoring for the words google, microsoft myspace, youtube and facebook:


Want to see Snapstream Enterprise in action?  Check out this ScreenCast:

How Does the Snapstream Mini Differ from other Enterprise Products?
All of this can be done with any of the Snapstream Enterprise Products including the Snapstream Mini.  The Mini is different from the rest of the Enterprise product line in a few important ways:
  • Cost is $2,000 compared to the more-expensive Enterprise product configurations starting at $8,000).
  • 2 Channels of TV can be recorded simultaneously compared to up-to 10 simultaneous channels with the other Enterprise products
  • SnapStream Mini can record and search over 1 terabyte of TV recordings, equal to about 1,100 hour (vs. SnapStream Servers have a default capacity of 2 terabytes space, about 2,300 hours, and can be purchased with up to 8 terabytes of usable space, about 10,000 hours.
  • Storage: 1 TB (Max)
  • Searchable Shows Limit: 5,000 (Max)
  • The SnapStream Mini has no redundant power supply or redundant storage arrays like its more expensive Enterprise products.
  • Snapstream Mini is considerably quieter than the server-based Enterprise solutions because there is a little less going on inside.
The tradeoff is a much more attainable price for a scaled down product that will satisfy many smaller companies, organizations or individuals needs.  For a full breakdown of the difference between the Snapstream Mini and other Enterprise products check out this chart at the Snapstream website.

When Will Snapstream Mini Be Available?
Snapstream is taking pre-orders now and plan to begin shipping the first units on or before December 15.  Ground shipping in the U.S. is included in the price of the Snapstream Mini.

This obviously isn't a product for the average home theater PC (HTPC) user looking for a way to just time-shift their TV shows, but it is definitely a very cool and unique use of the PVR model in an enterprise/business use.  This product and the Snapstream Enterprise product overall has great potential and I would imagine there is a wealth of potential customers out there that just need to know this sort of thing exists to save them from piles of VCR tapes or some other antiquated system to record and store media.  Add to that the amazing search capability and Snapstream Enterprise should continue to find its home at more and more organizations.

Read more about the Snapstream Mini at Snapstream's website

Monday, December 08, 2008

SageMC Gets Awesome Movie Screen Add-on

SageMC has been getting some major UI improvements over the past year and with the introduction of FanArt in this latest version of SageMC, Ben (known as Jaminben on the SageTV forums) has created an alternative Movie Info Screen for SageMC that looks simply fantastic.

Above is a screen-shot of the new Movie Screen for the movie "300."  This is an alternative to the standard Movie Info Screen. It works largely the same as the normal Program Info Screen but with FanArt support and dynamic cover art reflections.

Redesigned Movie/Video screen layout with a focus on the FanArt background, dynamic coverart reflections and a little animation thrown in for good measure.  I love the look and design of this - especially for a first try at SageTV add-ons by Ben.

To get a feel for how it works with the animations, check out this very-short screen-cast:

  • SageTV
  • SageMC Replacement UI version 6.3.8a or higher
  • Enabled FanArt in SageMC settings
  • FanArt image files in the appropriate folders
Installation Process:
  1. Shut down the SageTV User Interface
  2. Extract all files in the "" into your SageTV folder (eg. C:\Program Files\SageTV\SageTV). Making certain to extract while preserving the directory structure.
  3. Re-start the SageTV User Interface
  4. In SageMC, goto My Menu > Settings, and select "Import STVi" and import "Movie_Info_Screen_1.0.xml
  5. Browse to My Menu > Settings > SageMC > Main > Screen Specific Options > Video Library > Custom Program Info Screen.  Browse to "Movie Info Screen" in the list and select it. Be sure the setting for "Screen Specific Options" shows "Movie Info Screen" on it now.

Now for any movie that you have a fanart image file, you'll see the new movie layout.  Here are a few more examples:

For more information about this version of Movie Info Screen and the download, head to the SageTV forum thread for Movie Info Screen

What's In Store For The Next Version?
Want to know what Ben has up his sleeves for the next version of this add-on?  He's begun working on a similar, but slightly different movie screen for the next version.  The screen-shots below show the beginnings of the next version:

This is the screen you see when you first enter a movie's details screen:

This is the screen you see when you browse the details screen:
Stay tuned for more HTPC news including SageTV and other programs as well.

Want to learn more about the many add-ons and inner workings of SageTV?  Check out the GeekTonic Ultimate Guide to SageTV which is updated continually.

Hauppauge HD-PVR Gets Reviewed at MissingRemote

 One of the most exciting and anticipated HTPC devices for several years was the Hauppauge HD-PVR HD component capture device.  With the HD-PVR you can capture unencrypted and uninhibited digital HD content from your HD cable box or HD satellite box or really any device that has a component output port such as a HD video game box. 

I gave a first look and mini-review of the HD-PVR not long after it was released, but still haven't put together a complete review of it yet.  So to hold you over a little longer, be sure and check out Alan Cooke's review of the Hauppauge HD-PVR at

Alan covers a couple of questions I get all the time about the HD-PVR.  The most often asked question is this:  How good is the picture quality from the HD-PVR?  Alan answers with:
I am very happy to say that the picture quality is virtually indistinguishable from the CableCard recordings. Obviously the recordings will not be the same quality as uncompressed broadcast TV but based on several hours of watching TV it is very close to CableCard recordings.
I agree wholeheartedly with Alan - the picture quality on the HD-PVR is very, very good.  So good I honestly cannot tell the difference on my 1080p 46" television set from the original HD cablebox picture - it is truly awesome to get all of those digital channels - especially HD for liveTV without DRM and without needing to purchase a special, pre-built HTPC like is required for the CableCard PCs - PLUS you aren't required to use Vista Media Center as your HTPC software.

Other questions addressed are ease of setup, pros and cons and more.  If you have any interest in the Hauppauge HD-PVR don't miss the review at

And before you ask, yes I still plan to bring you a full HD-PVR review at GeekTonic that will address SageTV, BeyondTV and even GBPVR (possibly even MythTV, MediaPortal and FrontRow) with lots of details and tips on getting it working with your setup.  I know its long overdue, but I promise it will be worth the wait ;)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Vote for the Best Media Center Application at LifeHacker

Lifehacker is running a "hive five" Poll that will interest GeekTonic readers.   
The Hive Five: Five Best Media Center Applications
This is a poll LifeHacker is running based on comments made late last week of the most popular apps.

Here's the current results (keep in mind this post at LifeHacker has only been up for an hour or so today):

Polls like this aren't the most scientific by any means, but they do tend to give us an idea of what LifeHacker readers are using for their HTPC application.

Be sure and let your favorite app be known whether it is SageTV, Windows Media Center, XBMC, MythTV or another one.
Vote Now at

I think I'll do something like this at GeekTonic sometime soon.  And there is an obvious need for a feature comparison of the many, many HTPC (Media Center) applications.

Blockbuster's MediaPoint 2Wire Player Gets Reviewed

                     photo by Dave Zatz

Blockbuster has joined the realm of movie streaming to the TV with the 2Wire MediaPoint Blockbuster Player.  This past week Dave Zatz at ZatzNotFunny! tried out the new 2Wire OnDemand Player box with Blockbuster Movie Streaming built in.  I'm not a huge fan of the separate box for every type of content, but still was curious about how this one performed versus the somewhat similary Roku/Netflix box.

The device built by 2Wire doesn't require a Blockbuster subscription, costs $99 and for a limited time comes with 25 movie rentals. After that initial investment, the movies will be $1.99. I actually think there is a place for the VOD model with the newest releases compared to the Netflix subscription pay a set, monthly fee model with older releases.  But Blockbuster is going to have to step it up if they plan to make it in this area.  Amazon has a good jump on them and if Amazon does the right thing and expands their partnerships beyond Tivo, they could easily beat Blockbuster to the punch on this model.

Dave had a lot to say about the player and in the end was left with a negative result.  Still, it's worth a read for anyone interested in the Online Movie Distribution model.  I think the best way to attack movie distribution directly to the television is via Blu-Ray players, extenders or other hardware devices that have multiple purposes.  Netflix has already headed down this path with some success so its only a matter of time before BlockBuster moves this direction as well - as long as it makes it that far that is.

Unboxing Photos and Comments at ZatzNotFunny!
Read the full review at ZatzNotFunny!